It was all a bit of a rush. Fancy letting family stuff get in the way of football. What on earth is happening to me? Anyone would think it’s Christmas or something.
So when I switched on the TV it took me a moment to get my bearings. First thing – top left hand corner, read it three times just to make sure and remember to breathe. No goals, 34 minutes gone. A second or two to focus on the pitch. Then this team in white pick the ball up near their box, develop a passing move at full speed that slices through the yellow shirts, end to end in about four or five touches and as many seconds, hammered just wide. Hang on, that’s us…Remember to breathe.
This is us, the new Tottenham. Sincere apologies to Norwich fans if you did anything exceptional in the first 33 minutes but from what I saw, Spurs were stunning. Relentless pace, exceptional passing, bewildering movement. There seemed to be no end to our inventiveness coming forward, the only concern being that in the first half this did not lead to any goals. Second half, City could contain a rampaging Bale no longer. Given free rein by his manager, he was unstoppable. Out wide, teams can at least try to double or sometimes triple-team him, but what can you do if you don’t know where he’s going to appear?
A couple of interesting reflections on this that relate to the team these days. In the past, our, um, idiosyncratic players often fooled their team-mates as much as they bamboozled defences. Ginola for example was wonderful to watch but often the others didn’t take up good goalscoring positions because he hung on to it for so long and so they didn’t know when to commit to a run into the box. Yet this team picked out Bale on a regular basis, Van der Vaart excelling yesterday in another, complementary, free role and Modric, more disciplined but still alert and accurate.
Second, Our Gareth invoked the Champions League as an educational experience as the secret of our success. This is something I identified at the start of the season, that we should be more resilient as a team because of Europe and so it proved. Undaunted by our failure to score, we quickly re-established the dominance of our first period and turned the screw with a determined effort to retain possession. Add the confidence that something will turn up once we have that platform and you’re on to something big. Adebayor made the difference. Found unerringly through a crowd of defenders by Rafa, his impeccable control and delicate touch set up Bale who was left in too much space by the usually attentive Norwich central defence. They too were mesmerised by Manu’s dazzling feet and were sucked in like moths to a flame. Bale therefore had the room and time to score.
We kept up the tempo after scoring and nearly converted a couple more efforts before this phenomenon came into a central position and began his charge. This is a great time to be a Spurs fan – I’ve not seen us play this well for a good thirty years. But Bale on the charge is one of the great sights of my time as a fan. Someone that big, at pace, caressing the ball as if it were made of eggshell – utterly remarkable. He tore the defence asunder, then kept his poise to finish not with power but with guile and intelligence. Remember to breathe.
Rafa was outstanding, Luka a close second, Parker calm and solid, Sandro a rock. All of them jealousy guarded the ball once it was won. Another instance of the fluidity that’s possible with Sandro and Parker, Modric in front of them. It gave Bale and VDV the freedom to do what they do.
It also snuffed out any fleeting hopes of a Norwich comeback. If I have a complaint, it was that they had too much room in the last 5 minutes around our box. However, this highlighted another aspect of our game these days. We back ourselves one on one in any match-up. Kaboul knew he had the task of holding Holt and he did not shirk for a moment. Gallas covered and tackled, while Walker, well, I’m not a huge fan of stats as a way of describing the whole truth about a player or a match but: tackles won – 6/6, ground duels 8/8, aerial duels 1/1. That means he won every single challenge over 94 minutes
Norwich are a well organised side who were outplayed. They stuck to their task and there’s no disrespect in defeat under those circumstances. I can’t quite believe I’m writing this way about a Spurs team but that’s how it was – in every area we outplayed, out-ran and out-thought them. There had to be one worry. Not normally one to stand and stare but Manu’s buttock held my attention for a minute or two in the second half. He’s such an influence, we really don’t want to lose him. But he was OK and frankly so am I. That’s all I wanted for Christmas. Unreservedly superb, the perfect away performance.