Opinion: We dared and we didn’t

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There is no reason to be harsh about the effort, about the selection, about the manager’s philosophy, or even about the substitutes since Jose basically had to play the hand he was given. It was a hell of a game, decided by a harshly given penalty and the fact that as a whole they were more ruthless on attack than we were, and we were more leaky in the back than they were—both by slim but decisive margins. As a result, we have one less trophy to play for, but it must be said that this is the least vital of the three given that we have advanced to the final in the other domestic cup (and that City could very well be waiting somewhere down the FA Cup road as well) and the continental cup offers an extra inducement given that a Top Four finish seems a bit of a pipe dream.

I’ll take the game in thirds—first half, second and extra time. We came out aggressive, nearly scored in the second minute then got the goal from a nice glancing header from Sanchez from one of several superb crosses by Son. I instantly texted a mate “We have scored too soon”—and then after a couple of chances to double the advantage, Hojbjerg made his first mistake of the night. For all his gifts—particularly winning the ball back and sticking his foot in to stop an opposition break—he has two major deficiencies, both of which would cost Spurs in this game. A heavy touch deep in our zone led to a quick flip and there was Calvert-Lewin from Gylfi and Hugo is simply not Hugo anymore. And in a flash, it was two and this time full credit for a nice finish by Richarlison but we couldn’t possess a long ball and nobody closed him down.

The third goal was, I suppose, in that grey area where I truly don’t believe Hojbjerg had intent nor do I think the contact warranted Calvert-Lewin going down. But what can you do? Lloris looked helpless against Sigurdsson and one had to believe we might just be done. Until Erik Lamela and Son combined for a nice goal before halftime and there was hope. In the second half kudos for Son for forcing the corner, delivering the ball and there was Sanchez at the right place at the right time and game on! Would that my discussion of our Colombian defender would stop there—on the two remaining goals first Richarlison and then Barnard essentially made the same move—splitting the defence, Sanchez ball-watching and Lloris beaten from a tough angle by fine efforts, but again there was a time where Hugo tips one or both of those shots. Kane got us to extra time after Son kept an original corner alive with another beautiful cross and with nearly 30 shots on the night we had our chances to win it.

In the extra time, the problem was simple. We ended up substituting Winks, Sissoko, Dele and Vinicius for Lamela, Lucas, Ndombele and Doherty—in none of those choices did the better player come on, however fresh they were. It’s tough to be too judgmental when only Sissoko of that quartet has had substantial game time this season (and he not coincidentally was involved with more opportunities to score, such as they were) but they never seemed capable of getting the ball to Kane (who did have a couple of decent chances, kicking the ball into one defender’s backside and missing a free header in the final two minutes) or Son and we were far past counterattacking given how Everton were set up. That said, aside from the truly horrendous state our defence has fallen to (Can’t you hear Jose now? “You want to play open, like Spurs in the past? Well, that’s what you get. We lose 5-4. Entertaining. But a loss all the same.” He does have a bit of a point) and in this case mainly Davinson Sanchez and Hugo Lloris, there was some very vexing play by certain other players. Hojbjerg’s other problem—and frankly it seems team-wide but for players like Lucas and Lamela, both of whom again helped force the action; is a curious inability to seize the moment and advance on a break, instead opting to stop, assess, and if the perfect through ball pass isn’t available, the momentum is gone. It drives me crazy. Ndombele has a different problem, but to the same effect, which is that he doesn’t seem capable of possessing the ball in anything other than that stop-start herky-jerky motion of his, so he too failed to advance the ball a couple of times when it appeared a break was in the offing. Son will make the run but often to little effect.

Meanwhile, Everton were ruthless in continuing a break and trying to spring one of their forwards several times, knowing of course how vulnerable we were in the back. Dele and Vinicius are simply not capable at this level of delivering what they are being asked to do. As for Harry Winks, he’ll be playing elsewhere next year. If he’s lucky it will still be in the Premier League. His failure to clear properly cost us three points against West Ham. His losing possession twice in a minute allowed the winning goal (Sanchez ball watching) sequence to occur last night—and his play did not improve after that mistake. When a ball came flying out of the box to him late in the game and he had a half dozen teammates in position to take advantage of either a touch and a pass or an accurate pinging shot, what did he do? Sent off the side of his foot fifteen yards wide of goal and out of play.

Another time near their box with Spurs desperate for an equaliser he was simply tossed off the ball as if he was a teenager in the academy playing against the big boys. There were many reasons we didn’t win—but the inadequacy two players in particular—Sanchez and Winks—is so obvious that one has to wonder how much Mourinho will hide them the rest of the year.

Anyway, it was until it wasn’t. Not gutting. Entertaining. Frustrating. But we didn’t learn anything new about either our best or worst players than we didn’t know already. I assume some front line players will get the day off on Saturday no matter how big the score becomes, because let’s face it—a game against Wolfsberger matters a lot more than one against the best team in England and perhaps all of Europe.

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