In all likelihood, Top Four is a mirage—particularly if Spurs find some way to survive on Thursday in Florence. Somebody will earn points at St. Mary’s—United won’t drop many games like yesterday—and truth be known we aren’t quite good enough. Not yet.
But to the hearty souls that decided to walk out of the Lane when Adrian made that goal kick with a minute remaining—ARE YOU KIDDING? What team have you been watching the past six months? Don’t you understand that for all our faults– and they were legion on that pitch today—we have one overriding virtue. This team does not quit. Ever. Yes, we were fortunate that Danny Rose made an extraordinary bounced kick for the first goal after a so-so punch by an otherwise brilliant Adrian; and yes, we were even more fortunate not for the call—it was spot-on—but that Kane finally got into a threatening position that forced a stupid error from the Hammers. But hard teams with strong legs and deep character force those kind of breaks. I’m not sure what Spurs side will show up either Thursday or a week Sunday—but I do know that Fiorentina and Chelsea will have to earn the victories each are favored to gain.
As for the rest, the basic conclusion is as follows: 1) we are not good enough to overcome one simple managerial error—the absence of Eriksen for the first 45 minutes. Poch essentially conceded the point by yanking Dembele at the break. I don’t question the overall manner in which he approached these two games—he just got one of the moves wrong; 2) we are not good enough to overcome two crucial and glaring defensive errors—the first a trifecta (caused originally by a very poor giveaway by Ryan Mason) of Dier failing to get his head on the ball; Vertonghen laying back and thus failing to put Kouyate in a vise, and Lloris being just the tad slow necessary for the ball to find the back of the net; the second a Danny Rose mind block where he decided to play linesman rather than defender; 3) we are not good or deep enough to cope with this Thursday-Sunday fixture congestion—but one we must hope to continue as a win in Italy will narrow the odds difference between the two paths to the Champions League; 4) we are not good enough to feature Mason’s work rate alongside his utter inability to produce any real attacking brilliance—poor and misfired shots, occasional moments of indecision, stupid giveaways; 5) nor are we good enough to succeed when MousaDembele is clueless for a half and thus exposes the fact that Harry Kane is drawing three defenders, or four, and Spurs can’t find another way to the goal.
But we’re getting better—now perhaps just a player or two (an all-around midfielder; one more central defender) short of breaking into that Top Four. It’s just not going to happen this year. The week ahead will be momentous however it comes out—an angry Mourinho with a well-rested Matic-less side is more than a handful. The trip to the continent could work out any old way—I do expect Michael Vorm to get the call at Wembley—it’s fair and deserved. Kane and Eriksen can rest vs. Swansea—they will be needed in both of these contests. Lamela proved his superior worth to any of the other midfielders today—look for him to also start in both games. Paulinho will probably get the call Thursday; Fazio and Davies as well.
The chills and thrills never stop with this team, do they? We could be Newcastle or Everton. But we’re not—and whether it is this year or, more likely, next—the remaining rungs of the ladder will be climbed.
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