It’s comforting, if you’ve been lucky enough to be able to escape to foreign climes for a bit of a summer holiday, to come back to the safety, the certainty of the things that never change, in good old blighty: a lovely cup of tea, fish and chips and, of course, a pathetic Tottenham performance at home to Liverpool. Managers of old had a saying to sum up such a performance and our annual capitulation at home to Liverpool is certainly deserving of it: ‘We were lucky to get nil.’
I admit that, notwithstanding the ill omen presented by our allowing not one but two Liverpool players to overlap unmarked on the left of our box and being lucky that Balotelli fluffed his lines from the resultant cross when our two ‘defenders’ (as ever, I use the term loosely) mistimed their jumps either side of him, I was quite encouraged to have got past the ten minute mark without conceding. Not encouraged by the quality of our play, of course, but just to have survived for a good bit longer (at least 9 minutes longer than in the two away games at Man. City and Liverpool, anyway) than in some games.
It’s been a standing joke, even in these all-seater days, for some years that we have employed a succession of managers who, if the way our team performs on the pitch is anything to go by, give pre-match and half-time team talks that implant in our players’ brains (again, I use the term loosely) the tactical need to concede a goal as soon as possible after kick-off. Certainly that seemed, again, to be the case last Sunday; 11 minutes into the first half, barely a couple into the second. Our defenders were all over the place – except, of course, where we needed them – for both and for the second, we supplemented our positional sense with ridiculously poor decision-making, the sort that impels a defender to blatantly grab a forward in the box under the ref’s nose.
Forget about bleating about how easy Allen went down – it was a penalty. Let’s not crucify young Dier for it, though. At least not yet – we can at least wait and see whether he learns from such mistakes. Or whether, instead, he just follows in the footsteps of Walker and Naughton. He played quite well otherwise, all things considered, he has potential and, let’s not forget, he is our joint top scorer this season. ( He might well remain so for some time based on Sunday’s showing but I’ll come back to that later).
As for the rest of our defence….well, Vertonghen was anonymous, while Rose and Kaboul were dangerous every time they had the ball. Rose’s inclusion in the England squad on his form over last season and the start of this says everything you need to know about how threadbare England’s cupboard is but, still, a very poor Hodgson’s choice. As for
Younis Kaboul, he looks a shadow of the player he threatened to be before injury a couple of seasons ago and he now, sadly, very much reminds me of the player-on-verge-of-a-meltdown that was poor, ill-fated Dean Richards in his last season with us. His confidence has gone totally and the crowd became audibly ill at ease every time he got the ball, with good reason on most occasions, so poor was his passing. And, for a player of his size, the fact that he gets caught under the ball, allowing whoever he’s supposed to be marking free headers time after time, suggests he’s lost whatever positional sense he once had and that his default mode is sheer panic. I’d thought that we bought Davies from Swansea and Fabio Fazio from Seville to replace these two and, in my humble opinion, the sooner we do so the better.
And so we come to our midfield, as does the only result of our frantic transfer deadline inactivity: Benjamin Stambouli, from Montpelier, who has been described, not particularly promisingly, as ‘promising’ in some press reports. Another holding midfielder – ‘Just what we need’, I hear you cry. Don’t be too hasty, though. Our current incumbents, Capoue and Bentaleb, seem unaware of the job description, namely that the clue is in the name and that you are required to hold on to the ball. I know that some stat had Capoue down as having had the best ‘completed pass’ rate in Sunday’s game but what those stats don’t tell you is that all of these were 10 yard sideways or backwards passes.
Time will tell whether our offloading Holtby and Sandro was good business.. Holtby’s not really done it for us, though hardly had a run in the team to prove himself, so I’m not exactly under the moon about that. Sandro, though, is a different matter. I’m guessing that we let him go due to fitness, not ability, reasons. If so, understandable. If not, Harry boy could have got himself a bargain and we might be ruing that bit of business for some time to come. He was, as per his nickname, a veritable beast in midfield, tackling tigerishly, winning back the ball, distributing it well and even coming up with the odd goal. And extremely popular with Spurs fans. Ok, re-reading that last bit, I get it now why he had to go.
The lack of creativity and goalscoring potential in our midfield is downright distressing. This is the club that once boasted a midfield quartet of Hoddle, Ardiles, Villa and Perryman (or Yorath) for Christ’s sake! I still don’t know what to make of Chadli ( nor, would it seem, do his colleagues). Lamela I wouldn’t write off just yet – and least he didn’t hide and tried to get on the ball, even if he was dispossessed too easily. And Eriksson may yet prove to be a creative force if he can develop some consistency ( obviously I’m not talking about his corner-taking here, when he consistently finds the first defender ) and if played centrally rather than out on the periphery. But the fact that the only two chances we created on Sunday were from long balls and Liverpool’s inept defending ( more of that later) speaks volumes.
On top of all that, even if we had a midfield brimming with ball-players capable of a
Glen Hoddle-type pass that not only splits the defence but is delivered with snooker-like back-spin to keep it teasingly away from the opposition keeper and sit up perfectly for our forward ( anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about look up on Youtube
Garth Crooks’s goal against Wolves in our 81 FA Cup semi-final replay), Adebayor is clearly not, on this evidence, the player to capitalise on it. He’s another player seemingly being picked on past achievements (and, perhaps, worries about justifying why we’re paying him so much) and is currently demonstrating a touch that brings to mind 70s Leicester legend
Frank Worthington’s dismissal a few years back of some modern forwards on similarly inflated wage packets: ‘Some of ‘em control it further than I could kick it.’ In short, his first touch when anywhere near the Liverpool penalty area was terrible, giving defenders ample opportunity to get a tackle in.
As for the strength of our bench, I assume we’re talking about the qualities of the club carpenter here. I don’t blame the hapless Townsend for Liverpool’s third – he did at least try to beat his full back and did lose the ball a good twenty yards inside Liverpool’s half so was entitled to expect someone else ( a midfielder or defender perhaps) to have tried to close Moreno down and not allow him to surge unchecked all the way into the box. And here, it was also disconcerting to see Hugo Lloris, normally exempt from criticism as our defence implodes in front of him, fail, for once, to come off his line to narrow the angle. Townsend does, though, look more and more like a player who has too few tricks in his repertoire and can seemingly only produce when playing for lesser teams ( such as England) against lesser opposition. Dembele had too little time, though it’s hard to recall him ever grabbing a game by the scruff of the neck in a Spurs shirt and Davies replaced Rose when the game was lost and had little chance to show his worth.
By the end, I was relieved that we’d only lost by three. It could have been much worse, with potentially detrimental effects on our long-term morale. As it is, a mere three can, a few weeks hence, be looked back on almost as a ‘normal’ score and not a five or six-goal thrashing such as we suffered at Liverpool’s and Man. City’s hands (feet?) last season.
On the subject of those two teams, I’ll stick my neck out here and now and predict that Liverpool are the likeliest candidates to drop out of the top four should Man. Utd be Van Gaalvanised by their recent signings. In truth, I’d thought at the start of the season that, even without the marquee signings of Di Maria and Falcao, just having Van Gaal at the helm would render them upwardly mobile and, though they’ve been rubbish so far, the likes of us can’t rely on that continuing. Man. City have enough quality in all departments, and the experience of winning it twice now, to challenge for the title again. Arsenal, regrettably, continually demonstrate the strength of character and resilience that we habitually fail to do. Chelsea have signed a top-notch striker, the one position Mourinho identified as a problem area last year, as well as making some other astute purchases and miraculously banking big bucks for the liability that was Luis, and have the best manager. They’re my bet for the title. Liverpool have gone top heavy with quality strikers in an effort to replace Suarez but those strikers mask weaknesses at the back. Even we breached them twice with simple long balls on two occasions and, had we had a decent striker, could have made it a very different game at 1-1. Better teams than us will punish them.
As for us, it’s nice to hear that Pochettino remains optimistic that we will make steady progress this year. A 5th place finish and not spinelessly rolling over whenever we meet top four clubs would represent that. I can’t see that happening with the personnel, and formation, of Sunday’s team, though. If I’m wrong, I’ll eat my hat. And my scarf. And my badge. It’s good to be back.
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