Pressure, What Pressure? Dreamy Spurs Rise To The Challenge

Pre-match, the same question is on everyone’s lips. Can we do it? It’s uttered in credulous tones. There’s no big-club hubris or culture of expectation here, more wide-eyed wonder at how Spurs got here, dreamy bewilderment at how it’s going to turn out.

At the latter stages of any competition, the experience of dealing with the pressure in the  past and building precious resilience is a distinct advantage. Been there/done that trumps all. It’s true for supporters as well as players. Truth is, Spurs fans aren’t sure how to react. Most are simply delighted with the way we have played this season, the commitment, the togetherness, the absolutely belting football that has taken us to second place.

Some are looking for problems, fearing it’s bound to all go to pot. This is a reaction we are familiar with, Spurs being spursy, and in times of trouble we all revert to behaviour we are comfortable with. Except spursy no longer exists as a concept. Tottenham are second in the league because we deserve to be, because we are playing better than anyone except Leicester. It’s tough to get to grips with, but that’s our Tottenham.

The supporters may be nervous but the team showed no signs of trepidation. The pressure brought out one of the performances of the season, a comprehensive victory in the most regal manner. The first half was simply sumptuous, a scintillating display of flowing football. Attacks came from right, left, down the middle. The midfield five changed positions as if controlled by a single mind, up front Harry Kane turned in a masterful display, the epitome of a complete modern centre forward.

And the pace of it all. It flashed by in a blur, yet you didn’t want it to end. Stop the clocks, press pause, I want to take a breath, take it all in. Many moves were flawless diamonds, twinkling, beguiling with each facet worthy of further consideration under the jeweller’s eyepiece. At half-time I couldn’t stop grinning.

Scoring after 44 seconds helps, mind. Bournemouth are no mugs with a fine recent away record but I felt beforehand that despite their undoubted work ethic, they would not be able to cut down our space and break up the flow for the whole match. From the kick-off, it was clear they had been told to press Spurs at the back to stop the attacks at source. As their front players dashed forward enthusiastically, they left a gap behind them. With a 40 yard cross-fielder, Lloris found Walker free and on the move, he rushed upfield and his laser-like near post cross was turned in by Kane. Watch a replay – in the build-up Kane refuses to allow the centre half to get ahead of him as they moved across the box together. Top class.

Whether it was pre-determined planning or off the cuff improvisation, Spurs not only kept a high tempo, they looked to pass incisively into space from deeper positions, thus avoiding getting tangled up in a series of one-twos in confined spaces around the edge of our opponent’s box, which has often been the case this season. Bournemouth’s centre halves were slow on the turn. Time and again we sought to slid the ball into the gaps around them. Crosses were earlier and, in Walker’s case, harder and directed into the area between keeper and back four.

Tottenham’s second was a case in point. Forget the 35-yard slam into the top corner, give me a through-ball and shot every time. Wimmer, Dier and Dembele were able to pass up the middle all game. This time, Wimmer’s low pass found Alli. One touch then a through-ball outside the centre-half into Kane’s stride, his first touch was to stroke it past the keeper into the far bottom corner. It was a thing of great beauty, something to cherish.

That pass. Alli was outstanding in this period, linking with Kane and a constant threat. He turned in another quick cross from the right but offside was given, perhaps because Kane was marginally off as the ball came across. Just before half-time he set Kane up but his cross eluded Eriksen on the far post. It was a match of ooohs and aahs. Gasps of frustration as the defence dug out the through balls at full stretch. Only Lamela looked forlorn. He’d taken up good positions all game without getting on the end of anything. Glumly he stared at the goal after Rose shot when he was unmarked 6 yards out. Four or five at half-time would not have been flattering.

Bournemouth made two substitutions at half-time and forced a series of corners but Spurs came closest to scoring. Eriksen led the break from deep in our half, Kane was involved, of course he was, Walker made a lung-busting 70 yards run but seared his shot just wide.

Any Bournemouth revival was snuffed out when Boric clumsily parried Kane’s shot to Eriksen who tucked it home. The players gathered to take a little moment for themselves, no madcap celebrations, just reflection on how well they were playing. The Cherries’ fans were great, their team did not manage a shot on target.

Line them up for a pat on the back. Kane outstanding, two goals, an assist, a defensive tackle when he could easily have taken a breather up field. His movement, touch and link-up play made this one of the most complete performances I have seen this season from any footballer.

Alli terrific in the first, Eriksen throughout. Alderweireld and Wimmer in a personal battle as to who could make the best 50 yard diagonal pass. Dembele strong, Dier sweeping up any danger before it reached the back four. Rose made two fine second half blocks at the far post, doing enough to prevent a bigger forward getting a clean strike on goal.

‘Leicester City, we’re coming for you.’ We’ve sorted it now. For the first home game, the fans placed our challenge in context. The chase is on, 1 down, seven opportunities left. Flat out in every game. Leave nothing in the dressing room. Ditch the prediction leagues, you can’t predict this. Our run-in is difficult, no question, but Spurs have no need to fear anyone or anything. Bring them on, bring them all on.

Exhausted. Just Me, Spurs Were Fine.

Our world looks odd from the outside. I follow comedian Simon Evans on twitter because he’s funny, not for his perspective on sport. This weekend, he’s more involved with football because he wants Leicester to win the league. His conclusion after checking all the results, predictions and permutations was this: “It must be bloody exhausting to genuinely give a sh*t.”

My life at the moment, right there. On the same day Spurs had one of their easiest wins of the season against an ailing Villa side. By the end, I was knackered. I’ll tell you how bad it got. Of the many dire cliches in football, the worst of the worst is “2-0 is the most dangerous scoreline.” No, it isn’t. 1-0 is worse because you have one goal fewer. 0-0 is worse because you do not have the lead. And I’ve not even mentioned losing 4-0, which I would venture is more dangerous still. But for one terrible moment in the second half, I found myself solemnly evaluating the merits of something as self-evidently wrong as marmite and custard (don’t try that at home kids). Then there’s always “One of those days when the keeper saves everything….” don’t get me going.

This clammy fear was compounded by Peter Drury, the commentator on the stream I was watching. He had Spurs as winners as soon as we were two up and spent the rest of the match talking about all the possibilities at the top, all with his commentary trademark of using ten inappropriate words when one simple one might do. The computer screen was several times in danger but survived, as did I.

Villa and Bournmouth are two winnable matches and we have to take maximum from them. Spurs took the right approach and in truth I could not have asked for more. With a full-strength side, we took the game to our opponents from the start. The tempo was self-generated because our opponents were as shapeless as a woollen jumper left out in the rain. Kane chipped onto the bar, Lamela the post and the keeper saved everything thrown his way. Guzan has been dropped recently because he has been so shaky but yesterday for twenty minutes he played us on his own.

Despite the setbacks we kept going, undeterred and largely untroubled. As everyone was winding down for half-time, Deli Alli was wide awake. He was fouled after making yet another little burst through midfield. He picked himself up, took the kick quickly and placed a perefect ball at Kane’s feet. He rolled the ball across the keeper into the far corner.

The second came just afer half-time. Villa lost the ball in a tight spot 60 yards from their goal. 5 passes and 8 touches later the ball was in the back of the net. Alli, Lamela and Kane made it, Kane finished it, Alli and Kane both touching the ball twice in a flowing, effortless piece of football.

Along with Kane, Walker and Alli stood out. Refreshed after a rest this week, Alli had both assists and his combination play with Kane posed a constant threat while took advantage of the freedom of the right wing. Villa don’t bother with all this covering back malarky – Walker could operate as a winger most of the time. Lamela did well, linking up in and around the box. His early pass split the defence but Kane lobbed the keeper and onto the bar.

I genuinely feel for the Villa fans, cruelly treated by unknowing and uncaring owners and management, who reward failure by creating jobs and fat contracts for themselves. How can people do these things to any football club?

A good win but there are no new lessons to be learned from this week. All season Spurs have been a match for anyone if the best nine from eleven play, perform to their best and are all fit. Of the side that played yesterday, Wimmer is a very able replacement for Vertonghen, otherwise it’s only Lamela in my view about whom there’s any selection debate.  Maybe Mason to allow Dembele to come forward. The problem with the Dortmund game was that our squad is not deep enough to offer rotation that maintains quality. Lamela is far more effective if he has an extra half a yard of space and Villa were much more generous. All this we know.

My main worry at the back is our comparitive weakness in the air at set pieces, which we’ve seen a lot since Christmas. Gested missed two good chances that he should never have been allowed.

Spurs have to go flat out for the rest of the season. Don’t think of rotation. Clear heads of all doubt, the only thing left is to give everything, every game. Banish fear and doubt -all we have left this season are opportunities. Same approach for every match, leave nothing behind. Opportunities we can take.





NLD Comedown: Spurs Keep High Hopes

I won’t waste your time. Please don’t continue if you are after a match report on the north London derby. I was there. It was enthralling, compelling, utterly absorbing. Every neutral I have spoken to tells me it was a fabulous match and I’m sure it was. Just don’t ask me to tell you what happened.

Don’t expect reasoned or indeed reasonable analysis. It was a classic derby, raw and fullblooded, so chronicled not by a minute-by-minute report but by the circadian rhythm of body and emotion over 90 minutes. Individual moments become clear like isolated tops of skyscrapers poking through the mist. How they fit in relation to each other I’m really not certain. Alli’s volley in the second half after an insignificant match where he failed to make much of an impression but he can change things in an instant and I thought, hoped this was that instant, before it hit a defender and bounced over. Alli was still shaking his head when play restarted.

Dier flying in, the product of total commitment, frustration that we had let a lead slip and tiredness – hard game, long season. Bound to be sent off, two bookable offences, just as Couquelin had, refs always even it up. Except this time.

Wimmer’s heroic late block when suddenly we found defending hard again, saved us against the ten men. And Kane’s goal, when legs that have been wasted and soggy over the past few weeks suddenly for a second rediscovered their spring and the ball curled improbably, ridiculously into the top far corner. A goal deserving of victory in any match, anywhere, but as ever it’s the celebration in the stands that will stay with us as long as the exquisite memory of the goal.

Except it wasn’t enough in the end. At the end, disappointed didn’t cover it. Odd certainly, numb almost. I needed time to settle down and come to terms with the comedown after the biggest north London derby in my era, probably the match with the most significance that I have ever been to in person.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve embraced the joys of cup finals at home and in the UEFA Cup, which of course was also at home but you get my meaning. Perhaps when we had to beat Leeds in the last home game of 1974-5 to stay in the top division, but in those days the disparity between the divisions was not as great as it now appears. Less money in those days. Maybe a couple of desperate matches towards the end of Pleat’s caretaker reign in the wretched spring of 2003 when we could easily have dropped out of the PL. But the title has always been too far away even to dream about. So remote that it’s not even locked away in my deep subconscious. Beat Arsenal. The title. Beat Arsenal to the title. With a goal that good. From a player that good. With a team that good.

Logic, you want logic? Really? After what we have been through. Rationality, I still have a few traces left that have not been shredded along with my nerves. Look, Spurs played well. We took the game to our opponents without making the impact in the final third we deserved. In the first half especially, Rose ever-willing and alert on the left, put four or five balls hard and low into the near post. Intended or miss-hit we won’t ever know but what we do know is that no one was attacking them.

I saw Arsenal get strong in the middle where in their last three games they have been as softcentred as a Newberry Fruit (one for the kids there). Paying us the respect we deserved, that we have earned this season. Everyone raises their game now. ‘Lads, it’s Tottenham’ has a very different meaning these days.

I saw us dominate possession but let goals slip, the first and last, by giving the ball away carelessly. The second was especially galling as we had moments before defended superbly before letting it go.

I saw us rampage forward once the equaliser went in, 5, 10 minutes, I honestly don’t know, glorious stuff, off the line by a centimetre, two goals. Unstoppable. Or so I thought.

The rational explanation: nothing much has changed for Spurs. We play at our very best if we have a full team who are all fit and playing well. Against the top sides there’s little margin. Alli not quite on it. Needs a rest, a little knock I hear. Eriksen everywhere but his passing accuracy failed to come up to scratch. Lamela, again busy and pressing like billy-oh, except we needed also one moment of calm and precision with the ball at his feet, not to be on Saturday.

So that feeling. I wanted my moment. NLD, top of the table, Kane’s goal. I had it and it had gone. That’s what it was all about. I don’t think for you but I wonder if some of you, the ones who felt low rather than angry or disappointed, I wonder if you felt the same.

Maybe I’m being greedy, because last season in this fixture I had my moment, when I was right in line behind Kane’s unexpected header as it spun over and over and time stood still. But this felt different and I know why now. That moment was for me. For you too, and my son and my granddaughter in one of her very first games, but that was about feeling good, a great goal beats the old rivals.

This time, it wasn’t for me. I wanted this moment for the team. This wonderful surprising over-achieving team. This lot who are as committed and determined as any supporter. Who may be on the threshold of something special not so much in the next few weeks but in seasons to come. I wanted people, I wanted football, to see how good they are. To talk about Tottenham. Praise them, to marvel at how we got right up there. To see what Pochettino and his squad have created.

To take on the Arsenal and beat them with a goal like that. My Spurs can do that. Youngest side in the PL, outstanding, this is what they can do. I feel for them, not for me but for them. I wanted them to have that moment and for you and me to be part of that.

We saw enough, have seen enough, to know there may be other opportunities. Flat out now after a tough week, foot down, don’t think of tiredness, only of the rest week coming up. It’s mental tiredness not so much the relentless pressure on the pitch. That’s what gets the young and inexperienced so just go with it. Dortmund will inspire them, save enough for 6 points in the next two games, then let’s draw breath.

Outplayed. Now For Saturday

Sometimes there’s no alternative. Admit you’re beat, take it on the chin and move on. Yesterday against WHam it was Spurs who had to suck it up. Never in the game, from first to last.

Tottenham did not play well but were not allowed to play, never able to find a way past or through Bilic’s tactics. Pochettino simmered on the touchline throughout, muttering darkly to the bench. Whether this was because he was angry with his team or angry that he had been outmanoeuvred we will never know, probably a bit of both. It was a surprise to see WHam line up with three at the back but the real damage was done further upfield where they did not allow us to play out from the back by pressing the centre halves and denying fullbacks Trippier and Davies any space. In midfield they always had at least one extra man. Never mind three at the back, we hardly got anywhere near them and when we did, Kane was one versus three, an unfair fight even for him.

A theme of the past few weeks is that word is getting around – break the game up, disrupt the flow and Spurs are nowhere near as dangerous. We fell back into bad habits and for extended periods were our own worst enemy. We tried to beat a player and lost it countless times. We went long to try and loosen the stranglehold in the middle, in reality we just went aimless. Kane alone up front was easily picked off, but most of these passes went either straight to an opponent or into touch. Ahh, AVB, those were the days…

In my last piece I praised Pochettino for playing to Nacer Chadli’s strengths. He doesn’t take on the full responsibility of MP’s regime, so the manager has freed him, using him either in games where the team has a little more space (Colchester, Fiorentina) or as a sub when we need a goal and are pressing forward. In other words, not as a starter in a London derby.

Less than ten minutes in, Chadli’s pass back towards Davies put the fullback under unnecessary pressure and he had to concede a corner. It flew to the near post where the man Chadli was marking, or rather the man Chadli was nowhere near, headed it home. It was a vital goal. Ultimately it proved to be the winner but at the time it set the tactical tone. WHam did attack but they were under no pressure to open up to seek a goal. If you’ve gone with three at the back, perfect in fact.

Erik Lamela was also back to his bad old ways. He worked hard but held onto the ball too long and was frequently tackled. In one particularly irksome phase, he expertly wriggled clear only to stop and then pass to our wide man without spotting the two defenders in the way. All that hard work wasted. Meanwhile he got wound up and put his foot in late, breaking up the play and giving WHam the ball. Just what they wanted. Thought he had got past his brat phase – this was a big game and he did not cope at all well.

But they were symptoms not the cause. This was collective failure. It started early and spread from the back. Hugo has set an example for the whole team this season. Yesterday he missed a cross early on and then nearly dwelt too long on a ball at his feet in the box. We generated few ideas and forgot the movement and possession game that has served us so well. Might have done better to take a deep breath and knock it about for a bit. The only time we looked at all like scoring was after Alli came on and became a focal point for attacks as well as sharing the burden with Kane. He missed our one chance, miscuing a rebound after Toby’s fierce shot. It looked bad but the defender just did enough to cramp his room for movement as he shot. Kane looks really out of sorts. He looks knackered.

Enough. I’ve seen every NLD at the Lane bar one since 1968. Without question this is the biggest of them all. In my time the title has never been at stake, not for Spurs at any rate although in my time I’ve seen them win the league not once but twice. We are still second with everything to play for. Take the game to them from start to finish. Take them on. Don’t leave anything behind, play without fear. This is spellbinding stuff. The Derby will provoke every emotion known to woman or man then suck it dry, spin it around and rearrange the very atoms before we come out the other side. It’s what we live for.

Tottenham On My Mind has readers all over the world. The New Zealand Spurs Supporters Club are full of proper Spurs. They are running a Q&A with Don McAllister, who I think lives in Oz these days, before the NLD and you can watch it live on some new-fangled social media platform that I have never heard of and you can contact them if you want to join the club. Good people.

Add @opcmedia2013 on twitter or Periscope and we will post the stream up at 7am UK / 8pm NZ.

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Hope to see you guys Saturday