A Work In Progress, and Progress Is Slow

Bright start, on top early, turning to complete domination as the first half progresses. Creating a steady stream of chances that cry out for a finish, a mere touch but the crosses find only fresh air. Playing well after the break but gradually tire as the other lot come into it more. Defensive calamities suddenly appear where before there was calm and serenity. This week was worse because we went ahead but it’s becoming a habit.

Different formations and new beginnings but by the finish there was a depressing familiarity about this performance with two standout features. One, a stream of crosses and four good inside the box chances that were created by football with an easy, natural rhythm, but they were missed. Two, defensive shambles precisely at the time when we should be shutting the game down dead.

I tend towards a philosophical approach at this point in the season. Depends on how you see it. Undeniably there was plenty of good football. We passed our way through the West Brom team on many occasions. Movement was intelligent, the energy and purpose beyond reproach. Our untroubled defence coped easily with our opponents who did not manage a shot until right at the end of the opening half. Sandro and Livermore were strong in centre midfield, breaking up any attempts to come close. We missed the chances but the time to really worry is when we don’t make them in the first place.

On the other hand, this match was ours for the taking – we earned it – yet it drifted away with some tired, weak-minded defending. As soon as the pressure was on, we looked vulnerable. As the second half wore on, Sandro was visibly wilting after 70 minutes, Rafa was excellently creative for an hour, then was gone, whilst Bale and Lennon struggled to get into the game at all.

The introduction of Lukaku changed everything. ‘He came from Stamford Bridge, he’s bigger than a fridge,’ sang the Baggies. They have a real player on their hands, at least for the season. He’s fearsomely muscular and athletic. Immediately he tore into our defence, Gallas’s years of nouse melting away in the face of this mighty raw talent. Thunder and lightning around the ground was a portent of doom. I’m fully aware of Dawson’s shortcomings but what he brings to the pitch outweighs any problems and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that he could have handled this better.

Friedel made a series of excellent saves to keep us first in the game and then ahead, once Benny’s fluky effort bounced in past Foster, stranded by the deflection. One in particular, low to his left, was top class. Panic ensured as easy clearances were missed. The mantra of possession was quickly forgotten as West Brom pushed forward in numbers.

Even so, it looked as if we got away with it, enjoying a few precious boring minutes of dull possession with about 5 to go. Then a few corners, two off the line before the Baggies deliriously celebrated their equaliser. We failed to not only clear the crosses, we left their big men unmarked deep in our territory. Inexcusable.

On the way home, there was plenty of time for reflection in the North Circular car park. The RAC travel app, it’s not accurate and that’s all I can bring myself to say about it, although other language was used yesterday evening. Two matches in and there’s room to be philosophical. I’m wary of judgements at this point but although there was a lot to admire, I remain sourly disappointed. At the back, we fell apart under pressure – that will be noticed. Up front, as the crosses sizzled in, Defoe and others hung back. What’s the point? If the plan is to cross, the edge of the 6 yard box is the first and only place to be.

The chances fell to Sandro, Vertonghen, VDV and Lennon, to Bale in the second half after a sumptuous diagonal from Rafa. Wrong foot, not strikers – it showed but if we are playing with one up front, the midfield has to take this kind of chance. Our efforts were dreadful – Foster didn’t have to save any of those 5. Manu offered a focus but there is an inherent problem with one up front in our current formation. Bale and Lennon offer width but there’s nothing to aim for in the middle. If we are to set up chances using these wide players rather than through-balls, this has to change. Lennon looks speedy and bouncy, but he’s not sharp in the area. Much better than he was, but still not sharp enough.

This was a problem last season. It’s a work in progress so my patience is holding out, but progress right now is slow. I predicted that  the fans should brace ourselves for a sticky start, and so it has proved. Things will get better, but these two matches, whilst demonstrating our potential, has ended up focussing attention on long-standing problems still to be solved.

Warm, rich applause rippled around the Lane for every second of the 26th minute, a token of our gratitude to Ledley King, one of Tottenham’s finest. A real Spur, I wish him well in retirement, although I wonder if he might feel empty without football. He doesn’t strike me as someone who will easily slip into either punditry or business, so I hope the club properly look after him.

22 comments

  1. daddywoodland

    On the whole I think the fans are happy to wait for the window to close so that we can see the team that’ll be playing this season. Drawing any conclusions based on an attack led by Defoe or a central midfield devoid of any creative players is foolhardy. I would be concerned about the defensive nervousness but these things take time and it’s not bad enough to start panicking.

    The most important thing is for fans at games and those commenting online/radio etc to stay positive. The media will make a mountain out of any molehill and our support will get the group through what is bound to be a challenging period.

  2. johnny c

    If you ask me, it’s really simple, Spurs need some better players. Hopefully a couple will arrive in the form of Moutinho, Willian and maybe one other, so players like Lennon and even Bale will be playing for a place instead of expecting to start, and Livermore can go back to being a sub/used in cup games, which is where I feel he’s at in terms of his standard and development. Parker has been noticeably missed, and as for the defence, well Vertonghen needs to settle, Gallas has always been erratic in my opinion, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter who you line up, if Jermain Jenas is given game time at CM instead of on the wing or attacking midfield, then the defence will be left dangerously exposed, the guy cannot and will not tackle, every time he plays in that position we look vulnerable.

    • Alan

      We have the core of a fine team. Better players could make something special. But I’ve said that for a couple of years now…i do think on Saturday, the men we had were more than good enough to have won that game.

      Regards,

      Alan

  3. Peter Domican

    I’d agree with most of that. I didn’t see anything that was much different from last season. I’m not surprised Dawson is behind Kaboul and Vertonghen but Gallas? I don’t really get that. The introduction of Lukaku for West Brom was the key and we did absolutely nothing about it. Jenas still looks lightweight although I don’t have the huge downer on him that some people seem to have.
    The positives from yesterday were that we seemed to create enough chances without our sulky Croatian and the debut of Vertongen who looked a natural replacement for Ledley.
    Overall it was disappointing but I think we need to see whether we get anyone else in by the end of the week and then go from there.

  4. Anonymous

    You must be living in dreamland if you believe that Dawson would have done better against Lukaku. Have you never noticed how slow Michael is.

    • Alan

      Interesting – I think Daws has improved that side of his game and his strength would have matched Lukaku whereas Gallas was overwhelmed. But a fair point.
      Regards,

      Alan

  5. Cheshuntboy

    Totally agree that Spurs must continue to ‘look after’ Ledley King – the poor bloke been used to £70K per week, wind, rain and shine, fit or not (usually ‘not’), and it would be tragic if such a hero had to pay his own way – he’s only had literally tens of millions from the club after all!

  6. Dust

    Nice article, the following may not be popular but, watching the game for a second time on demand, I have a few observations.

    Yes, the defending was horrendous but it is fixable with a few alterations, Friedal had made some good saves but his lack of command/agility in the box on set pieces and crosses is just shameful for a premier league side. On the goal and it’s lead up he was a statue on the line, he didn’t attack the ball, he should have been up and claiming the ball on anyone of the several occasions it was in the air, before it made its way to morrisons foot.

    I know Benny scored the goal (flukeydeflection) and he cleared a ball off the line in the run up to the goal, but his lack of awareness on positioning and inability to make the right decisions continues to hamper the back four. Watch the last 10 minutes again and you will see. It wasn’t just Benny however, no one attacked the ball. I think Caulker would have made a better partner for Verhtongan on the day instead of gallas, out of the four gallas is fourth IMO.

    As for attack you are absolutely right, infact the same thoughts were being said at the time by Trevor Francis on the broadcast I watched in the states (agreeing with anything TF says isnt a easy thing to come to terms with). Lennon and Defoe should be attacking the 6 yard box, I’m ok with Rafa hanging out around the penalty spot to pick up any loose balls, but that isn’t going to happen unless someone is challenging for the ball in the box to begin with. I hope Willan gets signed (Monday/Tuesday) as Lennon just doesn’t cut it as a striker in the 4-3-3 variant AVB plays. Defoe being lazy and not watching the line drives me crazy and it’s why his strike wasn’t counted. For me Sandro was excellent, yes he got tired, but he has just come off an international tournament, and will get better as the season goes on.

    I think AVB has done a great job… At some point the players have to own not putting away the chances, from what I see the system is working I am very happy with what AVB has done. AVB has made us tighter and more tactically aware, the players need to execute. It’s not gonna be instant, I would expect more business in January as everyone comes to the realization that “fan favorites” aren’t cutting the mustard. I think Sig could be whatwe need for distribution up and out to Bale, Rafa, Lennon/Willam and Ade/Defoe. He could play just infront and to the left of Sandro instead of Livermore. Ideally GK?, Walker/Kaboul/Verhtogan/Naughton, Sandro,/ Sig, Bale/VDV/Willan, Ade or Defoe.

    We are 1 point better off than last year, and if it takes a 4-6 games for us to hit form i would rather that than have a repeat of last year when from March onwards our results were pathetic. I think everyone will see when we start clocking up wins, that because of the foundations and tactical awareness preached by AVB a collapse is unlikely and certainly any dip in form is unlilely to be the 1 win in 10 we finished with last year.

    I’m sure all the haters on talksport will be out in force. However, I have faith in AVB. We need a focus on finishing. Finishing a strike, and finishing off a game.

    • Alan

      Thanks for such a considered and detailed set of observations. And the haters were out in force. 606 reported that we were booed off – there were boos but only the grumbles that you hear after most defeats anywhere in the Prem – and a Spurs fan rang in to say we were rubbish.

      I said it would take time to settle. I’ll stick by that and give AVB the time to do what he needs to do.

      Regards,

      Alan

  7. caseyn59

    The last 10 minutes were awful. They looked like rabbits in headlights the way they played. Were they knackered? They didn’t seem to know what they were doing. If so opposition teams will park the Bus until the 80th minute then go at us hell for leather knowing we will fall apart. There will be times (and we’ve seen plenty of them) when we create a shed load of chances and none go in and then have to bear the brunt of the opposition having a go. It was funny that I couldn’t see us scoring, but thought West Brom were going to every time they came forward. They seemed to make it look a lot simpler than us.

    I hope the collapse into running round like headless chickens we endured for those last 10 minutes gets nipped in the bud by AVB straight away otherwise we are going to get thumped by far better teams than West Brom.

    Re the first half chances, same old spurs not sticking them away, but at least we are creating.

    Didn’t like the boos at the end. Yes, the result was disappointing and left everyone deflated (we even could have lost), but it is still early days and the transfer window hasn’t helped.

    Finally, anyone ever thought they’d see Jenas in a Spurs shirt again? How many more chances does he need? Will he suddenly come to the fore or were we that hard up for someone to stick on AVB just thought “He’ll do”?

  8. AJ

    Pleased to hear some rational takes on the overall picture! The last thing we need is supporters being bitten and buying
    in to a negative, AVB, media frenzy. Not now, an not at all this year! The manager, players, old and new, will obviously,
    obviously, need time to gel. An if as supporters of this glorious club we fail to give them that time, then we will be equally
    responsible for any failings!

    Agree with your comment/concerns regarding LK. He will need, an the club will need, to make him a regular fixture around
    the place.

    COYS!!

  9. Aiden

    We are not one point better off than last year! Why do people keep saying that: we lost our opening games to the Manchester clubs, the fixtures against Newcastle/west brom we got 4 points from, so we’re 3 points down!

  10. Victor Meldrew

    For the amount of crosses we have put into the box for the past few seasons, why is our goal tally so poor? We dominate teams week after week and don’t have a return to show for it, except the 5-0 against Newcastle last season. What is wrong with a big man little man strike force? The other team knows what to expect from us, pack the defence, wait till we tire and go on the attack. We need a big strapping CF who can intimidate and bully a defence, ( just like WBA used as a substitute) allowing JD to pick up the pieces and score a few goals. Against WBA we should have been 3-0 up at half time. We weren’t. They dealt with practically every cross because we had no one there that they were scared of. Plus some abysmal shooting. Ade came on, they concentrated on him and allowed JD to score from an offside position. So why take JD off when next time he might not be offside. DL and his ego posturings over Modric are not helpful, and neither was the removal of VDV and JD. Brought back memories of JD sitting on the bench at Villa last season when we needed another goal. Whilst I am prepared to give AVB time to settle in I don’t think his subs were particularly helpful to the cause. DL should have had the squad sorted by now. Everyone knew Modric was going to leave. Even got his annual bargain of Ade for 5mill. Unless DL pulls a rabbit out of the hat in the next few days we ain’t going anywhere. Don’t hold your breath, it might just be another bargain basement rabbit.

  11. IKnowAlanGilzean

    Like most, it is frustrating not to have our side sorted with 5% of the season gone. Still, I have seen enough in the two games to be optimistic that we will be at least as good as last season. The Modric question looms large here of course. If the Telegraph report is true (33 million sterling) that’s a very good deal for us at this stage. Keeper, Modric replacement, forward, BAE cover/replacement etc etc. Come on Dan, how hard can it be!? Ahem!

    Just because he gets a lot of easy stick or has people “sagely” rubbing their chins and looking thoughtful before declaring their doubts that he’s quite good enough to make it at Spurs, I thought Livermore had another good game on Saturday.

  12. IKnowAlanGilzean

    Even if we sign the players we are looking for by Friday, they will need time to bed down, so patience is the watchword I guess.

  13. Jimmy greaves is god

    I’m not sure why most people seem to be saying that we need to give the team time to bed in. 10 out of the 11 starters played for us last year so how much time do they need. Agreed, that we are playing slightly differently than last year but for goodness sake, we are talking about some of the best footballers in the country who are being paid many thousands of pounds a week just to go out and kick a football about in a particular way. Surely it isn’t beyond even their comprehension to be able to do this in a way that the manager wants after 6 weeks of training and several friendly matches or, don’t they even bother to try this out on the training ground. If we don’t get this sorted soon we’ll be back to the 2 points from 8 scenario followed by a clamour to bring Harry back.
    Well thats my rant out of the way. Its good to be back. COYS

    • Alan

      Ranting? Unlike you….!

      I think teams do need time to really gel but there were no excuses for the defensive shambles at the end. Basic stuff – it’s not state of the art coaching! I’m determined to remain optimistic but that was awful.

      Regards,

      Al

      • Dust

        There is no way you can blame that shame at the end of the game on AVB, defending a corner and subsequent pressure is pretty standard and completely on the players.

        If you can’t clear the ball more than 25 yards then put it out of play instead and re-shape. Brad freezal hugs that line like its coke, and caused the panic in the first place. Attacking the ball is on the players. Not the coach on the sidelines.

  14. Harvey The Hudd

    Continuing last season’s rotten luck with offside decisions, Defoe’s disallowed goal was clearly onside. And well onside at that. Fine, let’s give AVB time but doesn’t his preference for Gallas over Dawson raise questions as to his judgement? I’m sorry but Gallas doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. How does he fit into the quick/nimble category that AVB’s system depends on?

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