Have we all lost our collective mind? This was Poch’s fault because he kept out Vertonghen? Really? Because he may have valued the small little tussle this Saturday over an uncertain outcome in Monaco? Because he just might have concluded that qualifying for next year’s Champions League when he has a squad a year older and more experienced that might also have learned how to play at Wembley by then takes precedence over a likely knockout matchup this season with, say, Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich? Because he knows better than we all do just what was lost and established last May at Stamford Bridge, and how vital the return visit is for real and psychological reasons?
Listen, I was hardly happy about the performance today. They looked slow for much of the game. The defending was poor, the energy hardly better, and the lack of imagination or creativity in Monaco’s third baffling but for the fact that we’ve seen it all before. So part of the responsibility lies with the coach for not preparing his team better. But maybe they’re just not ready for the regimen of tough Premier League fixture followed by tough European fixture a few days later and then repeat the pattern back in London. Maybe a not-so-subtle message to Mr. Levy has been sent that filling Wembley to the gills is one thing, but actually making it work is another and requires some more player investment.
But can we examine the options here? Poch knew he doesn’t have Alderweireld for Chelsea, nor Rose due to suspension nor probably Davies, either. Which means Vertonghen will be forced to play left back- not his favorite endeavor—against the likes of Moses and Pedro and even Hazard or Costa if Spurs are forced into a 3-5-2. Which means he needs a supreme performance from the Belgian. He cannot play every game. With Walker can we remember that he got a knock near the end of the West Ham game and he becomes equally vital on Saturday. And frankly playing Wimmer and Dier when at least one of them must return to the starting XI at the Bridge was probably advisable just for familiarity’s sake. So I can’t fault him for concluding that we might allow a goal, and it’s up to the attackers to win the game. Which they couldn’t. And in the ugly sequence that culminated in the winner tonight, it sure appeared to me that the Original Sin was by Danny Rose, who allowed a far-too-easy run down the right wing and forced Trippier to essentially choose which Monaco forward to cover. Rose has been our best defender with Toby out, but not tonight.
As for that attack, Son and Alli were kept out of the starting lineup vs West Ham for a reason: to play in this game. We all agree that Eriksen has been off-form—was anyone shocked or dismayed that he was left on the bench? Kane over Janssen is another no-brainer. And Dembele and Wanyama is our best holding combination. Who would you rather have started? Nkoudou? Sissoko? Lamela is out. Harry Winks was the one debatable choice but why not play a hot hand from the last game? Truth is Pochettino put the right attack force out there, and they played poorly. Is that his fault?
I don’t know if we can muster a draw against Chelsea. I don’t know if by beating CSKA (or drawing) whether Europa will a) give us a chance for some redemption and needed continental experience, or b) become the stake in our Top Four heart with Chelsea and Liverpool both able to focus exclusively on the league, and City and Arsenal having the pedigree to play well all the way through the season. But I do know this—with health and a couple of extra bodies, we are good enough to compete through May and earn a return engagement in the Champions League. If Poch had played Vertonghen and Walker, and Spurs had earned a draw today, we’d still require Monaco beat Leverkusen in Germany and a Wembley victory over CSKA. In other words, no guarantees. And if the defence had let us down v Chelsea as a result, wouldn’t the naysayers be howling then?
We’re not quite there yet. Losing two games against the likes of Real Madrid would be nice, but it wouldn’t change the reality. The league is where the focus must go—and we need one more attacker and one more central defender in the January window. Blaming rotation is a copout. Players play. Let them show us they’re capable.
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