Testing on the New Model Poch has gone well so far, by and large, but yesterday against West Brom the wheels well and truly fell off. Progress is never straightforward. The best thing a supporter can hope for is that for every one step back there are two forward. When the season began, we always knew there would be days like these but that insight doesn’t make it feel any better.
This was as disjointed and mindless as the worst days of Redknapp and Villas-Boas. Ineffective in attack, scarily poor at the back and unable to shake themselves out of it. By the finish I was wistfully dreaming of an indiscriminate whack forward into the box, that’s what I was reduced to, but we couldn’t even do that, or get a corner past the near post.
Empty spaces in the stands – Stubhub had over 800 tickets available on Saturday night. These 1.30 kick-offs are taking their toll. The scores from Leicester-United generated the only buzz in the second half. I don’t get that myself but it shows attention was elsewhere.
Dembele’s performance summed up Spurs’ day. He has looked eager and positive since he came back into the team. Like others, Rose, Kane and Dier notably, he’s responded to the competition for places. Also, and perhaps more importantly, he seems to have got over the thigh injury that plagued him for most of last season. He starts as one of the two defensive midfielders but can push up when we have the ball, giving us four in midfield plus Capoue staying back to cover and allowing midfielders’ runs into the box. It’s an important position if it works and he has the ability to put it into practice.
In the first half he was busy, making a couple of good interceptions and shifting the ball around more quickly than he did last season. He showed he has another gear. However, as the half wore on, he was twice caught in possession, potentially fatal for a DM with no cover behind him. Also, at one point he preferred to hold onto the ball rather than find the runner ahead of him, Rose I think, can’t be sure.
That this is noteworthy says everything about the game. I can recall this moment because we had runners in space so infrequently. There were a few oohs and ahhs in the first half as some crosses came in, Rose timing his runs well to give us much-needed width, and a double attempt (double-cross?) from Eriksen which two Spurs forwards just failed to get a toe on. Otherwise I don’t remember Foster making a single save until Soldado steered Lamela’s lightening cross straight at him, deep in the second half.
The first half faded away but any anticipation that we would get going after half-time was swiftly dispelled. Rather, we sunk into a quagmire of uncertainty and apathy. Constantly giving the ball away, unable to pass to a white shirt.
This was also Pochettino’s worst game so far. This was the first time the players failed to respond to him. In the second half he was gesturing on the touchline like John McCririck on PCP, a demented tic-tac man vainly trying to change the odds in our favour. At one point he was miming bending runs and movement but I couldn’t spot a single player taking any notice.
WBA played a disciplined 4-4-1-1 but we had no idea how to get round that midfield four. Poch brought on Soldado and Paulinho for Dembele and Chadli, the only time I noticed he was on the pitch. Eriksen went left, Lamela wide right. This took Eriksen out of the game, a fact recognised later when he came back central when Lennon came on to at least take the ball to our opponents. Then, moving the ball from deep, half the players split to shape up for the old formation while five others pushed right up, leaving a 50 yard gap between back and front. Half the players were on one formation, half another. In the end, the forwards stood and waited for the ball to reach them.
Little things – man-marking at corners, Chiriches dutifully followed Sessignon even when the WBA man jogged out of the area for a short corner. Our centre back therefore taken out of the box for a corner.This is not to excuse the players. Eriksen has to get more involved even if that means he comes deeper. Yesterday he played in fits and starts. Lamela has blindingly quick feet but was stifled for the most part. As I’ve said before, Chadli is a talented player who is happy if the game is played at his pace and others do the work for him. In the PL, that’s a luxury we can’t afford. Soldado came on to a big cheer and got everything wrong. Manu furiously berated his team-mates near the end for not getting onto the end of his fine flick-on into the box but I’m sure they were as surprised as I was that he had actually won anything.
At the back, Rose did well but could not advance in the second half. By the time the game ended, the collective sharp intake of breath whenever Chiriches came near the ball was audible. You could almost smell his fear. His attempt to tackle a player at the edge of our box by rolling the ball under his foot for a clever turn was certainly a first for me. Luckily he managed to fumble his way out of it. Awful.
The winning goal was in keeping with our performance, an average-sized bloke jumping unmarked to head in from eight yards out. Credit to the Baggies. They kept to their shape throughout, worked hard from first to last and attacked whenever possible to keep the pressure on us. The better side won.
I do the Spurs preview for a fellow blogger who has a West Brom site. This week he asked a question about hopes for the season. I answered that what’s most important for me is that we show clear signs of longer term progress and have a two or three year plan to move the club forward on and off the pitch. That process will be painful at times but there’s no getting away from it: yesterday we were p*ss poor.
Voting has begun for the Football Blogging Awards 2014. Numbers of votes count at this stage so I would be eternally grateful if you could click the logo in the sidebar for Tottenham On My Mind in the Best Club Blog category How about it for an old-fashioned, one man blog up against the big boys. Bless you.