At times this season, the hurt has been excruciating. Destroyed 6-0 by City in what was billed as a clash of title contenders, only three and bit months ago. Shipping more goals at home to the same opponents, kept it to five this time. Liverpool felt like having your spleen removed without anesthetic with only the precision of their surgical incisions to dull the pain.
The saddest and worst for me, though, occurred on Thursday evening. For an extended period at the end of the first half, Benfica corralled Spurs deep inside our own half, trapped in the fattening pen awaiting slaughter. We had no idea how to escape. We tried to go forward but found no way through the tight, eager and superbly organised midfield, We played it from side to side at the back. All that brought were a series of dangerous passes created by the pressure and the sight and sound of Vertonghen ferociously berating Kaboul and Naughton.
In the end we resorted to the long ball game. Even then we couldn’t do that properly. Adebayor flailing did his best but aside from a couple of headers from Kane, we got no one anywhere near him in case we got a knock-down. In the second half, Paulinho was pushed further forward, presumably to link with Manu and Kane. All this meant was that he saw even less of the ball than he did in the first half, thus approaching a number close to absolute zero.
Spurs were out-classed. The game proved, if any proof were needed, how far away from Champions League quality we are. Benfica have a group of talented players but the gulf in class was shown in teamwork. They were a team, we were 11 individuals. They hunted in packs, moving up, down and across the pitch in unison when they lost the ball and supporting each other they had it. We had a couple of failed one-twos, two players working together, not even three let alone a team.
The Bloke Behind Me ripped Sandro for a weak tackle. The referee gave a free-kick for an over-vigorous challenge. That’s the difference between the PL and Europe, right there. The team may or may not be trying – I think the players were committed on Thursday but there’s an alternative view, I grant you. But fist-pumping get-stuck-in rhetoric, whether it comes from row 15 on the Shelf or Tim Sherwood, is nowhere near enough. Problem is, the TBBM left early, Sherwood’s our manager but that is all he’s got.
Tim reverted to a familiar 4-4-2 ish formation with Vertonghen back in the centre of the defence, Walker and Naughton at full-back and Sandro and Paulinho in centre midfield. Paulinho was encouraged to take up more advanced positions, to be joined by Eriksen coming in off the left and Lennon wide right. Kane came in to play off Adebayor but does not have the talent either to support Manu in the box or link midfield and the striker.
You could see what Sherwood was thinking. Spurs were at home and had to try to take the game to our opponents. However, the inherent vulnerabilities were soon exposed. After a brisk start Benfica dominated midfield because we were outnumbered. To combat this, we needed width. Indeed, Lennon was our best attacking option with a couple of classic twinkling winger-type runs on the outside. Then he stopped. Came inside all the time. Didn’t link with Walker just when we needed to spread the play and have a go at them. This was compounded on the other side where we had no width at all because Eriksen was coming inside and anyway he’s not a wide player. Eriksen provided some flickers of creativity and should have been moved there in the second as Paulinho did nothing, but that was another missed opportunity.
Once Benfica got our measure, they controlled the game. Their first was a fine goal, lots of room between Vertonghen and Naughton, torn between dropping back but tempted forward by his opposite number drifting deep, but ruthlessly exploited by a delightful pass from deep and an equally fine finish.
We had a couple of opportunities right at the beginning of the second period. Adebayor missed – was he offside, I couldn’t see? And that was that. No 2014 Spurs performance is complete without some self-inflicted agony. Ironic given their superiority but the second and third both came from set-pieces. Both were unnecessary – Kane caught with the ball deep in his own half then Naughton conceding a free-kick. Both were as a result of poor marking. Their centre half rose free like a bird to head in number two, then banged in a loose ball for the third. Adebayor was deputed to mark their most dangerous header of the ball. bad mistake – he was nowhere on both.
This Spurs week has been conducted to a backdrop of Sherwood moaning. I see no reason to alter what I said over the weekend. Managers do not openly and consistently criticise their players in the media. There’s a reason for that. It doesn’t work. he may be right, he may be wrong but that’s not the question. The conundrum he has to solve is how to get the players to play better.
He clearly has a keen tactical mind. However, the constant changing of tactics has prevented the players from forming any cohesion or consistency. They need time to bed down. Sherwood is making substantial changes each and every game. The managers that do that, and there are very few, do so only after they have been with their team for a long time, they understand the players and the players can cope with the changes because they are confident. In the other words the total opposite of the situation at Spurs.
Tim says he’s trying to motivate, weed out the deadwood. but everyone knows he won’t be around in the summer. The players have no incentive to respond therefore. Sherwodd wants to get at the players, to make them harder. But people are people, they are individuals, they respond to different ways of being managed. He showed Adebayor he cared, and Manu responded magnificently. Not the others, then?
This piece from the Guardian shows Tim has form. It’s a series of examples from his own career about how he has not learned man-management lessons. Tim has a career ahead of him as a manager. What he’s doing at Spurs smacks of a job application. Tough, hard-man manager, licks players into shape, understands tactics, brings on the youngsters. A good CV for the lower leagues, then he can work his way up. he’s good mates with the Swindon chairman, look out for a west country move.
And he will do well, but it is not right for our club. That’s what I care about. This has all gone horribly wrong. It’s like Sherwood has compressed the first five years of management into a few months. Start by taking over and settling the team down – familiar, straightforward tactics, get the best from the players, keep them happy. Try something different, new tactics. Some of it comes off. Then things go wrong. More changes, doesn’t work, more changes. Start blaming the players. This isn’t about Tim, it’s about the club and our club is a laughing stock.
Grab a bagel on the way home, see the TV. Jermaine Jenas is the pundit pontificating on our club. Can we get any lower? We may find out tomorrow.