Your correspondent missed the first half of this one. Saturday, a nice day at that, so all thoughts turn to clearing up the compost heap. What else could you possibly do? So as we kicked off I was METAPHOR KLAXON on the way to the dump with a stinking heap of decomposing vegetables. Nothing like the first team, what are you thinking….
And before Monty Don dives into the Comments Section, I know compost is supposed to decompose but this was too wet because it hadn’t properly drained. OK? We had kept some of the material too long and it had gone bad, no use to anyone…oh never mind…
There’s nothing new to be said as the season tails away. On the plus side, Spurs showed enough desire and spirit versus Southampton to twice pull back a goal deficit. While this sounds like scant praise, it’s more than can be said for the lamentable efforts against Villa and Burnley.
Southampton are a well-organised team, easy on the eye. There was never much in it but they looked the better side for extended periods. We gifted them an opening goal but in return they missed a couple of good chances, better than anything we created, so I guess that evened it up.
We also saw the value of possession. A few years ago possession stats were all the hipsters needed to write an article. Now, they are regarded with more suspicion because, and this is revelatory stuff, turns out you can score goals without having the majority of the ball! Incredible. It does however have a defensive value. Spurs are frustrating in the way we fail to look consistently dangerous despite having the ball for a while but when we are not playing that well, it prevents the opposition from doing their worst. Yesterday Saints for the most part looked sharper when they attacked so keeping the ball was an effective weapon against them.
Comparisons between the two sides are inevitable and not just because we nestle snugly next to each other in the table. Pochettino made his reputation in England on the south coast and in both teams he’s played a similar style and formation as well as bringing on younger players. This was Koeman Day at St Mary’s, a reflection of their fans’ gratitude for the work their manager has done in establishing a decent side when by the end of the window last summer it looked as if the club was throwing itself off a cliff. Seems a bit much though for a guy who has been there for so short a time.
Southampton looked better in defence than Spurs. Also, while Saints lost close to half a team, Koeman was allowed to spend some money and his purchases have contributed more than anyone who came to White Hart Lane in the summer, demonstrating the value of a manager being allowed to bring in players of his choice. I hope we receive similar impetus in the summer, because it’s sorely needed.
One signing, Pelle, nearly did for us. After a mediocre start, we contrived a major cock-up that would be worthy of more note except that it’s not exactly unusual this season. Mason probably didn’t know he was not under immediate pressure as he tidied up at the edge of our box, but unsure of what was around him, he dithered, slipped then could only poke the ball in the vague direction of his keeper. Davies in for the injured Rose was on hand but he was easily muscled off the ball and seemed astonished that the Italian should have the nerve to poke the ball past him and Lloris. When these things happen, Hugo as always looks hurt rather than angry.
Lamela’s equalizer should cheer him up – he celebrated like he’d won the Double. Kane flicked on Dier’s right wing cross. Lamela had space behind him – credit for taking up a good position. He reacted to the chance by crossing his arms in front of him, which I interpreted as a quasi-religious gesture to assist him in his task of shooting, because frankly these days he needs all the help he can get. Less charitable souls wondered what on earth he was doing but whichever god he was praying to came up trumps. The ball hit his arm and went in, nothing given. The confidence might give him a boost although that wasn’t especially apparent in his second half performance.
Back to better defending and signings again – Fazio came from Spain as the defensive lynchpin. I’ve developed a strange fascination for him. I’ve always been fond of a big centrehalf and a little suspicious of the mobile play-anywhere centrebacks I know we need. Their ungainliness in the physicality of modern football is endearing.
Fazio should be our rock, except most of the time he moves like one. He’s a seventies throwback, determined to stop forwards getting past him oblivious of how much the interpretations of fouls and repeat offences have changed. He would be comfortable kicking all and sundry in some European battles of that bygone era, shrugging as the whistle blew against him and caring not a jot.
It’s hard sometimes to see exactly what we bought. It must be there somewhere. At Seville he was a leader and later in the game when as last week he cleaned up a few crosses he suddenly burst into life, shouting the odds as a rallying cry to his team-mates. He’s crafty one on one, mostly doing just enough to get the ball, often without actually touching it. But he has the mobility of a tower block. In the team to deal with big centre forwards, last week and this he was flat-footed as the man he was marking slipped inside him to head home. Last week Benteke, this week Pelle.
Spurs came back again with a fine finish by Chadli. Dier again with the pass, this time down the right. The Belgian’s touch took him past one defender and he slotted expertly across the keeper into the far corner. More please.
In terms of motivation, it doesn’t look as if the Europa League is setting us on fire. Everyone did OK, nobody stood out, but, and you’ve heard it before, in the past we would not have come back twice as we did yesterday.
My view of the EL is unchanged. It should become an old-style home and away knockout to generate excitement and the possibilities of upsets. UEFA have plenty of cash to subsidise clubs for whom the group games are a financial bonus. It won’t happen, so Spurs should play a strong team at home and train a second string for the away ties, and I mean play together in advance so they are a proper team rather than defend as if they have never met as we have seen in some sorry ties over the past few years. Then go all-out after Christmas in the knock-out.
The real issue is not the EL but whether we are planning and playing for next season, and there is an inescapable sense of us marking time, waiting for a clear-out and an influx of newcomers, rather than doing much that’s constructive.