Kane Back With A Bang As Spurs Win Well

Vying for top spot in the THFC assist tables is Artur Boruc, the 35 year old Bournemouth keeper who looks like a throwback to bygone years when goalies who were getting on a bit usually carried a surplus pound or two. He’s the gift that keeps on giving, neatly wrapping three of the five goals in an act of boundless generosity that led to a thumping Spurs away win yesterday.

It all started so badly. A cross from the left, Vertonghen and Rose apparently mesmerised and drawn underneath it, Eriksen failed to pick up his man and Bournemouth were ahead after 47 seconds.

Past Tottenham sides would have dug an even deeper hole for themselves. This one picked itself up, dusted itself down and got down to business. On the attack since the restart, 10 minutes later Kane was in the box but drifting to a tight angle. However, Boruc’s mind was made up. He hurtled from his line and clattered into the centre-forward who picked himself up and put the penalty away. Then he dropped a straightforward cross at Lamela’s feet 6 yards out – good to see that Erik was in the right place for the ball regardless of any error.

In between, nothing he could do about our second, Dembele seized on a loose ball quicker than a mass of defenders and drove powerfully into the box before tucking in a low shot from the edge of the box. More please Moose.

So after conceding a soft goal in the first minute, after 30 Spurs were 3 up with a decisive grip on the game. Despite this superiority, we never coasted, keeping up the high pressing and effortless counter-attacking that gave our opponents no respite. Eriksen’s pass from the left to set Kane up was pitch-perfect. Other chances were made by pressure on defenders high up the field.

Bournemouth’s attacking intent is admirable but they leave themselves very open in the centre and Spurs took full advantage. Given that extra space, Eriksen was rampant and irrepressible. The forward three of Dembele, Eriksen and Lamela had the freedom to circulate. The Dane was at his best cutting in from the left where it’s harder for defenders to pick him up. If he comes inside it leaves the flank exposed but the Cherries could not take advantage, although other, better teams will. His inswinging cross for our fourth was simply perfect, curling away from the centrebacks and onto Kane’s boot. As I’ve said before about Eriksen, not everything he does comes off but any doubts are outweighed by his vision and ability to create that no one else in the side possesses.

Boruc coaxed Alderweireld’s header from a corner, two-handed, gently, precisely,  right at Kane’s feet for our fifth and ‘arry’s ‘at-trick, and got away with a blatant tug at Harry’s foot to deprive him of a second penalty. A delight to see Kane back in the goals and happy again. He has never stopped working, never hidden for a moment and his play outside the box is several notches higher than last season’s. To take the chances, however straightforward, he had to be there. All the great strikers, right place right time. In a football world full of cynicism and jealousy, is there anyone anywhere who truly begrudges Kane his success? If ever there was a player that you want to do well, it’s Harry Kane.

We now know Dembele wasn’t injured but has spent 3 weeks in some sort of cryogenic regeneration tank, emerging transformed as a whirling midfield colossus. My goodness me he wants to play, doesn’t he. Finally. Carry on like this and we’ll give him a pass on all the ineffectual performances, the wasted talent. I heard this week that Martin Jol described him as the hardest to shake off the ball that he’s ever seen. Many times this blog has lamented his wasteful ways, plaintively pleading for someone in the club to be able to do something with that talent. I had almost given up: Pochettino didn’t and look at what we now have.

Alli and Dier good in the middle, Alli learning so fast, when to move up and when to hold back. Mason back as sub. Rose at fault for the first goal, later, after Kane’s second, Bournemouth lumped in a similar ball to the far post but Danny got there first. Wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.

Unbeaten since the first game of the season, three points after a lacklustre defeat in Belgium and I read we’ve taken 7 points from 9 in the games following Thursday nights in the EL. In truth it’s unlikely that we will have an easier time in the league this season but the progress continues.

Spurs Draw: Reflections On Tottenham’s Growing Maturity

Given the hysteria surrounding Jurgen Klopp’s first match as Liverpool manager, many in the media must have been surprised that another team actually turned up at White Hart Lane on Saturday. Yet once the furore died down, the match said far more about Spurs’ progress under Pochettino than it did about the new kid on the Anfield Road.

Klopp’s good, mind. Because of the international break he only had his players for a couple of days but he certainly got through to them. From the kick-off Liverpool launched a ferocious onslaught, hurling themselves into tackles and blocks as soon as a Tottenham man got anywhere near the ball. For the first 10 or 15 minutes we could barely move, let alone get the ball out of our half. This wasn’t so much a press, more a vice and Spurs were being crushed. The Shelf was shrouded in dark muttered foreboding.

Not only did Spurs not cave in, they gradually came to terms with what was required. You could almost see the players working it out. Rose lost out, Walker lost concentration and Njie, on as early as the 11th minute for the injured Chadli, had no idea what had hit him, his head still firmly on the bench. With remarkable ingenuity, Eriksen and Dembele in midfield responded to the pressure. Eriksen thrived on the challenge. No time on the ball so play it quicker, pass and move, ready in space if needed. Others followed their example, Kane running ceaselessly into channels or dropping deeper, first touch to move it on. Dembele and Alli working hard in central midfield then Rose offering some respite wide left.

By the end of the half, we’d got past working it out, we were on top. We pinched the ball off them, Alli I think and Kane set up Njie whose shot was well saved. Njie just over, Kane missed the best chance of the game, shooting low straight at the keeper and Alli’s shot from the rebound was blocked. Not everything Eriksen tried came off but the angst inspired him to be energetic and creative, looking for the telling pass when he could have justifiably played it safe.

It shows how far we have come. The old Spurs would have folded like Brits on a picnic at the first sign of rain. Less than two years ago (it seems like another era) Rodger’s Liverpool started this fixture in the same manner. Spurs lost 5-0, had a man sent off and AVB was sacked. This was the most mature performance I have seen from Tottenham for a long time. Resilience through flair has become a hallmark.

To underline the point, Mason, Dier and Bentaleb were all missing from our defensive midfield. Once Dembele and Alli sorted themselves out, you wouldn’t have noticed. Alli played his most disciplined game, diligently holding his attacking exuberance in check unless he was free to move up. He didn’t get booked for a rash challenge either. He’s learning.

Dembele was a dervish of the midfield, tackled, holding and spinning on the ball like a man possessed. Holding onto the ball has been his weakness but on Saturday his ability to keep it and not be knocked off the ball gave his team-mates precious moments to find space so he could move it on. I know what you were thinking – he’s going to hang on to the ball once too often and they’ll break away…but he didn’t, not once. More evidence of the committment of this squad. Earlier in the week Dembele was tipped to leave the club in January to fund the purchase of a striker but this was the performance of a player determined to stay, to be part of something.

The second half was tense rather than exciting. The pace dropped, understandably, and it ended up with the teams cancelling each other out. A mistake looked likely to settle it as the ball stayed resolutely away from both penalty boxes. Near the death Eriksen set Kane up at the edge of the box but his shot was saved. At the other end, Alli conceded a free-kick – I feared that was the mistake but we cleared easily.

A touch of regret at the draw because Spurs had the better chances. Kane’s lost the magic in front of goal. It’s tempting to say he’s taking a fraction longer, one touch too many but last season he often had two or three touches while closely marked before scoring. Elsewhere his play has improved – he never hides, never stops working off the ball and twice barely perceptible shimmies plus a sublime first touch set up good moves, a third saw him chopped down mercilessly.

He could have done with some help, and that’s the problem. Too often he was isolated 15 yards from the nearest team-mate, dealing with a long ball against two defenders. Njie is raw talent, he’ll take a season at least to get used to the pace. So with Son injured, no one to share the goalscoring or for that matter anyone on the bench to make an impact or replace tired legs. The failures of the window leave us short. My fear, expressed at the time, was that it was both shortsighted and placed undue, unfair burden on the young squad however willing they are. I don’t want to be proved right.

Writing this blog I’ve come to the conclusion that the perspective from which fans  view the game significantly changes their perception of the performance. Television encourages a critical interpretation. It distorts what is humanly possible, makes the game look easier than it is. I’m not excusing basic errors early on in this game but from my viewpoint, centre Shelf 14 rows up, the speed of the first 20 minutes made me wince. The players had no time to react. I suspect social media was by and large flat after this one. As far as I’m concerned, I take my hat off to those Spurs players, each and every one. I don’t know how they can think straight let alone play that well. It’s unfashionable to make a comment like this and it’s not something that applies every week as regular readers know but there are times when mortals like myself don’t know how they do it. Perhaps we’d all enjoy modern football more if expectations were not so unrealistically high.

Poch’s Judgement Sound As Spurs Stay Stable

I’ve always reckoned that Spurs and Everton fans had a lot in common. Both sets of supporters have remained steadfast through the doldrums of recent times even though loyalty has been sorely tested by the success of their neighbours and bitter rivals. Once members of the so-called ‘Big Five’, the five most influential clubs from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties (the others being Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool), now no longer movers and shakers.

To a large extent it still holds true but over the past three seasons the comparisons with the other Merseyside club, Liverpool, have been unavoidable. Both Spurs and Liverpool were in the process of rebuilding, both appointed youngish managers, Andre Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers, within 2 days of each other in June 2012 whose reputations had gone before them. In the background, both clubs were itching for success and prepared, so it appeared, to invest heavily in the transfer market but looming over them was the expense of rebuilding famous but aging grounds.

No matter – these young coaches were the new breed, their methods and tactics compensating for any shortcomings in the market. Rodgers seemed to settle best but in the end AVB’s Spurs finished 2 places and 11 points ahead of Liverpool even though our side had several weaknesses.

Times change – the following December Liverpool ferociously tore into Spurs at White Hart Lane and ripped us apart as instinctively as a lion tearing the throat out of its prey. We lost 5-0, AVB was sacked and Liverpool’s thrilling attacking football nearly won the league.

Now it’s Spurs who have stabilised and Rodgers who is unemployed. Pochettino has so far succeeded where Rodgers failed. Comparisons are instructive as we pause for breath during the international break.

Pochettino’s choice of tactics is pretty much fixed to a 4-2-3-1 although the system itself has built-in flexibility, especially with the movement of the 3 and varying the attacking freedom given to the full-backs. One justified criticism is that he doesn’t have a Plan B if after 70 minutes things aren’t working, However, he knows what he wants and, above all, so now do the players. This has been at the root of our progress this season.

Also, he chooses players to fit that system. I think he is wary of the challenges that can be presented by players with experience who may have influence in the dressing room and different ideas about how they should play and what they should do in training. That’s why he goes for youth, because he can mould them, and why he was an attractive option for Levy when it came to choose AVB’s replacement.

It’s a shame in many ways but it’s working. The players know it’s Poch’s way or the highway. Those that didn’t buy into the philosophy were ruthlessly jettisoned. Now we have a group of players who can do what their manager wants. Also, the teamwork and attitude of those who are left has forged an excellent team spirit and a side working together for each other. Without any natural standout leaders, nevertheless the culture of hard work and high tempo has taken hold firmly in the squad, witness Lamela’s recent performances. A beneficial culture that exists independently of any individual is hard to establish but once created, it’s powerful and lasting precisely because it does not depend on the character of a few fist-pumping heroes.

Liverpool have spent an astronomic amount on players since Rodgers became manager. However, he’s fatally changed his tactical approach and bought players who don’t fit and/or aren’t good enough. Too many changes, players who are not the right fit for what their manager wants them to do, players who are not right for the intensity of the PL. There’s no spine, whereas our development this season is founded on the axis of Lloris, Vertonghen and Alderweireld, Dier (and Mason until he was injured).

Mulling this article over, Pochettino’s approach comes out in a positive light. The coach making the whole greater than the sum of the parts is at White Hart Lane, not Anfield, whatever Rodgers’ reputation may be. Some of it is refreshingly familiar though. Players with the right skills, the right attitude, playing in the right position, the one that suits them and team best. This applies to every successful side football has ever produced but it’s a lesson many managers and clubs easily forget, including Liverpool. Caught up in tactics, false nines, inside legs, registas, the essence of a manager’s job is player judgement. Still is, always has been. Right player, right attitude.

Rodgers’ experience at Liverpool also highlights a real potential problem, who takes decisions. Much has been said about Liverpool’s transfer committee. Informed sources point to players being bought who Rodgers did not want and an over-reliance on analytics, which provided skill but did not assess their attitude in the highly competitive PL.

Spurs have been here before. Martin Jol did not have full control over player choice and it seems suspiciously likely that Baldini’s bunch, the less-than-magnificent-7, were bought without full consideration of their ability to survive the physicality and intensiveness of 90 minutes in the PL, week in, week out.

It’s vital that we don’t repeat the same mistakes. Although we have Pochettino’s men leading the hunt for players now Baldini has gone, Levy showed in this past window that he has not dealt with a fatal reluctance to support his manager properly. The Berahino fiasco left us with one striker, Son is injured, it only takes one knock and Chadli’s up front…

Pochettino won’t repeat Rodgers’ other error, going public with his criticism of his employer. It does mean though that he will have to make do with what he’s given. Right now, I’d take the talent and attitude in or squad over anything Liverpool can offer.

Swansea – a reasonable performance and reasonable point, all in all. Blunt up front with chances missed. Kane’s fluency has eluded him but he never hides, even after the catastrophic unforced error when he sliced a corner into his own net, having been so reliable at that near post set-piece defensive position. Chances gone but not quite true to say ‘last season he would have hit that first time’, because last season he would often have a few touches and still score, but there are times when he’s thinking too much now.

Eriksen picked us up with those two free-kicks, the first the keeper should have covered, the second just about perfect. Good movement in the front three with Lamela and Eriksen offering some lovely angled balls from centre mid, Lamela really picks those beautifully. Son makes things happen in the box, maybe a different result if he had been on the end of one of them.

At the back, we let too many runners go in the first half especially. A fine header for their first but three Swansea players advanced unaccompanied on the back four. Dier looked weary at the end, still brooding about an unjustified booking. He deserves a rest over the international break plus I think he misses the Liverpool game through suspension. His frustration bubbled over at the end. After a fine 20 minutes when we should have scored, a point seemed enough, then Dier chopped down an attacker. The free-kick imposed needless pressure and all our efforts were about to go waste when Hugo arced into the top corner to miraculously tip a header onto the bar and away.

Spurs Start To Gel As Pochettino Gets His Message Through

After Wednesday’s disappointment, Spurs came roaring back to beat Manchester City. It was a performance to quicken the pulse and gladden the heart, scoring three in a thrilling second half where we took the game to City and they had no answer.

All the better because it was unexpected, partly in the sense that City were top of the table and have a good record against us, partly because after half an hour or so they looked so smooth and effective on the ball. De Bruyne at 50 mill plus looked like the bargain of the season. He put City one up, running onto Toure’s perfectly weighted pass and hitting it early past Lloris, who until then had been the last line of defence on several occasions.

Old failings though – it came from a misplaced pass by Walker, across their box and deep in their half. The old adage always was about not giving the ball away in dangerous areas – these days every area is dangerous, it seems. We’d been stuttery in front of their goal too, hanging on and not pulling the trigger.

But times, they are a’changing. Slowly but surely Pochettino is equipping the team to deliver his vision of high tempo, pressing football that moves the ball forward quickly when we get possession. After a slow start to the season and hampered by injuries, Spurs have gradually cranked it up, notch by notch. Palace was a step forward, this firm confirmation that progress is real not temporary.

Pre-season I said Pochettino’s role in shaping the team and getting them to be more than the sum of their parts was the key to success or failure. On Saturday some fine individual performances were eclipsed by the coherence and integration showed by the team as a whole. Every man worked their little over-priced socks off. They knew what they were supposed to be doing, where they should be and when.

Whatever numbers you use to describe a system, its success or failure rests on the ability of players to know where they should be in relation to their team-mates and the ball. This of course changes second by second. I remember reading in the Glory Game, Hunter Davies’ book about the 70s Spurs side, that players like Chivers and Peters would leave the pitch at the end of the game with a splitting headache, caused by the strain of concentration. YAgainst City, even those in the bottom stream for tactics and positioning like Walker and Lamela earned A* grades.

After 30 minutes and at half time – there are witnesses – I was downbeat but whispered that of all the top teams, City’s defence is the most vulnerable. Sure enough, we caught our breath and pushed on. City folded. Kane missed a good chance, when he could have passed, then Walker’s cross was saved by the sprawling keeper but cleared only to Dier whose arrow-straight shot flew 25 yards at a constant height of 1cm above the turf and into the bottom right-hand corner.

Second half and we carried on where we left off. Alli and Dier took over the midfield, a remarkable effort from 2 young men aged 19 and 21. It proves the effect of talent and application. Dier is a remarkable figure. I thought at best he was a stop-gap DM. Now he’s superboy. The intensity in his game is almost terrifying, the sheer force of will swept City’s expensive stars away.

The second half was dreamy, unadulterated pleasure. We roared as Alderweireld headed in a free-kick from close range. No City players between him and the goal. We swooned as Kane steered in the rebound from Eriksen’s free-kick that hit the post. We shared his joy, breaking his league duck, but if there was relief too he showed none of that. Steely gimlet eyes the sign of complete self-confidence.

Then we swooned as Lamela, put clear by Njie, tiptoed round a defender and  keeper before nonchalantly rolling into an empty net. Tip of the hat to Njie, who harried and chased up front after coming on as sub and both won the ball and delivered a great pass to set up this fourth goal. It was the moment he seemed to realise the physicality of this league and play his part rather than sit back. If so, he’s a quick learner.

Replays showed that a myopic linesman scored an assist with goals one and three but we were due a decision going our way/we earned it/these things even out at the end of the season/who gives a flying one – perm one or more from these. Nothing could temper the enthusiasm.

The highest praise is reserved for our defence. The other theme of the season so far is that our defence, reinforced over the summer and protected by Dier and his plus one, is vital to any improvement we make. If we’re not scoring as many, not a problem yesterday of course, then we damn sure better not give so many away.

The stats tell one story – fewest goals conceded in the PL thus far. The real story emerged in the way we handled Ageuro yesterday. Over the past few seasons we’ve not been able to get near him in the box. Yesterday he got nowhere. Late on, He advanced towards Vertonghen. Jan did not plant his feet in concrete, a problem of his in one on one situations. Rather, he stayed upright and shepherded his opponent on to his oppo Alderweireld who completed the tackle and the danger passed. Two centerbacks working together – at last – and credit to Pochettino, a defender himself of course, for getting them to gel so quickly. Vertonghen’s two jaded seasons a distant memory now. Good partnerships all over the pitch – the centrebacks, Alli and Dier or Mason and Dier, Kane and Son, as well as team cohesion.

Behind him, Lloris was my man of the match. Rock solid throughout, he saved the hard ones and cling onto the straight ones like a boa constrictor round his prey.

You could see why Davies gets the nod – strong in defence, close to his back four.Finally a special word of praise for Erik Lamela. Early September and his heart wasn’t in it. Boy it showed. Now, he’s decided he has a future here and is coming to terms with the hard work the PL demands. By all accounts Pochettino insisted he stay when the Berahino transfer fell through. Perhaps this was the vote of confidence he needed. Get goalside more often when you get back, Erik, but a real contribution to the team on Saturday.

Thanks to everyone who commented on my last piece about the team selection for the Arsenal game. Sorry, very busy with deadlines in the real world so for once not able to respond individually. I strongly felt supporters had been let down because this above all else is a game for the fans, one to win. It’s probably the most discussed article I have ever written, in the comments’ section and on social media.

I don’t feel any differently about it now. Big games against arch rivals are the matches we all remember and that’s why we go to football. The four best games at WHL in recent years, ones where the stands shook like the old days and the soul was uplifted – Arsenal and Chelsea last season, Arsenal under AVB, won 2-1, and Arsenal in the League Cup semi-final, 5-1, we played a strong team, they opted for a couple of reserves, we took them apart. One for the fans.

Many (not on here) linked the piece to their own distrust of Pochettino. Not my view – regular readers will know I broadly support what he’s doing, feel Levy has not supported him properly and he deserves my patience.

Saturday’s win was down to team spirit, talent and superb fitness, all of which have nothing to do with Wednesday night. It seems to be part of the folklore of modern football that you can’t win two matches in the same week with the same team. If that’s the case, then I’m glad I’m old-fashioned.