Ironic that as the minute’s applause in celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela had barely died away, the Barclays adverts flickered around the pitch perimeter. Not so long ago, or so it seems to me, we boycotted Barclays because of its persistent links with the apartheid regime in South Africa. Cashpoints were picketed, and we didn’t buy their apples. The ANC probably did more to bring down the government but it felt as though we were part of the struggle. Many still feel a deep connection with a man whose principled, single-minded compassion created fundamental political and social change, an example to all yet sadly highly unlikely to ever be repeated in contemporary politics.
Plenty of time to watch the ads in the early stages as Spurs versus Sunderland took a while to get going. Perhaps I am in sync with the team, understandable after all these years I suppose. This is the pattern lately, a slow start then build up a head of steam as time passes. I know my knowledge of male grooming products began and ended with Old Spice and Brylcreem but a skin product named Nip-Man – that’s a joke, right? And sorry to disappoint relatives and friends but you can forget the Stubhub gift certificate for this and any other Christmas. This blog does not wish its readers a Merry Tixmas. Tixmas for goodness sake.
Christmas is a time for tradition and Spurs have created one of their own in time for the festive season, the defensive cock-up. After a sedate first half-hour where our new centre back partnership of Capoue and Dawson looked unsettled without Sandro’s protection in front of them, Lloris’s horrible error put us one down but shook us out of our stupor. His feeble punch went straight to Johnson who scored easily.
From then on, we dominated the match. As at Fulham in the week, we should aim to impose ourselves on teams from the start. We haven’t got the defence to absorb relentless attacks and in this opening period we looked lousy on the break, wilfully moving the ball slowly even when we had time and space.
Having the ability to pull ourselves back from a deficit is laudable. Personally I would prefer if we didn’t make a hash of it in the first place, much more sensible. Recent victories should not obscure this fact. Never mind all the talk about tactics, formations and the merits of AVB’s managerial style, we make too many basic and costly mistakes at the back. Our early season parsimony was not due to mighty defence but our relative lack of errors.
It helps to get back quickly. After Defoe missed one opportunity and Chadli headed straight at the keeper from a corner, the value of the latter’s height and power in the box was shown to full effect. A long cross seemed to be predictably drifting wide but Chadli nodded it back and Paulinho was more alert to the loose ball. I had given it up but he didn’t, and touched home from close in. The Brazilian’s starting position was deeper yesterday, alongside Dembele as DMs, and for me he looked all the better for it.
We came out after the break with a welcome eagerness, dominating the next twenty minutes where the game was won. AVB confounded his detractors by making two significant tactical changes. The high line was notable by its welcome absence again. AVB and I still shudder at the sight of Daws stranded on the halfway line against City. Also, a right-footed winger on the right. Lennon was outstanding, and when Townsend came on as sub to play wide left, he too looked so much more comfortable.
Holtby has a painter’s eye for the angled pass and on 65 minutes with a single devastating brushstroke intended to complete this canvas. The ball sliced through the entire defence, ending at Defoe’s feet deep inside the box as he skipped across the line and free of his markers but his judgement was less certain. His diagonal beat the keeper but slid wide of the far post. It was a frustrating miss, not only because it created 15-odd minutes of palpitating anxiety whenever Sunderland hacked the ball upfield but also because a goal would have demonstrated that finally, we really could make and take a chance inside the area.
There were other opportunities for proof, mostly from players, Lennon and Walker notably, getting to the byline and crossing. I’ll just repeat that for newish supporters or those with merely normal memories: getting to the byline and crossing.
Defoe hit the post twice, coming across the defender to the near post, the classic striker’s move. One header on the right, one deft flick on the left, both were reactions, both were unlucky. These and others - Holtby’s blocked shot, Paulinho’s header – from providers cutting close to the byline. If only they had done that for me, sighed Bobby Soldier, sinking deeper inside his padded coat on the bench.
All these chances yet the winner was pure good fortune. Dembele charging forward on the left and his cross/shot hit O’Shea and into the net. An own goal but one made because we attacked from dangerous angles. It shows again the value of the Moose upfield – let it go, Al, just let it go – but overall he had a strong match before he went off holding his hip.
One of my suggestions to heal our Andre’s self-inflicted wounds was to return to a few things that worked last season. Yesterday Walker and Lennon were reunited down the right. Both made a full, flowing contribution to this win. At times they looked like they were enjoying themselves almost as much as I was. Little Azza was just terrific, buzzing up and down, irritating the Sunderland defence like a wasp after an icecream on a summer’s day. He’s learned to vary his game, not only when to take the full-back on or tuck inside but also to sense the pace of the match, picking things up with a dash forward or a calming touch or two to allow team-mates to readjust position. That is the difference that to me gives him the nod over Townsend right now. Andros is still inexperienced: let’s hope he learns, just as Lenny did.
The pair helped each other out at either end of the field. Defending is not part of Lennon’s natural game, whereas Walker quickly gets bored defending, yet time and again he was back, notably towards the end of the game to prevent Sunderland from crossing the ball. Both were tireless. Walker took stick from the crowd when he stayed down after a challenge – he was knackered after several lung-busting runs then using his body strength to stave off an opponent. He’s improved his play and this was his best game this season. If only he could learn to tuck in at the back every single time to bolster his centre-backs.
Capoue did well enough after a shaky start. He could have done with closer attendance from Walker to help out but when Sunderland went longer later in the game and pinned us back into the box, he and Dawson won most everything. Daws was especially strong at the end. Back in the box not stuck upfield, it’s what he does best and his presence was reassuring. Sunderland’s one decent chance went straight to Lloris, who showed his mettle by claiming one important ball to partly banish the memory of his mistake. Capoue won a header then instinctively went to go forward to where the ball landed, pointing to his team-mates to pounce on the loose ball as he would have done, but he can’t be in two places at the same time. That’s what you get with a midfielder at the back.
Holtby did well but tired. This is one problem with all the chopping and changing. Players get gametime but seldom play for 90 minutes. Holtby has been with us for almost a year yet I would be surprised if he has played more than a handful of full games.
AVB brought on Sandro, not in the starting line-up because he does not feel fit enough yet to play three games in a week, to shore up the defence. It was just at the right time and he did well. However, it could have been our downfall. With the stiff uncertainty of a man who has just come on the filed, Sandro handballed a corner but the ref, who was poor throughout, turned a blind eye.
And on moments like that, the game turns. We fully deserved this win, in the second half playing some of our best football of the season so far, yet we win by an own goal and the penalty that never was. That momentum again, we have kept it going and players and managers know it, judging by their expressions at the end of the game.
No complaints, it augers well for the rest of this important month. Just one caveat – we have done well against three teams who allowed us to play a bit. It remains to be seen what happens when sides park the bus at home, as did Hull and West Ham. That’s for the future = the team and manager, that’s a big ‘we’, have earned our praise for their response after the City debacle, so let’s enjoy it with them.
The dank days and chilly evenings of winter are already with us but right now there is nowhere colder than the chilled marrow of Andre Villas-Boas’s bones. The clocks have long since gone back but for him the long dark night of the soul is fast approaching.
The six goal shambles of defeat against Manchester City violently sucked all meaning and purpose not just from shell-shocked, traumatised players but from everything our manager holds dear. Shape, tactics, motivation, the principles of team-work, the very existence of AVB’s Spurs rendered meaningless and empty. We thought there were solid foundations even if we have not been playing well. In reality, nothing beneath our feet except fresh air. The players had no idea what they were supposed to be doing and neither did their boss.
It started badly, could not have started worse even by Tottenham standards. We kicked off, they scored after 14 seconds. Barely possible but the laws of time and motion shifted just enough for Lloris to fluff a clearance under no pressure, short and straight to an opponent. He saved the shot but Navas curled in the rebound. From then on, the collapse continued, unhindered and without boundaries, the team imploding on itself until like a burnt out star in a far-off galaxy, our performance became a pinprick of the most dense and unresponsive matter in the universe.
The defining period of AVB’s reign has begun. Successive matches versus the Manchester giants were never likely to be profitable but the manner in which he deals with the games between now and the New Year will dictate the outcome of Tottenham’s season and beyond. His methods, challenged by our weakness in attack, will have to withstand the battering of outraged fans and sections of the braying media scenting blood. That’s not to mention the questioning looks from his players.
Faced with massive problems, players and manager seemed incapable of an adequate response. I’m not talking about the subs – the game was lost by the time they appeared – but a fatal lack of recognition that there were any problems. The midfield, flaccid and incoherent from first to last, offered no protection to the back four save for a couple of Sandro tackles. City like to get the ball wide – in Navas they play a genuine winger. yet it never for a moment occurred to anyone to drop back to protect our full-backs. As a result City took full advantage of the wide-open plains down our flanks like lions hunting antelope in the Serengeti.
Many of us want to see Lamela given a chance. Today we saw why Villas-Boas has been cautious. While his free role gave him scope to cut in and appear in unexpected positions, his team-mates did not know what to expect either. He watched and reacted too late when City created a two on one down our left and the cross was turned in. Welcome to the Premier League.
On Sky Hoddle was banging on about shutting the front door, meaning Kaboul should have dropped a yard closer to the six yard box at the near post, but that was shutting the door, front or back, after the horse has bolted. You have to cover – Lennon wasn’t much more use on the other side – and you have to keep the ball. Yet time and again we gave it away, most dangerously when the side had shifted into positions to mount an attack thus leaving us bare and exposed. City took full advantage, with Lloris, our best player this season by far, again the culprit. It wasn’t as if City were playing particularly well. They didn’t have to.
This blog tries to be fair, balanced and consistent. Annoying I know but it’s how I am and as I approach my sixties I’m too old change. So let’s be fair – I was happy with this starting line-up. Lennon for Townsend was brave, given the furore around Andros’s England performances, but the right choice. I was pleased to see Lamela - we have to give him a chance. I would have preferred both Holtby and Dembele, the latter in the advanced midfield role that suits him best, so that leaves only one wide man because City are so strong in midfield. Kaboul back, definitely, and Sandro of course. But not so different from AVB’s choice.
It’s what they did that was so poor. Wandering wide men gave the flanks no protection. Paulinho and Holtby were too far forward too often. Neither contributed a thing to this match. Paulinho’s starting position should have been deeper. You have to defend against City by denying them space and he’s able to get forward when the moment is right. He and Sandro could make a fine partnership but he was too far forward. If he stays back, there’s time and manpower to move across and cover, i.e. to provide the very platform that Lamela and Lennon need to be at their best.
Fact is, he is knackered and bewildered, worn out after his exertions coming straight to the under pressure Tottenham midfield after the Confederations Cup. He needs a rest. Send him back to Brazil for a couple of weeks, he’s no use to us now and we’ll need him fresh in the New Year.
Soldado got barely a sniff. It seemed to me that in the few moments in the first half when we approximated a football team he was moving more, both deeper and laterally. Or maybe that was hope playing tricks on my eyes. He depends on being the given the ball. If AVB is trying to find the right formation for him and the team, that is worthy of some patience. What worries me is something worse, that he sanctioned the purchase in the conviction that he knew how to play to his strengths and that what we have seen so far this season is the failure of that plan. Which begs the question, what the hell is he going to do now? And that’s why I’m worried, not just a striker failing to spark but a squad composed of players who do not do the job they were bought to do.
And so to the back four. Kaboul, my first choice but rusty. Dawson a fine warrior but all at sea today. Stranded in midfield for City’s fourth goal as a simple one two with a runner from midfield took him out of the game, worse was to come when he simply left his man unmarked. Standing near him, he did nothing. Vertonghen, unhinged by what was going on around him, nearly got himself sent off for a reckless sliding challenge. His mind was gone long before his weak and inept challenge let Navas in for the sixth. Was it just the defeat playing on his mind, as he’s a serious, proud professional, or was he wondering why the best centre half in the Premier League is playing at full-back?
George Graham’s classic drill for the back four was to get them to imagine they were tied together by a piece of rope. In Spurs’ case, it’s elastic. They wandered as if strangers on a ramble, occasionally surprised but pleased as they bumped into each other, but mostly going their own sweet way. Negredo and the fabulously lethal Aguerro don’t need the help we gave them but they revelled in the gaps between our defenders.
I have no desire to kick a man when he’s down but this was AVB’s worst effort as manager. City have a four man midfield and yet we allowed them to outnumber us and paid dearly for the consequences. My sympathy to the loyal Spurs who went that far for this stinking detritus, and if it is any consolation we could hear you singing loud and clear until the end.
If things could possibly be worse, consider one final thought. Last season, Villas-Boas succeeded in getting his message and methods through to the players. Motivation has been good, team-spirit similarly. That will be called in question after this, not just by fans or media but inside the club itself. Heads went down. I’ve already mentioned how the players did not know how to react. This is why this defeat will gnaw away at confidence and belief. Like I said, tonight will be a long dark night for our Andre.
This, Tottenham On My Mind’s fifth season, begins as did all the others, with Daniel Levy as the defining character in the drama to come. The seasons ended that way too. But this one is different, whatever the ultimate outcome. Levy has responded to his manager like never before. Over to you, Andre.
First signing – Franco Baldini. A highly respected and knowledgeable figure in European football, the significance of this move could easily be forgotten because he has opted, rightly, for a low profile. That a man of his experience should come to Spurs in the first place shows that he believes in the club’s potential. It also gives Villas-Boas his clearest indication yet that he has proved himself in the eyes of the board.
To prosper, Spurs have to buy footballers with potential, not quite at the top of their game but bursting with talent and ambition. If nothing else we can’t compete at the very highest level for salaries and transfer fees but that’s not a bad place to be. These men have something to prove, they want to succeed rather than play the odd game and be more involved with their bank manager than the first team coach. Find a way of harnessing Villas-Boas’ ambition to the national grid and Britain’s energy problems are solved. Even Soldado, our marquee signing, has had to fight his up from rejection at Real Madrid.
So we depend on knowing who’s out there. They used to be called scouts, who knows these days, but it’s no coincidence that Baldini has been followed by a succession of classy players in the Spurs mould, all part of Villas-Boas’ vision. This may be the difficult second season but for the first time this is Andre’s team. He’s hardly starting from scratch but these are his men, the new guys because he wants them, the familiar figures secure in the knowledge that Villas-Boas wants to keep them rather than being here by default.
The vision is sound: our fortunes this season will be dictated by how well the players conform to it. It’s less about 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or some such, more about these key characteristics. Possession, so we need men comfortable on the ball and who know when to be patient and when to move it along. Movement, to support the man on the ball or to regroup when the opponents have possession. Flexibility: the front six in particular will interchange on the field, be able to both attack and defend. Emotional intelligence, which in football is an awareness of their role and duties in respect of the position of other players, a dynamic that shifts a thousand or more times a match, plus a team ethic rather than a selfish approach.
Pace: around the pitch and with the ball. Mobility: ditto. Poor Tom Hud was yesterday bemoaning the lack of opportunities for him and others but the Spurs game has passed him by, bless him. Hud, Dempsey, Caulker, Bentley, Parker perhaps, they’ve been upgraded because they don’t fulfill these last two criteria.
Athleticism: the power, stamina and strength to survive in the Premier League. Last but not least, resilience, a bloody-minded determination to give everything but never give ground, to keep the other lot out at all costs. It’s something we’ve not always had but there were positive signs last season.
In the modern game it’s that movement and flexibility that characterises the best teams. Whatever the formation, we depend on the midfield protecting the back four and getting forward, in and around their box. That said, 4-2-3-1 with Sandro and Paulinho a mouthwatering proposition as the DMs looks a good place to begin. Both can drive forward as well as being comfortable in defence. That’s important in the transition from defence to attack. I’ve not seen Capoue but that is his position by all accounts. Holtby can play there too but I don’t see that as Dembele’s best role. He’s better given freedom to get forward.
Chadli by all accounts is versatile but best out wide. Siggy is better in the middle and found form in the box but I can’t see him starting to begin with. Lennon has dramatically improved his all-round game but is best going forward and may have to begin as an impact sub. Note that I’ve left space for Bale, let’s leave it at that.
Soldado of course leading the line, determined, aggressive and sharp in the box. I would keep Defoe and Adebayor, although both might get moody if they don’t play in a side that seems heavy on midfield options, unless Baldini has some upgrades on the way.
Lloris is a fine keeper, unobtrusively active in his box and sweeping up behind the back four. The full-backs have defensive weaknesses. We don’t need a new right-back, we need Walker to respond to his coach and put that learning into place this season. Assou-Ekotto seems out of favour while Rose had a decent time at Sunderland, so I’ll wait to see if he has improved. Naughton is useful cover but not a regular starter. Whatever, there isn’t a full-back in the league who can handle a two on one and we have to protect them. Last season some teams worked hard to get a 2 v 1 on our full-backs, especially on the left.
That leaves centre-backs and once again Spurs can’t get it right. Last year it was the strikers, or lack of them, this we have three centre-backs, only one of whom, Dawson, is fully fit. Capoue can play there and there are rumours of new arrivals but it is a dangerous place to be at the start of a season where we are playing two games a week from the off, especially as we don’t know how Kaboul will be after his long lay off. He may recover strength but what about speed?
Anyway, never mind all this tactical mumbo-jumbo. If we can’t defend set pieces we stand no chance. And I mean no chance. Inexcusable if it carries on.
This is a fine squad that has the potential to realise the manager’s vision. No inflated ambitions – it will be hard work to settle these newcomers into a team and despite the imperative to do away with our usual slow start we may have to wait awhile before they hit their stride. I would use the Europa League matches to bed the team in rather than play reserves, especially as our pre-season has been so bitty.
I detect a note of optimism. Steady on, this is Spurs, so no more. One thing is for sure, I am looking forward to this season enormously, more so than for a while now. Come on you Spurs.
One more preview piece, have to be next week now, on the relationship between the club and fans.
Harry Redknapp was always a kidder. Not interested in tactics, just go out and play, enjoy yourselves lads. Do me a favour. He came out on top in the tactical battle at Loftus Road yesterday, his QPR team retreating deep into their own half to restrict the space and deny Spurs the room to play. Dull but effective. Confronted with this problem, our feeble solutions were as effective as a Deal Or No Deal contestant who finds themselves in an episode of Mastermind by mistake.
It began well. Cesar reached up into the top righthand corner to tip Defoe’s goalbound 20 yarder onto the post, then Adebayor was fatally tentative from the rebound and the Brazilian saved again. It was as if the team shrugged collectively, said to themselves, ‘oh well, not our day’, and went through the motions for the remainder of the 90 minutes.
Redknapp’s strikerless side smothered our passing game at source. So effective was this, we were treated as early as the 35th minute to the unedifying spectacle of Dawson shooting from 35 yards. That’s how lousy our attacking efforts were today. Buses can get closer to the target than that effort.
This past week Redknapp demonstrated once again why Spurs fans have appreciated what he’s done for the team but never taken him to our hearts. A sly dig at any Chelsea manager who couldn’t come up with goods was followed by dark hints of high-level political conspiracies to remove him as Spurs boss. Then classic Harry – in the same breath as he praises Levy for being a decent bloke and calling him to wish him luck at Rangers, he makes fun of his former chairman’s transfer policy. He may have a point but there’s no sense that anything bad is ever his responsibility, at Tottenham or elsewhere. Underneath this good ol’ Uncle ‘arry schtick lies resentment and bitterness. Other managers can sidestep these questions, Redknapp can’t resist it.
At the close his extended chat with Villas Boas was presumably to reassure him that it was nothing personal. Too late. I adored some of his football and reaching the CL quarter finals from being bottom of the league is enough to rank him as a top Spurs manager. Harry, let your achievements speak for themselves, they will always sound more eloquent than you and now you’re gone, let us get on with it.
Adebayor did not repay his manager’s faith in him. Starting up front, he offered nothing. It was easy for QPR to isolate him from Defoe and the rest of his team-mates, and he has the air of a striker who knows he is out of form, waiting for the ball instead of attacking it and wanting always to take the extra touch. When he returns, he will have to work hard to dispel the thought that when City and Ars***l fans warned us that he’s a one-season wonder, they might have been correct.
A great pity as Rangers central defence is vulnerable. However they were well protected as Redknapp threw a midfield defensive blanket over Spurs. We never once got the pass and move going. QPR made the most of their limited ambitions – to be positive it’s a compliment to our status in the game currently that they feared us to the point where players and fans alike reckon a home draw against us is a cause for celebration. However, we did precious little to unsettle them. Dembele was anonymous, while Lennon and Bale were not allowed to get up a head of steam. Only Parker provided occasional bursts into danger areas which committed defenders but we made nothing of the gaps that thus appeared.
We could have done more on the wings but never established combinations between the wide men and the full-backs, never created two against ones. This was compounded by Lennon spending much of the second half on the left, which meant that we had two right-footers out there. They turned inside where Rangers gratefully gobbled them up, rather than seeking the space by the touchlines. Also, Bale’s wandering was unpredictable for the defenders but for his team-mates too. They did not know where to find him.
Spurs have made fantastic progress in a short time under Villas Boas but we don’t have the patience, wit and invention to break down a packed, well-drilled defence. The evidence is there from Stoke, Wigan and now at Loftus Road yesterday. We have to pass, make the runs and try to draw them out. Easier said than done but the League will take notice, that this is how to play us. Launching long balls from midway through the first half onwards is raising the white flag. Back to his tactics charts for our Andre.
I kept waiting for things to improve and we perked up a bit after half-time, then gradually it dawned that we were getting nothing from this one. At least we didn’t fall for any sucker punch counter, although we were helped in that respect by Wright-Phillips ability to fall over when he’s faced with a shooting chance.
We carried on, not supporting the man on the ball, who turned into his marker and was tackled, again and again. Dempsey’s overdue arrival might have sparked something but by then, we had forgotten how to pass. At least the time passed fairly quickly to the final whistle.