Of the many matters of concern for Spurs this week, most worrying is how easily Warnock and now the lovely Chrissie Hughton have outsmarted our Andre tactically. Yesterday it was less about the lack of a striker or even Dembele’s shameful admission that the players could not get motivated for the FA Cup, and more about our inability to handle Norwich in the first half. In the end, Tottenham gradually cranked it up to some semblance of our best style and were rescued by a individual Bale goal that if it had been scored in El Clasico, a rival attraction on TV, would have been enough to secure Sky Sport’s future as people rushed to renew their subscriptions.
A run of good games before and after Christmas saw Spurs settling into a stylish, easy rhythm, by no means the finished product but a work of considerable progress. This past week has shown that we’re not quite as good as we would like to be. Last night, we set up with Defoe and Dempsey up front, Lennon and Bale wide and the full-backs raring to go. Norwich refused to play ball, or rather refused to let us have it. All this width left space in the middle. It was not just hard running and diligent pressing, they knew where to run too. Their five outnumbered us in midfield, denying Bale and Lennon the space to build momentum and then releasing runners into the gaps between our centre-halves and full-backs.
Of the two sides it was Norwich who recovered best from the indignity of FA Cup defeat. At the back, it just like old times for Spurs. As Norwich attacked, the defenders disappeared. They must have been there somewhere but I’m not sure exactly what they were up to. Norwich stretched them out of shape once too often. They had time first to cross the ball, then knock it back, a couple more players had the time for an unchallenged touch in the box before they scored a deserved opening goal.
This move marked the return of another Spurs old favourite. It all began because Dempsey lost the ball in their half. We just could not keep hold of the ball for any length of time. This match showed again the value of possession in the modern game. Without playing particularly well in the second half, we at least kept the ball better. This meant Norwich were less of a threat and allowed us to push more men forward.
The chances came eventually through erosion rather than sustained pressure. Walker came from deep, Bale had the freedom to move across the line but spent much of the half centrally.
To be fair to Villas-Boas, he adapted our tactics to make this happen but it was largely unconvincing, our efforts foundering against the massed ranks of the Norwich defence who were marshaled expertly. You sensed they were used to this sort of thing. We didn’t make much of an impression. Parker had a better second half, fetching and carrying, trying to get the pass and move going but he missed more than his share of simple passes in key areas. Dempsey’s movement was again interesting but he saw little of the ball, as did Lennon. Most disappointing was Dembele, a fine player whose combination of strength and touch is crucial to a Spurs team lacking creativity in the middle but he’s in the middle of an anonymous patch. It really shows on the whole team. Defoe missed the few chances that came his way, shooting late on when he could have more profitably passed.
Bale to the rescue. Possession can be used to draw out a packed defence. Play it around, front and back, side to side, and eventually a gap will appear. Just as it seemed we could not exploit this, Norwich had to come out because they had men up for a set piece. We found Bale inside our half. Several defenders back but enough room to get up a head of steam. He charged 40 yards upfield, at pace, with the ball under perfect control, shrugging off physical challenges as well as shredding the defence before a perfect shot from the edge of the area to the keeper’s right. I’m determined to keep saying this – I’ve never, ever seen a player like this, this big, this powerful with his touch. A remarkable goal.
We could have pinched the winner as, transformed, we swarmed forward but that would have been harsh on Norwich. Holtby appeared with an assured cameo as substitute. He certainly doesn’t lack confidence. Straight away he’s calling for the ball and suggesting to team-mates where they might move to. He seemed to be more in tune with what was going on around him than half the Spurs team. Very promising. It was also noteworthy as possibly the first time in Premier League history that a sub has come onto the pitch holding a handful of yellow post-its, which he then solemnly handed out to Parker and a couple of others. Don’t forget to pick up some milk on the way home, lads. Or maybe it was, ‘QPR for you, Fulham for you..’
Right, heads down, it’s ‘Levy get out your BACS transfer’ day. I will do everything possible to avoid it. And fail. See you on the other side.