Blunt Spurs Need Sharpening Up

This is starting to bother me. Since beating City at the beginning of the month, Spurs have scored a single goal from open play and only three points from a possible nine in the league. It’s not as if we’ve been making and missing a hatful of chances either, although some shot stats I saw yesterday suggest shooting practice is in order.

Against Leicester we hit the bar twice while at the other end Lloris barely had a save to make, their equaliser coming from a rare Wanyama error. Yet this is no demonstration of superiority. Rather, the game always felt it was in the balance because of their threat on the counter and because we had so much of the ball without getting anywhere. I’m delighted that once more our defence impressed, with Vertonghen covering everything and Dier’s best performance of the season, a strong, composed centre half again. It’s just disconcerting for a Tottenham fan of my vintage to be relying on a solid back line. While we’ve had some great defenders in my time, it’s always been a case of we’ll score one more than you.

What worries me most is that on Saturday, for the first time this season the team did not convince themselves. The familiar patterns were in place but the players couldn’t join the dots. Janssen pushed up on the centre backs, the midfield interchanged, Dele swayed up and back, the full-backs were herculean in their efforts in attack and defence, Wanyama the midfield lynchpin. All of which led to little end product. By the final quarter, movement had slowed and the players started shrugging at each other. They had run out of ideas and no one had the spark or leadership to change it.

If these patterns are familiar to us, then they are well-known in the Premier League. Teams know how to play against us. Fall back, cut out the space, crowd the centre. Sure enough, time and again our on-twos were ineffective, bayonets against concrete bunkers. The Leicester back four did exactly what they had planned for, stayed stock still and beat away almost every effort.

It’s all relative. We remain unbeaten with the best defence in the league and within touching distance of the leaders. So no panic. But I don’t think we do enough to pull these defences out of shape. Son was ineffective – their defence just watched him run about a bit – while Janssen is intent on winning a personal old-school battle with his centre-half rather than trying to slip away from him and into some space. Three times in the first five minutes Janssen bored into Morgan as the ball was played up to him, three times Morgan won it. With the ball we push up early to have three men up on their back four but it is too easy for them to be marked especially if as on Saturday the build-up is slow. Drop back, interchange, push midfielders into the gaps, give opponents something to think about.

City came to attack, therefore they left more space for us when they lost the ball and we could exploit them on the counter. It’s no coincidence that our best move on Saturday came on the break when Leicester had pushed up, Walker’s run and cross came to Dele who thundered a first time shot against the bar. It was a brilliant piece of football, a shining light as the performance descended into gloom.

Later, Janssen finally got some change out of Huth and Morgan. First he touched the ball back and therefore away from the tackle to slide a shot just wide, then another header just behind him hit the bar too. He has a lot to give but his team-mates do not combine with him.

Alderweireld is not merely absent from our defence, we also miss his play from the back, be it keeping the ball on the go, his forays into space left behind as opponents drop or those long balls for Dele. Fine margins, all make a difference.

In a tight game goals were bound to come from penalties and mistakes. We had the pen, Janssen manhandled by Huth. I’ve not seen a replay. On the day it looked a foul but could have been dismissed as an over-reaction as the Dutchman fell. It seemed a case of a referee whose poor officiating put him under pressure. Amidst the tugging and shirt-pulling he asserted himself by giving this one after failing to see others, on both sides I may add. Spurs were playing on it, going down on every challenge.

The mistake was ours too. Early in the second half Wanyama’s uncommitted pass back was intercepted and ended up being bundled in at the far post. He’s been excellent this season – before the restart he hung not just his head but his body in shame and despair.

Rose and Walker were outstanding once more. Walker’s maturity since the Euros is remarkable, beyond anything anyone could have hoped for. If only he was a more reliable crosser of the ball. Vertonghen did well again. For the past few games he’s defended on his own almost, covering everything, blocking everything. On Saturday Dier was imposing in his own right, a welcome return to form. One first-half tackle on Vardy as he was clear was terrific, a potential match-saver.

On the down side. Eriksen’s afternoon was summed up by his three free-kicks – weak and unconvincing. Son and Dele were ineffective, Dembele easing his way back to fitness and from but too deep to threaten. Winks came on late and produced the only throughball of our afternoon, which was encapsulated in two free-kicks in the las quarter. Both were in their half. One was played backwards across our back four, the other was knocked forward with both centre halves firmly rooted on the halfway line.

As a postscript, Spurs deserve a major bollixing over their decision to move the Burnley home fixture from Saturday 17th to the Sunday. It’s the start of the Christmas period which for many people signals the commencement of finely tuned advanced planning to get things done. It gives us an extra day’s preparation, fine, but there’s no excuse for making the move well after the TV fixture changes have been announced. It’s not been done for TV but that makes it worse – the delay will cost a lot of people a lot of money, and there’s no excuse.

And don’t forget – how could you – A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur by him and me, a groundbreaking history of Spurs support and supporters. Amazon here, including Kindle and Amazon.com currently less than a tenner. I mean honestly.

7 thoughts on “Blunt Spurs Need Sharpening Up

  1. Our lack of penetration is self inflicted: with his close control, technique, and eye for a cutting pass, Dembele is one of the best attacking midfielders in Europe – as we saw time and again last season. I don’t understand why Poch insists on playing Dembele in a containing partnership with Wanyama. What other team would put their best creative player in defence? Dembele needs to play much further up the pitch and return to his former position alongside Dele where he can use his extraordinary close control to hang onto the ball long enough to pick out a runner, or force his attackers into a run. Dier could step forward into the spot vacated by Dembele, and Wimmer could slot into the defence. Dier wasn’t too shabby when he last played in that position. Apparently the paper talk has Poch singling out Eriksen for his lack of bite but I don’t think he was that significantly worse than the others. They are all treating the ball like a hot potato, moving it too quickly, without taking time to get their heads up and pick the right pass. Son being a good example. Large patches of the game went by without Son or Vinny being involved. Mustn’t grumble, though. One weekend of results going our way could put us joint top so it’s not all gloom – just an example of how far our expectations,and stock have risen.

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  2. Like you, I’m feeling frustrated. We haven’t kicked on from the utterly convincing win over Man City. We’ve got bogged down in stodgy play which lacks zip and creativity.

    The player we miss more than anyone is Toby Alderweireld. Not just for his calmness and solidity in defence but for his role in opening up the pitch for us and creating so many opportunities. Without him I think we look fairly solid but ordinary. Hence I think the drift over the last few games.

    (A side-note: the two best players we have signed over the last couple of seasons have been Toby and Wanyama, in my view. We don’t need to spend big. Spend well.)

    Thought Leicester were pretty unimpressive. I know it is a kind of blasphemy to not buy into the fairytale narrative but on Saturday they were like a highly effective pub team. But that reflects badly on us because we couldn’t outthink or outplay them. And we will play teams a lot better than them this year.

    I’d hoped that when Eirksen signed his new deal he’d turn on the style. He’s got worse in my view. He needs some serious competition for that place. Of the seven he was part of I thought he would be the star and the one we’d struggle to keep. He seemed to think the same. He hasn’t lived up to that early promise. Okay, he isn’t there to press and win headers and tackles, but he isn’t doing what he is supposed to do.

    I fear November is going to be a very tough month.

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  3. Thanks Alan,

    Loving the book, and pleased to see a Fisher involved with Spurs from the outset.

    I do think we did just about enough to win the game, undone by a rare error (ruthlessly exploited by Leicester it must be said), although it also felt in the balance throughout to me, too. Though this is not surprising as Leicester are a very good side. On that note, it was high time Leicester did the office of champions justice on their travels this season with a highly committed, well organised and no little cynical performance with crisp, measured passing and the real and consistent threat of their highly dangerous counterattacking abilities. Huth and Morgan hauling down anything in their path, 99% of the time unremarked by the ref, as with last season, was back too. No surprise they upped their game considerably to play us.

    Giving the central striker, whether Kane or, on Saturday, Janssen, the support he needs is a Poch-era-long issue. As is a tendency to fall back into ponderous build up play. But given that teams don’t want to come out and play with us anymore, it takes a massive effort to get behind the opposition when playing out from the back.

    I think it is partly down to the way Poch wants the top man to play; as a result he isn’t always where we might want him in the 6 yd box when required. But we also don’t gamble enough in getting players beyond the striker and into the box often enough.

    I’d like to see us risk a bit more and relieve Dele or Eriksen of tracking back duties so we can support the striker more consistently and counter more quickly. Or Nkoudou should be given a go from the start as he has the pace and trickery we lack in the final third at times.

    We do need that game changer I read so much about in the trad media, on social media and when reading/talking to other Spurs fans, But Sanchez, Aguero, Hazard-type players would cost north of £40 million, so we need to find a way using the sum of our parts better.

    The next few games are all very difficult and I do worry that the intensity of the CL games and derbies will see us drop points. But that’s what we want, every game to mean something big, so I am looking forward to them!

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  4. Who said that, unlike Arsenal (Ozul), Chelsea (Hazard), City (DeBroyne), and Liverpool (Coutinho), our own creator in the final third (Eriksen) is a level down from them? Last season I wouldn’t have agreed ..or at least said that Eriksen links with the overall team around him better than those other guys do with theirs. But suddenly we’ve gone stale …HE’s gone stale. And you’re right, Alan, we’re not linking up properly like before. We ARE being found out. And this again shows up Poch’s lack of a plan B (yes, that old bloody, but hugely relevant, chestnut!!!). What a dilemma since the City game! And even though we’ve seen other superb games against the big boys in recent seasons where we’ve not kicked on from such endeavours, this time it’s hurting more than it usually does, to the point of real annoyance. Some argue that it’s because of Kane’s absence. Really? Exactly what, honestly, has Harry done since late April, and the goal he scored against Chelsea at the Bridge? No ..like cream we wait for Harry’s form to rise to the top in a season, and, if anything, this injury may have been a good break for him ..and, yes, even the team, if only to show how we should be managing without him. For a short while Son was scoring, and looked a vastly different player to the all-running but unimaginative player of last year, but then (because of Harry’s injury, and because Janssen wasn’t scoring) Poch stuck Son in the striker role. Big mistake first time around, which I’m absolutely bemused Poch couldn’t see because he then repeated the mistake. Son found form doing damage coming in off the flanks. Kane (or Janssen) enabled him to do that ..but he is no focal point up front, as they are, or indeed able to bring others into play. So as we squandered what was making him tick, his form has dipped and, despite the final rectifying of this positional mistake on Saturday, he’s gone straight back to last season’s form (and potential sub time). Toby’s absence? Yes, more significant because he’s arguably our best player. Not only bolstering a great defence but providing passing threats from deep, and even danger up front from set pieces. Again, however, Dier can slot into his position, and besides, defence hasn’t been the problem. No ..the last 5 indifferent games has somehow been down to Eriksen, Lamela, Dembele, Alli, Janssen and Son. There’s something really wrong. If they’d been somehow more in unison and aware of each other’s movement and play, we’d be top of the PL now, not suddenly hanging onto the coat tails of the ‘revved up’ Four and their superior goal difference. Suddenly all these players mentioned are looking as if they can’t BUY a goal between them!
    So what’s the answer? Are we too narrow for our own good, despite our fitness and high pressing? Have we really run out of ideas, and getting frustrated by defences who’ve done their homework? We do seem to need more width and imagination/flexibility if opposing teams are handling our possession play in the final third ..so let’s get back to that old plan B ..and that involves more width, and the purchase of that eternally elusive playmaker in central midfield. I know that the Modrics, Hoddles and Gazzas are few and far between, but until the time someone like Harry Winks can step up, we need in January that crucial missing piece in our never ending jigsaw.

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  5. Just a footnote. I’ve just realised that no one (myself included) seems to be mentioning Sissoko ..our most expensive signing ever! No one talks about HIS return ..no one talks of missing HIS ‘critical and incisive’ importance to the team, his goals, his link-up play with those around him, his pace and ability to beat a man and cross the ball. Worrying isn’t it, particularly as he’s been available, until this short ban, for most matches this season. This apparently knee jerk, and incredibly expensive, ‘buy’ at the end of the transfer window has so far added none of the above attributes to what we’re trying to achieve. The lack of affection for Nkoudou so far is understandable ..he cost less than what we sold Chadli for and, although he just might become a fine silver-ware-winning addition to our squad one day, at present he’s still another Nyje, capable of good cameos but little else. Like Janssen, who’s been thrown in at the deep end, Nkoudou is also young and malleable ..BUT Sissoko? Now there’s a conundrum. This 27 yr old Frenchman, who had a decent Euros, but blew hot and cold for Newcastle, has undoubted talent but questionable drive …and are we all just too nervous and superstitious to mention him in any capacity in case we put the mockers on the whole thing? Could he be, cost-wise, the worst signing ever for us? …OR, if and when he finds his place in our team jigsaw, could he just make the vital difference in sharpening up a real PL title run-in?? That’s my lot, Alan.

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  6. All coaches in all sports like to get their defences in order before they work on the attack.
    Half the work is done with the defence. I think our attack is very average. Lot more work to be done.
    Let’s hope it happens soon!!!

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