Spurs Lose Their Mojo

Back in the day, the first league table appeared after the third match of the season. Early days but there was enough information to take stock. These days goal difference and alphabetical order manufacture a crisis after the opening 90 minutes, but with the international break as unwelcome as ever, it’s a good time to pause.

Spurs have five points and are undefeated but we’re struggling to score. The fluent ease with which we moved the ball around last season appears in flashes of brilliance rather than for extended periods. At our best, Tottenham lay down something so funky, playing with a natural, effortless rhythm. Every player is in tune, on the same wavelength as their teammates. Like all good soul, it moves head, hands and feet and lifts the spirit, but Spurs have lost their mojo.

When Kyle Walker stayed down in front of the Paxton, Spurs’ Saturday afternoon took a turn for the worse. Walker has been Tottenham’s best player so far, adding a spark of intelligence to his athleticism and commitment. More than that, he and Rose are so important to Spurs’ driving beat as the ball flows out wide to them, an out-ball as natural as water rippling downstream, Clyde Stubblefield on the drums or James Jamerson the funkiest of the Funk Brothers.

Losing him was a blow in itself, especially as in this tight match width to stretch the Liverpool defence and by-pass the pressing was clearly crucial. Pochettino’s decision to bring on Janssen in his place was characteristically bold but dealt a grievous blow to our chances of victory. The consequent reshuffle, with Kane dropping off, Alli deeper and Dier shifted to right-back, was not only unnecessarily disruptive, it also fatally weakened us at the point where the midfield battle hung in the balance. Afterwards, the force tipped decisively in Liverpool’s favour and Spurs were always struggling to get a toehold in the match.

Liverpool were highly impressive going forward. They sliced apart our back four, players cutting into the gaps between our defenders as we despairingly tried to work out where they were. Mane is a real talent.

Spurs were stretched and desperate for extended periods, losing possession and trapped in tight corners. Even the manager had the same problem, miscontrolling a ball late on that strayed into the technical area and giving Liverpool the ball back quickly when we were trying to slow everything down. It was that kind of afternoon.

Reserve keeper Vorm kept us in the game, an impenetrable barrier at his near post and twice leave his post to dash off his line and tackle divisively. Without him, this would have been a heavy beating. Man of the match plus some lasting respect for his abilities.

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Under the cosh, it looked as if we could hang on to half time, then some poor defending from Lamela undid the good work. Much as I admire the work ethic he discovered last year, getting back behind the ball does not mean he knows how to defend. He never looks comfortable – it goes against his instincts and his body position is often askew. Here, he committed a fraction early and was outmanoeuvred, then in a laudable effort to compensate for his misjudgement, Firmino came down in a tangle of legs and Milner scored the penalty.

From the restart, Liverpool carried on in the same fashion. Eventually Spurs had something on target, an Alderweireld header from a corner that was well saved. Just as we were running out of ideas, let alone make any chances, Dier began to push further forward on the right. One good cross eluded both strikers and defenders and there was Danny Rose at the back post to drill the ball home with great precision. It was our only shot on target from open play.

Pochettino has done a wonderful job at Tottenham, without reservation. This however was a mistake. Presumably he chose the starting line-up, i.e. Kane up front on his own and Alli back alongside Lamela and Eriksen to reinforce the midfield, with the Liverpool pressing and movement in mind. There was nothing in the opening exchanges to change that view.

Last season, we were outstanding with everyone playing to the best of their considerable ability. The smallest fall from those lofty heights and we are wound wanting. Dier isn’t quite there. Alli is coming back to match fitness, Dembele waiting to be unleashed – just one more game. Key men Kane and Eriksen are not on song. Both looked out of touch again. Kane’s late mistimed straightforward pass out wide to effectively end a rare smooth move was a frustrating and sad moment. A few minutes later he trooped off disconsolately to be subbed. Our Harry feels the pain as much as any supporter. He knows he had a bad one. Eriksen’s touch deserted him again. With it went our hopes of creating very much. I like Janssen a lot. His rumbustious approach will unsettle unsuspecting defences once he gets his first Spurs goal. On Saturday he didn’t get a kick because no one gave him a decent ball. Last season Spurs played some of the best football I’ve seen in 50 years. Eriksen was major art of that and the absence of soul and funk coincides with his loss of form.

It’s tempting to change things because Kane is so able and intelligent, he can adapt. But our best players should play in their best positions, always, and Kane is our centre forward. I wrote last week of how the team’s rhythm depends so much on what he does. It’s familiar, reassuring. They know what he can do and where he will be. He scores goals, plays others in and makes space. Moving him knocks so much of what we do out of alignment. If Janssen and Kane are to play together, Pochettino has to find a different way of making that happen. For the moment, Janssen can give Harry the rest he needs to find himself once more.

Wanyama had another good game, slotting in to the team as if he’s been part of it for years. Alli (and Kane for that matter) has not regained match sharpness. The international break will not help. More disruption on top of a disjointed pre-season which means Son is still not ready. Add a few knocks and Saturday’s bench looked lightweight. Still, we know the potential is there, know how this team and these players have more to give however much they have given already. Poch needs time with a match-sharp squad to work it out.

And so to deadline day, when the otherwise reticent figure of Dan Levy emerges from the shadows to cast a pall over our prospects. Against type we did our main business early, Wanyama and Janssen plugging the gaps that should have been filled this time last season, and good value in the current inflated transfer market. Then silence. N’Koudou has gone missing, to the point where an ironic Missing Person meme was retweeted on twitter as genuine, but that deal will probably get done to inject the option of pace into the line-up.

Discounting the usual rumours, it felt to me as if Spurs were hanging on to squad players like Mason and Chadli to see if they could upgrade. If not they would stay – wouldn’t they? Chadli is on the point of going to WBA, rumours persist about Mason and Bentaleb has already departed. We need cover and competition for every positon – this leaves a few gaps, the biggest being a creative midfielder to push and rotate Eriksen. We also need some extra class in midfield, because this league will be so competitive this season.

I’ve said recently that I don’t see the problem with a medium-term purchase of an experienced, battle hardened player to take us through a couple of seasons, but that seems unlikely. Which leaves us wondering again. With two days to go, is the cash from outgoings going to be invested in the team or the new stadium? Levy’s futile pursuit of Zaha had shades of the absurd bid to buy Berahino 12 months ago, his low offer being out of step with the inflated prices and seller’s market created by the new TV deal, where clubs are under far less pressure to sell. You would think he had learned his lesson by now.

We’ll know on Wednesday, but to stay competitive, we have to reinforce the squad. But we’re back to one of those key moments again, where the right players can boost the development and fulfil the burgeoning potential of this fine team. Laissez faire will hamper progress.

 

 

20 thoughts on “Spurs Lose Their Mojo

  1. If rumours were to be believed, chadli could have gone some time ago for an extra couple of mill to Swansea. Which means that the current situation with wba is either as speculated or the more sinister view is that once again the money rolls in with no time to do anything with it. Anyone hoping for some late drama need only look at the Marseilles situation with george whatever his name is. If they can’t get deal done for a relatively small amount over a two month period, I fail to see how a deal for a big player can be done this quickly. This isn’t the first time we have had to go thru this circus, and won’t be last while the club is run by an investment company. Hate to say it, but we have fallen way behind this time.

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  2. Out bench looks utterly second rate. No Chadli, son not playing and no dembeke so far. That’s not a quality bench at all with players who never even played in the senior team

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  3. I would say this:
    We absolutely are missing a creative spark, Eriksen can be that man on his day but his days are few and far between of late.
    Dele is not at the races so far and I just hope he can reach last seasons level.
    I feel the The the Nkoudou deal is done but alla Levy will not announce whilst he can still sell other players and not affect their value aka Chadli.
    I’m happy with holding and defensive set up, would be sad to see Son go as feel he can still be a star but if he does it will mean something better is happening and as said that’s what we need!
    But……. Is their the time?????

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  4. Strange goings on at the lane :
    There are lots of odd quotes from poch recently e.g mane being the type of player we need or zaha being like Ronaldo , neither of which we bid for before and very easily could have . Sounds to me like there is trouble a brewing with poch and the club. Clearing out the back room Staff in particular the recruitment arm
    Of the business is very alarming and for me it keeps coming back to levy and his lack of spending . The shoe string budget cannot exist if we are going to finish top4 and do well in the CL. The next 2 days define the season and more worryingly could decide whether poch stays beyond this season .

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  5. Thanks Alan,

    I found it a little chastening to see us chasing shadows for an hour after a very decent first 10mins or so from Spurs, bar Coutinho’s sitter.

    Mane’s pace to burst through the middle and in between the sides of the central defender and full back and Coutinho being able to ghost in round the back of Walker. Brrr! I’m still shaking from the tension.

    They were well on top before Walker’s departure for my money. We didn’t seem able to track their movement or runners, despite two defensive minded central midfielders.

    Nonetheless, we soldiered on to stay in the game, thanks to Vorm, and find a goal from somewhere. We’ll get better, as Poch sorts out how best to use the players at his disposal and key players find some rhythm and Dembele comes back. As long stated, an injection of pace in forward areas is a must,

    Early doors.

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  6. We definitely looked second best but it’s still early days yet and we had a very disrupted pre-season with the trip to Australia and all the attached distractions in selling Spurs shirts. Thought the rearrangement for Walker’s departure was ridiculous and we never really looked comfortable in midfield. Liverpool looked much more decisive in the final third. Wanyama looks a very good player but the balance of the team seems off. Will be interesting to see what happens when Dembele gets back.
    Very impressed with Vorm on Saturday. He should take a lot of confidence from that display.

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  7. Saturday’s game was a strange one. In theory we should have won. Our defence is better than Liverpool’s attack and our attack is better than their defence.

    But Kyle Walker’s illness and the strength of their midfield upended hopes of a Spurs win.

    A positive is that when we don’t play especially well (or badly) we grind out results – though they tend to be draws rather than wins.

    So far this season we have played like an orchestra without a conductor. Eriksen should be doing for us what Coutinho does for Liverpool. For whatever reason it isn’t quite happening for him st the moment. I wonder if he needs some serious competition for his place. That player could have the same effect on him as Trippier/Davis had on Walker/Rose (who have become indispensable – as seen at the weekend.) Clearly Eriksen is a major talent but he hasn’t developed as much as I thought he would after his first couple of seasons with us.

    Vorm was excellent. As you write, Al, he kept us in the game and was my MOTM. As good as Hugo on Saturday. We would have been thumped if not for him.

    As for Liverpool’s goal all I can say is that as a defender Lamela (whom I admire greatly) is a good attacking midfielder.

    I also wonder what is going on in the transfer market. Given the money coming into the EPL, Champs League football at Wembley and Poch’s reputation I expected us to do more business than this but I suspect none of this matters when Levy is in charge. A deal is a deal and every pound is a prisoner. He certainly should ‘t splash the cash but Poch must be supported as far as possible. We have the best young manager and it would be crazy to do anything to make him walk.

    But at least we are undefeated and ahead of where we were this time last year. COYS

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  8. Early days don`t panic.

    Let`s get Eriksen firing and the Moose back and I things will start to come good again.

    Why is everyone panicking on the buying front, do we really need to spend money on overpriced ordinary players who are no better than those youngsters we already have in the squad?

    Got to say the only thing I`m a bit disappointed about so far is Harry being played in the hole behind the striker…not keen on that at all

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  9. From early on before kick off I knew that we would struggle against Liverpool .They have been brilliant against them lot up the road and were unlucky against Burnley, as they create a lot of chances but have not put them away and same again with us due to the brilliance of Vorm
    2nd half I knew we would fair better as I knew Liverpool cannot sustain that high tempo for the full 90 minutes and this is when we started to at least put our mark on the game.
    I think we are in another transitional period, what with players going and coming this can’t be good for the squad and am hoping all will be OK once all the deals are done and dusted.

    Keep up the good work Alan 👍🏻

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  10. Excellent article Alan.
    I thought our team,Dembele-less and with Wanyama offered strong tackling but little in the way of expansion apart from some long kicks everything seemed more exhausting for us. We could not even buy space. Liverpool on the other hand enjoyed lots of space. Our defence were good but it looked like we were marking blades of grass in a zone.
    Liverpool could have killed us yesterday.
    We need Dembele back and Isco.That will do it.
    Alli in a mid role was useless,Kane anywhere was useless and although Eriksen started for 5 or 10 minutes relatively brightly he fell into a stupor as the game went on.

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  11. Thank you for a good read.

    Like everyone else has stated, I agree the team is yet to gel , it seems a case of deja vu from this stage last season. My optimistic side says we’ll once again move through the gears. The long time Spurs supporting part of my brain balances this optimism out however by whispering ‘we’re doomed’ at random moments during these darkening evenings.

    The fact that the three mega spending teams have been so fast out of the blocks causes concern, maybe a feeling that if we don’t get into gear soon we’ll be too far behind; that may well prove to be the case but from memory last year Manchester City had the league supposedly wrapped up after the initial 4/5 games and that didn’t pan out as predicted . From the little I’ve seen of them, Manchester United appear impressive, but really, they would be expected to get at least 7 of the 9 points they’ve won from those first 3 games. I’m not long after my dinner so I can’t bring myself to write anything about Chelsea.

    No doubt Saturday threw up some concerns as had things gone against us, we could’ve got a good spanking. To keep your music analogies going, this could be the notoriously difficult second album for Dele (is this how he’s officially known now? Sorry if not – I feel much too old to refer to players by their first names), though he has so much ability he may buck this trend. Again like everyone else I await Eriksen and Kane finding their feet, and while a big signing would be great, I’ll not hold my breath. Zaha is an odd choice for me though I understand some pace is desirable. Surely one or two will come in now that Bentaleb & Chadli, among others, have left? Time will tell I suppose.

    Two seasons ago I truly thought Bentaleb would be the best of the home grown players, even better than Harry Kane. Shows what I know! For Nacer Chadli, I think of him as an ‘almost but not quite’ player for Spurs , he made the game look so easy at times, scoring some great goals, while being totally anonymous in many games. Hopefully any replacements are an upgrade.

    Enjoying a relatively stress free weekend is my way of looking at this daftly unwelcome international break.

    Cheers. DB

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  12. All sensible and knowledgable comments there. We are unbeaten in three games Everton and Liverpool should both have good seasons , so two draws ain’t too bad. We have not got under way yet , so things will improve when we settle down and raise our game . Midfield will be a battle as one of our main players will have to be on the bench with the return of Dembele and the acquisition of Wanyama . Will the rotation of the full backs return ?

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  13. So, does anyone else detect the faint whiff of anti-climax and disappointment over the final transfer line-up? Daniel Levy walking a tightrope means sometimes you fall off and that’s what happened when faced with a ticking clock and the shelves are empty of really good midfielders. Levy, having run out of other club chairman to piss off in this country, has broadened his outlook to include Europe. We’ll never know the full story around N’Koudou, but the selling and buying of players shouldn’t resemble a farce and make us look foolish. I was intrigued by the possibility of Isco but it seems the ‘special relationship’ with Madrid only works one way. I’ll miss Mason, who deserved more playing time and certainly can perform at the same level as Lamela. But when players such as Onomah are ahead of him and not making much of an impact his choices were pretty stark. Sadly, it went south for Mason when he injured himself while scoring, bravely, a couple of seasons ago and he never got back his England form.
    Four solid signings are enough to beef up the squad and enable the team to grow whilst not losing its ‘spirit’. But the subs bench against Liverpool looked terribly thin and we needed to get more substance and experience. Thus Sissoko, and I’ll join the thousands of others who form the ‘wait and see’ camp. N’Koudou intrigues me: he is far more direct than Chadli (who isn’t?) and is similar to Wright-Philips at his best a few years ago in accelerating from a standing start past defenders.
    Four new proper players on the books, unbeaten in three. Time for take-off!

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  14. £30m from Newcastle – they must be over the moon . He could have a couple of good games this season , based on his previous performances for the Toon , let’s hope they are against the Manchester clubs . We have far better players than him already at half the cost – it’s the most odd buy on deadline day and I am staggered why we did it ? We have sold better players than we have bought – wish Levy had not agreed to the deal . Mike Ashley has done us . I hope I am wrong but, we will see .
    ps nice to have another meaningless international break with most of the team on duty again – no break for them and no benefit for us either

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    • Im think we have to look at our most critical game to see what Poch saw and what he needed.
      The game at West Ham was a key game and that week was a key week and we were thrown about by West Ham’s physical power.
      We were tigers when it came to pressing and speed merchants but couldnt compete against West Ham because of that power.
      We sorted that out.
      The only think left now is getting a player to create.Thats not easy or cheap but we have enough for this season.
      We wont be easy to beat thats for sure and maybe Sissoko/Eriksen/Lamela can give us enough opportunities to make us win enough.

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  15. I may be naive, but surely the stadium was financed based on figures before we got the new TV money and before we got Champions League?

    Seems the good old transfer committee have hamstrung Pochettino. Penny pinch and piss off other clubs to prevent getting the player he wanted, then being forced to spunk way over the odds for a questionable charlatan at the death.

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