Spurs Go From The Ridiculous To The Even More Ridiculous

First minute, bottom of the table Leicester attack down Spurs’ left. Walker is out-paced but despite the fact that the attacker is offside, launches himself off the ground, man and ball go flying. The only casualty is Hugo Lloris, our best player and mainstay of a shaky defence, who is stretchered off with what looks like a serious leg injury. Probably performing a public service – unchecked Walker would have taken out the entire front row of the Paxton, such was his velocity. From the restart, Spurs give the ball straight to opponents. Cue goalmouth scramble which we eventually clear. This week Eriksen claimed in an interview not to know what ‘Spursy’ meant. You do now, my Danish friend, you do now.

This bizarre opening set the tone for a match that was genuinely extraordinary, and not in a good way. The sort of match where your full-back putting your keeper in hospital wasn’t the strangest thing that happened. That honour could fall to any one of several players and events, but the most peculiar thing was that we won.

Parts of the match were average Spurs, flashes of brilliance from Eriksen, effort from Rose and a close-range tap-in for Kane, amid the familiar stuttering, lack of fluency and inability to keep possession against teams below us in the league. Parts were jaw-droppingly crass stupidity, levels of mindlessness surpassed only by a steely determination to at all costs throw away a two-goal lead. Twice. Tactics be damned, mistakes I can live with, goodness knows I’m used to that by now. This is about one thing – how can professional footballers possibly be so witless?

On two or three occasions we passed free-kicks in the Leicester half backwards. Seconds later they had the ball and bore down on goal, scoring from one such gifted opportunity. Instead of being two up and coasting, we were straight away under pressure. Walker allowed Vardy inside him repeatedly by getting caught under the ball. Like others, the Foxes targeted our vulnerable right side. I have no idea where Townsend was, which sums up his afternoon in fact.

I’ve criticised Nacer Chadli since he came to the club. He’s the sort of player I don’t like, hugely talented but not prepared to work for the right to play. When he does put the hard yards in, as against Chelsea, he gets results. Yesterday he had a nightmare worse than the Omen, Exorcist and Chucky rolled into one. He whacked two great chances over the bar, an open goal in the first half after Eriksen’s superb run across the box, quality out of character with the game, ended with his shot hitting the post and rebounding to the Belgian, the other at the far post from Dier’s perfect cross.

In between, his performance was a series of calamities, all of which he brought on himself. The worst? First half, put through, he ended up doing the worst dive since my belly flop from the ten metre board at Crystal Palace in 1981 (I swear it still hurts…). Second half was when I confess I lost it. No danger, until he tried to shepherd a ball out of play that was never going to go out of play unless he kicked it. He didn’t and Leicester nearly scored or had a penalty or nearly had him sent off as he had already been booked. We were winning at the time but our Nacer wasn’t having any of it. Miraculously he stayed on the pitch until the final whistle. He must have some dirt on Pochettino, that can be the only reason.

We won. I have no rational explanation for this. Before kick-off a friend of mine told me she would cut out the swearing as another pal was bringing her young niece. She could not have possibly kept that promise, watching a game like this one.

All over the place and two up after a quarter of an hour. Do you get it now, Christian? Dier improvised a poor low near-post corner with a clever flick. The keeper pushed it obligingly onto Kane’s foot, then for the second Kane’s shot was massively deflected, and in. Some neat football with Eriksen’s clever passing and Kane’s willing running was soon forgotten as we let Leicester back into the game. Time and again we gave the ball away. Rose played well, getting into the box from deep and just before half-time making a goal-saving tackle.

Rather than signalling a resurgence, the second half became more farcical as time went on. Spurs are not a big side. At set pieces Bentaleb had been marking Morgan, one of the three Easter Island statues Leicester play at centre-half. He surged past the Algerian to thump an equalizer home.

It looked as if we had thrown this one away – no idea how to score. In fact, make that no idea. Then we got lucky, frankly not for the first time this season. Rose went down and the ref gave a dubious penalty. Kane converted confidently, no rebounds this time, for his hat-trick. Sincere congratulations, where would we have been without him this season? And because I care about you, H, some advice. If you know what’s good for you, don’t remember anything apart from the goals in heinous sin of a performance.

When you’re down, you’re down. As if Leicester needed reminding of this, Eriksen’s shot was blocked by the keeper but the rebound hit an onrushing defender who despairingly tried to scoop the ball off the line, and failed.

We won. I’m still not sure how. Two goals to the good again with a few minutes to go is not enough for us. Some sides would close it down but we allow an aimless long-ball to destroy our defence. Vertonghen got under it, round it, over it, everything except defending it. Nugent scored but we managed to play out time, only after another goal-saving last-ditch challenge, this time from Vertonghen.

The flaws of the squad, mental as well as in terms of talent, laid bare. Eriksen and Mason had little impact on the second half. Townsend was hooked again after contributing nothing. I like the fact Pochettino gives players a chance but you wonder why he regularly picks Andros and then substitutes him.

We won, I don’t know how but I’m grateful. This could be the worst I have ever seen Spurs play and win. Certainly the worst where we have scored four goals.

So much wrong with this performance but I’ll end by singling out just one point. The lack of on-field leadership is becoming glaringly obvious. Young players learn resilience over time. They are made of the right stuff – Mason, Kane, Dier and Bentaleb are all fearless and willing to take responsibility. However, they need some guidance and it won’t come from the current squad. After his error, Vertonghen gave that silly half-shrug he does as he chuntered on to the other players. Can’t even shrug properly. He is the experienced player, an international and World Cup player. Older maybe but not wiser. He’s not willing to step up. Worse in my mind than making a defensive error.

Spurs Suffering Goes On. In My Head.

And to think this was the game where we matched ourselves against one of the top four, when anything was possible. Three points and closing at kick-off, at full-time there was nothing left except a gaping gulf in class, United at their best, Spurs at their pitiful worst.

The match is over, except in my head. Ask me about the abiding image of this one, it’s of Spurs players staggering and stumbling like drunks on a weekend bender. Couldn’t keep the ball, couldn’t pass, couldn’t even stand up half the time. By the end, Kane was taking corners, presumably because it was the only way he could kick the ball without being tackled.

Let’s hoist last week’s concluding metaphor onto the rack and extract every last gasp. The switchback journey onwards became a nightmare ghost train packed with screaming kids, braying Tunbridge Wells stockbrokers on their mobiles and ipod users who don’t realise noise-reducing headphones are easily available on the internet and in the high street (at very reasonable prices I might add) that crashed into the buffers before the doors had barely closed. A couple of regular readers have kindly enquired as to whether the lateness of this column is because I could not face up to this abomination of a performance. Kind of you to enquire after my well-being – it’s actually because of a change in my work patterns but rest assured that I will keep spewing this stuff out albeit a bit late sometimes. But the first half was really one to watch from behind the sofa.

Twice this weekend I heard commentators refer to the ‘democracy’ of the Premier League. It is nothing of the sort of course. The top four is largely a closed shop unless you can afford to buy the privilege of entry to this VIP section of the club. What they meant was, most matches have a competitive edge and sides don’t give up until the match is out of sight. It’s rare that one side should dominate another as completely as United did on Sunday, and that’s before taking into account the fact that teams were separated by only two places. Spurs were eviscerated and none emerge from the slaughter with any credit.

Fact is, though, there was nothing new about the reasons underlying Spurs’ vulnerability. On Sunday Van Gaal exploited the weaknesses I’ve regularly written about: a lack of midfield protection for our full-backs, Dier’s inexperience and the fact that Mason and Bentaleb, strong when the ball is in front of them, are less effective if opponents get round the back. We know it all.

Spurs have been sussed. Our right side is being targeted – West Ham did the same. The only difference was LVG’s ruthlessness. Repeatedly he engineered three attackers versus two defenders, sometimes only one. Spurs were befuddled. Belatedly we tinkered with the set-up, with Bentaleb moving to the right of the defensive midfield pair, but the ordeal ended only when United took it easy in the second half.

If Gary Neville is doing the analysis on Sky, all blogging on the topic becomes irrelevant. Anyway, the first goal tells the whole story. Walker had gone wide to the touchline to mark up. I think that should be the midfielder’s job to cover with the full-backs tucking in as a compact back four, but at least he was marking someone, not always the case. Mason provided extra security by covering Fellani who had moved inside. But United had a third man out there who gained possession. Mason moved out, fatally leaving Fellani unsupervised. The Belgian ran through and scored.

This pattern was repeated for the next thirty minutes. Walker did not play at all well but without making excuses it was a collective failure. Townsend and Chadli, our two wide midfielders, do not defend effectively. Townsend’s contribution was to look worried. Frankly I expect a bit more. He suffered the indignity of being substituted before half time but switching Chadli, the worst defensive player in the team, to the right smacked of desperation and only made matters worse. Van Gaal has been heavily criticised for his tactics at United but he left Pochettino trailing in his dust.

As a result United were able to attack from several different angles. Mason and Bentaleb, one a good player the other potentially high class, are not naturally strong in our box, unlike, say, Sandro or even Capoue (remember him?) who are more comfortable defending. Sandro was admirably fearless plugging the gaps in the back four. How I miss him…

Anyway, the crosses came in from all angles. As much as possible, United tried to get Fellani on Dier. The young centre half did his best but was repeatedly beaten in the air. Again it’s something we know. He’s inexperienced and to be positive he has exceeded expectations so far. Surely we bought him as an investment to mature in two or three years time.

Bentaleb, rattled, committed an error that in other circumstances would have been catastrophic, a pass deep inside our half straight to an opponent, then goal. It’s just that there were similar cock-ups every few minutes, they scored from this one but there were plenty of others. We could not keep the ball at all. Kane was isolated and offered no respite, Eriksen disappeared. The tattered remnants of our pressing game merely left our men stranded upfield, leaving space for United in front of our back four.

Second half, United kicked off their shoes, picked their toenails, leisurely dip in the hot-tub, chilling until the final whistle. Towards the end we did actually get the ball in their box a couple of times. Adebayor appeared. That’s it.

It was dreadful. The players were uniformly disappointing but Pochettino had the real mare, out-thought tactically and slow to respond.

Nothing new – inexperienced teams show promise but are not known for consistency. The failure of expensive players leaves us exposed despite the laudable commitment of our promising young men. Not time to pick over the bones of the Bale money again, disappeared down the drain into the murky sewers, but how we needed an imposing figure at centre half at Old Trafford and Fazio has much to prove in that respect despite his experience and past achievements. That’s why we bought him.

Four home games left. Win those and see what happens. The top four? Do me a favour.

All Aboard The Spurs Switchback

Kane scores, Lloris saves, dodgy last 15 minutes – match report for every Tottenham game. Cut and paste from now until the end of the season. While you’re at it, pop into the doctor’s and check your blood pressure. Welcome aboard the Spurs switchback, open from now until the end of the season, high-speed thrills and spills guaranteed.

Yesterday’s away win at QPR was the machine-tooled template. After a bright start, Spurs faded but were a goal to the good at half-time courtesy of Harry Kane’s header from Townsend’s free-kick. Revitalised after the break, Spurs were inspired for the best part of half an hour, some gorgeous free-flowing football creating a stream of chances, all bar one of which were missed. Cue frantic last quarter of an hour when Rangers pulled one back and had the opportunity to pinch a point.

As a Tottenham blogger I am duty bound at this point to use the adjective ‘Spursy’. These performances feel like part of a long tragi-comic tradition where so much classic attacking football is wasted because we’re bound to cock it up at the back. In fact, it’s merely the consequence of where we are in terms of team development: better going forward than defending, still learning and lacking the nouse to shut the game down when we are ahead. There’s plenty of promise there, it’s just a shame that it is hard to fully enjoy the time when we are playing well and on top because you always feel something is going to go horribly wrong.

Whatever the faults, the last two wins, versus Swansea (a game I missed hence no blog) and yesterday, are testament to the commitment of this young side, the youngest fielded in the PL as I understand it. It would have been easy, forgivable even, to fold after defeats in Florence and in the League Cup Final but this lot are having none of it. In fact, the disappointment seems to have turned into a force for good that’s driving them on harder and faster. It’s no mean feat and one that should warm the hearts of every supporter however the season ends up. This is such a likeable side.

Yesterday turned on the respective formations. Against our customary 4-2-3-1, Rangers went 4-4-2. We therefore had a bit more in midfield, they had Austin and Zamora up against Dier and Vertonghen. QPR were therefore always dangerous – we could not keep their strikers quiet and they looked dangerous throughout. However, Lloris was outstanding once again. If you built a brick wall at the near post, it would not have been more solid than our Hugo. As the shots came in at full blast, Lloris beat them all away. It helped that Austin missed a couple of good chances, hitting the bar on one occasion when he seemed certain to score.

Mostly however, our midfield held sway, especially in the second half when Eriksen was given (good tactics from Poch?) or took it upon himself to have a freer role. We began well with Townsend and Walker combining well down the right. Kane hurtled in at the near post but his bullet header was pushed over by Green. Eriksen popped up a couple of minutes later and we were keen to keep the ball moving, usually forward and seldom across, at a high tempo.

However, a daft error by Walker who was frustratingly inconsistent all afternoon, tilted the momentum of the half Rangers’ way even though he was baled out by his goalkeeper. Again. Once more a side were allowed back into a match.

Nevertheless Spurs went ahead. As Townsend’s inswinging free-kick hung in the air, the defenders seemed to melt away and Green’s late, futile decision to come for it made Kane’s task even easier. He headed into an empty net. I could have sworn the commentators on my Spanish stream were making Hurri-kane puns. His fame is spreading far and wide.

Second half, we played some of our sweetest football of the season. With Eriksen prominent and Kane’s delightful movement we were unstoppable on the counter attack. Eriksen had one cleared off the line, Walker shot selfishly when he should have passed it and we should have been home and hosed after this period. Still, we had another goal to enjoy. Mason had time to nonchalantly shield his eyes before clipping a perfect pass over the static, square back four. Kane ran on to it, skipped round the keeper and rolled it home, a fine goal.

Rangers pulled one back with a quarter of an hour left, a lay-off from a ball into our soft-centred defence and the ball was slotted in. But we survived a few a scares and spent most of the five minutes of added time in possession close to one of their corner flags.

Mason had an active, spiky afternoon striving to boss the midfield and to a large extent succeeding. He broke up our opponents’ play, started a few of our moves and still had the energy to get forward. Playing opposite Henry, an old school enforcer, Mason would not be bullied. Pochettino had to step in after one tackle where the two ended up nose to nose. Later, Bentaleb took out Henry – he and Mason have each other’s back. Kane was just terrific throughout, his movement perfectly in sync with the rest of his team-mates and sharp as a tack in the box. All without a hair out of place.

Spurs fans are used to the ups and downs by now. However, the context is unexpected, at least for me. Not so long ago in the excellent comments section there was talk about getting to 40 points and safety. Now Tottenham lie 6th, a full 8 points clear of the team in 8th and 3 points from a Champions League spot, currently held by Manchester United who we play next Sunday. I confess this is the first time in a long time that I have closely scrutinised the table. I thought we’d toddle along, win some lose some and that europe was beyond this team but here we are. The pressure’s on but that’s because we’re in with a shout and credit where it’s due to a decent manager and committed players. With no midweek game at last there’s a chance to draw breath. Pop down the surgery while you can.

Spurs Bravery Not Enough

Spurs’ endearing mixture of bravery and naivety was enough to make our loyal supporters get behind the team and for some cushion the blow of defeat. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near sufficient to win the League Cup Final.

It was a fine effort from our young team, remember one of the youngest sides ever to play in the top division up against the might of an experienced, expensive Ch****a side. They simply refused to be overawed either by the occasion or their opponents. In the end, though, the Blues were seldom stretched and we did not make a decent chance until right at the end when the game was lost.

After an opening ten minutes of Ch****a dominance that was sobering even for those just in from the pub, Spurs admirably got a grip on the game. Driven on by the ferocious determination of the excellent Nabil Bentaleb, we fought for every ball and every inch of territory. With little assistance from Townsend in front of him, Walker used his pace to get on top of the dangerous Hazard. Fabregas was quiet.

Bentaleb was a man possessed. At 20 he was the dominant figure on the pitch for extended periods. He could not have done more for the cause. At the end he applauded the fans then dashed down the tunnel as he could not bear the pain of defeat in public.

He and others refused to give ground. Costa pushed him in the face. Mourinho had done his work well all week, bullying little Burnley and then referees and the FA over bias against his team that he has fabricated. It worked and the ref did nothing but that’s not the point. Bentaleb refused to be intimidated and made sure Costa knew that. Costa then moved towards Dier – I felt the Blues targeted our right side, Vertonghen had far less to do on his side – but Dier took a couple of paces towards him and fronted up. At the other end, Eriksen pinged the bar with a free-kick.

Harry Kane, frustrated no doubt with the lack of progress from his midfield, dropped deeper on several occasions to mount lone, heroic charges at the massed ranks of the Ch****a defence. He doesn’t seem to do very much on the ball but they couldn’t get it off him, not without crowding him out like birds mobbing a predator who strays too close to nesting grounds. In the end it amounted to little, a couple of long shots plus one or two chances at the death which were blocked, but by then the game had gone and everyone knew it.

There was pride and defiance from supporters on the way home as the songs rang out to accompany the soft-shoe shuffle towards Wembley Park. Even the Nicola Berti song made a welcome appearance. It matched the current mood, with fans looking forward to the day and keen to get behind the young team rather than become mired in win-at-all-costs anxiety. Support in the ground was loyal, loud and long, although I am told about a full-blown punch up between those for and against Pochettino.

So much to admire in such bravery but in the end experience rather than a gulf in class told. Tottenham are always prone to defensive errors. Yesterday for the most part we were better in possession than over the past 5 games, where mistakes have been consistently horrendous. However, all our good work was undone just before half-time in a couple of moments of unforgivable naivety.

As the ball dropped over his head, Chadli needlessly committed a foul instead of working harder to get back into the right position. The free-kick was a poor one but Rose at the near post flicked it into the middle when he had a decent chance to clear it. The ball was deflected twice more, first to Terry then his shot hit Kane and went in. What a waste.

The Chels second was another deflection, Walker turning a Costa shot past a wrong-footed Lloris. It was undoubtedly cruel but it enabled Chels to do what Spurs can’t, to shut the game down with a minimum of effort. Time passed slowly but we never pulled ourselves back into things. Rose and Walker were often our best attackers, using the space on the flanks well, but we failed all game to produce a decent cross into the box. Eriksen was busy, prompting and probing, but again was seldom dangerous. I recall only two proper saves from Lloris but at the business end the stats show we had only two shots on target all game despite having the lion’s share of possession.

So disappointment but no disgrace in defeat. I reject the temptation to see our exit from 2 cup competitions in 4 days as a turning point because the issues facing the club, both opportunities and threats, remain the same as they have been for several months now. The emergence of the young players has been an encouraging feature that has brought supporters and team closer and augers well for the future. However, the very fact that this has been forced on Pochettino shows the deficiencies in the current squad and the lack of long-term succession planning that brought us to this point.

We may be separated from Chelsea by only 6 or 7 league places but the gulf in experience and ability is vast, and I’ve not even mentioned money. The squad depth is shallow. Poor Soldado has gone beyond anger into the realms of deep pity and sympathy for his plight. Lamela has seemingly forgotten about his precocious talent and gets worse every game. Great credit to the highly promising Eric Dier but he has to play because 3 hugely experienced, pricy centre halves, Fazio, Chiriches and Kaboul, aren’t up to it. We have no wide players to play effectively in our forward 3. Chadli, rampant in the 5-3, was anonymous yesterday while Townsend perked up for a while before fading. Neither got into the box to support Kane, neither protected their full-backs.

Regular readers will know I take no pleasure in saying this, but despite my philosophy of Realistic Optimism, it’s a fact, jack. Can’t hide it. We have major rebuilding ahead in a summer where Levy will be saving money for the new ground and fighting to hang on to Vertonghen, Lloris and Eriksen, never mind buying new players. But like I say, we already knew that, deep down.

In the meantime, let’s carry on with the defiant pride and get behind the team. They need our help to avoid the season fizzing out completely.

A couple of random thoughts to end. Our national stadium cost £798m to build, almost as much as a burger and chips inside the ground, but too much to ask that someone sitting 22 rows back is protected from the rain.

Also, judging from the number of lifelong Chelsea fans who have “always” been supporters, their crowds must have been around 150,000 per week, not the 12600 average in 1983 or even 21000 in 1995. Surely some mistake. And to the Blues who sat with us on the tube coming home, you didn’t even stay to see the cup awarded. Frankly, what’s the point?