Spurs Wait for the Window of Opportunity

Spurs worked hard against Leicester but succeeded only in making hard work of a draw that could easily have become a defeat as a late goal I thought was never going to come was the signal for an all-too-familiar collapse. The lack of spark and creativity is becoming a problem.

Our first half toil was sweaty but ultimately pointless. We could not add the cutting edge to reams of possession. It reminded me less of a top six challenger and more of a midtable side using effort and energy to compensate for a skill deficiency.

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Pochettino would have been pleased with our goal, what with Deli Alli bombing past Kane to score. It was well-crafted and quick, out of keeping with much of what had gone before. Kane turned goalwards to find Chadli and our new boy knocked in the cross from point-blank range. Alli’s determination and power will be a real asset this season. A tantalising glimpse – more please.

A goal up with 9 minutes left is a signal for most teams to shut up shop. Spurs are the exception. Many of the players had the best view in the house as Mahrez, Leicester’s most dangerous player, launched another solo run goalwards. Vertonghen’s technique one-on-one was found out once again as leaden footed, he was squared up as the winger curled the ball inside the far post. Morgan missed a late chance to win it as he crashed a powerful header into Hugo’s chest.

We worked hard without creating very much and continuing last week’s theme of nothing changes, the way we ground to a halt at the edge of Leicester’s box is reminiscent of the days under AVB. Walker set up Chadli and Dembele stretched the keeper.

Another wasted afternoon from Lamela. Wasted possession, wasted one good chance, wasted his opportunity to start and until he realises the pace of the game is passing him by, a wasted talent.

Spurs could use this as a platform to build on. Spurs have made no progress since last season. Both are simultaneously true. The team is at one of watershed moments where it could go either way, where the echoes of decisions made in the next 7 days will reverberate for many seasons to come.

Tottenham are perceived as the perennial underachievers but another way of looking at this is that over the past five or six seasons we have over-achieved. Given the players at our disposal and the disruption at managerial and Director of Football level, we’ve consistently finished in top six whilst seldom playing consistently well and with clear deficiencies in the squad and tactics.

This isn’t cause for an open-top bus parade. I don’t necessarily approve of this state of affairs: I have enjoyed the status and much of the football without forgetting for a moment that potential has been wasted and the manner in which we have squandered opportunities to consolidate has been Soldado-esque. However, early Redknapp, AVB’s first season, qualifying for Europe while waiting to Sherwood to leave, all higher finishes than I expected given the lack of balance, depth and in some positions such as up front, quality of the squad.

We hope to push on after Pochettino took us to 5th in his first season, much of which was spent with him getting to know the players and the players coming to terms with what is expected of them. instead we are glimpsing how life would have been without those late Eriksen goals or Kane’s once-in-a-career purple streak. I said in my pre-season preview that while that high finish delighted me, it could become a millstone round the manager’s neck. A high final placing raises expectations that need to be fulfilled. Poch can go for the players he wants rather than work with those he was given by a manager and DoF with a different approach. To support him, he has a scouting set-up of his choosing too.

Three games in and they need time to settle, as does every team in the league by the way. We have upped our physicality and possession (saw an Opta stat saying PL players are running 20% further than 5 years ago) without adding that vital element of talent that makes a good team great. We’re not supporting Kane up front or getting back to cover, so we have midfielders in betwixt and between. The back four has been upgraded but is still not being protected. Alderweireld made a telling comment after the Stoke match last week, saying that at Southampton, Schneiderlin and Wanyama would have stopped those inswinging crosses coming in whereas at Spurs he was surprised at being left so exposed. This has been our problem for several seasons. It’s why our full-backs are under so much pressure. Opponents target that area, Walker usually, yesterday it was Davies who had a poor time.

So what are we doing about it? Strikers – we have one, need three. Berahino is a promising young player who likes the ball at his feet, a good buy if not the Holy Grail he seems to have become in the past week because we are so desperate. Desperation is not the best quality to bring to the negotiating table and the tension generated in Cold War era disarmament talks is nothing compared to Levy and Peace in a staring contest.

Let’s get down to it. If he’s our number one target, pay the money. I don’t like wasting cash on inflated transfer deals. £15m and anything north is a risk, but that’s not the point here. Fees are determined by market forces, supply and demand. In this case, supply is not the number of strikers out there, it is the number of strikers prepared to come to Tottenham. We may end up paying something close to the fee Chelsea have shelled out for Pedro, a much better player, but he’s not in the equation because he would never dream of playing for us.

If supply is defined as ‘the number of decent strikers prepared to play for Tottenham Hotspur’, then demand is high, supply is low, therefore price is high. Basic economics. The extra element of the high fee is a tax on Spurs’ inability to find somebody else, and we all have to pay our taxes. Don’t we?

I like Austin too, completely different to either Kane or Berahino. One touch, bam, shot on target. He could play with Kane, who has the movement and support play Austin lacks.

All this raises another question though. What is Poch looking for? I’m sure he wants one more striker but the suspicion lingers that he’s more keen on attacking midfielders to support/get past the main man. Also, he’s a fine coach but you can’t coach experience. We need someone to take charge in midfield, a creative and above influential central midfielder.

Micky Hazard was terrific on the Spurs Show this week with Martin Cloake, both well worth a listen. He repeated a great anecdote about the incomparable warrior Dave Mackay. Before they went out, he turned to the team and said, “Some of you are going to have a bad one out there today. The crowd will get on your backs. If that happens, give it to me.” We badly need that sense of authority. Yet there’s no hint MP is searching for it. Young players respond to him because he can make them better. The feeling niggles that he’s wedded to his way of going about his business and does not want to change, even though that’s what we need.

And then there’s Levy, always Levy. He may be saying, there’s not much money, we’re building a new ground don’t you know. Rules are made to be broken, and if our policy is to buy younger players to develop, fine, but sticking to it rigidly is cutting off the nose to spite the face, never mind the fact that authority and experience can help development.

We’ll have a clearer idea by the end of the month but not before an important home fixture against Everton. We need a win to get the season going. In the Independent on Friday, the press conference piece suggested Pochettino has a plan to try 4-4-2, at least as an option, although whether this is something the journo knows or is merely surmising is not clear.

The stakes are high. It’s not just about Berahino or Austin, it’s about developing the club’s medium and long-term future in a time when we are going to have to repay £350m (ish) in the next decade in a league where everyone is scrambling if not for the CL then for the crumbs from the top four’s table. Good players will leave if we are not successful and good players will not come to replace them. It’s not so much the fee for a young player, it’s an investment that will pay off in the future.

23 thoughts on “Spurs Wait for the Window of Opportunity

  1. Wonderful article,Top Notch Alan.
    Personally I’m ot so bothered about the striker situation apart from having a suitable sub for when kane needs a rest or gets injured etc.I think its more important to get the team playing well.
    It seems that Poch has a plan but to be honest its difficult to understand the choices he makes.
    During AVB’s time when the play was short passing and we went nowhere in boring fashion I think AVB had a plan too. They are probably similar but I dont think the same.
    I had read somewhere when Poch came that he was modelling his game on the Atletico style of that time. A similar set up with high lines and pressing etc but unlike Barca and probably AVB it wasnt all about possession but rather incisive longer passes (not long though)
    If we would lose possession then the pressing would get it back.
    The backs would be wing backs and go down the wing and cross and the wingers would cut in to goal.

    I think in the short passing game with posession in midfield and slow build up you need a Drogba or a Messi to either force your way through or finesse it through but you need a top man to make that happen. You also need talented bacll players to create in no space. But the Atletico Poch way is force with speed and pressure.
    So why are we playing slow and short often?
    Last week against Stoke we did that,created a flow with more dynamic passing in the first half.It seemed though Poch may have felt we should turn it down somewhat and put Benteleb on tio slow it down and our midfield got overrun.
    Short slower passes that go sideways and back allow defences to get back.You need that Drogba or Messi or even Kane (who did it all by himself last season) but I dont think thats Pochs game. I think he is doing this just until we build up enough strength and also quicker passing ability to play that game.Thats why its slow often.
    Last weeks game at Stoke in the first half showed a glimpse of what Poch wants.
    Thats why a Berahino would work.He could come in off the wing and attack the goal. A big man might be good but he would be treading in Kane territory and if Kane became the number 10 we might just be one players short as Eriksen has to get a game and we need width too.
    So I think this is the plan. This is not the finished product…But
    Its quite possible if we stagnate or the process goes too slow its possible the fans will get more frustrated and not give Poch the time.
    Im not convinced about Poch or the system but I am prepared to give it a chance.
    levy for his part is not going to spend big.He is with Poch and Poch is with him (it looks like from the outside) but the fans wont wait to see quality.
    For me I saw that last week and wasnt so excited by this effort.
    I think Ali should be in the first team and Id like to see how Pritchard does in Eriksens spot.
    For levys part I think he built the training facility,he got the kids and the management and he is gbuilding the stadium.
    As frustrating at it is and it is sometimes lets give him a chance but watch and try and understand the development. As I say Im far from convinced but willing to give it a try.

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    • Thanks Ron. The issue for me with Levy is that even under his own terms – financial prudence, buying players with value, keeping fees and wages down compared with other PL clubs – he fails to achieve his goal. We need three players to make the squad competitive however that’s defined. He’s left it late so has to pay market rates – bad planning – but even so it’s not expensive spread across a year or five years given that we have balanced the books.

      Poch as you say has his pressing system but he’s not defensively-minded in that he likes to get the ball forward quickly. Our failure to do so is about not having the right players up front – to over-simplify, we don’t get players in the right place at the right time, ie early enough to receive the ball. We need to put that right. MP is searching for pace in the market, part of the plan I reckon, and Levy has to back him.

      Regards, Alan

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  2. Hello Alan
    It’s been many a year since I’ve felt so deflated about Spurs chances of making any headway on the “Big” clubs in the PL and yesterday did nothing to dispel my fears.
    Unforced errors have been a concern of mine, within six minutes of the kick-off yesterday, I counted three, one of which almost lead to a gift of a goal for Leicester.
    Our players lack vision and speed of thought, our attacks lack courage, we look like a mid-table side because that’s where we are now, both on and off the pitch.
    Possession stats showed that after thirty minutes our players had made three times as many passes as the opposition, not surprising considering that most of them were sideways or backwards.
    Same old! same old!
    I know that you and I have disagreed in the past about the importance of the Europa League, up till now I’ve seen it as nothing but an unnecessary distraction from the real stuff.
    I will however be watching it with more interest this season as I see it as the only route to turning what will undoubtedly be a sow’s ear of a season into a silk purse.
    White with a diagonal blue stripe is the new slate grey.
    I’m off to see what odds I’ll get on Tottenham not gaining a single point against the top four clubs.

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    • Good to hear from you.

      Unforced errors at the back were a huge problem last season. I hoped with the defensive buys in the summer we were going to do something about that but we’re still not protecting the back four enough and in addition as you say we are giving the ball away in bad positions.

      We are playing like a midtable side which of course we did so often last season. I veer between pessimism and optimism. As I said in the piece, MP needs more players with different skills to bring out the best in the whole squad.

      Regards, Alan

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  3. Wonderfully crafted article that voices wholly relevant issues. Especially our (existent?) agenda to build a competitive squad now for the foreseeable stringent future. Fingers crossed.

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    • Thank you. MP and Levy need to accomplish some craft of their own in the next week, then we can see what the manager can do.

      Regards, Alan

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  4. Having watched yesterday’s shambles which was even worse than last week’s as well as the week before that, I’m considering ignoring Spurs (and football) all together after some 55 years. Anybody know if ten pin bowling is covered on TV? I need a bit of excitement…

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  5. Points drifting through our fingers, like grains of sand. These are the points that we will be scratching for next Spring as teams scuffle for fifth and sixth and seventh place. Maybe we will be one of those teams. On our first few showings, probably not. Even after a year, Poch is uncertain of his midfield, and thusly approach, so we are served a mongrel’s dish of tactics. How much more time does he need? I sense the team is holding back, not fully committed just yet as we all wait for the transfer smoke to drift away. But we are giving other teams a month’s start both on and off the pitch as we tool about Europe looking to “score a deal”, whilst other teams are done with the serious business and ready for battle. Your review of Lamela is spot on. But why does Poch persist? One player doesn’t decide the outcome of a team performance, but when a player is so ineffably unsuited for the task, yet is still selected, it sends a terrible message to the subs bench and beyond. What must they think? It’s a corrosive process and no one wins.
    When the fixture list was released we (well, I) anticipated maybe a point optimistically at United and certainly wins against Stoke and Leicester. Certainly if we had pretences for Europe. Stoke and Leicester! And yet here we are, rubbing two points together and none the better for Poch’s muddling.

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    • I don’t get why Poch consistently asks Lamela to perform a role he has proved he’s unable to fulfil. MP gives players he likes a chance, all in favour of that, but Lamela is just not working. News that he may go back to Italy confirms my view that he’s lost. His mind’s elsewhere.

      I want to see MP with players he wants in key positions, which means buying up front and in midfield. Worries me that he prefers to coach younger players – fewer challenges, more acceptance of his methods. This could be at the team’s expense.

      The team have bought into his methods, I think, but don’t know what to do at key moments, especially in the final third.

      I veer between pessimism and optimism – let’s see what the window brings then let him get on with it for a while.

      Regards, Al

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  6. really really do need a quality defensive mid fielder,who is hungry and wants to play for Tottenham,a general. ..ahhhhh probably dreaming again ,asking too much..expensive squad …a few real really talented players…5 place again

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    • We won’t even finish fifth I’m afraid. I’d like to see walker and rose as wingers. Ther is no support for the full backs when it comes to defending. No support for the cbs either. We need competition for kane yes! We also need an experienced cdm. I’d like to see a bid for nathan redmond. Quality ayer. COYS!

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  7. Thanks for the write up Alan.
    Words are beyond me to analyse the game. It’s the same old same old high line football that I do not like to watch, it’s boring and I just want us to play how we played under Harry and big Jol with fast pacy wingers and hard as nails defensive midfielders with the likes of Modric and Van der Vaart for creativity to create the chances for our strikers.
    God I hope Poch is a success and he proves me wrong and we start to play with more fluency and create more chances in the final 3rd of the pitch .
    Keep up the good work Alan

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  8. Thanks, Alan.

    A good point well made about the quality of players we can expect to attract.

    I don’t think a draw/point at Leicester is to be sneezed at these days. Nonetheless, our performance was disappointing, if not surprising. The heat may well have had something to do with it, but we don’t go anywhere very fast on the pitch.

    It is worth bearing mind that even if we play two up front we are too often very ponderous going forward as a side. So, we will have two frustrated, waiting for Godot strikers instead of one unless that changes.

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  9. took the time to watch wanyama yesterday and i think we desperately need a player like him. so much smoother in his transitions from defending to attack than our current options. picks out a very nice pass too. but we have one striker and really can’t do anything else until we fill that gap. signing berahino will be a relief but that still leaves us short up top and nothing in central midfield where we are bleeding out week to week.

    but is there any possible way we spend another £30-40 million in the next week and bring in 2 players? are two strikers enough for the whole season? i’m not a doomsday fan but things seem pretty thin all of a sudden and the smell of desperation is probably sticking to even daniel levy as this summer comes to an end.

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  10. Forgetv5th 6th 4th..whatever lets get a flowctonour game and consistent.
    we wont compete this year. Enjoy the ride and lets see some growth.
    Too many quality teams and players.We have to build and we are.

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