Amongst all the guff that’s spouted in the media about Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas, the dossiers, the trenchcoats, the goalkeeper, what the hell the fact he’s foreign, Spurs fans are beginning to sort out the reality. Yesterday he demonstrated a quality that will endear him to the people that matter the most (and no, I’m not talking about tabloid sports journos) – loyalty.I wouldn’t have picked Defoe, or Lennon or Gallas for that matter. In fact I said as much in When Saturday Comes – so much for that match preview. But AVB knows his own mind. He stuck with three key men, three key elements of his formation, and it paid off handsomely. Defoe as the lone striker, never would have thought it but no complaints. He applied the finishing touches to an excellent all-round team performance against an admittedly poor Reading side, including an outstanding second goal. Picking up the ball on the halfway line, he ran with perfect balance and touch into the heart of the area before decisively side-footing it across the keeper. Bale was the decoy – he could have stayed wide left but cut across the other way, leaving JD with room to breathe.
This was one of those games that will do Spurs a power of good, with influence over and above the three vital points. It was not just the win but the manner in which it was achieved and the fact that it was on Sky for all to see. AVB can’t be as bad as the tabloids say if we can play this fluently. Trust your eyes not the papers.
It was also one of those that felt better at the final whistle. Take the overview and we dominated but there were times in the second half when we were only one up, when Defoe missed a few, when the passes were going astray, that this had all the hallmarks of a Spurs cock-up. Of the season so far, in fact, when we have been on top, admittedly not quite to this extent, only to concede late on. Lots to be delighted about, but be honest – relief was the abiding emotion.
It’s all about the team, as AVB searches for his best side. The combination of Dembele, Sandro and Sigurdsson in the centre won the match for us and prospects look good for the future. Sandro looks fearsome again. He’s our strength, our rock. A sight to behold, breaking up Reading attacks then trotting back diligently to his defensive duties, ready for the next onslaught. Meanwhile we raced upfield in flowing moves that he began. He also popped back between the centre backs when Reading came near, ready to bolster the defence.
Nearby, Dembele is a classy midfielder, unobtrusively effective as he went about his business. His touch, movement and eye for what’s going on in front of him are sure signs that he will fit in nicely. Siggy was better in the first half when he passed the ball more readily, most notably for the through-ball that cut Reading apart in preparation for Lennon’s cross and Defoe’s finish. Come the second he tried to take players on and predictably was caught in possession.
Most significant was the way the three of them combined. Already there’s a decent understanding. If one moves up, at least one other stays back. All are aware of the space that runs create, and are eager to take advantage, or will cover if we lose the ball. It’s hard to put numbers to the midfield set-up, such was their flexibility. Reading couldn’t cope at all. This nullified their main weapon, their effort and ability to close teams down. If they weren’t sure where we would be, they couldn’t get at us easily.
Vertongen is classy, quick and alert. He had a fine game, already becoming a real favourite of mine.
I have no memory of what AVB said in his post-match interview. I just recall his smile, like a little boy who’s won first prize in a talent contest. After a few seconds it faded, to be replaced by the media-savvy pro he is, but he really wanted this one. It’s the moment when I really warmed to him. He’s one of us, and I can certainly warm to his team if he can build on this performance. Dempsey’s the next conundrum. He’s not fit, having not had a proper pre-season, but he showed his worth in the last ten minutes, moving off the centre into areas where defenders can’t easily pick him up. I’d share JD’s burden and play him – neither Lennon nor Bale are prolific scorers and he needs some help. Lazio on Thursday will present a chance to try something slightly different.
If you spotted an unusual number of references to the media in the early paragraphs, it’s because I’m bitter about the way AVB and our club are being treated. I don’t normally respond to the coverage of the club, the gossip, the ITK, it’s so tedious and there’s plenty of it elsewhere on the web. However, it’s all become a bit much during the international silly season, culminating in the Spurs goalkeeping crisis. We sign a high quality experienced international at a reasonable price because our first and second choice keepers have a combined age of nearly 80. Friedel is outstanding, Lloris can’t get in the team but we had a crisis before Lloris was actually able to play. Even for Fleet Street, this is something out of less than nothing. Even the Hadron collider couldn’t find the particle of reality in this concoction. “Spurs Buy Well in Transfer Market and Plan Ahead”. “Spurs Have Healthy Challenge for Goalkeeping Position. Anybody? Not in the script.