Mane A Tear Has To Fall But It’s All In The Game

Last May Southampton came to White Hart Lane and deflated Spurs’ end of season celebrations with a 2-1 victory, arguably the best performance from an away team that year. Midfield grafter Steven Davis scored both goals but the star was Sadio Mane. There were rumours at the time he was going to a bigger club but I couldn’t see what the fuss was about – until then. He was a constant threat, good control, quick feet and high workrate, an eye for space between defenders and the pace to burst into the box from deep. The perfect Pochettino forward, in fact.

Yesterday evening those qualities destroyed Spurs. Two goals in the opening twenty minutes and there should have been more but for Lloris, the game out of sight with over an hour to endure. Mane wasn’t the only difference between Tottenham and Liverpool but it was a stark reminder of what we lack in games of this level and intensity against our rivals for a top four place.

Add this to the news emerging earlier in the week that Mane turned Spurs down in the summer and this defeat, a 2-0 thrashing such was the gulf between the sides, was a stark reminder of the broader limitations of our challenge for honours. Mane got as far as a visit to Hotspur Way but Liverpool offered the same prospects and better money. Tottenham’s success, as much as I enjoy it and genuine achievement though it is, also serves to mask this unpalatable truth, laid bare by a comprehensive defeat against top four rivals who like ourselves are developing their side, that as we try to rise to the top we are banging our heads against the ceiling of opportunity.

These are the games that we measure ourselves by. Judging by this performance Spurs have a body of sculpted muscle but feet of clay. Throughout Tottenham wilted under the pressure of Klopp’s press. The resultant errors blighted our entire evening. We never got the ball moving freely in possession, were constantly caught on the ball or attempting passing angles that didn’t exist and made only one chance worthy of the name in the entire game.

Liverpool won the other major battle too, the tactics. Spurs’ left was weak in the absence of the injured Vertonghen and Rose, while Lucas looked out of place in the Liverpool back four. We never laid a glove on him, whereas Liverpool steamrollered down our flank, leaving Davies isolated and bewildered. Time and again, Liverpool had two and three players overloading our left up against the Welsh full-back and he was taken apart. Mane burst past him for the first and most of their chances started out there. To make matters worse, Lloris insisted on playing out from the back and going left too.

But Davies should not carry all the blame. We played a high line, which left us vulnerable to Liverpool’s pace from midfield. Also, giving the ball away led to both Liverpool goals. Losing possession exposed the back four. Moreover, Pochettino did nothing to plug the gap. He could have dropped Son back or moved a DM across but Davies had no protection. Defending is a team responsibility these days, and we didn’t function as a unit when our opponents had the ball. The new high TV angle at Anfield exposed the horror in all its gory detail.

So Mane swept in the first, then banged in the second shortly afterwards from a loose ball. I felt Hugo could have pushed away the initial shot instead of pushing it up, thereby keeping it in the danger area. Tottenham were in total disarray at this point, unable to stem the tide of Liverpool attacks or keep hold of the ball on the rare occasions they glimpsed it. Mane missed another chance and Lloris was solid on his line.

Without Pochettino we would never have got this far, and I’m eternally grateful. He’s been criticised in the past for not having a plan B. I thought this one had been put to bed this season. However, the manager did little to change the balance of a game that had tipped decisively in favour of the Reds.  Son changed position, at times centrally to link with Kane, frustrated in his isolation, or to the right. I admire this attacking inclination but it was not right for the moment. We played as if we were 2-0 up against Gillingham not 2 goals down to Liverpool.

Eriksen and Alli, both largely ineffectual, should have dropped deeper to get hold of midfield and thereby give us some stability. Deprived of the platform to play usually offered to them by Dembele and Wanyama, they frittered away the rare moments when they had the ball at their feet. We’ve done this before, away to Southampton as the first example this season. A goal down after 15 shabby minutes, we reformed, controlled midfield and possession and used this as a base to win the match. I wrote at the time that this could a significant moment in the team’s development but we’ve forgotten the lessons, as we did at Manchester City. As it was, the game continued to rush away from us like primeval matter exploding from the big bang.

The half-time teamtalk evidently provided no solutions. I can’t recall the last time Spurs offered so little over 45 minutes. To overcome the press we went long but this was less a tactical adjustment, more an act of desperation. Our game descended into aimless long balls and petty fouls. Even Toby, the Premier League defender who has committed fewest fouls this season, was reduced to an ankle tap and a booking. Hugo and his defence contrived to almost concede again through reckless defending. The pundits chuckled and so did the rest of football looking on.

The table doesn’t lie. The table of salaries and transfer expenditure that is. Every team around us has a higher wage bill. Mane cost £35m and earns £90k a week. In the summer Spurs presumably did not want to stretch that far. Our highest paid player, Kane, gets around £100k by all accounts. At Liverpool, Milner is on £120k, Coutinho now on £200k.  We don’t try to compete and class across not just a team but a squad cost money. Tottenham’s first XI are more than a match for anyone. Injuries to Vertonghen and especially Rose take us down a notch. Because of this pressure, the up and comers find it hard to get enough game-time. Wimmer’s form has fallen off a cliff, Davies looks uncertain and Janssen has no time to break that duck.

I’m deeply proud of what this team and manager have achieved and might achieve in the future, and it’s a future about which I feel optimistic. Proud that we haven’t broken the bank and have nurtured the talents of younger players rather than bought a ready-meal of a team waiting for the manager to heat it up. Proud of how tight these players are with the supporters. Fact is though, Mane brings home the point that there is a difference between overspending and investment, because the latter brings in the returns. Nothing outrageous and prudently planned, it could be the difference between success and glorious failure. And did Mane really ask for that much more than Sissoko?

 

8 thoughts on “Mane A Tear Has To Fall But It’s All In The Game

  1. Mic-drop for the title alone. Well played Al. Good, measured write up too.

    Poch has forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know. This said, my best guess would be that to be in with a chance against Liverpool at Anfield we’d need to sit deep, guard the left flank, have a tight defence and hit them on the break.

    We did everything but this and consequently had as much chance of winning the Lottery as winning this game.

    This was a reality check. Our squad is seriously limited and there is a strong ceiling on how far we can progress until we are in the new stadium. Once we have moved in there can be no excuses for failing to sign players like Mane. This looks like a major cock-up with each week that passes.

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  2. Can I put the other Dembele in the mix – yes he plays in a tin pot league, but as I read it at the time, he could have been ours for not much – look what he is hyped as now?????

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  3. Sometimes you are the pigeon (or cockerel) and sometimes you are the statue. Only in this case Liverpool crapped all over our parade so comprehensively I question our ability to win when it really matters. In a perverse way, I almost preferred losing in such an abject way when everyone had a stinker, rather than by playing our part in a classic and losing by the odd goal in five. At this point a goal of any kind is welcome. At times we looked like the cat chasing the laser beam on the carpet. Never getting there and ultimately giving up, suffering a severe case of twisted blood. A pattern has emerged and turned into a routine. We can beat everyone at home but when it really, really, matters, and a performance of canny tactics matched by individual guts and guile is required away to the other contenders we turn to custard. Newcastle and Chelsea last season. Man United, Chelsea, and Liverpool again this season. Plus the dismal European games at Wembley, Custard. No point in singling anyone out because everyone had a collective brain fart. But credit to Walker who didn’t choke like some others (we know who they are) but kept on trying to make an impression and give something, anything, for Harry to bite on. As Alan points out it’s not a level playing field when it comes to signing the best (Willian, Mane). Also we don’t seem to have a flawless record when we do decide to splash some serious cash (Sissoko, Janssen, Lamela). Hey ho.

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  4. There are a number of worrying aspects here, Alan. Poch questioned whether we had the desire to win the PL after this game. But that is only half the question. Most of the teams in the PL below 6th have got no chance of winning the PL, while some worry about relegation. What then of these teams’ ‘desire’ when competing in the toughest league in the world? Surely that ‘desire’ is to plan, to fight, to win or hold out and/or at least battle, isn’t it? Certainly not to yield!? Poch was half right, because Spurs yesterday had no ‘desire’ to win, full stop (forget the desire to win the PL), and that is surely a crime, given the mentality that Poch has imbued in his players over the past two seasons.
    I said last week that to get a result yesterday we had to match Liverpool’s desire and intensity ..it wouldn’t be easy against such a wounded beast, and it never is against Liverpool at Anfield (or the Lane) anyway. And obviously, as with most teams these days, they were going to treat us far differently to Swansea and Hull, but if we could match their early press, their desire and drive, and soak it up, we could then counter, and see spaces become available later in the game.
    I have never seen this Tottenham side play so poorly during an opening 30 minutes. Spurs did the exact opposite of what even we lesser lights knew was needed, and were calling out for. ie The bleedin’ obvious! To match Liverpool’s obvious desire from the off! Against lesser teams we can sometimes afford sluggish openings, and still win, but Liverpool, who learned from Man City’s futile superiority over us, kept their knee on our throat the entire game.
    Wanyama, Dembele, Dier and Davies were individual horror shows.in that opening 30 minutes.
    It was as if they were shell shocked, losing the ball easily, awry passing, caught out of position, caught in possession, out-fought and out-paced etc.. No cohesion in defense or link with midfield. Indeed, there was no midfield! It was stamped on, more than pressed. No wonder Eriksen had a poor game overall (there was nothing behind him except unfamiliar chaos), and if I see him shaping up to take another free kick on goal, I’m going to scream. Has he scored even ‘one’ free kick of significance this season? From being one of the best contributors in that area last season, he has wasted considerable chances to score at vital times this season. Give someone else a chance!
    And then there was Son. I know he scores goals and puts himself about, but I just wish he was a little cleverer, especially when it came to helping out Davies on the left more, and not ‘snatching’ at the one-on-goalkeeper chance that came his way. For all his pace and running, he misses so much because his mind also runs at 90mph, taking out so much of the scenery around him. Alli and Kane, our ‘best’ players, also tend to operate well only when the machinery around them is well oiled and er, operating well! Dare I say they rarely become game changers as a result of ‘individual flair’ when the team is not playing well? People compare Alli to Gerrard. Would Gerrard have softly capitulated when the team around him weren’t playing well ..or would he have got more involved, dragging his pals off the floor?.
    And that brings me to our team.
    We have many fine young and senior players. But to be honest, it is the team balance and Poch’s tactics and fitness levels that have made them what they are. Made our side what it is. Take those factors away, and they can look a mess. No game changers on the field or on the bench (Sissoko? ..Jannsen? ..Nkoudou?) when things aren’t going to plan, as Chelsea, City, United and Liverpool have. Yesterday we needed a leader on the pitch. We don’t have one! It’s all very well having players who have bonded, and been molded, into a team. All pals together. But when our game is ‘off’ who picks up the pieces on the field? Who is prepared to shout at and demand from his team mates ..his pals? To put an arm around a shoulder or bollock those around him? Lloris can’t from the goal area, and none of the outfield players feel equipped to bark at their mates, without worrying about repercussions (friends falling out). Would a leader take away from that team ethos and all-pals-together we’ve built up?
    Would a Mackay take away from it?
    NO ..a good leader would ADD to our team, and be a lantern for all our players, should they slip from that finely balanced teamwork Poch has created. Leading us back into the system that works for us during the course of a game, and reviving our motivation and optimism, should we stray from those important traits.
    Poch can take a share of the blame yesterday too. He should have seen how the pattern of the game was going, long before that first 30 minutes was up, and altered things. Even switching to a back three, taking Son off and making Sissoko or even Winks work that flank ..with Davies moving alongside Dier and Alderwerald. This would have given more freedom to Dier (who was lackadaisical beyond belief at the back) to move forward. It might even have been worth shifting Wanyama (also woeful) back in defense to allow that.
    Our substitutions were too little too late, and were more about desperation than thought. Liverpool had tired, but weren’t going to allow us renewed life.
    However, even with yesterday, which many might consider merely a ‘blip’, think of this.
    We have not scored in open play for the last 3 PL games (just a Kane penalty), and the City game should have served as a warning to us that, like lesser teams playing the bigger sides, sometimes we have to shore up from the very beginning, and work our way slowly into a game. We are not always good enough to think we can dominate from the start. Spurs fell into the trap of believing yesterday that we were superior, our players better, and that our system can relax, because we were playing a Liverpool side who were in very poor form and didn’t have players as good as ours. A stupid mistake by players who really should not be that stupid, and the malaise became irreversible with no leader on the pitch, and Poch quiet on the sidelines.

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  5. Sometimes, I am not sure why Poch so often persists with trying to force his open style down the throat of every team we meet regardless of the opposition. Teams (like us or indeed Liverpool, for example) have a preferred style of playing. All of last week, I read tactical analysis from many different sources about the superiority of Liverpool’s high press, final third ball recovery, pace behind defenders etc. against a slower build-from-the-back style and yet, rather than play to neutralise Liverpool’s strengths (at Anfield!), we play right into their hands. No wonder the players were poor. Put your best troops in a weak tactical position and then critisise them when the proverbial sh** hits the fan? No, I believe that Poch, either through arrogance or nativity, put our players in an impossible position to begin with.

    I like Poch and am very grateful for what he has done. I hope he continues at Spurs for a long time and, more importantly, continues to develop his own tactical acumen. But, surely, it must dawn on him soon that a high line wing back all-guns-blazing, especially away at technically top class opposition, is not always the winning approach!

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  6. Thanks Alan,

    I think Poch had a bit of a stick or twist question. Lots of people saying we had to sit deep and hit them on the break, but we still need that Mane type Poch wanted after the LFC game at the Lane to make that really effective. Swansea, & Wolves & Hull did that, with liberal use of set pieces, but rightly Poch thinks we are capable of more.

    Sitting back and soaking up pressure from the off rather than try to take the game to a side with 1 win in 9 or 10, to play on their anxiety from the off? It’s a tough one. I wanted us to do what we did at Arsenal and Chelsea and take the game to them from the off, esp given their form and frail confidence. Whether we could have pressed them and dominated without leaving a high line for their excellent front 3 to exploit, is perhaps beyond my tactical ken.

    They were also so fast and furious and as at WHL earlier in the season (and in the first 20-30 in Klopp’s first game at the lane the season before) maybe they are just faster and better than us at the crazy pressing anyway. We could have been 2 down at WHL against them before realising trying to play silly beggars and play out, too gingerly too often imo) from the back while they were closing us down like dervishes wasn’t working. We needlessly got our ourselves into trouble by trying to play out from the back.

    As the first few mins unfolded at Anfield I wanted us to go over the press for a bit to gain some respite and tire them out. They certainly unsettled us and under pressure in the head and legs Dier and others did things you wouldn’t have guessed!

    Without the FA Cup and Europe, LFC and Chelsea will be fresher than us. I think it unrealistic to think we can battle on 3 fronts with the squad we have and the competition in England that faces us. I would prioritise one of the cups and a top 4 place in league.

    However, one way to look at it is if we really want to win the league, given our financial and squad limitations compared with the others, we should miss out on the European places this season and go for the title next!!!

    More questions than answers

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  7. I was expecting a turning over and here it was – not based on any huge tactical knowledge though, based on Us being Us. For as long as I can remember (and that’s a long time as the name suggests) we’ve been suckers for giving the team in diffs their first win in weeks;the Striker who hasn’t scored in months a goal; the team who, when all around fail, fails also and doesn’t take advantage. I suspect if Roberto Soldado and Vincent Janssen had been playing for Liverpool on Saturday they’d have both thought their Birthdays had arrived. God, when will it stop. I ALWAYS think back to late October 1966 when we had a pathetic Blackpool side at The Lane. We were at the top of an early Division One table with 8 wins and a draw from 11 games, Blackpool were in deep water at the very bottom without a win – they were relegated that season with a paltry 21 points. Guess what – 1-3. We then lost another 5 of the next six, drawing one (against BLACKPOOL !) and didn’t win again ’til the end of November. The more things change, the more they remain the same. End of a really irrelevant post, ‘cos I just had to moan to someone other than my wife – she’s tired of the same old. Thanks Guys.

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  8. Hello Alan,
    Spot on as usual, we can all agree that Poch has been a revelation at Spurs, so much so it is hard to remember just how young and inexperienced we are. In essence we are learning together , Poch included. As others have suggested the review of Liverpools last 10 games gave us the blueprint to approach them, we needed `to consider ourselves a bottom half team without Danny and Jan. The back three does not work currently, and Liverpool has been beaten by teams that absorb pressure and do not play out from the back. I almost wonder if a third midfielder , like Winks made sense, to match their 4-3-3. While Davies was poor he was not helped by the right footed Dier playing on the left of center, can’t rememeber him there ever, why not leave Toby there as he had in the previous two games. It’s rare that I think this but the round peg definitely did not fit the Anfield square hole.
    On a happier note, I am planning to get back to England in March, dropping the daughter in Newcastle to visit a friend at the University and trying to negotiate my way down a game, hopefully 6th round FA cup, how glorious would it be to get past Fulham and have one more FA tie at the Lane, surely the God’s must smile on that one. Ciao for now my friend and hope to see you on the High Road.
    Ed

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