I’ll admit up front when I sat down in my seat at Wembley tonight—much closer to the pitch than on Sunday—I was surprised to see Dele/Alderweireld/Trippier/Son all in the starting XI. I knew Danny would start, and Llorente and Sissoko up front with Dier holding and Foyth in the back and Vorm in goal. I just wasn’t sure how seriously Poch would treat this game.
It turned out not too seriously, whether stated (in which he called his shot by demeaning the competition in the pre-match press conference) or by osmosis to his players. It’s as if they all decided at the half up 2-0 “Job done. We whipped Liverpool. Battled Real Madrid to a draw. Have a huge game with United in less than 72 hours. Let’s move on to the next thing.” And to their credit, Slavan Bilic and his charges decided not to cooperate. You could see it in their first second half possession, as the Hammers showed more intent than they had in a full 45 minutes in the first half. I felt that a set piece or Spurs mistake would be their only path to a goal, and they did employ two of the former and several of the latter, but it was also down to sheer desire. They wanted it—and after the equaliser it became pretty clear that we didn’t.
As to the individuals in terms of the goals, Vorm should have controlled the shot that became the rebound that Ayew pounced on for the opener. The second seemed to be a collective whiff with Foyth and Alderweireld both to blame among others. On the last the one clear West Ham advantage proved the difference as Ogbonna simply outjumped Alderweireld and the rest was history. Those lapses were no more significant than the general complacency which the manager noted, which often was expressed on the other side of the pitch. Dele charging down the left flank with runners Llorente and Son to his right and yet he decided to go it alone that last ten yards that led to losing possession, a selfish and foolish act. After a gorgeous flick by Llorente released Son to cross to Sissoko for our first goal, the Spaniard and his teammates seemed to be out of synch for most of the rest of his remaining time on the pitch—several “he went thataway, ball went thisaway” moments occurred, as if the team has not figured out to play with Llorente nor he with them. Danny Rose was unsurprisingly rusty, and lost possession several times when in the past he could be counted on for a crisp run or pass. Somehow for much of the second half, as the game went to crap, Spurs players decided to try to lob balls over the Hammers defence, allowing them to do the one thing they are good at—aerial play—and easily swat the balls away. Dier isn’t Winks—he made no obvious errors but simply lacks the directness to turn the ball and create an immediate threat.
But you know what? I agree with Poch. This competition not only doesn’t matter, but it will serve to distract this club from the two goals which do—both of which are no longer pipe dreams but are attainable this season. Does anyone really believe that if Spurs finished 3rd or worse in the league, got eliminated in the first knockout round of the Champions League, but won the Carabao Cup that the season would be deemed a success? And that this one trophy would cause Kane, Eriksen, Dele, etc. to lift a pint and say “I’m staying forever” at season’s end?
The more worrisome conclusion from tonight is that despite obvious progress this group of players may still lack the utter win-at-all cost mentality that is necessary to produce the real trophies. But here’s the thing. One player on this team has that mentality. And he got the night off—correctly and deservedly. Let’s suspend judgment on the others for a week. We’ll know an awful lot more about this team after the next two games than after this one.
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