Tony Pulis comes in for his fair share of criticism but when it comes to Tottenham, he gets it right. It’s as if he works towards these two games each season, the defensive drills peaking in time for Spurs. I imagine the dressing room, a hush descends as the players hang on their manager’s every word. “Well lads I want you to – just get in the bloody way.” It’s more than that of course. The midfield are well-drilled and the back 10 – that’s what it is for much of the time – are admirably disciplined in the way they hold their shape. Big centre halves stay where they are, supplanted by willing midfielders dropping into the gaps. But as the shots came in, it feels like when it comes down to it, they block everything.
Underlying this is a respect for Spurs’ inventiveness – Pulis called us one of the most attractive teams in Europe – but their lack of ambition makes for a dull spectacle. Ironically WBA looked good coming forward when they finally emerged from their shell deep in the second half. Before then, they had a couple of good chances, McAuley missing right in front of goal.
Nearly worked too. Lloris saved low by his post, pushing the ball out via the woodwork. In a crowded box there was suddenly a suspicious amount of room, which Nacer Chadli filled more quickly than anyone else to lash the ball into the roof of the net. What’s Walloon for ‘the immutable law of the ex”? He didn’t celebrate, and respect is due, but why shouldn’t players celebrate a goal against their old club? Every supporter knows the difference between players enjoying a goal with their team-mates and the arrogant f**k you glee designed to inflame. Fans understand a wind-up.
Toby fell to earth and stayed there for too long. As I write, it looks as if it’s bruising not ligaments or worse, out for two weeks. Dier came on as sub and will probably stay there as a right-sided player to sit alongside Vertonghen. Wimmer seems a long way from the first team all of a sudden with rumours that he’s not putting enough in on the training pitch, but he looked so able when he came into the team last season.
West Brom posed us a challenge – we’re sorted, everyone back, now let’s see what you can do. We did enough to win, certainly in terms of possession and desire to take the game to our opponents, but became bogged down at times. That left us vulnerable to a breakaway or set piece, and one loose ball looked as if it would ruin our afternoon.
It’s a long season, subdivided into a series of intertwining sequences. The fixture list presents us with 7 matches in 23 days before an international break, a real test of our progress, culminating in Arsenal away, which for many fans is the ultimate. Let’s see how we are when that’s over and we can draw breath. Being third in the league is a good enough start as far as I’m concerned.
New pressures, new challenges. Supporting the weight of expectation, going for it in the Champions League. It’s a test of focus and ambition throughout the squad, not just the first team. Last year the team effectively picked itself. Now, it’s not by any means as clear, in terms of both personnel and formation. Pochettino has options now with both. The 4-1-4-1 suits our need to devote more resources to attack as most teams do not sit back against us. Plus, Wanyama has made an outstanding contribution so far.
On Saturday, Dele was able to have the freedom to get forward. He was on the end of several chances before cunningly slotting the equaliser, a clever finish tucking the ball into the narrow side as the West Brom defenders moved to block the other side of the goal. Earlier, he missed a couple, including one where back to goal he took a touch to set up an overhead kick for himself while under pressure from a defender.
Both this and his goal show a presence of mind that is almost terrifying. That he can shut himself off to that extent is phenomenal. He is playing as if there’s no limit to what he can achieve, and he seems to enjoy himself so much. Managers in all sports encourage their team to go out and enjoy themselves. Such rubbish. If they wanted to enjoy themselves they’d have a kickabout in the local park. What they really mean is something like, express yourself, lose yourself in your talent, be the best you can be. When the world and his partner is watching and thousands of people are screaming at you, millions at home depend on you.
Spurs fans have been lucky over the past few years in being able to watch the development of two top-class talents, Bale and Dele. The difference is that whereas Bale was hesitant at first, reticent about expressing himself, Dele assumes the air of someone who is born to it. Gareth puffed out his cheeks and fiddled with his hair, unsure on the ball despite overflowing with natural talent. Dele on the other hand imposed himself from the beginning. When Hoddle was young, he worked with a psychologist who to boost confidence encouraged players to give themselves a title that encapsulated their role. Hoddle, the best passer of the ball I have ever seen and am ever likely to see, chose, ‘Lord of the Manor’, in charge of midfield. Dele is his heir.
Dele surged this way and that trying to make space. Eriksen did something similar albeit in a slightly deeper role. As well as being available and looking for the little pass into gaps, he encourages defenders to come to him, thus making space for others to run into. This is where possession works, not for its own sake but allied to movement and tempo, eventually gaps in the defence must appear.
We missed Rose. Take that as read for every game he misses. England have Bertrand but no other left backs, apparently, so the Saints player is injured and Danny willingly knackers himself. Davies is a capable deputy but Rose adds that edge, that incisive pace out wide that makes a difference in games like these. Dembele back, albeit as substitute. More work for him in the 6 games to come. Janssen allows the ball to feet with his back to goal and good lateral movement but Harry is better with 360 degree movement. Sissoko disappointing. He has big game experience – we need that tomorrow.