96 Minutes Gone: Calm in the Eye of the Hurricane

Proper derby. Two words, that’s all you need. Two sides flying at each other for 97 minutes, total commitment, rough-housing, no backing down, and some top class football. It’s a shame that our opponents played most of it. It’s been a privilege to see some great football at Spurs over the years so why does nothing quite compare with an undeserved 96th minute equaliser, massive shithousery and a fight between the managers.

Lads, it’s Tottenham. One of the funniest and most perceptive team talks of all time. We had to take it, but not any more. We are Conte’s Spurs now and in his image, we do not take a backward step. Other Spurs teams would have wilted as the blues piled on the pressure but now if you want to beat us, you’re going to have to be good. In his analysis for the Athletic, Liam Tharme quotes research undertaken over a decade across several European leagues, which showed a correlation in the PL between the number of fouls committed and number of points won. This is no time for faint hearts – every successful side was hard and hard to beat.

Amidst all the bluster and hot air around Tuchel’s emergence as one of Germany’s leading conspiracy theorists and worst shaker of hands, in a much discussed game one thing isn’t getting enough attention. 96th minute, chaos all around, two men stayed calm. Perisic delivers the perfect ball, Kane has the presence of mind to find space in the box and deftly guide his header into the far corner. There’s no rush or panic, the memory of missing a classic Harry through-on-the-keeper chance earlier consigned to the recycle bin of his mind. Two men, two winners.

Peering through the social media fog (take my advice and stay away from the twitter button), as the dust settles, the positives are our resilience and tenacious blocking, as was the way we took the game to them after Richarlison came on. But our opponents were by far the better side and comprehensively outmanoeuvred us for large chunks of the match, as they did in the League Cup last year, when we were outplayed. Tuchel’s taking it out on the ref but this is just projection of his anger about how he got it so right, again, yet failed to win, and of his anger at the way his top midfielder chooses to do a drag-back in the box or that his defence allowed Kane to jump unopposed. The ref had nothing to do with that.

It worries me that we were under so much pressure for so long without being able to do much about it. We were outnumbered in midfield, our wing-backs penned in and the press meant we were unable to play out of defence. With few available passing outlets leading to misplaced passes under pressure, we lost the ball repeatedly and seemed inflexible and incapable of responding, the worst example being our marking for their first goal. They dutifully stationed themselves as per training ground practice, and our opponents had the brass neck to stand somewhere else! It was that ridiculous.

Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Conte’s a pragmatist. Looking at the end product, I suspect he saw it as Spurs not conceding, and in fact the blues made comparatively few chances until later on, hence no need for a major change before the hour mark. Perisic and Bissouma on earlier would have been welcome, though.

Decisions decisions. I was surprised a foul wasn’t given for Bentacur’s tackle. He got the ball first but came in from behind and to the side, and for several years that’s been deemed unfair. The days are long gone when judging a foul rested simply on whether the tackler got the ball or not. The ref’s angle may be crucial here – he saw the touch clearly. It might be a right cock-up. Equally, it might be be part of the the changing referees’ guidance around allowing more physical contact in challenges, i.e. there was physical contact but he got the ball, so now, the decision is play on. Fact is, it was a great game because of the thunder of physicality, from both sides. You want a proper derby where the players and managers care as much as the fans? This is what comes with it. Maybe we fans have to get used to the changes too, but refs need to talk to us more.

Romero on Cucurella also a foul. I’ve joined in the joking about Romero’s shithousery, and we need that. He’s a fine player and it’s integral to the way he defends. However, he has to use in a controlled manner. It’s one thing going nose to nose with Havertz, quite another seeking retribution for an earlier wrongdoing as he prepares for a 96th minute corner, right in front of the ref, with Spurs a goal down. This is actually a sign of weakness that other teams will seek to exploit by winding him up.

My younger daughter was married a couple of weeks ago. For her dance with me, the DJ played Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons December 63, which perplexed her no end as she has no connection to this song. As a result she spent these tender, never to be repeated moments on the dancefloor desperately asking guests about this choice. My teenage granddaughter, who sits with me at the Lane, triumphantly announced that it must be my choice because the alternative lyrics celebrate Tottenham playing on Wednesday night while Arsenal play on a Thursday because last season they weren’t quite as good as we were. This is completely untrue but I’m so proud of her. And my daughter, of course.

17 thoughts on “96 Minutes Gone: Calm in the Eye of the Hurricane

  1. Alan, the best thing about this match was your review. Beautifully crafted.
    Sooner or later Romero will get sent off, let’s hope it won’t impact an important fixture but his tackle in the Wolves game and now his ‘enthusiasm’ in this latest game is going to catch up with him. I was surprised with the midfield selection. If ever there was a match for five across the midfield with Perisic and Bissouma to join Hjobjerg, Bentancur and Kulu, this was it. We got there in the end and looked all the better for it. Richarlison’s cameo only makes me want to see more of him. Give us a wave, Toni!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks David, good to hear from you for another season. Conte is sticking with players who have had his pre-season, at least for the moment. Plus his three up front is key to his set-up and pressing, but if Perisic was fit, I would have started him, and got Bissouma on earlier – he is keen to get involved, I reckon. All the best


  2. A cracking rendition of events which unfolded at Stamford Bridge last evening.
    I turned the TV off as soon as Chelsea regained the lead, in pure unadulterated frustration, and in protection of said TV’s serviceability. Went out to a booked gig with the family and only knew of the final result some time later in to the night.
    For me, the energy that Richarlison brought, should be rewarded with a start over either Sonny or Deki. That energy he brought re-energised the team and possibly brought that result which had previously looked remote.
    Again. Thanks for sharing your interpretation, which is refreshing in comparison with the nonsense on Twitter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I know how tempting the ‘switching off in frustration’ option is! Twitter has a multitude of views, including mine. I try not to react to what it defines as the big issue in a game, in this case the refereeing decisions were part of the story but not all of it.


  3. A match report full of poetry, thanks, Alan. Got a question for you and the group and it has to do with that word you also asked about, “inflexible.” Indeed, Conte does seem a pragmatist, at this point, less than a year in charge. He seemed inflexible in last season’s run-in, saying we only had 13 outfield players (maybe even less he was willing to start). Bergie, Rodon couldn’t get a sniff, now they’re off. He seemed inflexible when our two in CM were being outnumbered and outfought. But he persisted. We got the rub of the green with L’Arse imploding in last 3 games with a 4-point advantage. Now, with a fortified bench and more than 13 players to draw on, it would seem he could show more flexibility. Maybe, he still will when he get the new ones up to speed. But is Conte a little stubborn? Overall, who can argue with his overall career results, and even for us. Obviously, what do we know, he’s a top class coach with so much experience. I’m hoping he learns to become more flexible for us and even for himself, and make us better, overall. COYS!


    • Glad you can join in for another season Ashley, trust you are keeping well.

      Conte’s stubbornness is more often an asset rather than a hindrance. His bloodymindedness has transferred to the team and is taking us forward. I watch the games as a fan, not an analyst, so I can’t give a full account of what he does, but he does tweak the system during games, e.g. against saints we stayed high then dropped back at different points in the game while remaining in control. In the end he has faith in his system and at the moment at least he’s sticking with players who have had his pre-season. I never think we look comfortable when we go to a four at the back, and so we’re better off staying with the three asking wing-backs to be more wing than back. And as I said in the article, CFC made few chances until later. I do think Tuchel has out-thought him tactically twice now, though.


      • ” I do think Tuchel has out-thought him tactically twice now, though” — could you explain, Alan, and didn’t we go scoreless and lose all 3 Conte-led games vs CFF? Anyway, what would you put that “out-thought” down to? BTW, another Welsh Spurs fan over here noted that Tuchel also reminded him of John Cleese walking (or was it Basil?)!!!


        • I was thinking of us being outnumbered in midfield in both these games. Our formation is potentially vulnerable if opponents can add an extra man in the centre. We have two there with wingbacks out wide and three up front, although Kulu can and does drop back. On Sunday, without the ball Tuchel dropped Loftus Cheek into a back 5, with the ball he came into midfield creating 4 v our 2. Also Mount was excellent, moving around into space so we found it hard to stop him. This vid explains it better! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sf9UYgJOpw4


  4. Congratulations to your daughter, and to you for raising her, and not revealing all your musical history.
    And thank you for your continuing elan as a true Spurs wordsmith.


  5. Firstly, congratulations to your daughter and family.
    If you cannot win don’t lose as Antonio says.
    It offends my football soul to be outnumbered in midfield. But when I think of how to get round it one of Son or Kulu likely to miss out, so…
    Second best mostly and awful first half, and if it is a results game only, a good point.
    Two blogs in two weeks, you are spoiling us best Spurs Blogger going.
    All the best Antonio

    Liked by 1 person

    • “It offends my football soul to be outnumbered in midfield. But when I think of how to get round it one of Son or Kulu likely to miss out, so…” Good point. But there are options for Toni: earlier substitutions; don’t always use a back-3, shift to a back-4 (did Tuchel vary his from 3 to 4?); and, then there is your option, too. Any others???

      Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers my friend and thank you. Decided that writing is good for my well-being, so there may well be more words this season. And something good is happening at the lane… Take care


  6. Bottom line: we’ve improved and we got an away point against one of our top four rivals who kept us under pressure for most of the match. Stealing a draw from only 30% possession – I’ll take that as a positive.

    The negatives were the way we “defended” Chelsea’s two goals. Whilst I thought that Kulusevski was fouled in the build up to Chelsea’s second goal, our left defence was awol on both occasions.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks Alan for sustaining…one of my favorite blogs .

    About Conte’s inflexible selection in the run-in last season, I think he had no choice, the margin of error was waffer- thin, we got 4th secured in the last 30 or so minutes of the last match of the season…no room for those who are not clinical enough,like Stevie. No luxury to accommodate more defensive errors (we know who already contributes regular defensive errors in our back three).

    Overall, I think the EPL is evolving in such a way that the most important player characteristics are; being clinical, press-resistant and not prone to many errors. Ive noticed this in purchases by Klopp and Pep. Spurs is trying to improve in these aspects.


    • And thank you kindly for your support Tony, much appreciated.

      You make a good point about the way the EPL is evolving and how that links to Conte’s approach. Very much looking for players with sound decision-making abilities. Re the pressing, I don’t scrutinise patterns that closely but these patterns like getting out from the press at the back are integral to Conte’s training and practised repeatedly. They may seem off the cuff on the field but they aren’t, so he wants players able to follow the process.

      All the best, Al


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