Spurs v Bremen – Intoxicating, Infuriating, Ultimately Satisfying

Spurs opening match in the Champions League was an intoxicating mixture of breathless brilliance and the downright infuriating. Just as we became accustomed to the new model Eurospurs, dictating and dominating to the manor born, as if this were our 51st game in the competition rather than our first, familiar frailties threatened to expose it all as a giant conceit. In the end we discovered a measure of equilibrium and the result not only provides sustained satisfaction, it also heightens the anticipation for the home game against Twente in a fortnight. A point to begin with is fine, four after two matches and the possibilities are staggering.

Wide eyed we marvelled. Pass and move, smooth, purposeful and easy on the eye, punctuated by a few moments of swooning beauty, like gazing into the eyes of a stunning woman for the first time and she looks right back. Two mesmerising moves for the goals, both moving the ball 60 yards with two passes. I roared at the first, gasped open-mouthed at the second. A move of classic simplicity, made to look effortless by outstanding skill and finished with a header that was glorious in its perfection. The opening passages were truly the stuff of dreams.

Our five man midfield was set up to avoid being over-run but we proved how effective an attacking option such a formation can be. The proviso is, we have to have the right players. Last night the blend was almost perfect. Huddlestone and Jenas toiled unstintingly in the centre and crucially could also deliver the ball accurately when required. JJ in particular was excellent throughout, his stamina and passing adding another dimension to that key area of the battle. His selection to replace the off-form Palacios was a bold move by Redknapp and the manager was rewarded with a fine display.

Definition of a class midfielder: Rafael van der Vaart. This guy has got it. In spades. Strong, shrewd and skilful with a great touch and sense of where to be, right time right place. The Bremen defence were permanently on edge as he moved around in the area between back four and midfield. He wasn’t averse to dropping back when we lost the ball.

In the delicate balance between our attacking instincts and the need for prudence lay the destiny of the match. On the left we clearly ran out winners. After the group stages are over, Gareth Bale will be the most talked about young footballer in Europe. He slaughtered an international opponent in a battle-hardened team. In fact the most grief he had all evening was from his manager who appeared to be giving him an ear-bashing for not doing more of the same in the second half.

Over on the other side, the scales tipped the other way. Lennon failed to sparkle but even so he provided width that stretched their defence and kept their left side occupied. His lack of tracking back, however, left our flank ripe for exploitation and Marin took full advantage. In the same way that Bremen did not close us down in the centre, Marin was given far too much room: too often he faced only one man when he should have been double-teamed. His sense of freedom was enhanced by Corluka’s wretched evening. Left exposed, he appeared to have totally lost his bearings, a dyspraxic lost at sea. In vain I waited for this solid player to gather himself. His form has been poor for some time now and is becoming a major concern. His positional play and sound timing always has to be sharp to compensate for his lack of pace, and these resources have deserted him. A favourite of mine, I’m so disappointed.

The strength of our centre backs provided a solid platform at first for our early enterprise and later for some hard defending as Bremen pressured. Kaboul was the pick. This raw talent is maturing in front of our eyes, His application has been superb this season, taking Dawson’s determination to seize his chance in the middle of last season as his example.

Benny. Ben. Benjamin. Benny boy. Benny the ball. Ben Dover no not that one. Ben Jovi. What on earth. You know I like you, wrote about it a few weeks ago. But we’ll never know what passes through your mind. Lovely passes, good support of the attack, nicely timed tackles. Then a wildly misplaced hack up the field. I’ll actually let you off the goal. You could have done more but even if you had, he’s a big bloke and would have beaten you to that ball.

But here’s the thing. Don’t give the ball away unnecessarily. Regular readers (I can dream) know what’s coming…I’m retitling the blog. From now on it will be called ‘Giving It All Away’. It could be sub-titled ‘Severe Ball Retention’ but that would get the wrong sort of interest from Google searches. Here’s the infuriating bit. Keep the ball. Don’t give it away, let them come and get it. Time and again we presented Bremen with possession. Even when we played keep-ball in the last 10 minutes, we had that throw-in and free kick in the far left, in or near injury time, and no one took it to the corner flag. This will come with experience, or so I would wish to believe, but we’ve heard it all before, in the Premier League. It’s the hardest lesson to learn and frankly Bremen should have punished more severely.

As it was, our defence was pierced too easily in the second half. The midfield who were sound by and large, were asleep after the restart. All five of them were upfield, presenting Bremen with a open path to our box, uncluttered by tackles or pressure. Well-finished by Marin but he could not believe his luck in getting that far.

A combination of good fortune, wayward finishing and some good blocks saw us through. Cudicini could have come for the cross that led to Bremen’s first but it was a decent ball (delivered with any pressure being applied) and he was solid enough on his line. Notably his distribution was an asset – on several occasions he passed the ball to team-mates from the box where most keepers would have hacked aimlessly downfield.

The contrast between VDV and Keane could not have been more damning against the Irishman. I say this with no pleasure as in his experience and all-round game is welcome in a substitute. However, he too gave the ball away and wasted precious opportunities, opting for over-complicated passes and making runs that look good but in fact ask far too much of his colleagues. Notice how often his runs require a ball of such precision, into the narrow strip between the back four and keeper, or a ball right into the corner that takes him into safe areas for the defence.

I detest the popular phrase ‘settle for a point’ because it denies potential and restricts ambition. However, the fact of the matter is, an away point at Bremen is a fine outcome. Undoubtedly parts of the second half were excruciating – I covered my face with my hands on more than one occasion – but this morning I was quietly delighted, a feeling that has stayed with me all day. Driving late last night night, I found myself switching from station to station, just to hear the sports bulletins, opening item, “and in the Champions League tonight…”, followed a few moments later by ‘Tottenham Hotspur’. These words are so familiar, yet so distant. Until now that is. Exhilarating and excruciating, this is the Champions League and we are part of it. And I want more.

14 thoughts on “Spurs v Bremen – Intoxicating, Infuriating, Ultimately Satisfying

  1. Excellent post Alan.

    VDV was simply awesome. It baffles me how quickly he has settled into the squad. But then again, I guess that these types of professionals do exist… especially in clubs like Real Madrid, Barca, Inter, etc. Pure class.

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  2. Interesting how once again Crouch rattles ‘Continental’ defenders.
    In the Premiership he would have been closely marked by two defenders, one pulling his hair, and the other tying his boot laces together, and then he would have had a foul given against him.
    Impressive performance that shows that we have a genuine right to be at this level.

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    • Hey Jim,

      After the Young Boys I mentioned Crouch as our secret weapon in Europe. Scary, huh?

      I’m not a big fan of his but to be fair, and I am to the point of tedium, much depends on the service he gets. You’re spot on about his treatment in England, where all they do is nudge him in the back and he’s gone, but too often he is stationary on the end of an aimless cross or long ball, whereas on Tuesday he moved onto decent early balls. It was a great goal.

      Al

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  3. It’s the rack; it’s some other form of torture. Since the Santini experiment began – and we’re in, what, season seven of it, Tottenham has been a team of anywhere between 5 and 7 very good players and 4 passengers or misfits. Sometimes its defenders that are off the pace, sometimes forwards, some times midfielders – but there hasn’t been a time, let alone a season, when there were 11 playing like a pure team with a bench full of 24 carat replacements. The result would have been the same last night if Gomes, Dawson, Modric and Defoe had been playing – it’s not working, not quite. When Berbatov and Keane were banging them in there was Rocha and Chimbonda and Zokora not really up to it; last night it was VDV playing a blinder, Bale playing like a legend and Lennon, Corluka and Palacios off the boil, off the pace but on the pitch. Harry is not really any closer than Jol to solving this problem – the difference is that one crucial place in the Premiership and the almost bottomless credit after clearing up behind Ramos. Even in the run-up to fourth the weaknesses were glaring, 4 forwards who can’t be relied on to score; over-reliance on Bale; misplaced loyalty to Corluka; shakiness in goal; Dawson playing constantly last-ditch rather than assured. How many games of two halves have there been and why do they happen so often – because there are only ever 7 playing to the level required, they tire, and then the gaps appear and the lack of leadership and ability to keep up the quality take hold. This is going to be a glorious but painful ride – a super torture season to remember.

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    • Cheers for the insightful comment, much appreciated. be sure to come back y’all.

      Not quite working is where it’s at. A good formation can ensure that we can make up for some deficiencies, or at least not fall apart, but it has been apparent for some time that we can beat the best only if we can select something damn close to our best players and they all perform to the max.

      Regards,

      Al

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  4. Good result arrived at in a round about way.

    Brilliant first half. As at Stoke, I liked Jenas very much in a midfield 5. Spurs, European Cup lovely.

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  5. Mr Bandaid: I think you’ve just about captured the nub of the problem, which when coupled with Alan’s comments about ball retention, need speedy attention. This applies equally as much (if not even more) in the PL – where there’s not even a hope of springing a surprise – as in the Champions’ League.

    We really lack guile, deremined. skill, pace and strength up front. Injury (Defoe), reticence (Pav), old age (Keane) and sheer awkwardness (guess) cannot be exploited or combined in any realistic mixture to do the necessary.

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    • I suggested at the start of the season that this group of strikers would have problems scoring regularly at the highest level and it’s not gone well in that area so far. VDV could be the difference – guile, skill and strength in forward positions.

      Cheers,

      Alan

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  6. good post alan and i totally agree with the concern over corluka. Add to that my concern with Ekotto & Cudicini as well. Apart from that though we were a large part of the best champions league game of the week and we should be proud of that. Well done Spurs !!

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  7. Thanks to czyrko and sorry to have a second bite, but I didn’t know the A-L result and that 6-0 kind of says it all – not a weak link on the pitch, playing like a dream, tons on the bench. Tottenham can play like that, even with the incomplete and stuttering line-ups we have – the two run-in wins over them and West London Spartak weren’t flukes, both had everything to play for, but I’m sure that Harry doesn’t get it. It seemed obvious that he wanted players he couldn’t get in August and if there was a killer forward on the pitch right now perhaps I wouldn’t feel so uneasy, but that forward isn’t there, and Harry’s got his blindspots just like Jol did [Corluka/Lennon/Palacios]. Accordingly a very strong team had a run out on Wednesday and there could be changes for Saturday and next Tuesday. Let’s hope he stumbles into a combination that suddenly clicks, that gives some options. To me, one of the successes of last season’s run in was Bentley, though I couldn’t see why – and I’d love Giovanni to suddenly light the fuse – and maybe, just maybe, Kane, though it shows the extent of the problem when you start hoping a 17 yr old comes good!

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  8. Yes strikers that do not score are as much use as a chocolate teapot. Sadly we had a forward line stuffed full of non scoring striker in May and sadder still they all remain in place after three months of us scouring the globe to no avail.

    Personally I would have persevered and even tried Mars and Venus for goal getting aliens rather than sticking with our current troupe. I am sure their extra arms and legs and heads would have come in handy too. By any measure they could hardly have done worse. But who needs to score in the Premier League anyhow. The Champs League is where it is at. At least the legendary El Cr’oucho is able to put them away in that competition – and he look like an alien too.

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