From Panto To Blockbuster: Spurs In Clash Of Titans

Billed as the clash between master and apprentice, this game transcended the hype.  In place of Mourinho’s knockabout pantomime villain schtick, we saw raw, compelling drama, a riveting spectacle in technicolour, 3D and surroundsound.  

This is what top class football looks like and Spurs were worthy contenders with every right to be there. There wasn’t a moment’s respite to be had as fortunes ebbed and flowed. It was tight and tense with a series of confrontations in every area of the field, the outcome of any one of which could decide the final result. At the finish, the relief that infused the pleasure indicated what more has to be accomplished to keep us up there as the season unfolds.   

Over the course of 90 minutes, we ran through the entire gamut of emotions. At kick-off it was hope and expectation. The media framed this as a battle between the managers but that fades to grey compared with the genuine edge surrounding this fixture. While early afternoon start-times never feel right, come the whistle the aggravation, the desperation to win against a side where we have a poor record, generated a powerful roar that drove on the early frantic exchanges. Make no mistake – the significance of this match went way beyond league position or London bragging rights. This was the real test of our credentials as a rising force and of the new Tottenham team. 

At Spurs, we know what follows expectation – disappointment. But these days there’s something different in the air. We had the better of a cagey first half hour. For much of the time the two formations matched up precisely, basically a 4-2-3-1, with Spurs making more of our possession. Dembele was busy, Eriksen the focal point and Townsend confident enough to take the attack to Chelsea down their left.  

Then the goal, a carbon-copy of the move that created the opener against Norwich. The same players, Soldado a touch to Eriksen who then slid the ball through to the onrushing Sigurdsson coming into the box on the diagonal, covering the same blades of grass. Instead of the far corner, Siggy drove on after a half-tackle to stroke it home at the near post. Part improvisation, part training ground and in the stands, pure joy. 

This was our best spell. Townsend became more prominent, his runs troubling Chelsea’s left hand side. His time at QPR has given him a confidence and determination to take the opportunity of first team football presented to him this season. He’s stronger and while Cole was unimpressed by his exaggerated stepovers, he’s overcome his main problem, a lack of awareness of what’s around him and is now a better judge of when to hold it and when to pass. He helped set up the move that enabled Paulinho to shoot inches wide at the near post. 

In these narrow margins games are won and lost. Our justified optimism was tempered by niggling doubts. As that ball slipped by the post, we knew chances would be few and far between. Whatever the pressure, they needed to go in. 

Sure enough, Chelsea came back into it towards the end of the half. They did not take the couple of chances that came their way and on one occasion Vertonghen tackled heroically to thwart another good opportunity.   

At Loftus Road, Redknapp may have taught Townsend how to become a Premier League winger but he also left him with some bad habits. Wide men have to get back to cover but too often he was drifting in no man’s land. Mourinho targeted our wings as the weakness from the beginning. In the first half, it was long balls from defence. During one injury break, Luiz and Ramirez were animatedly discussing how to float curling passes into the gap down our left. Naughton and the diligent, hard-working Siggy put paid to that apart from one move.  

Not so on the other side. A change in tactics with Ramirez moving to the middle and Mata coming on decisively shifted the balance of power. They pressed hard and were first to every loose ball. We began to be caught in possession. We looked up and no one was available as Chelsea flooded the midfield. Repeatedly exposed down the right and unable to get hold of the ball, Townsend came off to be replaced by Chadli as Villas-Boas desperately tried to catch up before the Blues ran away with the game. 

Pleasure turned to pain as our opponents took over. There is nothing more anxiety-provoking than the fine margins of an offside trap. With Torres running the channels and a midfield apparently perfectly adapted to defeat the trap, this was a stomach-churning time. Demeble worked tirelessly but Eriksen disappeared, Soldado could not hold the ball and contributed little and Chadli despite his imposing build melted away shortly after he appeared.  

Lloris was outstanding, several sprawling saves with body and feet at the onrushing forwards and fearlessly coming far from the comfort of his line to punch away the growing number of free-kicks curling into our box. Last week I noted that one of the factors behind our defensive security this season was that we were giving away fewer unnecessary free-kicks in our half. However, under pressure we gave away one too many, Terry equalising, too much room in the box.  

These were anxious times. AVB kept adjusting – Holtby for the fading Eriksen – but Chelsea dominated, at least until Torres was sent off. I have not seen any replays of this game so I’ll leave it to the comments section to judge what did and did not happen. I saw him go for the man not the ball as he and Vertonghen challenged but didn’t see an elbow. Already booked, the ref gave a second yellow.  

What I can be certain of is that this once fine footballer spent the entire match enveloped in a red mist of bitter frustration. Fine by me – he’s less effective that way – but if he spent half the energy expended in niggles, pettiness and feeling hard-done by on actually playing football, he could be great again.

His dismissal was the final shift in the game’s equilibrium. Full circle – the match ended in hope and expectation as Spurs came forward purposefully and with patience, shifting the ball from side to side to stretch the ten men. At one point Dawson, 30 yards from their goal, was our mst withdrawn outfield player. It nearly worked. Defoe was on for Soldado, a bold substitution from AVB to take the game to Chelsea despite the pressure we were under. He found space but missed the two chances that came his way. Fine margins again. 

Going home – relief to be honest. A point in a game we could have lost. We competed well but were overwhelmed too easily at the start of the second half. Eriksen and Soldado contributed little. Eriksen seemed unsure about his positioning when Chelsea had the ball and was aimlessly too far forward. Wingers have to track back. Chadli appeared lost.  

Siggy worked very hard all game. Naughton at left back did OK defensively but because he is not as comfortable on the ball as most of his team-mates, he gets caught in possession. Also, full-backs are important in our attacks, pushing up allowing our wide-men to come inside and get into the box, in turn vital if we have only one up front. Naughton is also right footed, so he comes inside too, denying us the options.

And what about the managers? A first-half match up with Our Andre getting more from his men than Jose the ugly sister but Mourinho ran the second period with Villas-Boas on the catch-up with considered substitutions to shift a balance that tipped finally only with the red card.

21 thoughts on “From Panto To Blockbuster: Spurs In Clash Of Titans

  1. Excellent write up. A good point in the end. I was dreading Naughton playing left back but he seemed to do ok although going forward, his lack of a left foot tells.
    The introduction of Mata changed the game and we struggled a bit after that. Both Eriksen and Paulinho seemed to tire and Defoe didn’t make the best of his chances. I thought Dembele put in his best performance for a long time. I’m still not sure about Chadli. He looks a good prospect but far from the finished article.
    Overall though, we’re making progress. You can see players starting to link up better and the bench looks strong. Reasons to be optimistic.

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    • Dembele played well, kept pushing to make something happen. Think I should have emphasised that more. I still prefer him in a more advanced role but this is where AVB wants him to be and Eriksen and Holtby are fighting it out for the number 10. Chadli looked lost.

      Regards, Alan

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  2. I understand that we’re still a work in progress but I really didn’t expect our powerful midfield to be overrun in such an alarming fashion in the second half. That kind of vulnerability is exactly what the new-look Spurs was supposed to eradicate. I don’t think AVB had his best game. Surely the introduction of Sandro would have been the best way to shore things up. I agree with Peter Domican, I am not at all convinced by Chadli. Lennon, Lamela and Townsend all offer more.
    The first half, though, offered glimpses of just how good we are going to be, especially when the likes of Kaboul, Chiriches, Lamela and Capoue become more involved and Soldado starts scoring (which he surely will).
    Alan, what’s your take on AVB’s high-line strategy? It’s high risk isn’t it? I love Daws but not sure he’s the best man to implement it.

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    • Thanks Alan for another good piece. Harvey, agree with your point re Sandro. From v early in the second half it was clear that they had moved up a gear and that Ramires was dominating the midfield battle. I thought it called out for the introduciton of Sandro at the cost of one of our attacking middielders, Gyllfi or Eriksen. As the half progressed the need for a battler like Sandro became even more apparent as Ramires and co won every loose ball and 50/50. By the time Torres was sent off Ch… were turning the screw on us and we were starting to buckle. His sending off handed us a lifeline.

      Am puzzled by AVB overlooking Sandro during second half. I also hoped to see Lamela brought on to provide a bit of guile when Eriksen was apparently struggling with the pace. I would have taken a draw before the game so was happy with the result. Great results elsewhere too apart from the one in Swansea.

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    • harvey, I am a big Sandro fan and would play him regularly, precisely because he offers that muscular energy and drive that we lacked in the second half. Think AVB prefers Dembele because he is more creative. The high line is dangerous but it worked – Chelsea swamped us in the this fixture last year with Mata, Oscar and Hazard destroying our defence by playing in that area 25 – 35 yards from our goal, space denied to them by the high line.

      Regards, Al

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  3. Excellent Alan. It’s a pity that AVB wasn’t more ‘positive’ in his substitutions. Holtby should have replaced a visibly fading Eriksen much earlier in the 2nd half, because keeping the Dane on longer meant more work for Dembele and Paulinho. Before the Chelsea goal, you could also see Paulinho tiring as a consequence of over-assisting Eriksen, and, with all the signs that Chelsea were beginning to play their best football of the season, Sandro too should have substituted him before their goal.
    Not just to shore up and protect a 1-0 lead, but to free up the non-stop pressing on either Holtby (or Eriksen) & Dembele further up, along with the front players. Lamela too, if Townsend really had to come off, should have been the latter’s replacement, not Chadli, because the Argentinian could have at least provided some of the creativity that Eriksen had shown in the first half. We were overrun in that second half and the pressure only eased because of the Torres red card, where after we had further chances to win it ..but it all could have been so unnecessary if AVB had acted more positively and much earlier. I’m particularly annoyed about Defoe. I’ve been one of his biggest critics (the man of streaky form and many injuries) but he is in form right now and should have either got on from the start or at half time. Even 5 minutes into the 2nd half you could see Soldado’s line was cut from midfield, and because Defoe operates more outside the box anyway, he should have come on far earlier to link up with midfield and the flanks.
    Some real positives in the first half though. It looks as though once Eriksen and Paulinho (who to be fair played in the week) have got fuller fitness, we’re in for a treat. And for pete’s sake, don’t stop Townsend shooting completely! Twice he worked himself into positions where I thought ‘have a go’, but he passed and the chance came to nothing. Before this game he was trying too hard to get into a position to shoot, where the pass or cut back would have been better, and that deserves criticism rightly, but when he makes it open up naturally, as it did on a couple of occasions yesterday …SHOOT!!

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    • Soldado had a poor game but as you say the cutting of the supply line made him redundant. Lamela would not have dealt with the problems we had when we did not have the ball. I would have taken Townsend off even earlier. Re defoe, think that timing could have been a little earlier but equally he could have hauled off the striker altogether, such was the pressure we were under at certain points and I’m glad he didn’t.

      Regards, Alan

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  4. Agree with the above posts, the most disappointing thing for me was AVB’s lack of reaction. Even in the first half we struggled to play our normal game. Although you say Naughton and Gylfi solved the long ball behind the full back problem they solved it by Naughton dropping back into a normal left back position and eventually Walker did the same on the other side leaving us with a flat back four and unable to press high and aggressively as we normally do. Half the team was pressing high up and the rest were dropping deep leaving huge holes in the midfield which were impossible for Dembele and Paulinho to fill. You either play the high press or you don’t, anything less than total commitment to it is disastrous as we found in this game and also against Arsenal. AVB has to put this right now before the whole division play this way against us,

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    • I think the division will be looking at the wide areas as our weakness. The high line worked well – see my comment above – but as you say, the Chelsea pressure out wide not only was dangerous, it also pushed our full-backs deep and nullified one of our important attacking routes.

      Regards, Alan

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  5. For anyone dreaming of a title tilt I suppose the result was disappointing. I have more realistic expectations, a top four finish, bearing that in mind yesterday’s result means we are right on track. I think considering the history of the fixture and last seasons result we are making good progress and are a stronger , more balanced team than last season. Steady as she goes.

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  6. Good post as always Alan.
    Have to admit came away from the game glad that we did not loose to those cheats, who used every dirty trick in the book to frustrate our players.
    Also would like to see AVB change tactics a lot sooner than he did yesterday.
    Onwards and upwards for at least 4th position .
    COY MIGHTY SPURS

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  7. Enjoyed reading your analysis and thinks it nicely sums up the game.

    I am worried that AVB displayed more than a little naivety and a fair bit of stubbornness not reacting to JM’s tactical shift for the second half of the game. Tactically, if AVB had the upper hand in the first half, to expect
    “more of the same” to work in the second half seriously under-estimates JM managerial ability. Moreover, the change in tactics/personnel was there for all to see at the start of the second half. I may not like the man but I know that he is an excellent reader of the game and a master tactician who is not going to sit on a 1 Nil deficit and try “more of the same”…

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    • Agree with you here. I felt AVB needed to be aware that JM would change things for the 2nd half and would need to respond accordingly. For me we were crying out for Sandro to come on and claim that midfield most likely at the expense of Townsend.

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    • Agree re Sandro. Know what you mean but AVB likes to wait a bit. Suspect his plan was to get the players on the field to adopt slightly different roles, e.g. Eriksen and Townsend dropping deeper. I was disappointed neither reacted. Remember that AVB also had to hold something back in case we needed to go into attack later in the game.

      regards, Alan

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  8. Good stuff Alan. I cannot believe the nonsense Mou Mou is allowed to get away with by the English football media. Deluded and unintentionally hilarious as ever. Lessons on footballers’ behaviour from The Portuguese Man of Waaaaaaargh! Priceless.

    If Torres had gone when he should have, we’d have won … Such an easy game that one. I also felt Torres aimed to jump into Jan and deserved another yellow card. 5 mins with Mourinho has turned Torres into as big a dick as the others at that risible club. Impressive.

    It was also a pen on Paulinho when Ivanovic tried to throttle him.

    Disappointing second half from us I felt. I agree with others that AVB and the players didn’t respond to Chelsea moving Ramires inside and introducing Mata quickly enough. But a very good, measured first half from us. We’re competitive from the off and should only get better. Exciting. Though Chelsea showed we still have much to do.

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    • The thing with Mourinho is nothing about football and everything about the media. Like Redknapp, Jose is good copy and like HR, the media do not want to kill the golden the goose so he gets by without being criticised. I reckon you can see the look in his eye when he thinks of something over the top to say, then thinks he shouldn’t say it, then finally goes, nah, what the hell, they will lap it up…’ and out it comes.

      Regards, Al

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  9. Congratulations an article on the Chelsea game that doesn’t refer to ‘a game of two halves’.
    Proper blogging that is. Deserves an award really.
    I didn’t resist the temptation and used it in my first line.
    Torres should have been sent off for the original scratching offence.
    A valuable point in the long run. Marathon/sprint and all that.

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    • Game of two halves is fine in an ironic post-modern hipster kind of way. Which is I’m sure how you used it.

      I blogged without seeing any replays so can’t and didn’t comment about scratching – did he really? I was quite kind to him in that case. Valuable point but probably thinking about it again, we could have been over-run in the second half before Torres was sent off.

      Regards, Al

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