Spurs Rediscover the Bad Old Days

Watching Spurs falter against a resolute Newcastle defence on Sunday was like a trip back in time. Pre-Pochettino, half the home matches, or so it seems, saw teams pitch up with 10 men behind the ball, lay out the deckchairs and sit back as we buzzed around for 90 ineffectual minutes. All perspiration and toil with brains disengaged, and no goals.

Newcastle did it a couple of times, Krul heroics denied us, a superb breakaway winner set up by a player charging 50 yards up the pitch. Sissoko, I think his name was. Wonder what happened to him? I don’t blame them, because it worked. Works. Villa did the same but were not as well-drilled as the Geordies and ran out of steam. The league has found a way to play against us.

Sunday’s Spurs was the most dispiriting performance I’ve seen for a long time. There was a total absence of creativity and thought. These experienced footballers forgot basics such as movement off the ball. They left their team-mates isolated and without support.

I’d say there was no plan B, except I’m not sure what plan A was. Poch’s formation changes shifted players along the same laterals without breaking the lines. Whether Lamela played centrally or out wide made no difference to the end product. Moura went more central after a while, which simply made it easy for the defence to pick him up. No concerted attempt to shift defenders out of their cosy togetherness. Kane tried to come off the centre halves, again without doing so consistently. We tried long passes into the non-existent gaps between the keeper and the centrebacks.

Width and tempo are key in these games. We seemed content laboriously to pump the ball out to the full-backs, then sat back and watched them, rather than trying to get 2 against 1 in those wide areas.

Newcastle’s winner was the ultimate mug’s goal. It’s barely conceivable that an opponent could be in as much space at the edge of our box as Joelinton was allowed. It’s the equivalent of arriving at Margate on the Bank Holiday to find you had the beach to yourself.

The goal encapsulated the performance, individual errors compounded by a lack of team purpose. Rose could see the centre forward but did not react. Sanchez knew he was behind him somewhere but not exactly where. Sanchez is a promising player, mobile and times interventions well but like many centre halves of his age, he must take on an air of authority, to command his space rather than fill in for those around him, if he is to progress. Ultimately though, a collective failure. As Toby pulled out to help Walker Peters, the back four was stretched so far out of shape that it could not cope with a single striker.

Although there have been changes in personnel, these players know each other well enough to not make such basic errors. It’s worrying that they did, more so that they also made mistakes against Villa and City, or indeed that Newcastle’s other chance came from a simple long downfield pass.

 

Ten years ago, I wrote the first post on Tottenham On My Mind. 548 later I’m struggling for match fitness these days but have washed my kit ready for another season. Sincere thanks for the many messages of support from people who say they enjoy this old-fashioned little blog. It means a lot. Time is tight, so no regular match reports but the clue’s in the title and I can’t stop now.

 

This can’t be dismissed either as a one-off or a rusty side clanking through the gears of the new season. This is a continuation of our league form at the back end of last term, when there was a gradual deterioration from the New Year onwards. Something’s not right.

The season began full of expectation. We had a solid foundation of experienced players at the peak of their ability, allied to team-work forged in the red-hot coals of Champions League football. A spine of Hugo, Toby, Jan and Harry, with Eriksen and Dele in the middle and Sissoko reborn. To this, Poch grafted four new players of his choosing, for once, including N’dombele, the powersource in the middle. We brought the collective confidence that we can succeed at elite level and the motivation to go one better to win something.

Instead, Pochettino could be facing his biggest challenge, rebuilding a side rather than developing one. Travelling back in time again, the term ‘transitional season’ when applied to Spurs became an exhausted euphemism for disorganisation and missed opportunities. Yet, when taking last season’s league form into consideration, this begins to feel like a team that has run its course.

Transition is not a dirty word. Purposeful change is a necessary element of evolution. Levy has backed his manager and by all accounts he has his top four transfer targets. The question marks surround the foundation of the team. What we thought we could take as given, the reliability of our proven stars, begins to look uncertain.

The fact is, none of us know what’s going on in the club’s inner sanctum. It’s one reason why I seldom dive into social media debates in Tottenham On My Mind. Nevertheless, there’s a feeling that several experienced players are not entirely happy at the Lane, and more to the point, that the manager is not at all happy with them. Vertonghen, magnificent and committed last season, is on the bench because he’s not match fit, supposedly. Toby has not signed up, Dier is not in the team and has had fitness problems for a worrying length of time, while Eriksen will take any offer where he can get the sun on his back.

These and other contracts are coming to an end. No team has a squad that is 100% focussed all the time. Managers have to deal with this. At Spurs, even If these players fall a little from their peak, the team suffers. From the outside, they are not taking a long-term view that Spurs will bring them the money and success they desire. Far from last season’s heroics being a gateway to something special and lasting, perhaps several believe this was their zenith in a Spurs shirt and that it’s time to move on, either to greater success or a big final pay deal.

Also, Pochettino may be in a quandary as to his approach. In the past, he’s never been afraid to sideline players who are not behind him fully. He treated Alderweireld and Rose in this way last season. Both came back to play crucial, committed football in the last quarter. This has paid dividends. When he came to the club, he gave everyone a chance. Then, he got rid of undesirable influences in order to move forward. The story goes that the turning point was a home defeat by Stoke, a game very similar to Sunday’s, which provoked a dressing room row as Kane and Mason took on the experienced players who laughed off the defeat.

We’re probably not at that stage yet and these players have given so much for the team, lest we forget. If he took the same approach this time, we may lose more than we gain. Isolating Lennon and Kaboul is one thing, dismissing the Spurs spine is quite different. But he does not seem clear about Eriksen’s role, for example. He’s available but on the bench. We don’t know if he will leave. What we have found out, which frankly we knew already, is that this side pulses to the Eriksen beat. It’s more than his passes, movement, his goals even. It’s the tempo and rhythm. We miss Dele too, his ability to find space in front of and between the back four. In time, Pochettino has plans to rebuild the side without Eriksen, but this could be a painful process. In the meantime, he’s there and I’d play him.

Also, full-backs have been integral to the Poch plan, yet this has been a weak area this season. Danny Rose has earned my undying respect for the way he came back from the heinous sin of that Sun column and confronted mental health issues and racism to produce compelling and committed performances in the final months of the season. Gawd bless him, he can’t cross the bloody thing, though. Poch the fullback whisperer will coach Foyth and Sessegnon to good things. In the meantime, Aurier is nowhere and KWP is playing like the talented but inexperienced player he is. The shortfall was laid bare on Sunday.

Pochettino is not at ease right now. He’s not afraid of big decisions. Hard work ahead for Poch and his new team. Change is in the air as he integrates new players. There could be pain before he sorts it out.

16 thoughts on “Spurs Rediscover the Bad Old Days

  1. A good balanced view…….unlike the team. Key for me is our inability to break down “park the bus” tactics primarily because everything goes through the middle.

    Was personally disappointed that Clarke went out on loan (moreso given his lack of match time)…..I think his pace around the sides would have opened up Newcastle more effectively. Sessegnon should definitely get playing time once fit.

    Moura, Lamela and even Son have a preference to cut back in, but if you do that against two banks of 4 you simply run out of space !

    Also concerned that on the odd occasion we did that through Danny Rose (KWP seems scared to cross) we didn’t have anyone that took a chance and attacked the 6 yard box.

    Ironically, I think we’ll do better against the Scum cos they will attack us and we can play more centrally……..I hope !

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  2. You’re like a lone flower in the desert, Alan.
    99% of what passes for Spurs media blogging is simply awful, misleading, wrong and/or impersonal,
    aimed at only trying to bring in revenue. Most of the bloggers seem to be computer geeks rather than
    actual Spurs fans with a genuine sense of history or love for our club.
    You wait 2 or 3 minutes for a possibly interesting page to upload (with ads and other nonsense) before you can read (what just turns out to be) the ‘crap’ that you wanted to get to in the first place. There is also no real platform to say anything valid or interact with others if the article is even 1% interesting.
    Anyway. I hope you’re OK, and, even intermittently, long may your posts continue!
    On the match, it was almost too many cooks spoiling the broth. Poch seemed to think that filling the team with forwards and midfielders, while ironically leaving out our best midfielder, would just cast Newcastle aside. Poor judgement and management I’m afraid, and somewhat complacent too. And when we chased the game we simply added more midfielders in Eriksen and Lo Celso. Yet not one midfielder or forward could see the wood for the trees. Even Xavi and Iniesta at their best would have struggled if they’d come on in that second half for Spurs!
    All vision and imagination was lost. Eriksen had no time to set a tempo with players like Winks, Sissoko, Lo Celso, Lamela, Moura, Kane and Son all trying to set one too. Oh, and how we’re going to miss opening up teams on the flanks like we did in the Walker/Tripps/Rose/Davies glory days! Widening the play back then left players like Dier (and/or Winks), Dembele (and latterly, a reborn Sissoko), Eriksen, Alli and Kane (and one other) free to see what was in front of them, and how to interact with everyone else on the pitch. But dilemmas now rear their ugly heads everywhere.
    Eriksen’s mindset, going or not. Vertonghen’s fitness and mindset. Rose’s increasing ineffectiveness and mindset. Toby’s mindset. KWP still not the finished article 3 seasons on. Aurier looking to move (why did he not go, instead of Tripps?). Sanchez’s regression from when he first arrived for £40m. Dier’s situation (he’s not the commanding presence he was a couple of years ago because of illness, injury and other? problems), Alli’s repetitive hamstring, Kane’s repetitive ankle, Poch’s dissembling. It’s a bit of a mess, and yes we could be about to rebuild again, rather than simply strengthen. Early days I know, but apart from wonderful Glory moments last term, and the will to survive at City last week, I’m wondering when our press, pass and move system will have us all cheering again as we dictate tempo and frighten teams to death from all angles of attack.

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  3. completely bloody annoying that a] we lost to Newcastle b] the undoubted confusion in and around the playing squad but mainly c] that hearing the bull about Poch .
    He knows his players and wil create or recreate this side if and when necessary. Do not cry Genius after reaching a Champs league final and then criticise when they take a humbling defeat . This is a team/squad he is creating , things have to go wrong to provide the ammunition for change , to ‘become better’.
    Do not please ever lose the faith in this man , he is , at the very least on the same levels as Nicholson , Venables and WILL shape and cajole this group because he is , undoubtedly , the man to take us into our future glory years .
    Dont crab him , trust him to find the solution ……………………….COYS !!!!!!!!!!11

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  4. Huddersfield aside, I’m struggling to recall a league game since thrashing Everton at Goodison where Spurs have been at their best. I had put it down to the WC players being exhausted since New Year , which may still prove to be the case for players going far in this summer’s African and South America tournaments, but a summer of rest seems to have made little difference so far.
    CL games aside we’ve been largely poor since New Year and many of these games included Eriksen and Dele and most other best players . It’s all very worrying, the Villa game was equally laboured and City could have been much worse than what it turned out. There’s little fluidity in the team, and the lack of clear chances created is very concerning .
    Still, thank you for the column, and roll on Sunday when hopefully this most depressing of recent seasons beginnings ends on a high.
    Cheers IH

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  5. Just to add, after i typed that I heard news of the situation at Bolton, and more presently, Bury. I’m devastated for the fans, employees and communities that are to be affected, especially those whose very existence may centre around their club. It’s truly awful and from the outside looking in, it looks like a case of FL Fit and proper persons test 0 Unfit and Improper Persons 2
    0-1 loss to Newcastle isn’t so bad when one considers what’s going on at these two clubs

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  6. Pochettino is receiving the first serious scrutiny of his managerial skills in more than five years at Spurs, and he clearly doesn’t like it. Transfers are nothing to do with him; he;s the coach not the manager; it’s all down to the European transfer window, anything but accept any responsibility for the real crisis that’s engulfing the club, and which the utterly jammy run to the CL Final disguised all too briefly. We’re as dependent on Kane’s goals today as we were on Bale’s under AVB, and it’s glaringly obvious that he’s lost his mojo, and is a shadow of the player he was a couple of years ago – if he doesn’t play well, neither does the team – it really is that simple, but fixing the problem is anything but, and Pochettino seems to be distancing himself from the job he’s paid nearly nine million per year to do – magic he ain’t.

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  7. You are the best Alan always top notch!
    The game was upsetting…weak opposition…the magnificent stadium…and a chance to have a party and enjoy the events.
    Margate with nobody on the beach.Beautiful.
    Well not so beautiful.
    Do enjoy your blog Alan!

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  8. Alan – welcome back. I’d like to have a grumble but have decided to give them another three to five games or so to see how things look after the dust has settled. Goodness knows, we are just four games away from this manager and team giving us the greatest night of our lives so let’s not pour the ordure on them just yet. Having said that, there’s something not right, is there? In pre-season I thought this team might make it a three way race for the title but ‘pool and City already look light years ahead of us again. So it’s going to be another scrap for the remaining two places. After all the dramas of the past couple of years with Wembley, new stadium blues, injuries, and the core of the team knackered after the world cup, I thought we’d sailed into much calmer waters with Poch getting his new stadium, new players, and everyone getting a decent break. But no, Poch is still grumbling about something or other. Maybe it’s his way to keep the players on their toes but they looked anything but fresh and up for the battle. Harry looked very muted, Trippier and others leave under a cloud, (or announcing they want to leave) and if our entire attacking force could only manage two shots on target against Newcastle, for heaven’s sake, then it feels like more than three points have gone missing.

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  9. Supper time Sunday, I was wondering whether I was the only Tottenham old boy starting to disbelieve the performances since the season’s start. Given we obviously missed Son against Villa and City and Lamela sparkled on only a few occasions to somewhat mask that deficiency, I kept seeing players cursing about the same dead end moves.

    Hate to say it out loud but the biggest disappointment as far as I am concerned has been Sissoko. He was justifiably priased in early 2019. But now most times he gets the ball he appears to me to over-push it, run into an obvious cul-de-sac, end up about-facing 180 degrees or peppering Row Z. And the interminable lateral ball movements in midfield with nothing much of promise happening upfield are embarrassing. The pairing of Winks and Moussa just doesn’t look right or feel comfortable – except perhaps to our opponents who can capitalise on our sloppy coordination.

    I feel confident that Poch has sufficient expertise and an adequte squad to correct matters, but with the Arse this weekend, we could simply drop too far back to threaten with any conviction.

    As ever your incisive perspectives on what’s happening and what has happened are a tonic, Alan, even when the news is lower than tip-top!

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  10. Thank you. I always enjoy your blogs. Always thoughtfully put together. I get so tired of the endless uninformed one paragraph hysteria we see on Facebook.
    I can’t fault the players, they had so much possession. However, the word is out how to get a result against us. We must find a method of penetrating well-drilled nine-man defences. ⛔
    I worry a bit about Pochettino, he seems publicly just as bewildered about what is happening within the squad as the rest of us.

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  11. Lamela is no number 10, will never be a number 10, never been a number 10. I spent the whole time he was on the pitch wondering that… three inverted wingers supporting Kane was never gonna work. How we lost even now nobody can figure out, Moura missed a chance, Kane fluffed one…

    Hope the Woolwich game will be more open and attacking, and we can come away with something.
    COYS!!

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  12. All the midfield players in the squad and not one of them is prepared to take a shot
    From outside the area. We are great at passing from side to side ,no one takes the full backs on.Long way behind city and Liverpool .
    Barry. COYS

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  13. So glad to see your blog up and running again. I missed it. Hoping to see the stale play reversed in time for Sunday. Thanks for all. COYS!

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