So is everything well if we win? It’s a question that applies to Spurs away these days, not just yesterday’s 2-1 victory at Swansea. I’m enjoying the win today, lifted my mood, as did Villa and Hull. Always a three-point spring in my step. But a glance at the table this morning and my first instinct was to look down not up, even if we are a mere two points below a European place with a home League Cup QF the day after tomorrow.
“Win ugly”? No doubt that parts of all three games have been positively grotesque. “Part of our development.”? We’ve seldom taken any lessons into the next home games, Everton being the exception.
Swansea manager Monk reached for the time-honoured boxing analogy to describe politely his assessment of the match: “If it had been a boxing match, it would have been stopped.” Doubtless he used more colourful language in the dressing room as his side failed to capitalise on their dominance during the majority of this game. Probably not a good time to note his flawed analogy: to score points in boxing you have to land a punch. Swansea’s real problem was the number of missed chances with shots fizzing past the woodwork rather than keeping Lloris busy.
Our man Poch meanwhile predictably took some positives away, feeling that he’s beginning to get his methods across to the players. There’s some welcome truth in that but judging by our inconsistency, it’s taking longer than he or the supporters hoped. My only wish is that we go for something more upbeat than the ‘let’s wait for the opposition to miss’ defensive tactic that featured prominently yesterday.
Spurs began and ended the game on a positive note, controlling possession and taking the play to the opposition in keeping with Pochettino’s admirably attacking team selection. From kick-off we determined to get hold of the ball and made reasonable use of it too, patiently waiting to something to open up rather than wasting effort. Mason and Bentaleb were eager midfielder, pressing enthusiastically and keeping the tempo high. Kane worked hard to cover and get up and sometimes beyond Soldado, vital if this formation is going to produce goals. Davies and the restored Walker offered width. An early goal boosted the confidence. Kane’s leap and thumping header wasn’t surprising, the decent corner that provided the cross astounded however. Our set pieces have been horrid lately.
Fast forward to the final 10 or 15 minutes for the other spell of Spurs superiority. Kane was tireless, up front on his own now. Dembele had long since replaced the forlorn, ineffectual Soldado and playing in the advanced role I’ve long advocated held up the ball and allowed us not only to regroup at the back but also to get Eriksen on the ball. Peripheral for the first half, he increasingly became an influence on the game. Get him involved and invariably he will produce a few glimpses of class. These precious moments can win matches and yesterday, proved decisive.
Late on Swansea dealt with a move down our left but our pressing in their half regained possession. Davies is able to make quick, clear-headed decisions on the ball and his firm, clean pass found Eriksen who scored low and right-footed from the edge of the area. Those moments of class tell in the end. Our two periods of superiority showed also that we are better coming forward with the ball than we are without it. Because in between our defending was stupefyingly awful.
Once Swansea applied some pressure, that early composure melted as fast as a baked Alaska taken out of the fridge on the Great British Bake-Off. Time and again Swansea got through or round us. Left unprotected, the back four were unable to deal with Bony, the Swans’ lone striker, who outwitted them with the cunning plan of not standing next to any of them. Drifting between centrehalf and full-back, he was a constant threat. Never did a midfielder drop back to fill those gaps or pick up runners and it was left to Davies to make a goal-saving tackle as Bony cocked the trigger to shoot.
Bony equalised – far too easy for Swansea to get the ball to him from our left. The second half and I was waiting for the inevitable goal, waiting…I’ve seen towerblocks more mobile than Fazio. He’s fine once he gets there, if ‘there’ is the ball or marking a man, it’s just the bits in between that confuse him. Waiting…Shelvey on and pinging the ball all over the place, a late block by Vertonghen…and then waited no more. Swansea ran out of steam and Spurs suddenly remembered that the Welshmen were not so hot at the back themselves.
Soldado was in a sorry state, little impact. Lamela worked hard to little purpose. No coincidence that Swansea played a winger down our right to exploit his frequent absences and poor decision-taking off the ball. Conceding needless fouls again and he is going to hurt someone badly unless he learns to keep his feet down.
On the plus side, Kane was inexhaustibly excellent throughout. Davies continues to show why we paid the money, highly promising. I like his confidence and lack of indecision.
“Walker gives the ball away with his first touch.” So said the commentator, ahh Kyle it’s like you’ve never been away. Avoidable early booking, under needless pressure, scuffling with a pacy winger, not picking up in the box, by the end he’s still running up and down that touchline, said winger under control, coming into the game when the final whistle goes even though he could not possibly have been anywhere near fully fit. Good to have you back.
Walker and Davies could be key in the weeks and months to come. They offer the attacking width from deep that Pochettino craves. But it will take time to fit all the pieces together. More inconsistency to come. Strong performances please against Burnley and Leicester, cut out the errors and get Eriksen in the game is the way to go before United and Chelsea come to darken our New Year.