Of the myriad of Spurs weaknesses exposed by Stoke at White Hart Lane today—physical, psychological, tactical—perhaps the most telling is the utter failure of the spine of this side. If one cannot control the middle in sport—it is very rare that success can somehow be delivered down the wing.
Start with the striker—today Harry Kane was “Soldadized”—handed a marvelous opportunity to reward all the clamoring for his placement in the first XI with what was no more than an easy header conversion in the first 5 minutes. And he lost the plot. Well the lad is 21 and is full of energy so we can only hope that better things lie ahead. I still maintain that Spurs best formation to take advantage of Kane’s skills is to pair him with one of the other strikers—presuming he can offer a few “Oui Ouis” and “Bon Bons” if it’s Ade. When they were paired together today, a goal resulted. (What was Poch thinking with that Vice-Captaincy, anyway?) Yet I am also obligated to mention that it was Kane that Ryan Shawcross outdueled for the header that created the Potters’ second goal. We have neither fish nor fowl up front , though—a mercurial (I’m being generous) veteran perhaps at the end of his Tottenham rope, a perpetually disappointing high-priced Spaniard, and a local lad we hope, but are hardly certain, might be something special.
Then go back a place—to the Number 10. We all hope that the magic that we sometimes in witness in Christian Eriksen would be more present—today, though, I saw a player simply too small and too slow to create the chances necessary for victory. Poch has had him on a short leash, and I suspect we are seeing the reasons. On the first goal, while Townsend gave the ball up it was the Dane who had the first opportunity to close that play down, and whiffed. Too often I saw a bigger or faster Stoke player muscle Eriksen away from the ball—it would be nice if he could become David Silva—and in time perhaps he still can (though one must wonder where the Aguero or Dzeko will come from). I have my doubts. Once Erik Lamela finds a consistency in his play, he should become the better option.
If you are playing a 4-2-3-1, then the holding midfielders must both defend well and yet also transfer play back to the attack. Ryan Mason or Etienne Capoue did neither. Until his booking late in the first half, I would not have been able to tell you Capoue was on the pitch, which has been a pattern of late. Both were exposed badly on the first goal. Mason at least offers some sound and fury but one suspects his recent positive passing statistics may have been more a product of weak opposition than any great skill. Yet they have still been preferable options to the rapidly disappearing skill set of Moussa Dembele, the shell of a player that once was Paulinho, or an injured Nabil Bentleb.
At least there is quality in Kane, Eriksen/Lamela, and at least one or two of the defensive midfielders. I’m hard pressed to claim any such skill at the back. Why is Younis Kaboul the captain of this side? He is as slow as Michael Dawson was, and exhibits consistently worse judgment. Federico Fazio has shown a penchant for red cards and getting beaten over the top. Today he added ignoring his goalkeeper and heading a ball to an opponent in the box to his repertoire. Neither looked at all capable of preventing either of the first half Stoke goals, though the original mistakes came elsewhere. By his own admission, Jan Vertonghen’s game suffers from a lack of focus—he has been a Lilywhite for more than two years now so why do we think things will get better anytime soon. And the less said about Vlad Chiriches the better.
We have a quality goalkeeper—too bad he is a) probably bound for Madrid and b) simply not wonderful enough to prevent all the bucket full of goal opportunities his defense and midfield allow nearly every game.
I wish that this failure up the middle was all that plagued this team—because perhaps some if not all of it could be corrected. But make no mistake it may be the principal failing that will prevent Spurs from ever making a serious challenge to the Top Four—the challenge that obviously is not coming this season.
(Oh yeah… as to the title of this piece—we (and Daniel Levy) know who the drummers are: ‘arry, AVB, Four-Four-Tim, Poch……. The drumbeat goes on and on and on.)
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