Sometimes you take control and smash your opponents into the middle of next week. Sometimes you have to get your head down and just keep on going. This season’s model, the AVB Mk2, keeps on rolling along. Creating chances at a steady rate throughout yesterday’s match against Cardiff, in the end shot number 29 went in, well worth the wait as the supporters in the ground celebrated as madly as the players.
If there are any non-Spurs fans reading this, forgive us if we think what is after all a basic requirement of a football team, to play for 90 minutes, is remarkable in some way. It’s just that we’re not used to it. Over the years the defence has had the concentration span of a hyperactive Tasmanian devil on acid. However well we played, it was only a matter of time before someone would go for a wander, suddenly entranced by the hidden mysterious beauty of the preformed concrete walls of the nearest stand or gazed longingly into the sunset over N17.
Villas-Boas has instilled a rare focus into his side. They not only keep going, they stick to their shape and pattern of play, retaining possession and pass-and-move towards the opponents’ goal. It proves that this system suits the players and they are responding admirably. As I’ve said before this season, it enhances their individual strengths, makes them feel comfortable and confident. Put that together with their philosophy and commitment, you have a little something going there. Their celebration of the goal was natural and ebullient, shared by the coaches and the subs – no sulking resentment at being taken off there.
And let’s not forget another basic – they are very fit. There is no noticeable dip in the levels of effort in the last 15 minutes of a game, but that’s carrying on from AVB Mk1, something he sorted out in the second half of last season.
This was a match we dominated for long periods without ever dazzling. None of the forwards had a particularly eye-catching game yet the chances flowed. Marshall, the Cardiff keeper, was undoubtedly the man of the match but without taking away any credit from his fine performance, many of our shots were very straight. Still, I would rather Soldado carry on taking the ball early because on other days those efforts will find the corners or a worse goalkeeper.
The goal was effortless class, the sort that makes the difference between winning and losing in tight situations. Holtby’s fine cameo when he came on as sub gave our late efforts renewed impetus, busy on the ball and early angled passes into the channels. In injury time he found Lamela on the right, whose cross with the outside of his left foot was touched home by Paulinho with a sublime improvised backheel-come-sidefoot.
We deserved the win but understand Cardiff fans’ frustration. They missed a couple of good chances when very well placed, missed by a fair distance if truth be told. They also could have had at least a free-kick and quite possibly 11 versus 10 when Lloris handled marginally outside the area as he rushed out at the feet of an attacker. Much as I admire him, that’s the second game in succession when Hugo has lost his bearings at the edge of the box. It’s a vital aspect both of his game and our tactics with the sweeper-keeper, he can’t afford to have a faulty sat-nav.
Second in the table, one solitary goal conceded. I’ll worry about scoring only five but leave that for another day and I’ll settle for the current 5:1 goals scored/conceded ratio at the end of the season. Twitter tells me this is the best defensive record in Europe. Remember readers, this is Tottenham Hotspur we are talking about. George Graham tried but failed to bring his ‘one nil to the Ars***l’ mentality to Spurs in the late nineties. All of this with plenty of attacking play, overlapping full-backs and Walker still going walkabout.
There’s no single reason for this. Lloris makes a huge difference – we have a back five now – and Vertonghen can cover up for the errors of others. We seem better defending set pieces and this may be my imagination but I get the impression we are conceding fewer unnecessary free-kicks in our own half. Linked to this is the value of retaining possession better, thus giving the opposition fewer opportunities.
The main factor, however, has got to be the formation with two defensive midfielders. Paulinho hasn’t dominated so far but he gets through so much work, snuffs out problems in midfield before they become serious and gets a tackle in. Finally, we don’t attack rashly these days. We don’t over-commit and there’s always someone staying back to cover. Add up the little things and you have something greater than the sum of the parts.
So that’s settled then – Villa 5 Spurs 0 tomorrow….There’s plenty of work required as I said at the start of the season but to my mind we are way ahead of schedule. In the meantime this solidity and strength is gaining us points that we would have dropped in, well, all the years I’ve been watching Spurs pretty much covers it.