This game had what football calls the makings of a potential banana skin. Strictly speaking, the ‘potential’ is redundant because the banana skin either exists or it doesn’t, unless it is Schrödinger’s Banana Skin. The metaphor is sound even if the alleged properties of said skin exist only in a world governed by the laws of physics in a Tex Avery cartoon, but then again over the years those laws have often applied to our defence.
I prefer the term cock-up and this had all the ingredients. Spurs spending a fortune with classy new players up against Plucky Palace, underdogs who will rip into the fancy-dan slow-starting north London rich-kids from first to last, with a former Arsenal centre-forward popping up to score the inevitable late winner. You can’t tell me it didn’t cross your mind.
Spurs had no intention of conforming to type. In a composed, balanced and solid performance, we were the superior side
and should have won by a margin greater than a penalty that on another day may not have been given. Despite all the new men and the lack of pre-season togetherness, players found each other relatively easily and movement all round the field was good for the first game of the season. They looked sharp and motivated, our centre forward is off the mark and Kaboul returned to first team action. No rash predictions but that will do for me.
In my pre-season preview I wondered if it would take time for the new players to settle. In fact, Villas-Boas gave all of them a role they were comfortable with. Paulinho and Capoue know everything about the art of defensive midfield play. Of course they do – it’s what they have always done. It’s a fit as snug as a hand-stitched bespoke suit.
In Britain there’s still the lingering feeling that defensive midfielders are given that job because they can’t pass or move as well as the more creative footballers. Paulinho showed DMs can play. He has fine positional sense and works hard without wasting any energy. His rangy sniping in the middle picked off Palace attacks before they could going and he and Capoue, who came on early in the second half, were usually first to a loose ball. Both turned defence into attack with ease and we kept possession in an unhurried manner in spite of Palace’s energetic pressing game. Highly impressive.
Soldado took up good positions but did not get especially good service. Anyway, there was barely room to breathe in the box. Holloway used similar defensive tactics as he did when he was last in the Premier League, packing the centre and so forcing us out wide, then five in a line across the six yard box to greet a cross with two others to block the cross at source. It worked for Blackpool – we couldn’t find a way round it when we played them.
Certainly the game began where we left off last season, with plenty of possession but no chances. Walker was excellent going forward and combined well with Lennon, passes inside the full-back slicing through the flank. However, Palace were quick to get back and Lennon took a while to realise that he had no time for a second touch. The closest we came was a Dembele shot that went just over.
In the last fifteen minutes of the half, we picked up the tempo and the chances did come. Sigurdsson missed the best one, Chadli and Soldado so nearly created something and the Belgian should have committed more fully to a far post header just before the break.
The breakthrough came with a penalty – finally. An omen? None for an entire season then one in the very first game of 2013-14. You know the story – Palace will feel hard done by, we think it was justified. This season I am minimising exposure to endless TV punditry for the sake of my sanity so I have no idea what the MOTD and Sky inquests decided but on two views, I’d say it was but could have been influenced by the appeal Clattenburg turned down moments earlier. I suspect that was playing on his mind. Soldado took it calmly.
Spurs sat back a little too much but by and large defended well. We were caught by the long ball a few times and there’s the lingering anxiety regarding the ease with which Palace strikers got into the spaces between our back four. However, Lloris was quick and alert after a sedentary first half and swept up behind the defence. Danny Rose made one superb last man tackle and Lloris’s double save late on saw us through. However well Palace harried and chased in midfield, they posed comparatively little threat up front.
We should have wrapped it up in the final quarter. Chadli had a couple of efforts, Siggy missed again but overall did well, covering a huge amount of ground in the central advanced midfield role that suits him best. Defoe failed too when well placed, that flaw in his technique when he’s not quite on it, falling away as he shoots and dragging it wide. Throughout it was noticeable how many men we had in the box when we attacked, a difference from last season.
It’s the little things that count. Chadli nonchalantly controlling a firm raking pass stone dead. Lennon covering when Walker went up in the second half. Soldado chasing back.
Good to see Kaboul back. Rose did well enough without being seriously tested (looks like he’s bulked up a bit without losing his pace) but he can be indecisive when moving up. He and Chadli need to work on their partnership. Shame Dembele went off – his inability to finish a game is worrying as he can be a key player.
Good start, no complaints.