In a previous article I said that, in an effort to keep my sanity, I’d abandoned all hope for this season. Accordingly, I expected nothing from our game with Liverpool on Sunday. Particularly after hearing Sherwood’s stupid pre-match comments about Liverpool possibly suffering from the ‘jitters’ now that they found themselves genuine title contenders – doesn’t he understand that such comments only (1) fire-up the opposition and (2) have, historically, had exactly the opposite effect on our own team?
Even I, though, secretly hoped that we might manage to keep Liverpool at bay for more than 90 seconds. But, no – true to form, we gave Liverpool the perfect start, one guaranteed to calm those ‘jitters’ good old Tim mentioned. Managing only two touches of the ball before conceding possession from our own kick-off was a sign, if any was needed, about where this game was headed and the Anfield faithful didn’t have much longer to wait before our tactical defensive master-plan became apparent. Where other left backs might see their primary job as marking the right winger, Danny Rose laughs in the face of such conventions and decides to wander in to centre-field, presumably to get a better look at the ball floated out to Sterling, now in acres of space, while his hard-tackling defensive midfield back-up, Erikson, adopts a similarly ‘watch-and-wait’ approach to the overlapping Johnson. As if that wasn’t good enough, to avoid any inconvenience to Liverpool’s front line, Kaboul, a man who’s sadly looked like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown every time the ball comes near him in a danger area these last few games, tucks the inevitable low cross into our net with a neat backheel.
When Vertonghen reluctantly drags his injured self off after some spirited resistance some 23 minutes later, clearly dejected at no longer being on the pitch in the company of the fortress that is Spurs’ back line, (where, oh where, has the player of last season gone?) his replacement Dawson’s first decision is whether to whack the ball upfield or pass it backwards in the general direction of Suarez. It’s a no-brainer, obviously, as we all know that Suarez poses little threat these days, so we can imagine poor Michael’s surprise when that leads to goal no. 2.
At some point in the first half I seem to recall some Spurs players getting in Liverpool’s box and even a shot on target (from Bentaleb, of all people) and the away fans can barely contain their excitement at such riches. What next, a corner? Normal service is soon resumed in the 2nd half, though, when several Spurs defenders do that thing they’re so good at, using their legs to form a guard of honour as the ball whistles between them on its way to our net, rather than seeking to do something revolutionary like closing down the player on the ball – goal-scoring machine Couthino in this instance.
As for the 4th goal……..well, clearly these teams we find ourselves up against just don’t play fair and will keep sending across dangerous, curving balls from free kicks that beat the first defender (and, in this case, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th too). How do they do that?
Sherwood’s post-mortem was laughable. Apparently, he’s learnt a lot about our team from being able to watch them from the stands. I wonder what those learning points are. That we do need a ball-winning midfielder, perhaps? That Erikson is wasted on the left as it nullifies his creativity and exposes his lack of defensive nous? That Soldado cannot play as a lone striker, particularly when our main idea of service is to hoist high balls up to him in the hope that he might grow another 15 inches before the ball arrives? A word of advice, Tim: instead of sitting in the stands, you could find all this out by looking at the fans’ comments online over the last half a season or so.
Brendan Rodgers, in contrast, was able to (no doubt gleefully) refer to his Liverpool players’ ability to react to the pressure by having ‘the courage to get on the ball and play.’ That sort of courage seems sadly lacking in this Spurs team. In terms of heart, ‘the Lilywhites’ is an apt nickname. Some of our players approach these big games bearing the look of the opponents of Mike Tyson at his peak – sheer fear, beaten before they even start.
Well, we may not have much heart, but, to be fair, there are some things we possess in abundance: stupidity and incompetence spring to mind – you only have to look at our decision-making at key moments, such as passing back to the opposition’s dangerous forwards when we have the ball at the back and passing backwards instead of going forward on the odd occasion we get near the opposition’s goal. Add to these, a total lack of organisation. Forget about the proud cockerels on our shirts – we run around the field like headless chickens, with no-one seemingly knowing what their job is, with the exception of Hugo Lloris, who knows only too well that, when he’s not rescuing our defence by acting as a sweeper or making great saves he must, all too frequently, retrieve the ball from the back of our net. And, if we’re not organised, whose responsibility is that, Mr. Sherwood?
My only hope now (and, yes, I know I said that I’d abandoned all hope but stay with me) is that we don’t have to put up with our manager talking about ‘the need to show character’ or ‘to respond in the right way.’ Someone should tell him that you don’t challenge for a top four place by alternately getting thrashed one game then scraping a one-goal win over mediocre opposition in the next. What you need is character and consistency.
Talking of the ‘Cs’ we need, am I alone in wondering why there is all this speculation about us re-signing Steven Caulker, a player AVB let go as surplus to requirements at the start of the season. I know he’s scored a couple of crucial goals for Cardiff but, presumably, we wouldn’t be signing him as a striker (though it’s a thought, given the woeful tally of some of those who bear that title) and, I don’t know if anyone has noticed this but the Cardiff defence in which he plays have conceded 61 goals so far this year, second only to Fulham (70) in the leakiest defence table. But what do I know? Perhaps Tim has already watched him from the stands.
And so we look to next season, and I wonder should I make life easier for myself by abandoning all hope for that, too, here and now. Deep down, I know I won’t be able to. Like everyone else I’ll hope that we make some good new signings or discover a hidden gem in our younger players, pray that we get a manager who does his talking on the pitch. A new Billy Nick or Keith Burkenshaw; both quite dour on the surface but capable of sending out attractive teams who can actually win things. As for the rest of this, well, now we can relax as we’re well and truly out of the running – and Man. Utd, at least will surely overtake us now – but at least safe from relegation. Got to look on the bright side.
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