Never Change, Tottenham

From the depths of despair to the heights of elation in ways only this football team can achieve. Watching Tottenham is unbearable when we don’t score, unbearable when we do. Never change.

Shall we begin at the end? Why not. Hojbjerg is knackered. Bentancur is too, after giving everything in another hugely influential performance, and has left the field, but Hojbjerg cannot rest. As the ball breaks forward, he should have just hung back, seconds to go, but the Dane cannot rest. Not everything he does works, we know this, but in that Tottenham shirt he is utterly driven and I want that in my team. The space is wide open, he begins his lung-bursting run 70 yards from goal, smashes it inside the post.

It’s a fabulous piece of football, a thrilling moment. The players swamp each other in celebration. Hojbjerg has the ashen, hollow-eyed look of an exhausted boxer who has taken a pummelling but remained standing. Harry should have smeared the blood from the wound on his arm across Hojbjerg’s forehead and cheeks. Warrior!

Spurs top the group with the last kick of the game. That’s my Tottenham. It was both unbelievable and beyond belief, given an abject first half where the performance levels were so low, they were scraping the bottom of a barrel entombed in a subterranean labyrinth in a darkness so deep, no human could even imagine let alone venture into. That’s my Tottenham.

I like to think that I’m not prone to exaggeration but the Marseilles goal was the most ridiculous defending I’ve seen in a long time. Granted, this season there have been many, too many, contenders for that dubious honour, but at least Bournemouth came up with a couple of excellent moves on Saturday. At least they made it difficult for us. But letting the ball run out of play only to see it was a corner not goal-kick, then be chatting amongst themselves while the big bloke heads it in, the comedy value escaped me at the time but that is surreal stuff worth a chuckle if you saw it in the park on a Sunday morning but this is a crucial CL qualifier from a team with 10 internationals.

Sadly it was completely in keeping with that appalling first half. I’ve written before about how Conte wants his players to suffer for the cause, so we fans must hurt too but this was the hardest of watches. I have no idea what they were doing and neither did they, so maybe that’s something to bring players and supporters closer together. The defensive selection looked suspect. Dier looked good on the right in the second half against Bournemouth but that was when we were coming forward. If it was a move to improve the back three, fine, but if it was to accommodate two left-sided players in the shape of Lenglet and Davies, then it was an unnecessary, disruptive change in a crucial game, as was starting poor Sessegnon on the right. He was blown away by the whole occasion, to the point where I was relieved Emerson was brought on. Not a sentence I’ve written before or frankly am I likely to write again. Just a shame we didn’t have a replacement for Moura.

In a season of worst ever first halves, that was the worst. But there’s something there in this squad, isn’t there. There’s professional pride and then there’s playing for the shirt, and some of these players are starting to get it. It means something to play for this club. Hojbjerg I’ve mentioned, then there’s Bentancur, fast becoming the game-changer, who when allowed to come forward changes the team’s tempo and rhythm. In his face the determination to be a leader, an influencer, is visible. And never take Harry for granted. Exhausted, kicked, surrounded by four opponents whenever he got the ball.

We’re no nearer solving the great mystery of our times that I posed in my last piece, namely why on earth to we play the first half in such a passive manner? Conte remains inscrutable. In press conferences he implies the players are not following his instructions, yet he controls everything. Surely they comply with his instructions to a large extent. If they didn’t, Conte wouldn’t pick them. One theory doing the rounds is that he wants them to conserve energy during this unusual and disrupted season, that we can’t play flat-out for 90 plus minutes. Miguel Delaney in the Independent suggested that he had heard from a few sources that Conte has hatched a cunning plan to hold back now and go all-out from February onwards.

I suspect he’s asking the players to control the first half without extending themselves unduly, except that Spurs aren’t good enough to do so and it allows opponents to seize the initiative. The match may be lost by the time we get into gear. If on Sunday we start as we have recently, the Liverpool attack will have won the game by half-time. A reminder that both Marseille and Sporting missed golden late chances. The players seem far more comfortable playing at the higher pace and getting into forward areas. More of that please.

A mention of Perisic before I leave you. Not perhaps the force he was, his shrewd defending in the second half was a stabilising influence, and that late block where he read the play and got himself into just the right position, right time would have got us into the knockout stages without the late winner. That’s what experience at the highest levels brings.

17 thoughts on “Never Change, Tottenham

  1. First halves are about containment and about energy conservation, especially during a busy period with two games each week. Let the opposition run themselves into the ground and then use the saved energy in the second half. Painful to watch in the first half but galvanising when we move into top gear in the second.

    It’s a long season.

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    • No team can afford the luxury of playing to some cunning plan of conserving energy by merely surviving all that’s thrown at them in the first half of matches, in order to then retain the strength to roll over the opposition in the 2nd half. For individual sportsmen (boxers, tennis players etc.) it may work on occasions but it’s an absurd idea and a myth that a ‘team’ would play that way deliberately, as it only takes better placed passes/shots by the opposition or mistakes by that team’s goalkeeper or defenders (with fortune also playing its part) for such a team (eg Spurs) to be 3 or 4 down at half time, and game over! As exciting as most of our 2nd halves have been (one main exception being against Man U) the dour unrecognisable and inglorious football we’ve churned out in the first 45 minutes of most games this season is clearly not planned and certainly not sustainable. Conte’s a great coach but he’s not THAT clever. Whatever’s happening, it’s like we’re cranking up and/or conquering nerves in the first half of games, or so overly concerned with tactics to actually play to our strengths. It’s like we’re taking 45 minutes to find our feet, and the fact we’ve got away with it in most games so far (by playing well in the 2nd half, thank goodness) is, without doubt, down more to good fortune than a ‘cunning plan’.

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      • I don’t have any answers, but do you watch American pro sports. It’s said in the NFL, and I worked as a journalist alongside pro athletes and pundits for many years, that defense wins Super Bowls. Similarly, in professional ice hockey, there are teams that employ defensive strategies for whole games, looking for a breakaway or penalty to score. In both sports, I’ve seen teams play for overtime to win on a lucky break. So, yes, playing rope-a-dope is not unheard of. I don’t know if that’s our case. There’s also a saying in sports, I’d rather be lucky than good. And if you’re not Man City, that may be a strategy. COYS

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        • I understand about defensive strategies and selective game tactics, but I guess my point is that Spurs haven’t displayed any clear sense of ‘planning’ in the first halves of most matches this season. These aren’t defensive ‘rope a dope’ tactics we’ve witnessed (Kane apart, our players, like the coach, aren’t THAT clever, or indeed good enough to play that way), merely woeful panicky football in the face of relentless pressing by, and attacking midfield thrusts of, ostensibly lesser teams. Always 2nd to the ball, continuous misplaced passing, no pressing at all etc., and as for any ‘creativity’? ..well that seems like a dream of the years and great players gone by. It’s so strange to witness Spurs playing like this, even if we seem to wake up after 45 minutes and then punish the knackered opposition for their profligacy in front of goal earlier. Look, I’ll accept these exciting come-backs as some form of ‘Glory’ but, as I said, this anomaly is clearly not sustainable long term. Luck will surely run out, and we’ll be hugely punished by bigger (and even lesser) sides if it’s not addressed. We saw the rapid decline of Mourinho because of it in the latter half of the season in 2020/21 (although nerves affected us over 90 minutes back then). Look, I support Conte and he talks incessantly about the players needing to suffer, but there’s a limit on suffering and ‘shackles on’, while the fans occasionally deserve entertainment and excitement throughout ‘whole’ games, not just be subject to this recent ‘suffering’ phenomenon of non-football in the opening 45 minutes!

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  2. Thanks for giving some love to Hojbjerg. For some reason he gets criticised in some places for not being flashy or adventurous enough, but beyond Harry and maybe Dier I’d pick him as our most consistent player of the past two or three seasons. It’s similar to the role Yorath used to play in a team of crowd pleasers: he does the hard work to allow others to attract the headlines. And when his goal snuggled into the net I relived the same gut wrenching joy that followed Moura’s third goal in Holland a couple of years ago. Even managed to jump over the same sofa but – not back again this time. I spent the first half confirming that the Europa Cup was all we deserved and that it was punishment for believing we were better than we actually are. I still believe that our ‘dismissal’ from the Europa Cup last season was the unspoken key factor in our run-in to the end of the season. The Thursday-Sunday routine is crippling to any team with pretensions to stagger to the finishing line. How’s that working out for you, Arsenal?
    At least we can now approach each European game like a cup final without the dread prospect of dropping into the Europa League. Thank you, P-E H!
    Super report Alan. You’ll never get writers block with this team!

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    • Weren’t we in the third tier (Europa Conference) last season not Europa League. Also, Thurs-Sun has Arse in first place in PL, so far. Yes more love for Pierre, I feel PEH and Bentancur could become the best 1-2 CM pivot in PL. PS We’re close to making rope-a-dope work, if Sonny had been more on his game this season, so far, with lots of chances. But he’s off his game, having not scored in PL when he’s started a game this season. But counter-attack with Contenaccio could work if our lads were a tad better at sharp end. COYS and thanks, Alan.

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      • Ash, you are right and thanks for correcting the record. I was trying not to let the facts get in the way of making a point. I still think Arsenal will end up suffering the consequences of a Thursday/Sunday routine. The early stages of the Europa and Conference leagues gives the better teams a bit of a free ride against some average teams. Now that it gets serious, and against the likes of the relegated Champions League teams, those games take on added consequence alongside the domestic workload at the sharp end of the season. Another one or two quality signings in January will set us up nicely. Wouldn’t it be a pleasant bonus if we could hand over a couple of million to persuade Udinese to release Destiny Udogie ahead of schedule.

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          • Okay, I’ll take the bait. If matches are won and lost in midfield we absolutely must bring in a creative midfielder, if only to allow P-E H and Bents a chance to recover from the brutal routine of a match every three or so days. I’m willing to wait for Bissouma to settle in. He is getting better each week and if Toni C. improved every single player in the squad since his arrival I am looking forward for the same to happen with Bissouma to become a force. But he’s not a creative force. Each time I see Eriksen Mk 2 I regret at the missed opportunity to bring him back. Just thinking what he could do with the six forwards we have makes me sad. We are getting linked to Weston Mackennie, who is a decent player, but I don’t see him as the answer. Another CB for sure, but a first pick choice, not someone to act as cover. But just as important is something we have spoken about for years – to bring in another striker. Harry is running on fumes and I am terrified if he gets injured. Any other position can be worked around but without Harry we risk losing it all. We had a nibble at Mitrovic in the summer and he would be a decent substitute to get us through any crisis. Richarlison and Kulu aren’t centre forward’s and the prize is too great to ask Richarlison to stand in until Harry regains his edge, or is injured, or just plain knackered. Mitrovic has the tools to bring others into the game and I think he wants to play at a higher level than Fulham (who are enjoying a good spell because of him). Stranger things have happened. I’m not sure I answered your question. Is there someone else you think we should go in for?

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  3. Anonymous, do we know each other from another page? Great comments and suggestions, I also suggested Mitrovic in off season. How about Moore, my fellow boyo, at Bournemouth, like a Llorente? I sense Eriksen’s no go might’ve been about money, high wages. But I’ll leave it up to the professionals like Paratici as I really don’t know the market—to produce two more like Deki and Bentancur, mostly not known to me. Yesterday’s win was so important, I believe we’ve made £40M from getting into CL, winning 3 and drawing 2, and getting into final-16, and hopefully, Levy/Lewis will be all in. PS I’ve got this thought about Harry becoming that CAM, if we get his replacement, especially as he ages. Cheers and COYS

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    • I’ll let you take all the credit for when Mitrovic arrives! My concern is that he’s on the wrong side of 30 which sets off alarm bells in Levy’s wallet. But Toni got his way with Perisic and he wouldn’t cost anywhere near as much as some of the other young guns in Italy and Spain. I wouldn’t mind Moore. The last thing a ball playing centre-half wants is a lump like Moore competing for everything and he gave our three CB’s an ‘examination’ last weekend. (I’m worried he might do the same to England in Qatar). Anyway, anyone brought in by Toni and Paratici is good enough for me. There are some high quality players in Italy, especially the talent from Serbia and Croatia, that we could tap into. I still put Modric into my all-time Tottenham XI. Discuss.

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      • You know I grew up in Newport, to an English mum and Welsh dad. But most of my UK family is English (some from dad’s side are still in Wales), and this is the first time in my life Wales have been in WC. So I’ve always supported England. But four of countries I’ve lived in (Wales, England, Canada and now US) are in WC, three in one group, hahaha. I kind of support the Spurs players on different nations. Until he got hurt, my early pick for Golden Boot was Brazil’s Richarlison. PS What is your name, mate, you can EM me at ashleyjcollie at Gmail…PPS Yes, any other players like Deki or Bentancur in Italy would be fine.

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  4. Hi Alan.

    Yes, that was a very forgatable first half. Maybe let’s “suffer” a little while longer with our glorious leader. Let’s see where this takes us. After all we are in a rebuild phase, which has been ushered in without any fun-fare or trumpet.

    My personal gripe is – no Captain in sight keeping our guys alert just before they scored

    Private congrats to Lloris, he seemed to me a yard further from goal than usual and as a result saved some potential goals.

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