Nobody played badly. Everybody played not well enough. Not well enough to boss one of the two worst teams in the league. Not well enough to gain control of the game after a disappointing first half. Not well enough to score and thus ease the tension after Cardiff went a man down. Not well enough to suggest—injuries or no injuries—that this squad is strong enough to beat PSV twice and thus have a shout at escaping Europa League hell or to compete v City or two gain results in both away games at the London Stadium.
Yes, we got the three points. And now we have two weeks for all the various injuries to begin to heal—with some internal criticism of Pochettino for the training methods hanging in the air. But this team is the most vulnerable in this era since our manager’s first season—if things don’t get better soon, all of its ambition may disappear before a single ball has been kicked at the glimmering new ground. The five games including City at Wembley, the league and cup games against the Hammers, and the Dutch treat in the Champions League could produce almost any collective result short of five victories or five defeats.
I’ll begin at the back. It has gotten to the point with Hugo’s wanderings that one knows there will be multiple adventures in any given game and can only hope the outcomes aren’t too cataclysmic. Today Cardiff’s best chance was partly the result of Hugo staying in place too long—as if his inner voice was cautioning him after the Barcelona howler. As a result the player was in—then Lloris had to challenge and the deflection was smacked away in the nick of time by an alert Alderweireld. (I originally felt Rose was my MOTM, but this single play by our most experienced back four hand was so critical I have to change my view) Lloris did redeem himself with a nice save at the post, denying the ten man Welshmen their best chance in the second half.
The back four had a typical game. Rose was the best and insistent on his runs, several of which could have produced a goal. Trippier did some of the same, but Cardiff followed a common script exploiting his forward progress and more suspect defending with several bursts down their left flank. The entire team still look not wholly confident playing from the back, and particularly in the first half, Cardiff managed to keep us penned up for several minutes in a stretch. By contrast the Cardiff game plan was simple. Let the keeper boom the ball 60-70 yards downfield and take their chances. It almost worked a few times.
I didn’t think either Dier or Winks had poor games—hardly any sloppy giveaways and generally smart midfield play. It was when either moved forward that the trouble began. Winks in particular seemed a fish out of water running into or near the box, with no clue as to what he should do next. Dier gets credit for the goal, but really anyone should have scored from that place. Sissoko was functional and energetic—but again what is always missing is the one moment of brilliance that might actually help produce a goal.
The more depressing action came up front. Harry Kane continues to be a step short, a dribble off, a shot angle not quite crisp enough—he is better than he was a month ago, but still far short of the absolute ruthless killer of a goalscorer we’ve grown accustomed to. Son was the least threatening but for one first half burst down the byline where his pass found Moura for what should have been an easy conversion. His best chance produced a ball five yards over goal with half the net open. Lamela was a mite better but also a bit off. Lucas deserves credit for winning the red card (and yes Neil Warnock it was a red—too cynical, too rash—if Mike Dean limits that offense to yellow than what do defenders have to do? Break someone’s leg?) and putting in a hard day but he was wanting at the most critical time, missing the conversion from Son’s best run.
Frustrating this in a puzzling and patchy season. Missing players, a missing ground, a missing spark. One can only hope Poch can find a key to better play in the next two weeks.
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