One Nil To The Tottenham – The Case For The Defence

If Spurs are to achieve anything this season, and after yesterday’s win against Palace the prospects look brighter, it will largely be down to improvements in defence. The spotlight always shines on the gloryboys up front but last season’s comedy capers at the back can’t be repeated this time round. We can’t or won’t buy a striker but we have invested in defenders. 2-1 was odds on for last season, this term it’s 1-0 to the Tottenham.

Fast forward to 75 minutes. Spurs are one up, deservedly so on the balance of a game that improved as the minutes passed, but Palace are set up to counter attack. They’ve hit the post once, now they push up in search of the equalizer.

When the going gets tough, Eric Dier gets going. He and Jan Vertonghen in particular played their best football when they were tired and under pressure. Davies was strong on the ground and in the air. Excellent and frankly pleasantly unusual as in the past we have so often collapsed as soon as we get ahead. Dier, 21 years old and in an unfamiliar position, played like an old hand.

Last year I castigated Vertonghen for being the old hand who refused to take responsibility. When we scored four against Leicester then imploded, he was shrugging and moaning when he should have taken charge. Yesterday he flew around the box, anticipating and clearing. Alli cleared, Jan waved his encouragement. He’s found something to play for.

Son’s fine goal rightly garnered the headlines but I discovered the best moment of the match on the way home. Thanks to the wonders of modern science and my Times goal app, we watched the highlights while waiting on the southbound Victoria line platform at Seven Sisters. That cross shot that we on the Shelf all thought hit the post, Hugo really had saved it. The Park Lane sang his name so we thought he did but I couldn’t believe how good that save was, low to his right, a well-struck bouncing ball. He was impeccable yesterday, on and off his line.

Spurs began well enough. Plenty of circulation in midfield, always best when we move the ball with a good tempo and for the most part we succeeded. Kane headed over from a corner, 12 yards out and unmarked, but it was hard to pierce the Palace defence. They don’t press high, preferring to drop back and swarm around the edge of their box. This worked. Our attacks ground to a halt in a fug of indecision, Chadli having 17 touches when two might do, Son always a danger but apparently paranoid about using his left foot, so turning into trouble too often. Many players play off the main striker because it’s a soft option but it’s his perfect position and Pochettino used him well, allowing him freedom to come off the wing or start centrally. Either way, Palace could not pick him up and he linked well with his team-mates.

We missed the width from Walker and Davies who stayed at home to counter the attacking threat from Bolassie and Zaha. I can barely recall Davies crossing the halfway line. Last season Pardew’s Newcastle had the better of MP. Yesterday Pochettino’s tactics were spot on. It gave the front four a platform and also enabled Dele Alli, nominally a DM alongside Dier, freedom to get forward. Vertonghen brought back memories of two season ago by filling the spaces as Palace funnelled back. Also his substitutions had real impact. Eriksen kept busy and took the game to our opponents as Chadli was flagging. Unusual that Chadli should get the hook, and quite right too.

Early days but to me Alli is the best prospect we’ve had at the club since Bale. He has two hallmarks of a great midfielder, a natural effortless poise on the ball, head up and aware, and the ability to inject drive and forward movement whenever he gets on the ball. As with Bale, a love affair starts to blossom….

Deadline-day rumours suggested Lamela was on his way to Inter, only for Pochettino to block the move at the last second when it became clear Berahino was staying at West Brom. Judging by his last few efforts, his mind was already in Italy. Yesterday he showed commendable discipline and focus, working hard and never hiding. Much of what he attempted didn’t come off, and while I’m pleased to see him tracking back, his defensive positioning is naive.

After yet another run floundered on the rocks of the hard-tackling Palace defence, he beat the ground with his fist in frustration, whether this was at the toughness of the tackling or his own inability to find a way through I’m not sure but decision-taking is the root of the problem. The great goalscorers rely on icy instinct when they approach the box. The mind of, say, a Greaves or a Sheringham, is empty of conscious thought at that crucial moment, instinct takes over. Lamela’s mind is full of fireworks and whizz-bangs, a psychedelic cacophony of colour and images, sending him all over the place. In the end it’s all too much and he doesn’t know what to do.

But often enough he was around to make a difference and making a difference is his biggest problem. Finding himself as centre defensive midfield on the edge of our box, he hurled everything into a block, fell over, got up again and still had the ball. Head up now, the ball to Eriksen, just on as sub, was swift and accurate. Eriksen found Son and in full stride he shot through the keeper’s legs to score the winner. Two passes took the ball 60 yards in a fraction of the time it takes to read this. Like all good pass and move, it was simple and electric.

Good position, he used his left foot, in it goes. The Korean commentators on the gantry behind us gabbled in joy as they punched the air. Playing to the crowd like pantomime dames, they just happened to have a Korean flag handy. Bit like 5Live’s curmudgeonly Alan Green whipping out the cross of St George whenever Rooney scores. Judging by the number of Koreans in the stands, Stubhub are going to be sold out for the rest of the season.

Pochettino, suited and booted because his mum was over, sat down once we had scored. Most managers would have been up and shouting themselves hoarse. I guess it’s the Argentinian way but hasn’t he seen our defence. This time he was right to be calm. We held out with a few scares, a fine win and unbeaten since the opening day.

Through Levy’s incompetence we don’t have either an extra striker or midfield experience. What this game confirmed is that we have ambition and determination in spades. Spurs have relied on young players coming to north London and bettering themselves. Son has enthusiastically embraced the opportunity, we know what Kane et al can do, maybe Lamela is finally getting the message too.

25 thoughts on “One Nil To The Tottenham – The Case For The Defence

  1. Thanks Alan,
    The big positive for the mighty Spurs is that we have the youngest team in the Premier League with heaps of potential. The team should develop into a top outfit.
    I am sure we will bring in one maybe two signings in January. You add a little more experience with these fine young players and we could be anything.
    COYS

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great stuff as per usual, Alan. Tell you another moment I relished – Poch bollocking N’jie for not closing down their keeper late on. Cos it was all about intensity yesterday. After which the young lad did indeed start haring about.
    But I do have reservations about our full backs. Can’t argue with a clean sheet, and they did have some pacy attackers to keep a lid on… But – Kyle, unshakably confident, seems to think he’s entitled to at least one brain-fade per match; and Ben, well, seems to lack a bit of quality and know-how. (Speaking as a BAE fan!). I’d like to see more of Trippier.

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    • I didn’t see that! Just what is needed.Njie must adjust to the PL intensity as you say.

      I like Trippier, good attitude, tough and a good crosser of the ball. Walker really got his head down in the last quarter, an aspect of his game that he seldom gets credit for, but of course by then he’s usually got an assist for the other lot…

      Regards, Alan

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  3. Good insight into the game Alan.
    First home win and I missed it because of my Niece christening her son.
    Few thumbs up in the church when we scored, and celebrated at the party after. So all in all a great weekend for me and the family.

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  4. Hello Alan.
    How about Dele Alli, his pace, his thoughtfulness, his poise and balance.
    It’s a while since I’ve felt as optimistic about a Spurs youngster than this lad. Brilliant.
    Son reminds me of a small boy at times, (No pun intended, honest) giggling as he runs round in circles, his enthusiasm seems infectious. Good for him, great for us.
    Lamela was much better and given a bit of luck may have got a tap in after Kane’s turn and shot across the goal line in the first half.
    I too noticed his anger at losing the ball. Such moments can change fans opinions of players. He still needs to show more though.
    The improvement in defence was shown by Zaha’s early exit. If I played behind Dier I think I’d be afraid to make a mistake aswell. Lloris’s save was breathtaking.
    What a jolly Sunday, Coys!

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    • Lamela’s problem isi in his mind, I reckon. Not afraid to run, he still doesn’t cover well enough, in the area where he nees to be but not goalside. But I’m determined not to bang on about him ans I have been critical this season and he had a better match on Saturday.

      Son looks to be right for this formation, a player who works hard but is genuinely dangerous in the box. We don’t really have anyone else who fits the bill as closely, and it’s a vital position for MP’s formation if we are to get goals.

      Regards, Alan

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  5. I must say Alan that I was enthralled with our win and not just enthralled.It was the manner of the win.
    Infact it wasnt even the win.The win was just a bonus. We showed the very thing that Poch promised in the beginning. It was the type of dynamic football an Atletico might play.Mid range passes,pressing if we lostvthe ball all at a high pace.
    Add that to a resilient defence along with our season’s MVP so far,a determined and resourceful Dier who set off the attacks by getting the ball forward quickly,we set off Alli and company. Great movement and flow because of the speed kf the passing and our counters we managed to dominate them.
    Yes one shot hit the post and another was a great save by Lloris but there was no question who the dominant ream were.
    If Dier and Alli were our machine it was Song who was our inspiration. He didnt think twice about it,he just kept going for it.He was our MOTM and a buy even the battered at times,Levy, should get some credit for.
    The standing ovation and his hearfelt gratitude cemented his young relationship with the Tottenham fans.
    Eriksen came on a seamlessly took up the pace and kept the flow running and hit a couple of beautiful passes,one of them handing Son the goal.Vert was supreme,Davies had a game.Lamela sometimes ran into trouble byt he seems to e getting closer to what gas been promised.Sometimes looked a step or two away.
    The flow is helping everyone,This quicker passing is opening the field more which we havent seen but within the plan. Poch is finally looking like his plan is starting to take hold. We saw touches before.In Malaysia and Sydney and in the Stoke and Leicester games but the last two games we saw it really take hold.COYS.Finally.

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    • A lot more positive observations here from you, Ron, than at that HH site, which I personally can’t stand to check out. He and his lot are entitled, of course, but we don’t also have to read it! Hope Fall finds you rusticating and also enjoying the Blue Jays run, mate! 😉

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    • I agree Ron, over and above the individuals you had the sense that Poch was a step closer to the high tempo, dynamic game he wants to play. Son is a better fit for that role of attacking midfielder, genuinely sharp in the box as well as working hard.

      Early days though, one step up and one back, but hopefully the direction of travel is the right one.

      Regards, Alan

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      • I didnt understand Poch’s game.It was supposed yo be high tempo and tet last season was all about sliw short passes. As I saw the tour this summer and the way we have been in some games I started to believe thats what Poch intended.
        There us no turning back niw.Dier,Alli and Son are key elements.Add in a revitalised Eriksen and Lloris Vert and co it looks all good.

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        • Oh God.
          Two great enjoyable performances only to meet the worst Tottenham Arse game Ive ever seen.What a birefest.
          As soon as I saw the team picked I thought.2014.Slow,inept…yiu know the routine. Tottenham vs Arsenal. It wasnt an unimportant game.It was a game we could have continued the fluidity and quality of the last couple of games.We coukd have given the fans a treat even for a half and kept the momentum going but no we gad to replay 2014 and even with Kane,Eriksen etc we were terrible.Eriksen tgey say us great but he cant carry this team.Great players do that. Kane is not himself and we needed that quick release to find
          space up front,but instead we wasted a glorious opportunity to raise the bar. What did it gain? A bigger oressure game on the weekend and many fans ambuvelance again about Poch

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  6. Alan, not as dour as most recent blogs! 😉 Some very nice insights about the improved D and Alli – almost every photo of young Alli, he has the ball at this feet and his head is up surveying. And also some biased (you are so obviously entitled) observations. I do not believe that in any way is Levy incompetent – he may not be your cuppa, he may not do what you hope he does, but he is a smart fellow (okay not perfect and he did mismanage the Bale money but I sense there was pressure to compensate and thru Baldini we over-compensated in a once-in-a-lifetime scenario) and I truly believe he is a Spurs fan, while having an eye on the bottom line. I don’t feel Berahino or Wayanama (sp?) were worth £20-25 million. I’m buying into biting the bullet and using our young lads (Dier and Bentaleb as DMs, and a rotating attacking line, using a fluid formation and not being set on having another “striker”) and developing this squad over the next couple of years, with some select additions and deletions. If we get past the pie-in-the-sky mental block about top-4, that at this point is basically out of reach and unrealistic (if by chance we do make it, it’ll be because the squad has surprisingly gelled), then it opens up a bigger picture of creating a solid foundation, and growing with players who want to play for us, on long term contracts, and who buy into MoPo’s developing philosophy. There was a photo of 5 players celebrating Son’s left-footed goal (he has scored a lot with it, and he’s more two footed than Bale) and their ages were 19 (Alli), 23 (Son, Eriksen, Lamela), 22 Kane, with an average age of 22. If we keep them together and enjoying their football, and the soccer gods smile a little on us, this season could step up from last season and bring back some of those echoes of glory….oh, when the Spurs…Cheers, Alan!

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    • You can see right through me, Ash! I have felt deflated since the window ended, more so than usual because for want of a comparatively small outlay we could have given ourselves a much better chance of success. But this was a better effort, closer to the high tempo fluid formation Pochettino wants to play.

      Berahino and Wanyama aren’t worth that money in one sense but may have been to us, an investment in the long run because much as I love these young players, they need rest and a helping hand. Kane gets injured and there’s a big gap in the squad. Small point but levy probably didn’t waste the Bale money, he for once freed that money up and was badly let down by Baldini and the scouts.

      Cheers Ashley.

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  7. It’s a start, and a most enjoyable one. Plenty of enthusiastic and talented young players competing hard on the pitch, and for places in the side. Hard work, a fine defense, midfield drive and a determination not to give in was what got us home on Sunday ..that and Son’s pace, Bale like, for our winner. But without nit-picking it still comes down to shape and balance ..and despite all those terrific individual performances (what a sight for sore eyes Lamela’s contribution was) we are not going to beat the most disciplined (ie the best) teams until we have both those vital prerequisites. But let’s not waver too much from current optimism, let alone excitement, about this young squad. Although I still feel we need a creative deep lying midfielder to bond it all together, we might just have a resumption of our once fine left wing play, in the shape of Son, and Poch may well have the makings of a really fine team ,,,if he can work out the jigsaw pieces properly. .

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Can we also salute Alderweireld and credit him with our little run of form? He’s come into the team with little fuss, played just about every game and has already established a promising partnership with Verts. With a settled defence, the rest of the team has been allowed to gradually find its feet (no pun intended). As the new boy in the defence he has bedded in remarkably quickly, and I’d like to see him get a bit more credit. Dier is an interesting player. He’s already done double duty in central defence and full back, adding critical goals. Now he’s showing us he can mix it up in midfield as well. Without any great fanfare he seems to arrive on the scene of an imminent crisis in the nick of time and be the one who puts the all important foot in. At one point in the second half, he found himself deep in the Palace half (after another of our abortive corner attempts). While Palace scampered forward, Dier hustled back, and back, 60 yards, until he was in position on the edge of our area putting his foot in to break it up. He does a great deal of unselfish work and is not the type of player to pummel the turf with his fists if something doesn’t work out. Dier and Aldy are two modest, humble players doing a great job. Lloris is another. His post match interview was a cameo of how to act like the skipper. He refused to take credit for his saves, and used his answers to draw attention to the positives of his teammates. M. Lloris is a special player and is a worthy Captain of our Ship.

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    • Well said, Dave, about Toby and Eric (potential captain one day) – Toby said something interesting early on that he prided himself on not making mistakes (he admitted to giving up that soft PK), and noted the responsibility of the DMs not to put their back four under undue pressure (by not covering or not tackling). We have two defenders (albeit they play as fullbacks for their country) from one of the world’s highest ranked teams, and with our superior goalie, this has the potential of doing what MoPo wants in having a much improved D from last year. And, CB, yes indeed, only one loss so far to a dodgy OG, onwards and upwards, eh?!

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    • Toby settling in quickly. A culture shock – that interview after the Stoke game where he said he was surprised that the midfield did not protect him was a most revealing comment.

      I think Hugo is a top class player and human being – huge admiration for the way he carries himself.

      Regards, Alan

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  9. More green shoots of recovery and I’m most pleased with the relative solidity at the back, at least in comparison to recent history. Goodness knows which team will line up v arsenal in the League Cup, and I really want us to go for a good cup run so a strong selection will be needed one would think, but if in the next PL game we can lock out Aguero and his mates for once, I really might start to get dangerously optimistic.

    I thought everyone did quite well, and am glad you highlighted Lamela’ s part in the goal. His faults have been there for all to see but his positives don’t get picked up so often by the media, TV commentators especially. In fact, while he has a hell of a way to go to get even close to justifying his fee, I sometimes think if the guys in the commentary box put as much of a positive spin on his performances as they have done for those of Andros Townsend for example (usually on UEFA Cup nights) , perception of Lamela’ s stay at WHL would be slightly better.

    He’s no Bale, not even on the same planet, but there is some talent in there. And let us not forget that some Spurs fans were scathing of Bale after injuries and subsequent loss of form blighted what had been a very good beginning at Spurs – that little bit of revisionism rarely gets mentioned now!
    Ultimately he’s simply not been good enough but a guarded case for the defence of Eric Lamela rests. At least until he next gives us reason to pull out whatever hair we have left.

    I really hope Kane gets a goal soon, for no other reason than the tiresome one season wonder talk goes away. A hat-trick v each of arsenal & Citeh would do lovely.

    Like his near namesake, Alli really could be the greatest of them all.

    ‘Enjoy’ the NLD all!!

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    • You’re quite right re Lamela and Townsend. Because of Andros’s England form, he gets an easy run and people outside Spurs can’t understand why he’s not in the team.

      Writing this an hour or two before I leave for the Lane, I agree completely – we should play a strong side this evening, starting with Lloris at the back. It’s what the fans want. I think Hugo and Dier should have been rested for the Qarabag match.

      Cheers, Alan

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