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.
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.