Hugo’s Hands Are Strong And Mighty

Spurs against Manchester United remains one of the grand fixtures, especially to an old fogey like me. A noon kick-off left everyone struggling to get in on time and in the right frame of mind. Halfway through the second half it was very different. Full-blooded and rumbustious, the Spurs players had got stuck in and so had the crowd. It felt good to be part of it; the anger and exhilaration meant the blood was flowing as Tottenham finished the stronger.

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Finishing on such an optimistic note feels good and that feeling lasts. In the interests of objectivity however, Spurs could, should have been at least two down after an hour. Despite the quality and fame of their players, the managers remain the dominant influence over their respective sides and in the tactical battle, Van Gaal came out on top in the first half.

Width was the key, as it so often is. Spurs had Townsend and Chadli as the wide men of our forward midfield in our customary 4-2-3-1, no contest against the wingbacks in United’s 3-5-2. Time and again the Mancs cleverly drew play to one side before switching to Young on our right who usually had time to take a deep breath, scratch his bum and get comfortable before Townsend got anywhere near him. Chiriches is a mistake waiting to happen at the best of times and left so exposed, he stood little chance.

For his part, Pochettino drew a picture in his mind of our wide men pressuring the wingbacks so they could not get forward and also exploiting the space to either side that is the potential weakness of any back three. However, that proved to be a delusion that stems from his admittedly admirable attacking instincts as neither Townsend nor Chadli would commit to their defensive duties or in the latter’s case, matching the hard work of their opposite numbers.

As a result, Young was being waved through and Pochettino did nothing to change it. With Kane increasingly isolated versus three central defenders, our attacks became so rare they were worthy of a valuation on the Antiques Roadshow. It didn’t help that we developed a new free-kick routine – pass it to a man under pressure then lose it. Yet amidst this rank stupidity there was just a niggle that United were not all that if they could be put under pressure.

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And then there was Hugo. United made a series of chances throughout the half but Lloris kept them at bay. In so doing he showed the full range of his magnificence. At point-blank range he pushed out a header then perfectly timed his knee-high tackle to deny Van Persie in the act of shooting. The best was a gravity-defying leap to spear wide Young’s far-post curler that was destined for the top corner. Twice he got down and dirty, everything behind the ball as we improbably scrambled the ball away from deep inside our 6 yard box. After one save he held the ball aloft in triumph as if it were a prized trophy. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude, not just for yesterday but for a series of outstanding performances this season.

The back four showed application and spirit throughout. Vertonghen made several good tackles, Fazio was typically strong in the air and credit to Chiriches for three vital blocks, two in quick succession right after kick-off before his team-mates were awake and one off the line. However, we relied to a bottom-clenching extent on the defensive strategy that has served us so well lately, the cunning ‘let’s wait for the other team to miss’ ploy. This was seen in full effect away to Leicester, where we stood back and watched the bottom side in the league create chance after chance. Fortunately they contrived to miss them, but this is United, and you don’t expect Falcao, Van Persie and Mata to fluff their lines. Falcao was clear through, it seemed to take an age when the evening replay showed he had in fact only a fraction of a second to react, but his shot was closer to a toddler kicking a balloon in the living room. It gently plopped into Hugo’s hands.

A couple of those misses were early in the second half but gradually, imperceptibly Spurs gained the initiative. Mason and Stambouli worked extremely hard with the latter showing a positional discipline that has been absent until now. We stopped United’s supply at source, preventing them from using the ball efficiently and limiting the wingbacks’ attacking influence.

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Without doing anything spectacular, Spurs had position and possession. Now when the ball was in midfield, more often than not we came away with it. Kane was outstanding. Outnumbered up front on his own, he was tireless and intelligent. Always available, when the ball reached him he was never content just to be there but tried to move it on, often taking it towards the United defence and taking on three of four defenders in the process. It did not always work but that’s not the point – United could never settle because of him. In a fine season, his best performance so far.

Eriksen used to start brightly and fade. Now he comes into his own in the second half. I would have got the subs on earlier, Dembele’s strength would have been handy.

Our best chance encapsulated our second half in a single move. Kane carried the ball onwards against the odds and slid it through to the onrushing Mason, who came from nowhere it seemed. In fact he must have run fully 70 yards from deep in our half to get on the end of it. He blasted over and beat the ground in frustration but he was there.

More evidence of progress. The effort and application, a settled centreback pairing paying dividends, coming on strong at the end. Yet we remain a team of contradictions. Ludicrously giving the ball away at free-kicks, a lack of protection for our full-backs in particular and the back four in general, we should not have to rely on the opposition missing so often. I didn’t do a boxing day match report, but read Villa, Hull and Swansea only more so. We defended diabolically. Odd to stress this given our recent good run of results but it has to be said.

It’s where we are, a side in development, some good things, some bad. We finished the hungrier and more ambitious, our fitness levels carrying the momentum until the end. I strongly suspect United came off the park envious of that commitment and that’s not something I could have written at any point in the past about this fixture. That was absent earlier in the season. It’s the foundation for the success of any side and that’s got to be a very good thing indeed.

10 thoughts on “Hugo’s Hands Are Strong And Mighty

  1. Good summary, was at the game and we gradually came into the game. Thought Mason had a very good game and if only Fazio sticks to heading and clearing the ball rather than being a ball playing centre half. Like you I’m feeling so much more positive than the last eighteen months. A little concerned on our reliance on Harry as he does need some help up front. Hugo is class and I so hope we can keep him in the event we don’t get Champions League footie.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good summing up, Alan. Phil Neville also used one word to describe us on Match of the Day after the Leicester game ..’resilient’.
    It would be great if that ‘resilience’ (and with that, you can also incorporate some huge slices of luck, some great goalkeeping, missed chances by the opposition etc.) could keep us in the frame until we finally get our team system working the way Poch wants, but we can’t rely on it. Yes, it’s a boon that we finish games so strongly, and nick results through being fitter than the opposition. But ultimately our fortune is going to run out in the earlier parts of these games, which will make our late late show rather superfluous.
    On the plus side, the players (almost all of them) are actually starting to look like players who want to play for our club, and they seem fully committed to the cause.
    That is a great thing, and if that is maintained then there is no reason why we can’t build a superb side that doesn’t simply have to withstand huge pressure through two thirds of a game before applying the coup de grace to a despairing and wilting opposition.
    It is obvious that we are in desperate need of a deep but creative midfielder and a genuine (pacy) left winger.
    Then, without sacrificing the control of midfield and a high pressing game, we’ll finally have the width that our play (and the fans) demands, with a forward or two in Kane and Soldado to take full advantage of the chances coming their way ..and Eriksen, Lamela, Mason et al following up behind. I’m optimistic about the future of this squad/team ..but right now we are riding our luck in clinging onto the coat tails of top four. .


  3. Among what was (for me) an exciting game… four things really caught my eye yesterday:

    20.15: Chiriches’s goal line hoof after Mata’s free kick
    44.30: Lloris’s unbelevable reaction to Young’s ball
    59.00 Jan’s iron against van Persie’s anttempted rape (again)
    81.30 Ryan Mason’s eagerness to do damage

    Can we do similar against Chelsea next time up – and stick a couple a way too?


  4. This is always a match to get the pulse racing, though not always for the right reason if you’re a Spurs fan. That said, our recent record against United is pretty decent. Yesterday continued that trend.

    Yes, we were flying by the seat of our pants in the first half. Not least because our defence often fails to be the sum of its parts.

    Vertonghen and Fazio is a very good partnership which will only get better (assuming and hoping JV stays.) Ben Davies is developing into a fine singning. Chiriches, Danny Rose, Kyle Walker all have important strengths.

    Yet at times it’s like our defence is made of blancmange. We were lucky yesterday. We could have ended the first half 2 or 3 goals behind. United were careless and we have Hugo is goal. He is a Godlike genius and we are lucky to have him. Personally I’d make him captain personally and give him whatever he wants to make him stay.

    That said, by the end of the second half we were by far the dominant team and putting United under some serious pressure. There is the kernel of an excellent Spurs team there. Let’s hope Poch is given the time and support to develop it.

    I hope this January window is one where rather than buy new players we move on those who are surplus to requirements and/or are not buying into Poch’s methods.

    He is our manager and I hope he stays but I couldn’t help wondering yesterday how things would have turned out had LvG come to us instead of United.

    Avoid defeat to Chelse on Thursday and we have had a very good Xmas period. Whisper it but maybe we’ve turned a corner.


  5. After witnessing the game at Leicester , I did not think we will beat Manu never mind a point, but for our Hugo keeping them out we could of won the game in the 2nd half.

    Did you witness that very very long que for the stub hub kiosk’s? We got to the ground for 11.15 and the que was all the way back to the side of the high road. 11.50 was walking back up Paxton road and the que was still roughly around the 200 mark. You could see the anger and frustration on their poor faces, and I did feel for them.
    Keep up the good work Alan.


  6. I don’t mind us being a side in development Alan but would it be possible that Poch get the players a little ready mentally before the game starts.
    What can he possibly say to these players at WHL that would have them play like the energy had run out just running out from the tunnel and onto the pitch.
    I can see losing momentum once the big talk wears off even after 15 minutes on that hallowed ground but to start like its mthe end instead of beginning doesnt help the hopeful.
    To be honest thank God for Harry Kane. he doesn’t have to wait for too much.he plays inspired even when everyone else is asleep,well everyomne but Hugo Lloris. Really its lucky Poch has Kane.he makes things happen.He offers through balls creativity shots with head and foot and tirelessly works for the club.
    There are others.
    Mason was also tireless but he wasn’t poignant. He ran and ran but lacked are focus.The balls went nowhere. Townsend showed great energy too but he too looked like he was just wasting it. I mean can Townsend ever learn that doing the same thing over and over again and seeing the same futility time and time again ould it not inspire you to try something else? Maybe Townsend can try some simple lay offs for a while while Eriksen tried to offer something more creative than the lob and the shot (though they do work for him) isntead of the simple layoffs he does that I suggest Townsend.try instead.
    Davies seemed better than Rose,,Fazio looked supreme,Vert sufficient, Chriches feverish and Stamboulli looking to establish himself but maybe he wasnt respectful enough of this new league to see that it takes a lot of pace,focus and determination to keep up (I think he will get there though).Dembele again made us look up. he could be a good bet these days.Agaist Chelsea for sure.
    I was a draw against a quality United team.Not so bad.We are not in a bad position. We have more points than we deserve. But we would have to learn quickly. Chelsea is not a game that we could even contemplate grabbing any points at. They are just too good.But we have to make up the many points we have lost against mediocre opposition at at a timeswe were not even mediocre.
    Its getting better for sure and Im in for the haul but we need more.Thank God for Kane and Hugo thats all.


  7. I can’t believe nobody has mentioned Rooney’s rugby tackle on Harry that went totally unpunished.A definite penalty.You see it so often and it is never called by the referee.A few penalties awarded would bring this incident to an end I am sure.Hugo is immense,I just hope we can hold onto him.
    Fingers crossed against the Chavs.


  8. Season’s Greetings Al and thanks for another year of fantastic write-ups. We’re definitely moving in the right direction and, hopefully, Poch will be given license to further put his stamp on the team in the next couple of windows.
    I agree with Russell about Ben Davies, he looks a terrific acquisition to me, so much better positionally than Rose. Perhaps Chiriches does have a future at the club after all, as a back-up right back. It’ll be interesting to see whether he’s offloaded. I thought Townsend looked sharper than he has all season and made better decisions. As you allude to, Chadli needs to bring much more to the party. Like Dembele, he’s got all the raw materials but so often flatters to deceive. We know he’s got end product but has to start doing the dirty work. Maybe someone could dig up a couple of old Tony Galvin videos for him to have a butchers at! Or Peter Taylor for that matter……
    Let’s hope for one or two shrewd buys in January, Kane needs some support up top.
    Onwards and upwards. COYS.


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