It’s half-time in a Europa League group that’s a marathon not a sprint. Two clichés for the price of one there. Full value from Tottenham On My Mind, as always. I’m sure you’re grateful.
What the hell, let’s take this stuffed doggy toy of an analogy, sink in our jaws, shake it about and rip the innards right out all over the living room floor. Always a pleasure and a privilege to watch the mighty Spurs but be honest, that game felt like a marathon at times. Still, in terms of the group, long distance races tend these days to be a tactical battle with the runners clustered in a group until the closing lap or two. The tension builds as the bell approaches but much of it is a waiting game. If Spurs were Mo Farah (stay with me, it will all be over soon), we’d probably be holding our position in third, saving energy for the finish but keeping Brendan Foster on the edge of apoplexy.”He has been the fastest! He is the fastest! He will be the fastest!” There’s nothing wor Bren likes more than conjugating a verb during commentary.
Remember that the Glory Glory days of memory were in the much missed era of a knock-out competition over two legs. The group tends to prolong the agony rather than the suspense because the latter fades away into boredom long before the end. Win the three home games and that should be enough. We have drawn one, against the best of the other three teams, with two home matches to go. Maybe the suspense is cranking up a notch after all. By then, let’s hope we still care.
Villas Boas seems satisfied thus far. He clearly prefers to hold what we have so rather than pressing for a winner in a game where Maribor and their fans were delighted with a point against the world-famous Spurs, we finished with two defensive midfielders and our fullbacks well inside our own half. The away point will do. We were lethargic for extended periods and even when the uppers in the half-time tea started to work in the second half never made enough chances to be comfortable.
Maribor defended well, almost welcoming the opportunity to funnel back to their own box where they restricted the space and marked tightly. They were more sprightly on the break than we expected therefore we could never settle. Their forwards were disconcertingly able to find room around the edge of our area and after a few scares they scored first, a fine run that left Walker a spectator, Huddlestone bamboozled and Lloris nowhere before scoring. Like many of their chances, it was skillfully made but poorly defended. Giving the ball away in midfield was once again our undoing, Townsend the culprit. He was punished but was by no means the only sinner as we tried to come inside and beat players when there was room on the flanks and passing is for us much more effective.
Falque helped to brighten up our performance with some good work down the left. He set up the goal. Defoe was turning away to celebrate his sweetly struck shot from a rebound but instead saw it strike the back of a cringing defender on the line. It ran to Sigurdsson who mishit it home from a matter of feet. Messy not Messi, and when we had attempted to replicate Iniesta’s wonderful goal against Celtic by delicate passing interchanges inside the box, Maribor easily crowded us out.
Still, we made our good fortune on that occasion by attacking the box and having several players ready and waiting. Far too often we were crossing to a lone striker. When Sandro advanced to support the attack, we looked better but otherwise we badly missed Dembele’s combination of strength and creativity in midfield. Siggy seemed as if he was trying to both set up chances and be on the end of them. He ended up doing neither . Throughout we looked weak up front and seldom picked up the tempo to a pace where we know we play better. Huddlestone offered no drive from the centre. Like him, much of our play was ponderous.
It’s an art to get out of the Europa League group with the minimum of effort. We are fielding strong teams so there’s little rest for several of our top players. An early win can make everything so much easier – we clearly went for it which is why it was so disappointing to concede to Panathinaikios in a game we dominated. I suspect AVB would like to be thinking about resting players when in fact we have to go hard to qualify. Ironically it should spice things up a bit. The games at the Lane will have something at stake.
AVB, like me, does care about this competition. He’s right in thinking also that it will help the team settle into his pattern of play. Frankly this result won’t figure much in the history of Tottenahm Hotspur and we can’t read too much into it. However, as part of the learning process, Spurs must develop the ability to up the tempo and take the game to inferior opponents, even for a spell or two in each match. We have to keep our heads rather than get on top then take turns to blast aimless longshots, as we did last night.