Spurs Come Off Second Best

Just a few more days in the warm glow of derby glory. Would that have been too much to ask? Spurs gave it a good old go up at Anfield last night and there was plenty to admire, especially in their sustained attacking intent and flowing forward interplay. We ran, we pressed, we created chances but the zip wasn’t quite as zingy and in the end some familiar defensive frailties did for us in a close contest.

Once more time stood still as the ball went goalwards. This time however it wasn’t Kane’s header floating into the net. Markovic shot, Lloris dived – and my stream froze. In twenty or thirty seconds of freeze frame, I had time to compute the ball’s trajectory in relation to Hugo’s dive. Conclusion: Hugo saves it. Show your working: Hugo saves everything and this low shot is well within reach. Eureka.

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Buffering over and the ball bounces over our captain’s outstretched hand. Furiously Lloris picks himself up and admonishes the culprit, a little bump around the penalty area. He knows he should have had it, though. This came after an opening quarter of an hour that saw both sides have chances. It gave Liverpool the edge and there was often a frantic element to Spurs’ efforts to catch up.

Two teams with different formations but similar strengths and weaknesses. Both are very open at times and look better coming forward rather than defending. Both wanted to go out and win the game. The resultant lack of caution will have given both managers a sleepless night but it made for a brilliant exhibition of high-octane end to end attacking football that would have pleased the neutral DAMN THEM! What good are neutrals? Spurs drew level twice but could not hold on to take the shine off a decent performance and an excellent few days.

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Spurs have suddenly become opponents to respect. You could tell for two reasons. One, a few people in the crowd booed Kane as soon as he touched the ball. Because that’s what fans always do these days, isn’t it, boo any opposition player who is any good irrespective of any grievance or other reason to do so. English talent? We don’t have much so let’s abuse what we do have!!

Two, Liverpool closed Bentaleb down early. As a result he was seldom a force in attack and was often caught in possession. He wasn’t the only one. At times Lamela was Liverpool’s ball-winner – after he got it Liverpool always had the next touch – and in the first half in particular we constantly gave the ball away, unable to pass forward from our own half. Vertonghen and Dier had to be alert.

Liverpool are open so you always think you have a chance against them. However they are difficult to pin down so our pressing game wasn’t as effective as against a more compact Arsenal side. Tiredness is the other reason, understandable after Saturday up to a point at least but we kept going extremely well. The physical aspect is one thing, sustaining that intense mental focus is quite another, particularly for this young side, the youngest to appear in the Premier League this season.

Maybe this was part of learning how to do precisely that. That we came so close says a lot about how well these young men are doing. We weaved some beautiful patterns in attack. Dembele, Lamela and Eriksen interchanged with effortless fluidity. They’ve developed a fine awareness of each other and don’t end up running into each other, the inevitable end to many of our attacks earlier in the season. With Rose and Walker dashing up on the flanks plus Vertonghen and Mason charging forward when they could spare the time it was lovely stuff, unthinkable even a month ago. The move between Lamela and Eriksen to set up Kane for our first was quick invention at its best. Harry’s blast was straight at the keeper but went between his legs.

In the end, Liverpool won a crucial tactical battle on the flanks where the midfield offered less and less protection for the full-backs as the game went on. Rose was vulnerable. His performance was a mix of tenacious, brave tackles and impetuosity. Sturridge had him spellbound and Rose tripped him in the box when there were several team-mates to cover. Gerrard scored the penalty.

Eriksen’s free-kick once again brought us back into the game again but not directly. Kane pounced on the rebound as Mignolet saved low down to his right. His cross was bundled in by Dembele who had another strong game, Liverpool defenders literally bouncing off him at times.

Both teams went for the win when most others in the PL would have shut down to keep what they had. Liverpool edged it through better use of subs. One, Ballotelli, scored the winner but it was the other, Lallana that made the difference. He’s good at surging into the box. Chadli however, on for Eriksen on the left, is not good at tracking back. The Belgian didn’t stay with his man and Lallana’s cross left Marion with a sheepish tap-in.

Shame really. Our standards are higher now, I thought we could keep that point. However, we never tightened up enough at the back and our opponents were too good not to take advantage.

Good signs – Vertonghen is a man transformed, back to the form we saw early on his time with us. Dier, a young man who should have got more plaudits after the derby win, is fearless in the tackle and takes responsibility, an attitude that could lead to a long and successful career with us. Not so good – Lamela mixes pure class – three passes plus a shot that was well saved – with sheer mindlessness. He puts in the legwork but with no positional discipline, and he cannot resist running inside straight at defenders.

24 thoughts on “Spurs Come Off Second Best

  1. We need the 9-day break, the players and us fans, come back refreshed for the sharp end of the season. Nicely said Alan, except, if you look closely — yes, Lamela’s not scoring enough (it did take a great diving save to deny him) and he could vary up his attacking play — but he leads the high press. He must’ve regained possession at least 4/5 times high up the pitch. He could do with some working in the weight room a little in off-season, and try beating his man with his right foot — no defender will expect it — but he’s got some special skills in his locker, and he’s already contributing. More than Azza was. Business end coming, all to play for…COYS! 😉


    • Mmm. Lamela was very and commendably busy; in fact I saw a number of comments to the effect that he had an excellent game. Like Alan though, I beg to differ – lovely balance, yes, and darting feet… but loses the ball too cheaply, frequently and often dangerously. Thought he was lucky not to be subbed ahead of Eriksen.

      Speaking of subs – Paulinho: why?? Stambouli would have been a better call; in fact that decision could have swung the match…


    • Lamela, some good, some bad – that’s where he is in his development. The theory is, I suppose, that if he and the other two advanced midfielders are upfield, the two DMs can shift across to cover but it’s an aspect of our work without the ball that we have not quite sorted yet and leaves us weak on either flank. Lamela has a perfect weight to his passes from 25/30 yards out but his default position is to cut inside and run with the ball, which makes it easier for defenders. He does work hard and wins the ball sometimes but if he dashes inside to tackle, he leaves space on his flank if the tackle doesn’t come off.

      Regards, Alan


  2. You are right Ashley about Lamela.He played incredibly defensively for the Arsenal game and again showed he capabilities in the tackle. Lamela tries to sell himself as a dribbler but as much as he tackles well he hasn’t been able to dribble effectively. He tried to take on too much but he does have quick feet,sometimes too quick for the rest of him. Several times though he hit perfectly weighted flicks over to other players and along with his tackling, offers some positive signs going forward or is that,back?
    Benteleb and Mason after fantastic performances against Arsenal really had problems with the swarming style of the Liverpool midfield. Eriksen was totally ineffective although not from the free kick that led to Dembele’s goal,
    Ah Dembele! He was our man of the match with some wonderful and creative passing.He was creating momentum in space,turning one way and the other, found the sweet spots. Kane was Kane but for Lloris it was one of his more mediocre efforts.
    Its really not so bad. We probably would have accepted 3 points for the two games but after banking Arsenal we had it to lose rather than gain and we did. Its more painful that way than the opposite,expecting so much.
    We wernt really on and its a shame because Liverpool werent really on either. they just wanted it more than us I guess.


    • Re Lamela -as above! I’d play him at the moment, it’s just that I would have liked to see more progress in that positional play by now, plus a few more goals or at least more help to Kane in and around the box. He’s still young, time on his side.

      I thought the two sides were evenly matched – both wanted to attack sometimes at the expense of defensive solidity. It made for a great game but as I said, Liverpool had the tactical edge when it counted and we made too many mistakes to recover at the other end.

      Cheers, Al


  3. I have a feeling that Lamela will adapt to the rigours of the Premiership but at least he is not being carried by the team. His pressing is unrelenting , more so that Chadli’s , and he should reproduce the threat in attack he had at Roma in the near future. This team has a great sense of development in it and there is a robustness and team ethic that is becoming more effective. After so many shite head coaches of late , i trust Poche and hope the flaky Spurs directors will back him in the transfer market.
    I do like the fact that if we are to lose, after turning on the style , i want to see at least 6 yellow cards. Any less after losing is no excuse. COYS


    • I think – I hope – Levy will back Poch in the summer but as Isaid a few weeks ago, that’s complicated because never mind buying, other clubs will come after Eriksen, Lloris and perhaps Vertonghen. Kane won’t leave though. The bookings could show we got stuck in and we did but in this case more about an unusually fussy and strict performance by the ref.

      Regards, Alan


  4. I agree with most of that, Alan, but I do think Poch should have been brave enough to bring others like Townsend and Stambouli into the game immediately after we went 2-2, at least. Hindsight is a great thing but, as much as I’m starting to find some faith in Paulinho, I think Stambouli for Mason would have been a better fit in the last half hour. And replacing Eriksen with Chadli late on completely backfired. From the start I’d have played Ben Davies for Rose, and Fazio for Dior. That would have made sense because they’re both equal and fresh replacements and because Rose and Dior were coming down from the Arsenal game (as it proved). Lamela, Mason, Eriksen, Bentaleb and Kane tried their hearts out but they were emotionally burned out too in the end. Our high intensity pressure game, so dominant against Arsenal, produced lots of near catastrophic passing errors early on, picked up well again, but then ended with more errors and very poor passing ‘choices’ when I thought the game was there for the winning in the last 10/15 minutes. One could say tiredness was a factor ..but it was more than that.
    Liverpool, arguably, could say they were more tired than us plus they have an FA Cup game this weekend. But whereas the Everton game didn’t take it out of them emotionally, the Arsenal game did ..for us. Without stretching the comparison it was a bit like a team winning the FA Cup on a Saturday, and all that accompanies it, and then having to play a league match the following Tuesday utilising the same team. Defeat can be justified and then numbed by a still lingering joy (for players AND fans). Because that’s what it felt like for everyone on Saturday. It shouldn’t be so intense (Arsenal are just one of 19 teams we need to play our best against if we really want to be up there in the PL and fully respected) but it is, and it was on Saturday.
    It was our Glory and a bit like a Cup Final. That is why we went a bridge too far naming the same team and not making a proper and earlier use of substitutions against Liverpool ..a game every bit as important as beating Arsenal in the grand scheme of things. Another real 6 pointer! The joy was wonderful on Saturday, but if we’d been playing and beating say, Hull, at home, the chances are that the same Spurs team would have still been at the top of their game and got a result last night.
    So not the greatest management decision despite the fact it was, at times, a terrific and entertaining game.
    We are now back to where we were before Saturday lunchtime ..6th, but with Liverpool just 1 point behind now in 7th ..while 4th or better is beginning to look much tougher again. I know we’re a work in progress (was it ever thus) and that Poch wants, as we do, to find his best team. This is probably it, but we don’t have reserves, we have good squad members all beginning to tune in to Poch’s philosophy. So use them more in appropriate situations ..which this clearly was. We can still finish the season well, and there is a spring in our steps, but Southampton and Man Utd away are ‘must’ results now if we harbour hopes of top four.


    • Very interesting, thanks CB. We have every right to be optimistic after the derby win and that’s about the quality of our performance not just beating our rivals. But it does feel a bit like, what’s the point, we’ve still only got three points from two games versus close rivals for the top 5. We have to learn to sustain the level of Chelsea/Arsenal performances over a season but this is where is it so hard for young players, mentally rather than physically.

      Agree re the subs, Stambouli and Townsend could have kept up the energy levels better than Paulinho despite his current improved form.

      Cheers, Alan


  5. Excellent analysis as usual Alan.

    Thought it was a bit of a let-down but so long as we bounce back against Wham we should be fine.

    After the dark days of autumn/early winter with those home games against WBA, Stoke etc whio’d have thought we would be where we are.

    There’ll be days like this but at least we have your wonderful blog to read. Thanks Alan.


  6. Bit of trivia, Alan. Exactly 3 years ago, on Feb 11th, 2012, we stood 3rd on 53 pts from 25 games (10 pts more than today) and just 5 points off the top.
    Arsenal were 4th, but 10 points back with exactly the same stats as we have today ..ie w13 d4 l8.
    Just after this wonderful momentum, when even Fergie stated we were playing the most attractive football in the PL, Capello resigned and Harry threw his hat into the ring for England.
    Subsequently our good looking side only managed another 16 points from our final 13 games, snatched an awful 4th from the jaws of 3rd, and to our horror saw Chelsea (who finished 6th) take away a CL place from us altogether by somehow riding their luck and winning the CL. The domino effect we’re all aware of to this day. Harry’s deserved sacking (for taking his eye off our ball when he and Spurs could have have really kicked on to greater things) and our own Paradise Lost with the huge mess since (Bale aside in his final season when he almost single handedly dragged us to 4th only to see Arsenal nip in again).
    Now we finally stand on the brink of something that gives us that rush we had for two thirds of 2011/12.
    I guess my point is that Arsenal, who took one place above us (yet again) finishing 3rd that season, took 27 points from their final 13 games, and finished one ahead of us on 70 points.
    And if that bloody club could finish like that in 2012, and on prior and subsequent occasions at our expense, then so must we in 2015.
    We have the squad and the spirit and a ‘focused’ manager. We’ve ridden our own luck a bit this season, but we’re growing into a top team at the right time. We can’t expect teams to collapse as we did, but finishing around the 70 points mark will give us a fighting chance of top four ..and if it’s not to be, then at least we can look forward with genuine optimism for 2015/16. This is all assuming we don’t win the Europa Cup of course, which I’d take in a heartbeat over finishing 4th, even without the promise of a CL place for winning it.


    • Good stat work there CB. You are right about that season and the consequences – when it comes to writing the history of this decade, the knock-on effects of the final quarter of that season will be seen as highly significant.

      Let’s hope the second half of 2014-15 will be seen as the start of the Spurs renaissance. Hope you are right about the possibilities of this season, personally I think we could reap the rewards next and the one after if we can keep this squad together and add to it.

      Best, Alan


  7. Let me climb aboard the hindsight express, hmmm, standing room only: On the plus side, the afterglow of the Chelsea and Arsenal games make this latest result much easier to stomach. I never expected too much from this game, for some reason we just can’t seem to get over the Liverpool hurdle, home or away, saving up mistakes and gifts just for them. It would be so satisfying to wipe that smug and self regarding attitude from Rodgers’ mush. On the debit side, Poch played poorly, expecting his exhausted side to repeat the heroics of three days earlier. Those fantastic players kept getting off the floor but it’s rare that teams get the chance to come from behind three times at Anfield. A more muscular midfield would have protected the defence in the latter stages but Stambouli wasn’t even on the bench, when both Chadli and Townsend were named as subs. Strange. For some reason Rose was left to twist in the wind when it was clear Eriksen had no interest in providing badly needed cover and Ibe was left free to do his tricks at will. Interesting to note that our best run of form coincided with the break in Europa Cup action. But we saddle up that horse again next week and Poch is entering new territory for himself and his team, which is rapidly becoming England’s team.


    • Hindsight always 20/20 vision of course David but in this case predictable as you say – we fell back into some of our bad old ways. Less the comedown after the NLD, more the reappearance of old failings re the midfield protecting the defence on the flanks, something I have mentioned frequently this season. Agree re the subs – some muscle and energy would have been better. Got to luck the attacking football but….

      Regards, Al


  8. Thanks Alan. As ever, interesting insights, on Rose and the level of cover he gets and Liverpool’s approach to Bentaleb. I know he gets a lot of stick, mainly for his perceived personality it seems to me, but I am impressed with how Rodgers has changed their set up and form during the season. They completely outplayed Arsenal and Chelsea (in the cup) in recent weeks at Anfield, which didn’t happen to us. They got draws, but the margins are wafer thin in football matches, so I take more heart from our trip there. We went toe to toe with a good and rapidly improving side on their own patch (one that’s like a graveyard for us for 100 years) and lost nothing in the comparison.

    We certainly were loose in midfield, esp early on, and tried to gift them three one on ones! I also agree that Dier looks a major player in his favoured position and those runs out from the back from Vertonghen were worth the trouble streaming alone! Lloris, well, even Big Pat made a rick or two.

    No-one could have complained had we drawn on the 90mins play, which is a super effort against a good and in-form side, where we usually get nothing, three days after the energy and emotion sapping NLD. I was buoyed rather than [too] downbeat.

    The side seems only to have taken real shape, one that we can hang our hat on, since mid-late December. They’ve made strong, quick strides and Poch is learning too. His subs often leave me perplexed, even allowing for him being a tactics expert and me, well, not so much.

    I still don’t expect to reach top 4, partly because of the inevitable tiredness and inconsistency as the EL enters our world again. Nor am I greatly concerned about coming top 4 this season. Give me beating Chelsea in a one off in a cup final at Wembley, which I think we might well do, and a big run in the EL.


    • Agree completely re your final 2 paragraphs. I have never seen Spurs as top four so I’m pleasantly surprised that we are doing as well as we are, and the shape sets us up for better things to come, it’s the foundation. I watch Liverpool quite a bit as a friend is a ST holder there so we chew the fat over our respective clubs. You are right about Rodgers, both the things he says and his team. Think Poch saw their vulnerabilities and went for the win. Rodgers saw ours and exploited the vulnerabilities better than we did theirs.
      Regards, Alan


  9. As painful as it was to lose, we lost fighting and that is all you ask of our team. So still proud and can still see us playing well.
    As you say Alan, the game was won on substitutions and Rodgers got it spot on and edged Poch in that department, as both went for the win.
    Onwards and upwards to the mighty Spurs 👍


  10. Alan,
    In the afterburn of the NLD it was always going to hurt to have the firemen douse the flames. The win against Arsenal does temper the blow slightly and there are some valid reasons for coming up short, strange old game. I for one am willing to except this set back only because of our definite fight back, two games in a row, when historically these could have progressed to 3 or 4 nil thrashing if you will. That to me is progress, a spine from Spurs is a nice feature we have not always demonstrated. At Anfield to go down twice and equalize, I like that, what I really want to see is for us the dispatch the bottom half teams, without struggle, I know this is easier said than down , but to be honest I believe this is a consistent feature of the great EPL teams. Great teams dominate weaker oppositions, step on the neck and do not let them up, that’s what I want from Poch.
    Andiamo, Forza Spurs next stop Fiorentina



  11. I’ve always said that if our players try their hardest and you see a good game of football, then you can’t really complain. I think we have a good first 11 with one or two good substitutes. They played both Saturday and Tuesday and you could see that Saturday had taken its toll e.g. Eriksen. They just didn’t quite have that intensity and get to the ball as quickly but they tried and that for me is just as important. It hurt to see Markovic score though. I loved him at Benfica and I said he’d take a year to find his feet at Liverpool. Bit gutted to see him ahead of schedule.


  12. I really think we are turning the corner now.This also has beena badly needed break for us to regroup. Florentina will not be an easy game but its winnable.Their results have been good for the past couple of months but we are beginning to really create a flow to our game. Looking forward to a two goal victory on Thursday1


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