You can tell how a game is going by the sound of the crowd, a surefire soundtrack as the game ebbs and flows. The exultation that greets a goal, unrestrained singing in celebration, the contented hubbub as the fans leave after a win or the sharp, bitter recrimination of defeat or worse, a side that is not trying.
The sound of Spurs right now is a heavy, deep sigh. There’s disappointment there, some shaking of heads, plus a touch of resignation. It’s not working out as we planned and we’ve been here before, so many, many times.
Another day, another big fat zero in the ‘goals for’ column. However, this one was different. Same end product but only after the Newcastle goal was peppered from all angles in a second half bombardment where for 25 minutes we played scintillating, high tempo football to create more genuine chances than in the last half a dozen matches put together. There was a lot to be pleased with but still plenty of sighing, then as I drove home and still going as I type this.
65% possession, 24 shots, 14 on target – about right, I read them on the concourse as I paused on the way home and, well, sighed. Match statistics in games like these are the contemporary equivalent of a consolation goal, that is no consolation at all. Newcastle keeper Tim Krul had an outstanding game. More saves in a single match than any other keeper in Europe this season, apparently. See what I mean, they don’t help at all. First half leaps into the stratosphere to thwart Soldado and Sigurdsson were the best but just as valuable for his side were the outstretched boots and scrambled clearances. I’ve not seen a replay but how on earth he and a single defender kept the ball out after a deflected free-kick settled on the goal line remains a mystery.
Yet the harsh truth is that keepers can only make those saves if the ball is close enough to them. Weak finishing close in was our undoing. Krul could have remained the star but noble in defeat, such were the number of good opportunities we fashioned. Eriksen, Paulinho and Soldado made it too easy for him.
Things looked rosy to begin with. It felt as if both team and crowd had responded to recent criticism. Immediately we stretched the Newcastle with a move at pace, Walker freed up on the right. His cross was too close to the keeper but it augured well for things to come. Lots of encouragement too.
Eriksen was prominent, moving across the line and out wide rather than staying comfortable in the central pocket. For his game and that of Spurs to develop, he has to become more consistently involved.
The promising opening petered out. Newcastle moved the ball neatly out of defence and played two up front so they remained a threat on the break for the entire game. They were helped by Spurs giving the ball away. Friedel saved well on two occasions, then we were caught out. Dembele was fiddling around with the ball deep in our half. Although he eventually cleared, it allowed the Mags to pounce on a ball than Paulinho first misjudged, letting it run across his body, then was weak in the challenge. Remy was in: he rounded the keeper to score.
Newcastle and Remy in particular were dangerous. Our high line became our best protection. Dawson was stranded on more than one occasion and Chiriches came across to perfectly time a tackle that surely prevented a goal. Remy, a player we have been closely linked with, reminded us what we have missed this season, a focal point for our opponents’ attack and a target for balls out of defence.
We spluttered away for the rest of the half. Bad old Tottenham – too slow, not enough width as Siggy and Andros repeatedly came inside, too many players standing still and waiting for the ball.
We should really remember to start playing from the first whistle, not half time. Galvanised by the team-talk, we emerged fresh and new. Newcastle were well-organised but did not present as much of a barrier as Hull or West Ham. It was everything the first half was not, pace, movement, support for the man on the ball and above all, chances. Eriksen missed the best one, a lovely intricate move down the right put him in, he had time to take a touch but tried to place a ball to send the keeper the wrong way rather than putting his foot through it.
Driven on by substitute Sandro, his energy and power reverberated through the team even though he was the deepest midfielder. Vertonghen fizzed the ball in from wide left. Soldado headed weakly to the keeper, Paulinho missed, that scramble on the line.
Defoe came on at about 70 minutes, the right choice but as we gathered ourselves for another effort, his arrival had the reverse effect. Sandro stayed deep and Newcastle brought on another midfielder. Their 5 outnumbered our 3 and the momentum disappeared totally. Tactically outsmarted by Alan Pardew…not AVB’s finest moment.
Vertonghen hit the bar from a corner but otherwise that was that. Dawson was thrown forward late on but we couldn’t even whack the ball forward properly.
So what to make of this? This was different from some previous games where we hardly got into the box let alone make a chance. We can put a lot of this down to the keeper and should not be too down because if we play like that for an entire match, we will do well.
However, it comes in the context of an inability to score and some of the same patterns were on display. Soldado needs service – through-balls and the ball in front of him in the box. Without it, he contributes little and did not play well yesterday. We have to have faith and gear the team around his needs. AVB knew that when he bought him but he’s not so far achieved that aim.
I’m boring myself with the inverted wingers, done to death in previous columns. Suffice to say we saw more of the edge of the box log-jam that has stifled our attacks almost as effectively as the opposition back four. We are doing their job for them. Siggy and Andros ran into trouble, while Paulinho and Eriksen prefer it on the outskirts of the area. Problem is, there are few cut-backs because no one is going to the byline, no one in the box to help Soldado.
I will break a long-held golden rule and just this once make a comparison with Barcelona, which is normally the refuge of those who don’t know the game. They are one of the best club sides the world has ever seen so no wonder Spurs aren’t that good. The point I’m making is a simple one, however. For their third goal yesterday against Real Betis, Iniesta chipped the ball into the box and 4 of their players ran through to converge on it. I’m not sure we have 4 men in the box for corners let alone from open play. Regardless of the result, AVB has to solve this problem.
Also we have too many men whose instinct is to run with the ball. Good players, just not the right blend. It slows everything down. Add the fact that we have right-footers on the left and vice versa, they too want that extra touch or two. Not much in itself but add it up and it extracts the pace from our attacks.
We have a number of men playing out of position, and if AVB is sometimes accused of stubbornness then this is the point where I agree. Dembele is not best employed as a DM. His strength and passing ability have tempted AVB but he is the wrong choice. Sandro made a huge difference when he came on and should start, if he’s fit. Paulinho made his reputation as a box to box player but he’s being used elsewhere. I said last week that he needs a rest as he has become less influential as the weeks have passed. So it proved yesterday, admirably willing but a mixed afternoon and at fault for the goal.
Eriksen worsened as the second half went on but could be the creative hub with the right players around him. The wide men are not going wide and are not the men you want on the end of a chance in the box.
Townsend’s honeymoon is over. Opposition defences have sussed him out – two men and push him inside - and by the end his frustration manifested in wasted, hopeless long-shots. he still has a lot to learn. On the other side, Siggy was ineffectual.
I hope the squad are not getting fractious. Defoe gave Kaboul a right mouthful after an innocuous misplaced pass, and kept on going. This season he’s been hitherto completely focussed – this felt out of place and different.
Finally, all this money spent and no plan B. A number of quality players who are looking as though they can’t provide an alternative. Whatever Adebayor has done to hack AVB off must be the most heinous sin since Judas turned in Jesus. I enviously watched United, Arse**l even, Southampton with their central strikers as focal point and really missed Manu. We need him.
AVB needs more time to work this through. By now though, he would have expected to be much closer to his best team than he is. Or to be more accurate, the team and set-up he thought was close to his best is not working out.
Social media is awash with suggestions, including mine of course, and all of them different. These days everyone’s a manager and we’re all like Alex Ferguson – never wrong. AVB is in danger of becoming one of us, which frankly is a nightmare. He has so much potential at his disposal, he’s chopping and changing, which will create an unsettled side. He has to send a message to key newcomers, Soldado and Eriksen in particular, Lamela too, that for the next ten or so games, he’s going to stick with them and build the side around them. Let them make mistakes, allow them to learn. We’re in this for the long haul. They need time and that’s the best way to use it.
Back to school we go. We queued up to get a new blazer, sharpened our pencils and mum has been up half the night biroing our name into the collars of our clothes. Then school closed for ten days. May as well have stayed on holiday. These days the start of each season is absurd. End the transfer window at midnight before the opening game and shift the internationals. But here we are so let’s get on with it. So what do we know now that we didn’t know on the morning of August 18th?
That Spurs fans have every right to be excited about the quality of the squad. We have bought skillful, talented footballers able to play the Spurs Way, with the power and strength in key positions required to prosper in the Premier League.
That we will have to be patient. The coitus interruptus of the international break is a let down but creates time to reassess our performance. The madness of the end of the window with three transfers in a day and Bale’s impending departure (who will ever forget the regular scaffolding updates from the Bernabeu on twitter?) has thankfully subsided, leaving time for tranquil reflection, at least until kick-off tomorrow. The conclusion is, we have a lot of work to do.
Let’s start in the heart of the team, the defensive midfield. Paulinho and Capoue are highly promising. That area is their natural habitat and they know their role is not only to break up attacks but to start our own moves once we have the ball. Paulinho is the more flexible of the two, willing to get forward when the situation allows and his judgement in that respect is sound. However, after settling quickly at Selhurst Park, at the Emirates at times they both looked a long way from home. Sandro should be back tomorrow to provide more power and drive. Last season he did so well before his injury, Villas-Boas often switched to just one DM, allowing more support for the attack. And they need it.
That Soldado needs to be given the ball. Well obviously – but this guy does his best work in the box rather than leading the line as target man. Support from midfield in terms of both making chances and getting up alongside him is imperative therefore. I look forward to seeing Eriksen but it is not about one individual providing the chances, it’s a team effort.
That we have to get bodies in the box. See above. Six points from three games is a better start than we are used to but it masks the fact that we have not scored from open play. Partly this is because of a lack of creativity in the centre. We’ve directed much of our work out wide, which teams keen to pack defence find easier to handle. Partly it is due to a lack of support for Soldado in the box. We can’t be everywhere at once but have to get a better balance.
That progress hinges on the form of the old guard not the new wave. At least in the short-term that is. Sandro’s back. The back four have to get their act together. With Dawson rather stranded for the Gunner’s goal, either they sort out the high line drill or, better, Kaboul returns alongside Vertonghen. Rose needs a run while Walker has to improve his decision-taking, that is not get drawn out of position or sucked into unnecessary fouls. Chiriches still doesn’t have a work permit – I trust the club have not made a misjudgment here. I don’t understand how that can happen.
That I wouldn’t swap Lloris for any keeper in the league. Huge favourite of mine.
That Dembele is key. He has been somewhat overshadowed by the newcomers but he has the lot. Hard to shake off the ball, a good touch and the pass to pick out a man in the box. The axis with Sandro was dynamic when they played together last season. His manager likes him but should play him further forward to make best use of those talents. But we have a problem – he’s not played well for some time and he can’t finish a match. If he’s not fully fit, rest him until he is. His lack of form and fitness has had a greater impact than has generally been acknowledged.
That Adebayor has a vital role to play. Barely noticed during the transfer furore, he provides not merely cover for Soldado but alternatives too. His movement and ability to bring others into the game offers variation, provided his motivation is right. He likes to be top dog and although the club are rightly and generously nurturing him during the aftermath of his brother’s death, his mind could be elsewhere when he’s fit again, in which case suddenly we are short of options up front.
That bloody international break. AVB has had no time to work on tactics and formation, precisely the things that are most needed. I read today, for example, that Lamela hasn’t trained with the team since the break. It’s like starting all over again.
That Franco Baldini is a star.
That our rivals are benefitting from the lack of change. Arsenal had an organisation and ethic that was enough to keep us out despite our possession while at Liverpool Rodgers has begun to get the message across, despite having a worse squad on paper.
At this point last season I thought we would do well but not immediately. Patience remains a virtue, except that with this squad the rewards when they come, and I think they will, could be great. I’m looking forward to the journey.
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.