Were Spurs the better team, on the whole? I doubt it. Were we a bit fortunate on both goals (though we hit the woodwork three times in that second half) and for Kane to dodge a penalty? Yes. Did they put forward maximum effort in the second half, and essentially ran Leeds ragged? Absolutely. Whatever Conte said in the dressing room had an impact, and according to Sergio Reguilon’s post-game interview, he also shifted their defensive approach to man-to-man marking—effectively telling them beat your man. And by and large they did.
The first half malaise could have been a lot of things—rustiness from the international break (Davies, Emerson, Hojbjerg, Son and Kane all played for their country), fatigue from the training for those who stayed in London, early days difficulty in processing and adapting a different style of play, or perhaps its also a simple talent gap compared to the best in this league, all three of whom looked imperious this weekend. But for long periods at the beginning, we had no idea how to get the ball out of our end—a continuous issue. We couldn’t string more than two or three passes together, and sometimes not that many. Lucas, Kane and Son still don’t seem to have figured out how to play together, and Winks and Hojbjerg weren’t the ones to help them out. Reguilon and Emerson seemed a bit too tentative—the Spaniard’s failure to pass to his right side counterpart open in space rushing into the box was criminal—and then they both doubled down on the Leeds goal—the Brazilian nutmegged and Reggy and Davies late to the party behind James and his simple tap-in.
So the boos were deserved. The intent was clear from the start of the second half, Kane got through and only a fortunate bounce off the post for Meslier who sort of saved the shotprevented the goal. Son got lucky to have kicked a deflection and then unlucky it struck the underside of the bar and didn’t go in. Something had to give and when the Leeds keeper committed to his right, Lucas had the presence of mind to quickly turn and find Hojbjerg for a left-footed sweeper into the other corner. Lucas, who had his usual batch of frustrating runs and poor touches, also deserves credit on the second goal, as it was his run that created Dier’s free kick close to the box. And then credit Reguilon for running to the goal faster than anyone else to pounce on the deflection off the post. I thought the effort in the final 15 minutes was superb—Kane messed up a couple of great scoring chances with bad touches or poor decisions—he is pressing hard for that next goal, maybe too hard—but overall his effort was supreme in this game, holding, fighting, scratching his way with the ball. As was that of Lucas—and while Son seems a bit of a fish out of water, I can’t fault his work rate either. Harry Winks won’t ever play instead of Oliver Skipp, and he made the usual quota of giveaways—but there were a couple of good runs and a couple of nice longish passes. While Reguilon was up and down he did make the critical run for the goal—Emerson too had a mixed day but I thought Sanchez was very strong in his late cameo. Tanganga was not brilliant, nor Dier—but neither made any serious errors. It was nice to see Ryan Sessegnon on the pitch and he had one very good run, though his cross was poor, but what can you expect?
The goals for this season are obvious. Fourth place, given the turmoil at Old Trafford and the weaknesses of every other side that could contend for the final Champions League spot, is a clear possibility even if the current state of the club doesn’t seem to warrant it. A chance at a trophy in the Conference League or the two domestic cups cannot be discounted. But more than any of those, I want the Conte passion and production to sweep over this squad. Knowing that several of our players may not pass his muster—and will depart either in January or the summer. I thought his comments about Tanguy were telling (Just reread Alex Ferguson’s second autobiography—he described Juan Sebastian Veron—talented but ultimately unplayable because he could never fit into the team structure—in ways that instantly cried out “Ndombele” to me) and that our enigmatic star may have just another month or so to prove himself or a sale could occur. That’s football, though—the passion we all saw on the touchline in that second half and after the final whistle is what we have committed to. The players either step up or they will be shipped out.
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