Frankly we got away with it: it could easily have been 8 on both sides of the north London divide. By the time Spurs found a little of the good stuff, City had made and missed three good chances. More opportunities came their way as the game progressed and they eagerly sliced through our toiling, bewildered defence.
Two games in and for many it’s doom and gloom. Reported scenes of Spurs fans leaving the Lane on their knees flagellating their naked backs may have been exaggerated. Others detect a whiff of conspiracy: Harry wanted us to lose this one to remind Levy that he needs to buy and buy big. Or to get Levy to sack him.
Back to reality. Yesterday we saw the same old Spurs, bright coming forward but no punch in the box and fatally neglectful of their defensive duties. What is particularly chastening is that whilst we are standing still, our rivals for the top four have moved on, and on this evidence have left us far behind, chewing their dust as they power off into the sunset.
Whilst his choices were limited due to injury, especially in centre midfield, Redknapp’s selection and tactics were naive in the extreme. City swamped our fragile midfield from the outset, something that was apparent from the teamsheets let alone what happened once the whistle blew. Modric wasn’t fit and Krancjar has proved on three occasions this season that he is unwilling and unable to come back and cover.
With Lennon and Bale staying forward, presumably following instructions, our back four were exposed from the outset to City’s attractive blend of pace and movement. Goals were inevitable; the only surprise was how long it took them to score. It’s a familiar and numbing refrain on this blog – I love the attacking play but you have to have a foundation upon which to build, and in the Premier League that means a midfield defensive platform. Lennon and Bale are not best suited to coming back – sorry but they have to. Niko doesn’t fancy it – I don’t fancy conceding 8 goals in two games, however good the opposition.
City played with two men up front (thought they were supposed to be boring) and two holding midfielders. It can be done. Gareth Barry is not the player he was a few season ago, yet with minimum effort he protected the back four and stayed constantly on the move, just being around when he was needed and allowing others to get forward. Early in the game City attacked with four against four in our box. We cleared and went up their end. We had four up but faced 6 or 7 in their area, with Toure and Barry slotting into the gaps between back four defenders, whereas we allowed their men free rein.
Dzeko’s ease of movement was equally both instructive and indicative of how far behind our strikers are. Again he took up all the right positions without apparently breaking sweat. Our centre halves have had better games but there’s little you can do against a combination of a sweet cross to a striker easing from behind the defender to just in front at the right moment. Contrast Crouch ambling to the far post or Defoe shooting repeatedly from outside the box. The way to deal with that is to stop those crosses coming in the first place, whereas we happily waved them through.
Midway through the first half I wondered if we had got away with it. City missed their chances and we attacked brightly, at pace. Despite his lack of fitness and, according to Harry, motivation, the team is comfortable around Modric and he made things tick. Benny’s passing from deep was incisive, Rafa busy and Crouch kept play moving with by being available and moving it on quickly.
Chances would be few and far between, and we missed them, Bale skying from close range then producing a gem of a cross that Crouch at full stretch couldn’t quite keep under control. No blame – it was a difficult header. Otherwise, Bale was asked to do a hell of a lot – attack wide and cut in diagonally, cover back and get forward with late runs into the box. Not unexpectedly, he didn’t quite manage to do any of them well. On the other side, Lennon was anonymous. When he did make a run, each time he hesitated fatally at the moment to cross and the chance was blocked.
City took their chances well but we allowed them to create far too easily. For a team with little width they made two against one on the flanks several times. We stood still for the second, played statues for the third, then Benny missed a tackle he should have won. In between, Daws did everything right one on one against Aguero, getting goalside and narrowing the angle, but the Spaniard is a master and made a tricky chance look easy. We should ever leave him one on one in the first place.
Well beaten by two of the best teams in the league, our season starts in a fortnight. I suspect we’ll be playing catch up until Christmas at least. Without reading too much into the season so far, it’s a harsh and unwelcome reminder of how far we are behind our rivals. We bid large for Richards, Aguero, Dzeko, Young at United. They spurned our advances: what we could be with them in our side. As it is, looks like we’re falling back on experience. Parker and Bellamy are good players but after yesterday, it feels like they are left-overs. It’s like we’re two weeks into pre-season, not the season itself.
Harry has a lot of work to do in the international break. He would do well to focus on building his team rather than complain about how much the media bang on about Luka, then proceed to bang on about Luka. Redknapp seems to be an irony-free zone: he just didn’t get it. It’s a sign of his desperation but in fact he’s in charge of the team and there’s plenty to do there without venting his feelings publicly.
Finally, a true story if you are in need of a little perspective. Yesterday, while I’m chuntering away on the North Circular about matters described above, my wife is trundling in her wheelchair past a neighbour’s house. She hears cries from the first floor. ‘It’s coming, that’s the head, it’s here.’ She calls up and the woman needs some help. The ambulance and midwife have been called but like our full backs are late to arrive. She manages to get in and assists the birth of a premature but healthy baby boy, on the bathroom floor. A happy ending to this sorry tale after all.