You can tell the true value of a player by their absence. On Sunday, Luka Modric jogged purposefully on to the pitch at half time and proceed to transform a lacklustre Tottenham team.
Before and after – the footballing equivalent of a Head and Shoulders advert. Before – dry and dull, all the shine has gone, flecks of ugly debris all around. After – why, bright and shiny, I feel like a new person and the boys love it! Cue swishing of improbably thick and glossy mane, a suggestive look over fluttering eyelashes.
Troubled and toiling as the first period ended, unable to find a way through Charlton’s massed ranks, Luka took over. No fuss or flamboyance. Head down, into midfield, straight into the groove. He came deep to pick the ball up, moved it, then advanced 15 yards, more space, me again, come on, a touch, run again. Suddenly everyone is moving easily, freely, with purpose and energy.
This is what he does. Many players have fantastic skills, precious few have the ability to change totally the way 10 other players behave. And here’s the thing – he just gets on with it. Job to do, no time to pick up the pace of the game, I’ll alter the pace to suit me.
It was no less remarkable for being against a League One team (is that what the Third Division is called? I still have to think about it). Charlton, buoyed by excellent support from the stands, closed us down remarkably well. Any pretentions to push us back gradually faded as the half went on, although they came close to scoring early on with a couple of balls across the box that stretched us unnecessarily. Nonetheless they erected a solid barrier in front of their back four and we seldom looked like scoring.
Credit to our opponents for an organised response but we also played into their hands. We have a fine squad but the absence of key men always shows. Harry’s team selection of a strong back four rightly gave few concessions to our lower league opponents and Defoe could provide some sparks up front. However, the midfield came unstuck, or at the least the two most experienced members, the ones we were supposed to rely on, did.
Palacios and Sandro, two defensive midfielders side by side, offered no creativity or inventiveness. An odd selection. Both seemed uncertain about where they were supposed to be. To his credit, Wilson looked for the ball and took up advance positions that didn’t suit him but once more he gave the ball away too often and when under little pressure.
I’ve always appreciated what he does and will be forever grateful for his work when we were at the bottom of the league. His was the single most valuable contribution to our rise up the table. However, he looks to have fallen behind our current levels. Simply put, it’s pointless winning the ball if you give it away again. Also, I still think he drifts around at the edge of the box when we don’t have the ball rather than tucking in closer to the back four. I counted at least three Charlton raids out wide when he was loitering at the edge of the box covering a run that no one was making.
Sandro looks a good prospect to me. Raw around the edges and too reckless with his tackling, nevertheless he’s mobile, hard to shift and confident in possession. He takes up defensive positions naturally and when we get it back can drive forward into space to turn defence into attack. He had a decent second half, sure of his place alongside Modric. I don’t want to either write off Wilson or make extravagant claims for the Brazilian, but with Palacios the man taken off at half-time, without being premature it was hard to escape the feeling that one was on the way up as another was falling in the opposite direction.
The rumours that Krancjar is on the move may be true after another poor performance. It’s hard to see why he’s wasting his considerable talents. He seems bulky and below peak fitness, and not that interested in doing something about it. He wasted this chance either to force himself back into the team or at last put himself in the proverbial shop window. His limited defensive abilities and lack of pace make it hard to see where he will fit into the present team. A real pity, he’s so talented.
As it was, he was asked to drift inside but we are used to having width these days and Benny didn’t overlap into the space he vacated. Then, Niko was gobbled up by the waiting Charlton defenders, shooting increasingly forlornly from further and further out, apparently oblivious to the presence of defenders between him and the goal.
Pav was in the middle of another of his ineffectual days. He dropped deeper to look for the ball and hopefully to shift Doherty and Dailly out of the back four but he lost control so often that they were largely untroubled. The ginger Pele therefore stood resolute and, well, not so much tall as slightly stooped. According to Wikipedia he’s not 30 til the end of the month…. Never the most agile of footballers, the Doc finally got it together at the start of one season, rather like Dawson started to blossom. Then he broke his leg in a televised match at Everton and was never the same again. He would have moved on anyway, he’s a lower league natural, but that leg break did him much harm. He’s not changed in the interim – first touch the ball slid two metres from his foot, but in the first half we kindly played to his strengths. We crossed it and he and Dailly headed most of them away. I liked the way he looked to the Park Lane at the end of the game and we gave a round of applause. He still feels it, being a Spur.
Enter Luka and we took them apart. For 15 minutes he was faultless. Just as I was about to moan about another aimless long shot, Townsend scored a debut goal, not the hardest shot but perfectly placed inside the post from 20 yards. Defoe was rampant, taking the ball right across the box before slotting home for the second, then the third from a rebound. We missed a few more and Cudicini made three decent saves but we were never in much danger. Like many sides, Charlton had the organisation but fell apart once they had to move forward. They have nothing up front.
It will be fascinating when Huddlestone returns, because earlier in the season this very different style of player made the team feel most comfortable. He and Luka could become a combination that dreams are made of, if Big Tom does more defensively. This could really be something big. And I don’t mean Tom’s tuchas.
Before the game the Charlton left back must have been delighted that Lennon was absent. Little did he know. Azza at his trickiest could not have given him a harder time. Repeatedly Andros Townsend took him on and took him apart. Twisting this way and that, right foot on the outside, left foot coming in, Townsend on this display had it all, including a couple of posey tricks and flicks to rub it in. A fine debut full of promise. He had good control, keeping the ball close while he ran at full tilt and as I said could come off both feet.
In other news, David Beckham is training not playing now, but by the time I finish typing this sentence it may all have changed, or he may be having twins. I don’t know. I’m less bothered by this than I am by Harry’s clear irritation on 5Live. When asked about it, he snapped at the interviewer.
“I don’t know what the issues are… and I don’t know the answer. I wish I knew…it’s sorted about above my head. I don’t think there’s a problem with the insurance, I had that wrong.”
Sounds like he’s in the dark and that Levy is pulling the strings. In playing matters the manager must have overall control, although Harry added that he said he would like Beckham at the club.
One reason for Beckham’s arrival is in this column by financial journo and Spurs author Martin Cloake:
“The news sent shares in the North London club shooting up on Friday. This morning, they are back down. Between the hot rumour and the cooling down, the team comprehensively beat Charlton to qualify for the fourth round of the FA Cup. This fact did not have the same affect on the share price as the rumour.”