On Friday my granddaughter asked me who my favourite Spurs player was. I had to think for a moment, then told her it was Hugo Lloris. She persisted. “Not a goalkeeper granddad.” I guess keepers aren’t the men to spark the imagination of a 9 year old these days, whereas when I was her age Pat Jennings was a superhero to me, with gravity-defying leaps and brave deeds, saving the team when all else had failed, week after week. She’ll learn.
I paused. To be honest, I could not think of an answer. It’s telling that while I see the positives in almost all of our players, no one stands out. Eriksen has the potential but has not kicked on this season and is not yet able to make a midfield sing to his own tune and has not kicked on so far this season. Lamela is the hero we crave but has not found a way past the posse of opponents who descend on him the instant he gets the ball at his feet. The rest are much of a muchness, although I have the utmost respect for Kaboul’s Kaptain Kourageous efforts recently. No point in looking to any of our strikers for inspiration.
Yesterday’s narrow win against Southampton was well-crafted and decidedly unspectacular. Right now, seems we can’t have both and yesterday the full spectrum of positives and negatives were on display. Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham will be organised and hard-working rather than relying on inspiration and we did well enough against a team who are themselves disciplined and solid. Yet it’s the star men, the favourites, who will provide those moments of inspiration that turn solid into solid gold. Eriksen played in fits and starts again, good touches without taking over for periods. Yet he has the ability to win the game, seizing on one of our few chances and finding the bottom corner of the net from just outside the box. Well set up by Adebayor and Chadli, this was a rare example of quick passing matched by good positional sense running movement off the ball.
Pochettino knows this. He’s known for press and run rather than push and run but he’s consistently picked attack-minded players like Lamela, Eriksen and Chadli. Many are grumbling that Spurs are not exciting to watch. That’s less about tactics or philosophy and more about the growing pains of yet another new side under yet another new manager.
Poch plays attack-minded men and likes to keep the ball moving, in a forward direction if at all possible. Full-backs are encouraged to get forward too, although we didn’t see so much of this yesterday. It’s just that it’s taking time to get the message across. This was what, 11 or 12 games in. There are signs of stability – strength and understanding in the back four, pressing together early on then falling back later for protection, the key there being the word ‘together’.
Indeed, we seem happier falling back and hitting back on the counter. Our best attacks came on the break with men piling forward.
Some individuals are flourishing too. Capoue is proving to be a fine DM, eating up the ground and using fine positional sense to plug the gaps. He’s a natural defensive midfielder. There’s Kaboul as skipper and Danny Rose the revelation. Another excellent game nearly curtailed because he built up a number of fouls after the referee harshly booked him earlier, that warranted a lengthy ‘one more and you’re off’ lecture. Lloris outstanding, pink must be his colour. Faultless on his line and in the air. You’d think he could a ball after all these years, but no. You’d think somebody at the club wouldn’t need a UEFA ‘A’ license to teach him how to do it. Mason good yesterday too. As I said last week, he’s young so I forgive him his mistakes if he keeps working and trying to get things going, as he did yesterday. On several occasions he and he alone instigated a bit of pass and move. Others take note.
Further forward there are problems turning defence into attack. For Eriksen and Lamela, see above. Townsend and Lennon when deployed on the ‘wrong’ side get swallowed up too easily.
Lots of criticism of Adebayor focusses on his workrate but what’s missing is goals. That’s what strikers do, I thought. Sure, these days they have to do more. Yesterday towards the end of the game he was tired but won applause, rightly so, for single-handedly worrying the Saints back four as they attempted to play the ball out. He began the move that led to the goal, significantly from wide left where he can drift away for markers and open up space in the middle. All good. He failed either to hold up the ball or link with the midfield, poor overall in that respect.
However, he was no danger to anybody in the box and neither for that matter was anyone else, apart from one Chadli effort where he hit the inside of the post. With his current form you expected him to score and certainly he looks much more useful to the team if he’s released from at least some of his covering duties.
This lack of punch in the box is the biggest single issue Pochettino has to ponder over during the international break. Defensively we look stronger. Kaboul and Vertonghen were solid and determined throughout and we defended a series of set-pieces, usually coming from free-kicks unnecessarily conceded, pretty well. Also, as per last week, we drop back to four in midfield as he second half progressed. That worked well too, especially with Mason and Capoue’s hard work and intelligent positional sense.
We’re not making enough chances. We don’t get the ball from midfield to the feet or head of men in the box, whether it’s by through-ball or cross. He has little to work with, another infuriating legacy of the botched transfer policy that leaves us little alternative but to play Manu every week.
Early days. It is, I’m afraid, and we will have to put up with many more tension-filled endings like yesterday’s where despite a decent performance the lack of spark meant we never got away from our opponents. Saints missed a golden chance to equalise near the end.
Without big performances from the few with star quality, we will have to rely on teamwork. Slowly the message is getting over. Not to everyone. Yesterday Jason Burt in the Telegraph reported that ‘senior players’ were unhappy with Pochettino’s regime. Then again ‘senior players’ un-named of course, have supposedly been unhappy at the club under the last four managers.
More likely it’s a sign Pochettino does not have the players he really wants. Younger men respond to him because they are more willing to do his bidding, hence Mason embracing the opportunity presented to him. Otherwise, we have too many widemen in a side that gets width from the full-backs and a number of hard-running but not overly creative midfielders. And too few striking options.
I was too busy to write about the Besiktas match, or perhaps in the end I just couldn’t be bothered. So here it is: Spurs reserves aren’t very good. Who knew?
Pochettino rested his first choice team because before most of us he realised the full significance of the match against Southampton, for him and more importantly for Spurs. To me, another game along the road, to the media the benchmark of Tottenham’s progress. That we became a footnote on the back pages as Wenger and Mourinho slugged it out proves how important that win was. It eases the pressure as he works to develop the squad and the system. Something to build on, plenty to do, but better we do it away from the unflattering bright lights of the full media glare.
Finally, sad for Kyle Naughton. In the team on merit, handling the stick with admirable phlegmatic calm, now out for some time. Get well soon.