From the depths of despair to the heights of elation in ways only this football team can achieve. Watching Tottenham is unbearable when we don’t score, unbearable when we do. Never change.
Shall we begin at the end? Why not. Hojbjerg is knackered. Bentancur is too, after giving everything in another hugely influential performance, and has left the field, but Hojbjerg cannot rest. As the ball breaks forward, he should have just hung back, seconds to go, but the Dane cannot rest. Not everything he does works, we know this, but in that Tottenham shirt he is utterly driven and I want that in my team. The space is wide open, he begins his lung-bursting run 70 yards from goal, smashes it inside the post.
It’s a fabulous piece of football, a thrilling moment. The players swamp each other in celebration. Hojbjerg has the ashen, hollow-eyed look of an exhausted boxer who has taken a pummelling but remained standing. Harry should have smeared the blood from the wound on his arm across Hojbjerg’s forehead and cheeks. Warrior!
Spurs top the group with the last kick of the game. That’s my Tottenham. It was both unbelievable and beyond belief, given an abject first half where the performance levels were so low, they were scraping the bottom of a barrel entombed in a subterranean labyrinth in a darkness so deep, no human could even imagine let alone venture into. That’s my Tottenham.
I like to think that I’m not prone to exaggeration but the Marseilles goal was the most ridiculous defending I’ve seen in a long time. Granted, this season there have been many, too many, contenders for that dubious honour, but at least Bournemouth came up with a couple of excellent moves on Saturday. At least they made it difficult for us. But letting the ball run out of play only to see it was a corner not goal-kick, then be chatting amongst themselves while the big bloke heads it in, the comedy value escaped me at the time but that is surreal stuff worth a chuckle if you saw it in the park on a Sunday morning but this is a crucial CL qualifier from a team with 10 internationals.
Sadly it was completely in keeping with that appalling first half. I’ve written before about how Conte wants his players to suffer for the cause, so we fans must hurt too but this was the hardest of watches. I have no idea what they were doing and neither did they, so maybe that’s something to bring players and supporters closer together. The defensive selection looked suspect. Dier looked good on the right in the second half against Bournemouth but that was when we were coming forward. If it was a move to improve the back three, fine, but if it was to accommodate two left-sided players in the shape of Lenglet and Davies, then it was an unnecessary, disruptive change in a crucial game, as was starting poor Sessegnon on the right. He was blown away by the whole occasion, to the point where I was relieved Emerson was brought on. Not a sentence I’ve written before or frankly am I likely to write again. Just a shame we didn’t have a replacement for Moura.
In a season of worst ever first halves, that was the worst. But there’s something there in this squad, isn’t there. There’s professional pride and then there’s playing for the shirt, and some of these players are starting to get it. It means something to play for this club. Hojbjerg I’ve mentioned, then there’s Bentancur, fast becoming the game-changer, who when allowed to come forward changes the team’s tempo and rhythm. In his face the determination to be a leader, an influencer, is visible. And never take Harry for granted. Exhausted, kicked, surrounded by four opponents whenever he got the ball.
We’re no nearer solving the great mystery of our times that I posed in my last piece, namely why on earth to we play the first half in such a passive manner? Conte remains inscrutable. In press conferences he implies the players are not following his instructions, yet he controls everything. Surely they comply with his instructions to a large extent. If they didn’t, Conte wouldn’t pick them. One theory doing the rounds is that he wants them to conserve energy during this unusual and disrupted season, that we can’t play flat-out for 90 plus minutes. Miguel Delaney in the Independent suggested that he had heard from a few sources that Conte has hatched a cunning plan to hold back now and go all-out from February onwards.
I suspect he’s asking the players to control the first half without extending themselves unduly, except that Spurs aren’t good enough to do so and it allows opponents to seize the initiative. The match may be lost by the time we get into gear. If on Sunday we start as we have recently, the Liverpool attack will have won the game by half-time. A reminder that both Marseille and Sporting missed golden late chances. The players seem far more comfortable playing at the higher pace and getting into forward areas. More of that please.
A mention of Perisic before I leave you. Not perhaps the force he was, his shrewd defending in the second half was a stabilising influence, and that late block where he read the play and got himself into just the right position, right time would have got us into the knockout stages without the late winner. That’s what experience at the highest levels brings.