After Wednesday’s disappointment, Spurs came roaring back to beat Manchester City. It was a performance to quicken the pulse and gladden the heart, scoring three in a thrilling second half where we took the game to City and they had no answer.
All the better because it was unexpected, partly in the sense that City were top of the table and have a good record against us, partly because after half an hour or so they looked so smooth and effective on the ball. De Bruyne at 50 mill plus looked like the bargain of the season. He put City one up, running onto Toure’s perfectly weighted pass and hitting it early past Lloris, who until then had been the last line of defence on several occasions.
Old failings though – it came from a misplaced pass by Walker, across their box and deep in their half. The old adage always was about not giving the ball away in dangerous areas – these days every area is dangerous, it seems. We’d been stuttery in front of their goal too, hanging on and not pulling the trigger.
But times, they are a’changing. Slowly but surely Pochettino is equipping the team to deliver his vision of high tempo, pressing football that moves the ball forward quickly when we get possession. After a slow start to the season and hampered by injuries, Spurs have gradually cranked it up, notch by notch. Palace was a step forward, this firm confirmation that progress is real not temporary.
Pre-season I said Pochettino’s role in shaping the team and getting them to be more than the sum of their parts was the key to success or failure. On Saturday some fine individual performances were eclipsed by the coherence and integration showed by the team as a whole. Every man worked their little over-priced socks off. They knew what they were supposed to be doing, where they should be and when.
Whatever numbers you use to describe a system, its success or failure rests on the ability of players to know where they should be in relation to their team-mates and the ball. This of course changes second by second. I remember reading in the Glory Game, Hunter Davies’ book about the 70s Spurs side, that players like Chivers and Peters would leave the pitch at the end of the game with a splitting headache, caused by the strain of concentration. YAgainst City, even those in the bottom stream for tactics and positioning like Walker and Lamela earned A* grades.
After 30 minutes and at half time – there are witnesses – I was downbeat but whispered that of all the top teams, City’s defence is the most vulnerable. Sure enough, we caught our breath and pushed on. City folded. Kane missed a good chance, when he could have passed, then Walker’s cross was saved by the sprawling keeper but cleared only to Dier whose arrow-straight shot flew 25 yards at a constant height of 1cm above the turf and into the bottom right-hand corner.
Second half and we carried on where we left off. Alli and Dier took over the midfield, a remarkable effort from 2 young men aged 19 and 21. It proves the effect of talent and application. Dier is a remarkable figure. I thought at best he was a stop-gap DM. Now he’s superboy. The intensity in his game is almost terrifying, the sheer force of will swept City’s expensive stars away.
The second half was dreamy, unadulterated pleasure. We roared as Alderweireld headed in a free-kick from close range. No City players between him and the goal. We swooned as Kane steered in the rebound from Eriksen’s free-kick that hit the post. We shared his joy, breaking his league duck, but if there was relief too he showed none of that. Steely gimlet eyes the sign of complete self-confidence.
Then we swooned as Lamela, put clear by Njie, tiptoed round a defender and keeper before nonchalantly rolling into an empty net. Tip of the hat to Njie, who harried and chased up front after coming on as sub and both won the ball and delivered a great pass to set up this fourth goal. It was the moment he seemed to realise the physicality of this league and play his part rather than sit back. If so, he’s a quick learner.
Replays showed that a myopic linesman scored an assist with goals one and three but we were due a decision going our way/we earned it/these things even out at the end of the season/who gives a flying one – perm one or more from these. Nothing could temper the enthusiasm.
The highest praise is reserved for our defence. The other theme of the season so far is that our defence, reinforced over the summer and protected by Dier and his plus one, is vital to any improvement we make. If we’re not scoring as many, not a problem yesterday of course, then we damn sure better not give so many away.
The stats tell one story – fewest goals conceded in the PL thus far. The real story emerged in the way we handled Ageuro yesterday. Over the past few seasons we’ve not been able to get near him in the box. Yesterday he got nowhere. Late on, He advanced towards Vertonghen. Jan did not plant his feet in concrete, a problem of his in one on one situations. Rather, he stayed upright and shepherded his opponent on to his oppo Alderweireld who completed the tackle and the danger passed. Two centerbacks working together – at last – and credit to Pochettino, a defender himself of course, for getting them to gel so quickly. Vertonghen’s two jaded seasons a distant memory now. Good partnerships all over the pitch – the centrebacks, Alli and Dier or Mason and Dier, Kane and Son, as well as team cohesion.
Behind him, Lloris was my man of the match. Rock solid throughout, he saved the hard ones and cling onto the straight ones like a boa constrictor round his prey.
You could see why Davies gets the nod – strong in defence, close to his back four.Finally a special word of praise for Erik Lamela. Early September and his heart wasn’t in it. Boy it showed. Now, he’s decided he has a future here and is coming to terms with the hard work the PL demands. By all accounts Pochettino insisted he stay when the Berahino transfer fell through. Perhaps this was the vote of confidence he needed. Get goalside more often when you get back, Erik, but a real contribution to the team on Saturday.
Thanks to everyone who commented on my last piece about the team selection for the Arsenal game. Sorry, very busy with deadlines in the real world so for once not able to respond individually. I strongly felt supporters had been let down because this above all else is a game for the fans, one to win. It’s probably the most discussed article I have ever written, in the comments’ section and on social media.
I don’t feel any differently about it now. Big games against arch rivals are the matches we all remember and that’s why we go to football. The four best games at WHL in recent years, ones where the stands shook like the old days and the soul was uplifted – Arsenal and Chelsea last season, Arsenal under AVB, won 2-1, and Arsenal in the League Cup semi-final, 5-1, we played a strong team, they opted for a couple of reserves, we took them apart. One for the fans.
Many (not on here) linked the piece to their own distrust of Pochettino. Not my view – regular readers will know I broadly support what he’s doing, feel Levy has not supported him properly and he deserves my patience.
Saturday’s win was down to team spirit, talent and superb fitness, all of which have nothing to do with Wednesday night. It seems to be part of the folklore of modern football that you can’t win two matches in the same week with the same team. If that’s the case, then I’m glad I’m old-fashioned.