How can a team be so good for 80 meters and so poor in the last 20? Such was the condition of tonight’s mismatch vs Middlesbrough. Be thankful that unlike Arsenal and Liverpool we didn’t drop points. De Roon had the chance with a minute left and shot wide…
Get the positives out of the way first. The back four was solid—what Davies lacks in going forward he made up for with solid defending all the way around. There was a lot of movement in the middle—Dele and Son were particularly active—Son won the winning penalty, Eriksen made some combinations and could easily have scored a clincher late, Kane worked hard as always. The two rocks in the middle were just that—Dembele is my Man of the Match—he was simply irrepressible tonight, wresting the ball free of Boro attackers, constantly spinning and swerving out of trouble, running the engine.
As to the negatives, let’s take them in alphabetical order. Dele was very good, except when he wasn’t. He missed a couple of opportunities. Eriksen was hit-and-miss as his wont. Son marauded freely down the left wing and yet had much too little to show for it. The pass or cross was late, the shot not taken, the combination not seen. Kane played offsides far too often and blew one terrific three-on-two with a horrible pass to Dele when even a normal schoolboy player could have done better and pretty much guaranteed a goal. Too often players hesitated—yes, they dithered—when a quicker move might have released a teammate or caused a deflection or even produced a clean shot. Wanyama seems constitutionally unable to take that 20 yard screamer from just outside the box even when it is handed to him on a silver platter. Kane for all his pluses lacks that extra Costaesque burst or shove to break free and create a terrific chance. Eriksen seems afraid of his shadow too often. And Son appeared too reliant on the “final” move when a more direct thrust forward might have done better. Frankly, it made me long for Erik Lamela for one thing is clear: when he has the ball alone on the wing, the ball comes in hard to someone. As it would with Danny Rose, but we may have at least a month missing that talent.
Anfield will require a much more clinical effort, even with the Reds reeling from what has been a disastrous 2017. Klopp knows the title is unreachable but lose to Spurs next weekend and Top Four might be as well. It seems insane to say this, but we may be close to reaching the point when both Manchester sides could work their way back into the Top Four. Truth is, Spurs have been subpar since the Chelsea win. Unlike the earlier slump after the win over City, we’ve still managed to gain points in every game despite the regression in form. But now the fixture list will get crowded and the likes of Sissoko, Janssen, Nkoudou and Winks (and, we can only hope, Lamela) will have to contribute. I’d rather be us than any of them outside of the leaders, but improvement must come quick.