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.