Spurs’ endearing mixture of bravery and naivety was enough to make our loyal supporters get behind the team and for some cushion the blow of defeat. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near sufficient to win the League Cup Final.
It was a fine effort from our young team, remember one of the youngest sides ever to play in the top division up against the might of an experienced, expensive Ch****a side. They simply refused to be overawed either by the occasion or their opponents. In the end, though, the Blues were seldom stretched and we did not make a decent chance until right at the end when the game was lost.
After an opening ten minutes of Ch****a dominance that was sobering even for those just in from the pub, Spurs admirably got a grip on the game. Driven on by the ferocious determination of the excellent Nabil Bentaleb, we fought for every ball and every inch of territory. With little assistance from Townsend in front of him, Walker used his pace to get on top of the dangerous Hazard. Fabregas was quiet.
Bentaleb was a man possessed. At 20 he was the dominant figure on the pitch for extended periods. He could not have done more for the cause. At the end he applauded the fans then dashed down the tunnel as he could not bear the pain of defeat in public.
He and others refused to give ground. Costa pushed him in the face. Mourinho had done his work well all week, bullying little Burnley and then referees and the FA over bias against his team that he has fabricated. It worked and the ref did nothing but that’s not the point. Bentaleb refused to be intimidated and made sure Costa knew that. Costa then moved towards Dier – I felt the Blues targeted our right side, Vertonghen had far less to do on his side – but Dier took a couple of paces towards him and fronted up. At the other end, Eriksen pinged the bar with a free-kick.
Harry Kane, frustrated no doubt with the lack of progress from his midfield, dropped deeper on several occasions to mount lone, heroic charges at the massed ranks of the Ch****a defence. He doesn’t seem to do very much on the ball but they couldn’t get it off him, not without crowding him out like birds mobbing a predator who strays too close to nesting grounds. In the end it amounted to little, a couple of long shots plus one or two chances at the death which were blocked, but by then the game had gone and everyone knew it.
There was pride and defiance from supporters on the way home as the songs rang out to accompany the soft-shoe shuffle towards Wembley Park. Even the Nicola Berti song made a welcome appearance. It matched the current mood, with fans looking forward to the day and keen to get behind the young team rather than become mired in win-at-all-costs anxiety. Support in the ground was loyal, loud and long, although I am told about a full-blown punch up between those for and against Pochettino.
So much to admire in such bravery but in the end experience rather than a gulf in class told. Tottenham are always prone to defensive errors. Yesterday for the most part we were better in possession than over the past 5 games, where mistakes have been consistently horrendous. However, all our good work was undone just before half-time in a couple of moments of unforgivable naivety.
As the ball dropped over his head, Chadli needlessly committed a foul instead of working harder to get back into the right position. The free-kick was a poor one but Rose at the near post flicked it into the middle when he had a decent chance to clear it. The ball was deflected twice more, first to Terry then his shot hit Kane and went in. What a waste.
The Chels second was another deflection, Walker turning a Costa shot past a wrong-footed Lloris. It was undoubtedly cruel but it enabled Chels to do what Spurs can’t, to shut the game down with a minimum of effort. Time passed slowly but we never pulled ourselves back into things. Rose and Walker were often our best attackers, using the space on the flanks well, but we failed all game to produce a decent cross into the box. Eriksen was busy, prompting and probing, but again was seldom dangerous. I recall only two proper saves from Lloris but at the business end the stats show we had only two shots on target all game despite having the lion’s share of possession.
So disappointment but no disgrace in defeat. I reject the temptation to see our exit from 2 cup competitions in 4 days as a turning point because the issues facing the club, both opportunities and threats, remain the same as they have been for several months now. The emergence of the young players has been an encouraging feature that has brought supporters and team closer and augers well for the future. However, the very fact that this has been forced on Pochettino shows the deficiencies in the current squad and the lack of long-term succession planning that brought us to this point.
We may be separated from Chelsea by only 6 or 7 league places but the gulf in experience and ability is vast, and I’ve not even mentioned money. The squad depth is shallow. Poor Soldado has gone beyond anger into the realms of deep pity and sympathy for his plight. Lamela has seemingly forgotten about his precocious talent and gets worse every game. Great credit to the highly promising Eric Dier but he has to play because 3 hugely experienced, pricy centre halves, Fazio, Chiriches and Kaboul, aren’t up to it. We have no wide players to play effectively in our forward 3. Chadli, rampant in the 5-3, was anonymous yesterday while Townsend perked up for a while before fading. Neither got into the box to support Kane, neither protected their full-backs.
Regular readers will know I take no pleasure in saying this, but despite my philosophy of Realistic Optimism, it’s a fact, jack. Can’t hide it. We have major rebuilding ahead in a summer where Levy will be saving money for the new ground and fighting to hang on to Vertonghen, Lloris and Eriksen, never mind buying new players. But like I say, we already knew that, deep down.
In the meantime, let’s carry on with the defiant pride and get behind the team. They need our help to avoid the season fizzing out completely.
A couple of random thoughts to end. Our national stadium cost £798m to build, almost as much as a burger and chips inside the ground, but too much to ask that someone sitting 22 rows back is protected from the rain.
Also, judging from the number of lifelong Chelsea fans who have “always” been supporters, their crowds must have been around 150,000 per week, not the 12600 average in 1983 or even 21000 in 1995. Surely some mistake. And to the Blues who sat with us on the tube coming home, you didn’t even stay to see the cup awarded. Frankly, what’s the point?