The Spurs team that came out at the Stadium of Light on Saturday had it all – they had an intensity rarely seen before, they showed great strength of character, plenty of energy and industry and a lot of intelligent inventive play. Seven shots on goal, five of them on target, one of which was converted – and that was just the first ten minutes.
Then somehow, the intensity seemed to drop, the industry was replaced by lethargy and the invention dissipated. Despite dominating possession by something like 70% to 30%, it was another 30 minutes before our next attempt on goal – the long range effort from Dembele which crashed against the upright.
We came out with renewed energy and enthusiasm in the second half and with our first meaningful attack were rewarded with a somewhat scrappy goal, but they all count.
But yet again, as we have done on so many occasions, including twice yesterday, we let the lead slip and ended drawing a match in which we had done more than enough to win and win comfortably.
In total we had 17 shots on goal, Sunderland had eight, only one of which was on target yet they scored twice – their second did not count as a shot on target as it came from Harry Kane. Poor Harry, thrown on to sew up the victory, ended up throwing away the points. But it isn´t fair to lay all the blame at the feet of our young striker.
The match should have been won well and truly before his introduction.
We were creating chances, in addition to Dembele´s effort Lamela also hit the woodwork and we went close but never close enough and yet again we have the problem that we simply cannot convert possession and chances into goals and with it we cannot get all the points that we deserve.
Every player did well enough, from Lloris at the back who really had nothing much to do but pick the ball out of his net twice, through defence and the defensive midfield to our attacking quartet, everyone did their bit without being spectacular and that perhaps is one of the problems.
It is all very well the likes of Eriksen, Lamela and Dembele seeing plenty of the ball, playing short sharp passes, interchanging position and running rings round the opposition if, when we get the ball into their area, the final pass is slightly astray or a defender gets a last gasp boot in the way.
One of the flair players has to step up and put in a masterful display, dictating the pace and pattern of play. Eriksen and Lamela, for all their talent, are perhaps too young and too raw to be expected to carry this mantle every game so it has to be players of the age and experience of Dembele to provide such leadership and such guidance going forward.
I am not for one second suggesting that Dembele should be made captain – that reward should go to Vertonghen (and how much was he missed yesterday) – but Dembele should be the creative fulcrum around which the others can express themselves.
But enough of the weekend and the return to Europa League action away to Partizan Belgrade.
Not an easy place to go, not an easy team to play against.
They have been playing European football ever since the competitions were first introduced in the 1950s and even won the European Cup in 1966, they have played in Europe virtually every season for the past decade – frequently in the group stages of the Champions League – so they have plenty of experience.
The vast majority of their players are native Serbs, some of whom are internationals, but none of them were considered good enough to represent their country last week in the international friendly draw with France – so from that perspective at least they cannot be that great.
But their quality cannot be ignored, this is a massive step up from the teams we have come up against in this competition in recent seasons – this isn´t Maribor, Tromso or Sheriff – so putting out a weakened team even with the players at our disposal could be a recipe for disaster.
Pochettino has made much of the fact that winning this tournament gives automatic qualification for the Champions League next season, so how he goes about this match will show us his real thinking.
Too much tinkering and the balance of the side could be altered, too little and players run the risk of tiring so early in the campaign especially with important games like the north London derby only two weeks away.
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