Spurs brushed Stoke aside with a sustained display of attacking, crafty football. From the first whistle they kept the tempo refreshingly high, moved with purpose on and off the ball and at times looked like a side without a care in the world. Fun and frolics at the Lane – the crowd lapped it up. What a pleasure to see the team passing the ball so well and creating chances again.
Much has been made of the contrast between this and AVB’s allegedly dour style. I don’t quite see it – we weren’t dour, we just weren’t playing well. More to the point is that Sherwood has quickly identified the strengths of the side and made a few signficant selection choices up front, in midfield and at full-back. This isn’t just something that happened spontaneously – he deserves the credit as an attacking coach too. Let’s not be under any illusions – this was one game against a very poor side – but my philosophy is, enjoy the good times and yesterday we could not have played much better.
The midfield took control, we passed, we moved, we had to one-twos, we brought everyone into play. The only doubt was the number of chances missed before Soldado’s penalty eased the nerves. But we made those chances, more than in five or ten games this season, not quite but that’s how it seemed. Goals from Dembele and Lennon capped excellent performances from the two of them.
Stand-outs in an all-round team effort were Paulinho, Dembele and Adebayor. It’s perfectly possible the Brazilian benefitted from his enforced rest that could turn out to be the best thing that has happened to him this season because he has looked distinctly jaded lately, hardly surprising given that he played the entire summer in the Confederations Cup. From the start he was sprightly and alert, driving in from the middle and linking well with team-mates. Later he had time for a flick over an opponent’s head, not once but twice in succession, not to be flash but because that was the best way of getting past his man. He enjoyed it, a element that has been absent from his game for a long time. His best game for us and it could mark a change for the better, a sign that he feels settled now.
Charlie Adam came on to do what Charlie Adam does – spoil everything. His only contribution to the game was to take out Paulinho with a tackle just late enough and high enough to hurt but not to attract the ref’s attention. I suppose he’s proud of that in some way. To think Redknapp nearly signed him.
Dembele was fearsome throughout, dashing back to cover and impossible to shake off the ball. I have been advocating that he plays further forward, and sure enough he takes the ball on, drives across the box and slides the ball across the keeper, left foot and low into the far corner for our second and decisive goal.
A feature of our play was the interchanges and interactions between the front six, and Adebayor’s movement made that all possible. Look up and the midfield usually had a pass forward to make, until Manu tired towards the end.
Much discussion about the 4-4-2. Like any formation, it’s what the players make of it. One big difference compared with the West Brom game was the movement of the duo up front. On Boxing Day they waited for the ball, distant from the midfield and easily marked. Yesterday they were much busier, with Adebayor in particular dropping off the back four to come into space to link up. Also, the midfielders started their runs from deep whereas Sigurdsson was stuck upfield for long periods on Boxing Day.
Another plus was the ready supply of crosses from Lennon, who had a fine game. Always a threat, he scored the third, pausing for a vital fraction of a second at the far post before hitting the sweet spot. Eriksen was busy too, starting on the left but coming inside where he could be more involved and giving Spurs an extra man in centre midfield.
Sherwood is determined to be his own man but there were distinct shades of Redknapp in this performance. Modric was often used in that left side drifting in role but in particular after four games, Tiger Tim has played key men in their rightful positions, given them some straightforward instructions and let it flow. Yesterday this was the key to our win. Paulinho is best as a box to box midfielder, Dembele is wasted if left to defend for long periods and Lennon whizzed down the right.
Sherwood has been quoted on several occasions as saying he doesn’t really know the players. This was one reason he gave for not involving Capoue when we were crying out for a defensive midfielder, while post-match he said Paulinho’s performance had really opened his eyes, “I didn’t know he possessed that, to be honest.”
Given that he was the club’s technical director, that seems surprising. There are three explanations for this: he’s using this as an excuse for not playing certain players, he’s lying or he really doesn’t realise their capabilities. This last could be partially true. He would have seen them play but there’s an implication that the natural talents of the men I’ve featured so far were stifled under Villas-Boas. Certainly there was an exuberance about this win that we’ve seldom seen this season. What a great shame if this is true. I hope I’m wrong, so disappointed would I be to have that confirmed but suspect I’m on the right track.
Four games in, so what do we know? Credit to Sherwood for making some changes in the way the team approached their task even if the basic formation was the same. He is learning quickly and is overcoming problems. Stoke were awful but they still got men back behind the ball. Spurs broke them down whereas against West Brom they could find no answer to the same problem.
However, while Sherwood is showing prowess as an attacking coach, the next two games versus United and Ars***l will pose a very different set of problems. Stoke never once exploited the gap as Eriksen drifted inside whereas Valencia and Walcott would punish us severely. Dawson and Chiriches were seldom troubled by Stoke’s feeble attack but they struggled to deal with a couple of long balls, and remember we gave Southampton far too much room a couple of weeks ago.
Soldado’s efforts to score make excruciating viewing. Desperate to see him be successful, I squirmed as he missed several times, notably from the right in the first half and right in front of the net in the second. These were the balls he waited for without any joy under AVB, now he’s getting them he does not know what to do with them. It’s rotten to see a clearly talented striker looking bewildered as once again his natural instincts let him down, and for strikers, when their instincts go, they don’t know what to do next.
Still, he kept going for 90 minutes and calmly put away his penalty after Shawcross handled an Adebayor shot, although he didn’t celebrate much. As he picked the ball up to place it on the spot, there was no doubt he would take it. Adebayor and Paulinho went up to him and gave him an encouraging pat on the back plus some comforting words. We’re all in this together.
Finally, praise for our two young full-backs. Naughton could be forgiven for never wishing to set foot on the pitch ever again after being slaughtered by Sterling. However, comfortable in his natural station on the right, he was sound throughout. Fryers has the attribute I like most in a young player, the ability to take charge. He looked as if he belonged and went for every ball with confidence. He can cross a ball too. He’s not impressed during the few under 21 games where I’ve seen him. Yesterday he looked highly promising.