Opinion: Clinical, individual and poor

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I can’t be too negative. Thanks to a penalty from Burnley’s Chris Wood, the Europa League chances are starting to look much more promising. With Wolves it should come down to whether we can do better hosting Leicester than they do at Chelsea—since both play Palace in their other games. And the Blades go to Leicester and Southampton with a home game against hapless Everton in between, on paper they always had the more difficult journey.

We defended well on the whole. Aurier is my MOTM for even playing after the tragedy he suffered just two days prior. And but for one poor clearance he played well, as did Alderweireld and Sanchez also but for a couple of curious inabilities to clear. Ritchie’s goal was a semi-wonder strike, and the Gayle deflection in the first half was simply a brilliant piece of football we were lucky to have dodged. As for Ben Davies, his defending was mainly adequate, though Saint-Maximin started causing fits in the second half. His passing and overall ball sense was dismal tonight, and he was hardly alone.

Let’s shift to the attack and credit Lucas Moura for the effort which produced Son’s goal, Steven Bergwijn, having just come on for the Brazilian, for an exquisite cross that Harry Kane could hardly have failed to head into the net, and Erik Lamela for making the most of a run sent to him by Kane when his lack of pace looked like it was going to fail him and putting the shot on target Kane rebounded in for the clincher. Effort and clinical finishing—and those two ingredients were enough to secure the points in a game where Newcastle were easily our equals, and sometimes our betters, for most of the proceedings.

Now to the not-so-good stuff. They weren’t Arsenal and I got tired of all the Hugo long balls, in this case since it wasn’t Luiz, Kolasinac and Co. back there, often amounting to nothing more than another Magpie possession. But when you see how poorly most of our midfield and forwards were when they had the ball today, maybe you can understand that Jose has method to his madness. 

Winks is a statue—not strong, fast, skillful or committed enough to go forward. If he had Mousa Dembele’s ball skills and defensive ability, that all wouldn’t matter. But he doesn’t, of course, and I can’t wait for the day when someone— whether it is Tanguy Ndombele or somebody else—takes him back to the bench where he belongs. Giovanni Lo Celso had a poor game, even before the blow to his head. Passes and rhythm were off though his reach directed the ball to Son for the first goal. And he is catching that Spurs disease—you know it, the one that turns tentativeness into an art form.

Moussa Sissoko is what he is and won’t change. The engine is always running—he can flip the field, but give him the ball anywhere near the final third and nothing good is every going to come of it. Lucas was once again all over the place today and, again, his effort created the chance Son took for the opening goal. But too often it is a lone wolf attack, as with most of the others. Bergwijn has pace and that cross was brilliant, but he seems not to yet understand how to link up with the others. Son will always score goals, and for that we should thankful, but some of his play today, as against them on Sunday, was borderline awful. Poor passing, dithering, lack of verve. And while Kane’s head showed just how versatile—dare we call him Shearer-like today?—a goal scorer he is, he’s still a far cry from the dynamic player of 18-24 months ago. The net effect of all of it is simply a poor brand of attacking football—which predates Mourinho but which he has so far been unable to fix. Unwatchable. Frustrating. Perplexing given the history. But unfortunately this poor attacking has become our identity now. It’s going to take at least a summer and some new recruits to start to change it.

I’ll take the three points. Kazakhstan—here we come.

 

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