Silly fouls, mistimed tackles and sloppy passes. Early subs, cramping legs and tired faces. Sighs.
Not exactly things one would hope to see on the first day of the season, but these images were all too familiar to those who watched the opening game from both Spurs and our hosts Man United.
Spurs started the game with intent. Probing United’s defence and pressing high up the pitch. Early chances for Eriksen and Walker had Louis van Gaal sweating, but all too soon, that venom seemed sapped from Spurs game. Having been up against the wall for the opening of the match, United were thrown a lifeline. A sloppy pass from Bentaleb set United on the counter. The sight of the ball coasting to Wayne Rooney’s feet 5 yards from goal was making Spurs fans wince collectively. Just when it seemed Walker was about to save the day after a valiant run back, instead his toe-poke to take the ball off Rooney’s foot put it beyond Michel Vorm, and knocked Tottenham for six.
The remainder of the half was damage limitation for a Spurs side that seemed shell-shocked. Gone were the intensity and the pressure. In its’ place came complacency and lethargy. Walker and Alderweireld defended effectively, but too often the recovered possession was coughed up by Eriksen, Chadli or Bentaleb further up the pitch.
The first half petered out and the second half was filled with first day tiredness. The game appeared more late-pre-season than early Premier League, as both teams found their play littered with mistakes. Despite a late surge from Spurs which saw near misses from the likes of Chadli and Eriksen, the result was sealed, and the season set off to a poor start. My question is, what have we learned?
The first conclusion from my vantage point, is the futility of this weeks’ prestige friendlies. Pre-season friendlies are not only a crucial way for teams to gain fitness and marketing power. They are also a chance for fans to get close to the team. However, playing two games the week of the season opener – against a team who finished above us in 2015 and have significantly strengthened since – was a brave move, which I’m sad to say has backfired. So often we’ve heard how Spurs struggle to overcome Thursday nights in the Europa League before playing again Sunday. This time we played not one but two games, on an occasion where that over-exertion needn’t have been necessary. The resulting fatigue was very apparent in Spurs play, epitomised by Nabil Bentaleb’s sloppy passing. Nabil is often one of our leading lights, however today he and others didn’t look up to Premier League pace.
The next lesson learned is the importance of strengthening while we still can. Pochettino exiling the players who weren’t contributing positively to his Spurs movement has been admirable. The squad has been trimmed, leaving a leaner, hungrier group behind. However, this group is now lacking in depth and experience – two things he must surely seek to rectify before the window shuts.
On a day where Harry Kane struggled to shrug off the entire United defence, Spurs named a squad with no other recognised striker. Moves for Saido Berahino and Lyon’s Clinton N’Jie have been heavily rumoured lately, both players provide lightning pace and either of whom would have been great additions today. More recently, Spurs have been linked with German deep-lying midfielder Sven Bender. A signing like this seems all the more crucial having seen Spurs being over-ran at the Centre of midfield today. I’m wondering has Daniel Levy still got Joao Moutinho’s number?
Next time out, Spurs make their home debut of the season against a Stoke side who have significantly strengthened this summer. The team will surely be physically in better condition, having a full weeks rest, and another game under their belt. I also have a sneaking suspicion we’ll see a signing announced before that game too – who may provide us with some unpredictability for the next round. Overall conclusion is that today’s result is sore, but far from fatal. It’s early days yet, and there are very few tougher opening games than away at Old Trafford. Onwards to White Hart Lane. COYS.
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