Spurs Are Back But Nothing Much Changes

We needed that break. I always sigh as international breaks disrupt the ebb and flow of Spurs’ season, but it was all getting a bit much, if I’m honest. Games hurtling past without a chance to take stock, players running hard but only intensity without quality, repetitive patterns yet lacking shape or style. One match merging into the next, another game over and done with, and nothing was special or something to look forward to.

It must have done some good, because it took a while on Boxing Day before it slowly came back to me that we don’t play in the first half, that we can’t defend and that another mistake is just around the corner. That optimism soon disappears as reality bites.

Before this round of fixtures began, there was much speculation about the impact of the World Cup on players. Would they be tired or would they come back match-fit as opposed to those left behind? After the first half, the answer at Spurs was obvious – nothing’s changed. And so I can lift a few sentences from previous pieces this season. Predictable build-up, two in central midfield easily outnumbered by Brentford’s formation, so we are last to every second ball and regularly caught in possession. Sitting back. The defence vulnerable because it lacks protection. Dier’s error when under no pressure. Zonal at a corner (I have deliberately avoided using the word ‘marking’ because it was not appropriate in this case) and unthinkingly following instructions without responding to the fact that their main goalscorer was unmarked and unchallenged, a repeat I think of two other goals we’ve conceded from corners this season. My son missed the game as he was working. I told him simply that he’s seen it several times already this season.

Einstein is quoted as defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. He never actually said that, by the way, it’s one of those quotes that is frequently repeated because it has the ring of truth, so add Einstein’s name for a greater cachet than if, say, Alan Fisher had said it.  I strongly suspect it’s not one of those motivational quotes beloved by coaches and pinned up on the wall of the Spurs dressing room. 

Conte won’t change, however mystifying the reasons for this approach appear to supporters, and it’s wrong to make judgements solely on the basis of this game. The return of Bentancur and Romero makes a significant difference, and Kulusevski is fit again. My admiration for Perisic grows game by game. His fitness, experience and application is why we pay him so much, and he’s delivering. Emerson should remain on the bench. And Harry is scoring, despite it all. Was it my imagination or did he look more relaxed, the burden of captaining England lifted from his shoulders. We fans can show him he belongs at the Lane with us, and we will care for him.

But I don’t understand what Conte sees when we sit back and get overrun. Opponents sussed us long ago, yet we carry on. The only explanation I can come up with – you may have others – is that he wants us to keep it tight early on. But we don’t, especially if we sit back and get overrun, and we can’t, because we can’t defend. Simply, we can’t do what he wants us to do.  Many fans are crying out for more exciting football. I don’t think Conte’s formation is intrinsically boring, after all, he prefers three in advanced starting positions, it’s dull because we’re not playing well or doing what he expects.

Which begs the question, what can improve matters? We need better players – simplistic but Conte knows that. But there are three problems restricting development. First, at the start of the season, it looked like squad depth had improved compared with the recent past, and Kulu, Romero, Bentacur and Richarlison are good buys, while Bissouma will develop if he gets minutes. However, several of the covering players have been found wanting. Also, Conte appears largely disinterested in bringing players through. Skipp, Tanganga, Sarr and Spence have not had a look-in, while Sessegnon has been favoured but his undoubted talent remains undermined by a sense of fragility, which could prove fatal in the long run.

Then, it’s all very well talking about building on what we already have when the foundations show signs of crumbling. Conte’s style relies on reliable defence and the absence of mistakes, yet Dier and Lloris are wobbling on a regular basis. Not so long ago I spoke of having a solid spine. These are the experienced players to rely on, yet their current uncertainty visibly spreads though the side if things aren’t going smoothly. Dier in particular, a player I like despite his limitations, looked good as the lynchpin of the central defence. He was becoming a leader, a strong organising voice that every successful side requires. It’s worrying, although I hope with Romero back things will start to improve.

And finally, there’s Levy. There’s always Levy. He’s made money available, and now he needs to commit more. It’s not about throwing money at the problem, rather it’s a fundamental question about deciding what sort of club we are. Get Conte, and get the players he wants. Or, build a team of developing players and get a manager suited to that task.

Decide if we want to hang around the top four, and watch as floundering giants like United or the nouveau riche like Newcastle get their acts together to overtake us, never mind AFC who have well and truly sorted themselves out, damn them, or commit the funds to get the players ready to fit straight in. If Paratici does his job, it may not have to be a fortune, but it may have to be more than Spurs usually pay and decisions have to made without dithering.

There’s growing frustration around the fanbase at the moment. Fans are right to think we should have made more progress, but the real frustration comes from the fact that this question has largely gone unresolved in the past twenty years. What sort of a club do we want to be? We’ve heard this all before, but if anyone can make the board listen, it’s Conte, plus Levy will be looking over his shoulder at our rivals. He’ll also be looking at the balance sheet, which with the income from the ground and the CL must reassure him. 

Conte’s press conferences have become Mourinhoesque, and I don’t mean that in a good way. He is contradictory and chucks stuff out there about the future, contracts and what-ifs, so best to ignore it all. So with that caveat, the manager has said it will take three windows before he can get things together. That leaves me with the feeling that he could do more with what he has, and he may have to because January windows are rarely transformative. Let’s start with a RWB and another central defender, and don’t be afraid to pay for quality.

A happy and peaceful New Year to one and all. Sincere thanks for reading and commenting, and for still dropping in after all these years. It’s warmly appreciated.

16 thoughts on “Spurs Are Back But Nothing Much Changes

  1. Conte was never the right fit for Spurs, and it’s probably only Juve’s latest brush with the Italian football authorities that’s kept him at Tottenham, marking time until a better option comes along. We’ve tried every type of manager, from chirpy cockneys like Redknapp, and barely known foreigners like Nuno, to superstars like Mourinho and Conte, and still we haven’t cracked the glass ceiling between us and the Citys, Chelseas and Liverpools, and we never will with Levy/ENIC at the helm. A Happy New Year for Spurs fans? Highly unlikely.


    • I was surprised when Conte arrived. In the previous summer when his appointment was touted, I rubbished that idea, saying he would never agree to work with Levy, and sure enough we ended up with Nuno. My most repeated phrase on TOMM? Levy, it’s always Levy. Never fully backing his manager. But he has put money up – we wasted over 100m on N’Dombele and LeCelso – and Paratici’s buys with Conte have been (mostly) sound, but as I implied in the article, the longer this goes on, the more the deficiencies in other players become a concern. So more from Levy, essential, but more from Conte too. Surely there’s more in this squad than he gets from them at the moment.

      HNY, Alan


  2. Short term anti football managers like Mourinho and Conte ruin clubs for the long term. They both play players out of position. Both are focused on stopping the opponent from playing rather than going for it. Both set their teams out to play extremely boring football. Neither of them are interested in developing academy players. Conte is by far the worst, because he hasn’t played any Spurs academy player.

    Even Pochettino was reluctant to develop academy players. The only academy player that Pochettino promoted to the first team and played regularly was Harry Winks.

    Spurs have some top players in the academy who could add a huge amount to the first team. They need to believe that there is a pathway through. Currently the pathway doesn’t exist. It must be soul destroying for Harvey White who sits on the bench every game and has never had a chance to play.


    • This has become a real problem, I agree. Conte is not giving a chance to players like Skipp and Spence who have considerable league experience, let alone players like White. His stubbornness is part of his motivation and strength but it does nothing for the medium and long-term prospects of the club. I would say, though, that with the right players, Conte’s set-up is not necessarily boring, but agree with you, the first half caution he shows has become laughable – if it wasn’t so sad.

      HNY, Alan


  3. I agree with much of this but I can’t help thinking that Brentford away – yes, Brentford who had beaten City away in their previous PL game and who had had 6 weeks to prepare for this match with most of their squad intact – were always going to be among the worst opponents we could have faced. Utd have eased themselves in with Burnley and Forest at home, in contrast, and West Ham were abysmal at AFC. Toon faced an inept Leicester side and Liverpool found Villa going back to their Gerrardish ways. Brentford however were at their horrible peak and gave us no space to breathe. I thought a draw a decent result in the circumstances. But the fragility in defence absolutely must be addressed of course – I just don’t get these lapses in concentration. I was encouraged by Doherty in second half coming forward in addition to your positive comments on Perisic and Kulu. I suspect a Sonny hot streak might be impending. Glass half full.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Keep that glass topped up! Agree, the Bees are tough to beat, no question. I look though towards how we approach trying to break them down – our performance is something we have control over, and we were found wanting, even in the second half when we were on top. And as I wrote, we’re making the same mistakes, the same tactics, repeatedly.

      All the best, Alan


  4. Thanks Alan, mostly on the money as usual, albeit with two sizeablecaveats this time. “Bissouma will develop if he gets minutes”? I really don’t think so, he’s been very disappointing OST times he’s played this season and his performance at Brentford was among the worst. Kudu is great and it’s good he’s fir again but he too looked sub-par on Monday, as did , for me, Lenglet, his cross for Harry’s goal one exception. You say we need a RWB and

    Andcentral defenders in January. rWB yes, though givingSpence a chance would be a start, while at CB I believe both Dier & Davies are better than their detractors always suggest. And Romero’s return will help. What we need most is a dynamic midfielder to complement Bentancur. (and/or Hojbjerg, who has improved as the season has progressed). For me, surely the guy to splash out on big time is Bellingham, who looks to have the potential to replace both Dembele and Dele (at his best, which was very good). Of course, Conte has to want him and play him but if he does, Levy and Paratici need to move fast and big, before M City or Liverpool can get to him!


    • Hope you’re well Bernie. Re Bissouma, he’s got a proven track record in the PL, so there’s more there than we’ve seen. Re Bellingham, he will never sign for us. He could go to any club in Europe now, and he won’t choose us. Re another midfielder, yes but to me it’s no good if he’s going to be swamped in the middle as any midfielder is in our current system.

      HNY, Al


  5. Perceptive as ever Alan. I don’t think 3 at the back fits the personnel. A back 4 of Davies, Lengelet, Romero and Royal (as a RB) would be far more solid. And Bissouma as part of a 3, especially when the others are Bentancur and Holjberg wouldn’t get overrun. All sounds like tactics rather than strategy I know, but the worry is that Conte is simply playing the Mourinho “give me great ready made players and I’ll win you things” record. At least when Harry said that he delivered great football along the way. Worrying times. Happy New Year all. COYS!


    • Cheers. That’s an option, as is Davies as cover on LWB. He’s not a WB by nature but useful cover. Conte is wedded to his three, I think, so won’t change. He’s immovably stubborn. So get the scouts searching for another CB.

      HNY, Alan


  6. That was a rather chilling half term report, Alan. Even more frustrating because it’s on the mark. I think that’s nine games in a row where we’ve given up the first goal. Each and every game it seems we are immediately on the back foot and lucky not to concede more. I’m puzzled with the after-match comments by Conte who says it’s the team’s fault because he sends them out with a positive game plan. And yet each and every game we concede the midfield and the initiative from the off, and the rest of the game is spent performing heroics to rescue something from nothing. If we are good enough to impose ourselves in the second half of each game then why can’t we start a bit earlier, you know, like in the first half. I hate to imagine it but is everything well between team and manager?
    My other beef is that poor Son is having a nightmare of a season so far. His contributions to the team have dropped off and so much breaks down when he gets the ball. He’s unrecogniseable from the wonderful player of last season, and that means that Harry is carrying too much of a burden. But he won’t be dropped because other clubs will come with fat cheque-books. So the cycle repeats itself until Son rediscovers one of his hot streaks.


    • Yes… I don’t mean to be negative but these repeated mistakes and tactics reveal a fundamental flaw in our play at the moment, and as you say, Son’s not there to save us. That said, maybe a few tweaks could make a significant improvement rather than major surgery.

      HNY, Alan


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