If winning ugly is a sign of a successful team, this was the Elephant Man of victories. Spurs v Everton should never have come out in daylight. Rather, the game is destined to slip furtively through the back alleys of north London largely covered in a hessian sack for fear of scaring the onlookers.
Nature and adventure. That’s the way to go. Something different. Exciting, innovative, all round White Hart Lane. On the advertising boards, of course. None of that on the pitch. It was that sort of first half, plenty of time to read the ads. One from Spurs encouraged us to ‘Join the conversation’ – nothing much to talk about. ‘What would you like to remember?’ begins the prompt on my note-taking app. About the first half, frankly nothing.
I’m grateful for the three points, I really am, don’t get me wrong, but my giddy aunt large parts of that game were the worst we have played since I don’t know when. Disjointed and devoid of both ideas and energy, we created very little in the way of passing moves in the first half, let alone chances.
Everton had the better of the opening period, Osman missing with two or three decent efforts from the edge of the box and Lloris making one top class save, full-length to his left. We gradually came back into it without making much of an impression on the Toffee’s well-marshalled defence. Eriksen shot over from a long-range free-kick and Adebayor stretched in vain pursuit of Rose’s one decent cross of the game.
Rose was holding his back even in the warm-up and looked sluggish throughout. Eriksen was peripheral, Lennon anonymous, carrying on from where he left off last week. I hope Paulinho is feeling his way back to full-fitness after his injury because if not, he must be mightily hacked off about something. Only Dembele provided any drive or impetus. A rock on the ball, defenders bounced off him as he went he forward but he had precious little help from his team-mates. He should have tried a shot or two.
Bentaleb kept moving across in front of the back four, tidying up and making himself available, his distribution a mixture of the accurate and misplaced but he was not alone in giving the ball away. A plastic kebab box blew across the pitch as half-time approached. Guess the defenders had the time to tuck in. It was so quiet at times, I could hear Sherwood shouting on the other side of the pitch. My highlight thus far was queuing for the toilet at half-time.
After the break Spurs emerged with a bit more purpose and bounce, though everything in this game is relative. We weren’t really getting anywhere but there were a few oohs and ahhs from the crowd, although by then winning a thrown-in might have led to a lap of honour.
The match was won with a moment of high-class football utterly out of keeping with the rest of the performance because it involved a) quick thinking, b) a pinpoint pass and c) a shot on target. Dembele toppled over in centre midfield. While everyone waited for him to pick himself up, Walker hit an early diagonal ball 40 yards onto Abebayor’s chest. Everything about what followed was perfect – a finely timed run to avoid offside and get a precious yard on the defenders, his impeccable control, his strength to hold off two defenders and above all a blinding left-foot shot that flew low to the near post. My whingeing about this game should not detract from Manu’s cracking finish, thrilling with the co-ordination and flow of a striker at his peak.
And that was pretty much that. The goal was our first shot on target. Stats show we had another one but I can’t recall it. Sherwood used his subs well, Capoue coming on to shore up the defence as Everton pressed and the bold move of Defoe and Townsend to distract Everton at the other end. Andros ended up shooting against defenders’ legs from a foot and neglecting his defensive duties as Coleman overlapped but the danger passed. Capoue came across to help but nearly undid his work by making one rash tackle, on Coleman in the box, but the ref said ‘no penalty’. We played out time without too much bother.
A few things to take from this one. People are still talking about Sherwood’s 4-4-2 when he has often varied his formation. This was 4-5-1 to match up with Everton. In the end, both sides cancelled each other out, which made for a dull game. Everton had no recognised striker and it really showed. Even so, their attitude was too cautious and they did not pressure us when it was clear we were not playing at all well.
Our main problem was the absence of movement when we got the ball. Time and again we picked the ball up in midfield only to find everyone bar Adebayor standing still. We did not get enough players in front of the ball in those situations. One – Adebayor – is not enough. We have the players to do it, we have done it in away games to good effect, yet nothing yesterday and that could be down either to player lethargy or poor coaching.
Adebayor was our best player regardless of the goal. He kept working and was always available despite not getting any support from the midfield.
I’ve never done it myself but I could understand why many were tempted to drift away before the end. A shame though – they should have stayed to say farewell to Jermain Defoe, who wandered slowly around the pitch taking his applause from two-thirds empty stands. A mistake to let him go. He found himself a relic of a bygone age when the big man/little man combo reigned supreme. Sincere thanks for everything he’s done. I was sad to see him drift away like this and think he was sad too.
Several years ago I spent an agreeable few days in Venice. Pretty soon I ditched the guidebook and ended up just meandering through the narrow streets or toodling round the canals on the vaporetti rather than seeing the sights. I loved the atmosphere but didn’t achieve very much.
A quarter pounder with onions outside the Colonel’s burger van in the Paxton doesn’t quite have the same ambience as a macchiato and ice cream in San Marco but the pleasant disorientation is not dissimilar, a blissful disconnect between surroundings and emotions, being there but not fully involved.
This is an odd phase for Spurs fans. There’s so much going on – new manager, different formations, the dust not quite settled yet from AVB’s departure. Yet it’s hard to engage fully. It’s going on around me but I’m not part of things.
Not sure why really. Nothing but good wishes to Tim Sherwood but I can’t as yet escape the nagging doubt that this is all temporary, that Levy and Sherwood both have long-term plans which do not necessarily involve each other. Levy will continue to seek options for another appointment in the summer, someone with kudos and experience, while Sherwood in the short-term is going along with the party line – plan for the future, no new players this window, leaving us with only two strikers is perfectly acceptable – and knows this is his chance to create a reputation for himself as a manager, but not automatically of Spurs.
For the moment, Sherwood’s gaze is fixed immovably upon stamping his authority on the side, and a frankly scary gaze it is too. Sometimes we ask the children I work with how they know their foster carers mean business, they reply simply, “It’s the look.” All the complex interaction and attachment theory takes second place to the look, and I reckon one glance from Tim sends a few of those players scurrying to do his bidding, double quick. And that’s a good thing – he’s working hard to get things right. Still, a lot of attention has been focussed on Tim’s team selections and tactics but again we’re waiting until the team of injured players return to contention to truly see what the rest of the season holds.
I guess I thought we would be somewhere else right now. After New Year was the time the plans, the training, the talent, would begin to bear fruit. Not a conscious thought, you understand. Sometimes you define your hopes only when they fail to materialise.
Plenty of time to ponder the meaning of it all during the first half on Saturday. I watched incredulously a comedic tour de force of slapstick and pantomime. This was a surreal masterpiece with an entire team apparently unable to pass the ball to each other, or run around with even the vaguest purpose, or defend, or attack. Walker and Dawson were our very own Chuckle Brothers, competing to kick the ball as hard and as far away from a team-mate as possible. Adebayor played statues; Soldado came to the party as the invisible man but no one knew if he had arrived or not.
Dizzy and disoriented, I waited open-mouthed for us to pull ourselves together but things just got worse. Palace didn’t help. Half their team of giants were lumbering around in those padded superhero suits that kids dress up in, with six-packs of stuffed cotton-wool. If only they had scored, it would have brought me back to reality. But they couldn’t, not through any skill on our part but through their own role as sidekicks, setting up the gags and executing with wild passes and misplaced crosses.
If the humour begins to flag why not get in the way of your team-mate’s goal-bound shot or wait, here’s a penalty! Dembele obligingly fouled Chamakh – that will teach him for trying to run back and tackle! Puncheon stepped up and with exquisite comedy timing choreographed his routine with the sole purpose of placing the ball into row Z. Not blasting you understand: make ‘em laugh is the motto and that would have been too obvious. Lloris added a neat touch, quietly fist-pumping as he lay on the floor, as if he had had some role in a penalty miss that left the crowd past derision into helpless laughter.
We were chuckling too at the absurdity of this game, one of the most inept 45 minutes I can recall from Spurs, so bad that the crowd were past anger. Just as bizarre was the fact that although Palace could have been three up, we came closest to scoring in the first half, when Adebayor might have got his head closer to Lennon’s cross and then Bentaleb’s sweet first time long-range effort hit the woodwork and defied the laws of physics by twisting along the goal line and out.
At half-time Sherwood got the look going. He had been dancing around on the halfway line like a demented jester for much of the half – he must have been furious. To his credit, he got through to them. Without playing especially well, Spurs upped their game to get enough of a grip to overcome a poor Palace side. A early goal helped settle any nerves. Never mind the cultured stuff. Route one, Adebayor headed down perfectly for Eriksen to smash it gratefully into the net. Manu had one of his sedate afternoons – in the first half he was at his most energetic when shouting long and hard at the bench about something or other – but his presence offers the option of the high cross or in this case, long ball.
Talking of odd things, has a player ever scored for Spurs having been sold? On came Defoe and soon afterwards reacted with quick feet in the box to stab home our second. Today there are pictures of him in Toronto doing the scarf overhead thing beloved by new signings the world over, greeted by concerted indifference from passers-by in the airport. Saturday he’s back on the bench, presumably? Like most things about this game, I don’t get it but I’m grateful for the goal, JD.
The match drifted to a conclusion. Palace were never going to score so we didn’t bother defending corners and their giants queued up to head it wide. They were unlucky early on but the organisation that confidently resisted our first half attacks broke down too easily in the second. Their supporters are second to none, however, loud, scurrilous and funny. Good luck to them.
We were dire, got three points, let’s move on. But not before praising the performance of young Nabil Bentaleb. If he is anything to go by, Sherwood is a fine judge of a player. Upright, mobile and aware, his passing is quick with a sure touch and weight. Highly promising and apart from decent supporting roles from Lennon and substitute Naughton, the only one to rise above the dross.
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.
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.