This is a column about managers. We have so many lurking around London that it’s hard to avoid them. Yesterday Four Four Tim decided in the pre-game show to turn a question about the absence of Luis Suarez for Liverpool this season into an opportunity to complain that his squad last season lacked “hierarchy”. As he briefly posited that Brendan Rodgers might be suffering from some selection headaches, he quickly expounded that for him the lineup choices were like “picking from a hat”—and that he could only rely on training performance to determine which Spurs player to choose, they were so equal. OK—there was, and still is, some truth to the critique—but isn’t that a manager’s job? To select amongst relatively equal, but all very skilled professional footballers, the right combination for a given game and opponent? Sherwood then showed a bit more of his hand in deciding that Pochettino’s XI versus Brighton/Hove were “more offensive” and likely to score than those he had chosen for Newcastle just three days before. And that Andros Townsend in particular was a preferred option to Erik Lamela, who has been so “poor”.
Well thank goodness the facts showed up at the Lane tonight, as the only thing that finally kickstarted a desultory Spurs attack was the introduction of same Erik Lamela at the beginning of the second half. I didn’t stick around to hear if Sherwood recanted any of his criticism in the post-match discussion—and I really couldn’t care less. Lamela was the difference-maker tonight—he enlivened Soldado, who had a solid game throughout and was, again, unlucky in not scoring at least once, Kane, and, yes, even Andros Townsend, whose runs actually had some purpose to them once his Argentine teammate took the pitch.
But I have a bigger gripe tonight—why is it that Tottenham managers must complain about either our fans, our ground or both? As AVB twisted in the wind, he chose to attack the fans, the media and the narrowness of the pitch. Luckily Pochettino has not yet called out the first two, but sure as autumn follows summer, there he was yesterday complaining about the narrowness of the pitch at White Hart Lane. Aside from the cheapness of the broadside, I wonder if Mauricio wouldn’t be better off just shutting up and doing something about it. Maybe Harry Redknapp had more skilled and incisive players (remember Bale and Lennon’s strikes through Arsenal at the Lane in 2013?) but I don’t recall him wasting any breath on the dimensions of the pitch. He just sent Luka and VDV and a more spritely (back then) Defoe and Lennon and ultimately Bale into action…. And goals would result.
Which gets to my point. I’m fairly new to this, but I see only three ways to beat the “bus” formations Spurs often face at home—the first is to induce the counter to set up a return counter—but then again, we all know the problem with this tactic: Spurs will allow a goal far too often before they can ever recover the ball and speed back the other way. The second is what I will call “Gunner-Ball”—the type of intricate close-in passing that our hated rivals have made their specialty in recent years—and which Spurs simply do not possess enough of the right players to execute. Though if I had to place my bets down on any of the current roster to produce this type of magic, it would be Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela—Bobby Soldier was particularly inventive tonight.
The best way to flatten the tires of the bus is to run wide—and here is where I believe Spurs will get a major boost within two months’ time. Ben Davies need not wonder why he isn’t selected for the first team—it is the pace of Danny Rose. And nor should an aging Aaron Lennon doubt why he can no longer crack the preferred XI—he simply lacks the explosiveness he once possessed. Kyle Naughton, Nacer Chadli are both serviceable on the wing—but we need some real pace—and with purpose. If and when Kyle Walker returns this season, perhaps he will supply some of it, but who knows what the abdomen surgery will leave in its wake? Andros Townsend is fast but seems to lack that finishing move or even cross that will produce a score. But trust me there is a player waiting to join this team that will astound you in his ability to break down a defense from the outside. DeAndre Yedlin is a winger turned fullback with world-class speed and the presence of mind to do something great once he has turned the corner. The U.S. national team in Brazil was only really dangerous (given Jozy Altidore’s injury—don’t mock me for that, Mackems—he really scores for us if not for you) when Yedlin would burst down the right wing. Will he have some growing pains as a pure defender? Invariably. Does he have the speed to recover from a mistake? Indubitably. But will he provide a level of dynamism in the midst of a cold and wet winter that this Spurs’ side may desperately need if they want to contend for European honors? Absolutely.
Yedlin is the real deal—his latest comments suggest that Jurgen Klinsmann has already influenced his ambition—saying he grew too comfortable in Seattle and the MLS—and he wants the challenge of English football. I can’t wait for his arrival.
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