There’s a word for that, it’s one that has been missing for most of the season, that word is football. This afternoon’s performance was an improvement in almost every aspect of our game, and like my half-time pie, it left a sweet taste in the mouth. There are genuinely too many areas of positive development to comment on this evening, so I’m only going to pick a few, but it’s the ones that are most important moving forward. First there is the evidence of a high-tempo pressing game that is finally rearing its head. Second, there is the interesting midfield academy partnership of Mason and Bentaleb. Third, the signs of life in Bobby ‘he scores when he wants’ Soldado. Yet, finally and most importantly, there is the atmosphere inside the Lane.
Let’s start with the style of play. I don’t think it is too harsh to suggest that in our last few premiership games we have lacked any sort of identity. Under Jol, we played fast, wide and without defenders. Under ‘Arry, we played even faster and on the counter, and under AVB, we gave the ball to Gareth Bale. To date, the lack of identity in our play under Pochettino has been not too dissimilar from that displayed under Juande Ramos. Importantly however, it is clear that this same symptom stems from very different route causes under the two managers. Every interview you read about Juande Ramos suggests that our lack of identity was rooted in the manager not speaking English and refusing to discuss tactics. Under Pochettino, he has a clear plan, a way he likes to play; he has simply been struggling to get his players to adapt to it.
Yet, today there was something different. It wasn’t just that our players were pushing higher up the pitch (this has on occasion been happening), it was that they were doing it in packs, they were doing it effectively and there wee visible results. Aaron Lennon and Harry Kane typified this in the first half. They were relentless, but they were also intelligent. One player closing defenders down, even done at light speed, will not yield results. You need several players, closing all the defenders down, in order to rush a team into a mistake. This happened for a majority of the first half and we won he ball on several occasions, and before the half was up, it yielded a result. As Everton tried to break, our attacking players were in their faces, short passes weren’t an option, Barry dithered, Kane pounced and the rest, as they say, is history.
By no means are we finished article. I feel it will be well into next season and probably with some personnel out the door before we consistently display this sort of pattern. However, it’s good to see it’s there. Under the surface of a little lost child, there is method in our play and it will come to fruition.
A second area of interest is the midfield pairing that was deployed this afternoon. I have to be honest, when I saw Bentaleb paired with Mason, I was concerned. They are both talented young players, there is no doubt about that. However, they are also inexperienced, reasonably lightweight and untried (outside of the academy) in tandem. I will be the first to admit, my concerns were misplaced. They were neat in possession, played some delightful balls and boy, they both love a tackle.
Neither of them instill that oft-misguided confidence that is garnered from a strapping 6 foot 4 defensive midfielder, built like a barge. However, they were considerably more effective at shielding the defense than Capoue has been this season. I was sat behind Lloris in the second half and to be honest, as much as we were under pressure, he didn’t have an awful lot to do. The play in front of our defense was congested, exactly as you would like it to be. There were no gaps between midfield and defense and this pushed Everton wide. The Toffee’s only option was to swing crosses into the box and that didn’t seem to be a problem for Jan and Fazio. With the added bonus of Chiriches completing 69 minutes without having his pants pulled down, it was an altogether more solid defensive performance.
Back to Mason and Bentaleb. When we won the ball, as we did on numerous occasions, they were quick to break, quick to release and quick to support the attacking players. There was less of the dallying that we saw against Stoke and Newcastle and this lifted the excitement levels in the Lane. It wasn’t the complete performance you see from Matic and Fabregas, there are still holes to be plugged, but it was encouraging. Made all the more so because they both come from our very own youth set-up. The acid test will be Wednesday night, where I would expect them to line-up next to each other again. Chelsea’s midfield poses an altogether different proposition, but I am more intrigued to see how they will fare than I am nervous about whether they will fail.
There is not much to say on my third topic that wasn’t covered in the headline, but it was a too much of a magical moment to leave out of this piece. I’ve seen glimpses that his quality is still there all season. His run and shot which bounced off the post on Thursday night oozed classs and lacked luck. He has developed and stuck to what he knows best. He spends far more time sat on the shoulder of the last defender than he did last season and this means the goals will come. He needs a run of games now, not two matches on the bench. When Bobby last scored from open-play against Cardiff in March, he found himself out of the team for the next game (a slow clap for Mr. Sherwood please), which didn’t allow him to hit his stride. Let’s make no bones about it, this season is last chance saloon for his Spurs career and he might never be a 20-goal-a-season striker, but if he gets a run, grabs a couple more neat finishes like today’s, then we might finally see the player we paid for. What cannot be doubted is his commitment to prove his worth, shown in every tear-jerking second of his celebration; a really memorable moment for everyone in the South and East stands. Wednesday will be tough, but he has to start.
Finally, I return to the topic of my article last week, the atmosphere in the Lane. I was harsh, perhaps too harsh, last week about the attitude of the supporters in many sections of WHL. However, it was getting to stage where neither the players, nor myself wanted to be there on a Sunday afternoon and that’s just a little bit depressing. I don’t know whether it was the player’s comments in Metro, or a collective realization that we have an important role to play in this transition, but. . . . what a difference a week makes! When Everton scored there was no groaning, moaning or abusing Adebayor (I know he wasn’t playing, but such is the loathing exuded towards this chap that it’s not out of the question), but instant support. This no doubt contributed to Spurs being back on level terms within 7 minutes. Yet, far more important, were the noise levels for the last 20 minutes. For over a season, that sort of backs to the wall situation would have been associated with being able to hear a pin drop, but not today. There was constant and raucous support as we willed the boys to a much-needed victory; the lane was rocking again. There is still a way to go to return WHL to the fortress it once was, but today was an important step. I think everyone who was there today will agree that his or her afternoon is considerably more enjoyable with the noise levels high and the team and supporters on the same side. Lets see more of that. Park Lane was in excellent voice this afternoon, Shelf-side and Paxton, join the revolution, raise the roof.
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