Spurs Lose Their Mojo

Back in the day, the first league table appeared after the third match of the season. Early days but there was enough information to take stock. These days goal difference and alphabetical order manufacture a crisis after the opening 90 minutes, but with the international break as unwelcome as ever, it’s a good time to pause.

Spurs have five points and are undefeated but we’re struggling to score. The fluent ease with which we moved the ball around last season appears in flashes of brilliance rather than for extended periods. At our best, Tottenham lay down something so funky, playing with a natural, effortless rhythm. Every player is in tune, on the same wavelength as their teammates. Like all good soul, it moves head, hands and feet and lifts the spirit, but Spurs have lost their mojo.

When Kyle Walker stayed down in front of the Paxton, Spurs’ Saturday afternoon took a turn for the worse. Walker has been Tottenham’s best player so far, adding a spark of intelligence to his athleticism and commitment. More than that, he and Rose are so important to Spurs’ driving beat as the ball flows out wide to them, an out-ball as natural as water rippling downstream, Clyde Stubblefield on the drums or James Jamerson the funkiest of the Funk Brothers.

Losing him was a blow in itself, especially as in this tight match width to stretch the Liverpool defence and by-pass the pressing was clearly crucial. Pochettino’s decision to bring on Janssen in his place was characteristically bold but dealt a grievous blow to our chances of victory. The consequent reshuffle, with Kane dropping off, Alli deeper and Dier shifted to right-back, was not only unnecessarily disruptive, it also fatally weakened us at the point where the midfield battle hung in the balance. Afterwards, the force tipped decisively in Liverpool’s favour and Spurs were always struggling to get a toehold in the match.

Liverpool were highly impressive going forward. They sliced apart our back four, players cutting into the gaps between our defenders as we despairingly tried to work out where they were. Mane is a real talent.

Spurs were stretched and desperate for extended periods, losing possession and trapped in tight corners. Even the manager had the same problem, miscontrolling a ball late on that strayed into the technical area and giving Liverpool the ball back quickly when we were trying to slow everything down. It was that kind of afternoon.

Reserve keeper Vorm kept us in the game, an impenetrable barrier at his near post and twice leave his post to dash off his line and tackle divisively. Without him, this would have been a heavy beating. Man of the match plus some lasting respect for his abilities.

A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club is available now, published by Pitch Publishing. Hardback and Kindle from Amazon lowest price only £9.54. Over the next couple of weeks Tottenham On My Mind will give you a flavour of this first ever history of support and supporters.

Under the cosh, it looked as if we could hang on to half time, then some poor defending from Lamela undid the good work. Much as I admire the work ethic he discovered last year, getting back behind the ball does not mean he knows how to defend. He never looks comfortable – it goes against his instincts and his body position is often askew. Here, he committed a fraction early and was outmanoeuvred, then in a laudable effort to compensate for his misjudgement, Firmino came down in a tangle of legs and Milner scored the penalty.

From the restart, Liverpool carried on in the same fashion. Eventually Spurs had something on target, an Alderweireld header from a corner that was well saved. Just as we were running out of ideas, let alone make any chances, Dier began to push further forward on the right. One good cross eluded both strikers and defenders and there was Danny Rose at the back post to drill the ball home with great precision. It was our only shot on target from open play.

Pochettino has done a wonderful job at Tottenham, without reservation. This however was a mistake. Presumably he chose the starting line-up, i.e. Kane up front on his own and Alli back alongside Lamela and Eriksen to reinforce the midfield, with the Liverpool pressing and movement in mind. There was nothing in the opening exchanges to change that view.

Last season, we were outstanding with everyone playing to the best of their considerable ability. The smallest fall from those lofty heights and we are wound wanting. Dier isn’t quite there. Alli is coming back to match fitness, Dembele waiting to be unleashed – just one more game. Key men Kane and Eriksen are not on song. Both looked out of touch again. Kane’s late mistimed straightforward pass out wide to effectively end a rare smooth move was a frustrating and sad moment. A few minutes later he trooped off disconsolately to be subbed. Our Harry feels the pain as much as any supporter. He knows he had a bad one. Eriksen’s touch deserted him again. With it went our hopes of creating very much. I like Janssen a lot. His rumbustious approach will unsettle unsuspecting defences once he gets his first Spurs goal. On Saturday he didn’t get a kick because no one gave him a decent ball. Last season Spurs played some of the best football I’ve seen in 50 years. Eriksen was major art of that and the absence of soul and funk coincides with his loss of form.

It’s tempting to change things because Kane is so able and intelligent, he can adapt. But our best players should play in their best positions, always, and Kane is our centre forward. I wrote last week of how the team’s rhythm depends so much on what he does. It’s familiar, reassuring. They know what he can do and where he will be. He scores goals, plays others in and makes space. Moving him knocks so much of what we do out of alignment. If Janssen and Kane are to play together, Pochettino has to find a different way of making that happen. For the moment, Janssen can give Harry the rest he needs to find himself once more.

Wanyama had another good game, slotting in to the team as if he’s been part of it for years. Alli (and Kane for that matter) has not regained match sharpness. The international break will not help. More disruption on top of a disjointed pre-season which means Son is still not ready. Add a few knocks and Saturday’s bench looked lightweight. Still, we know the potential is there, know how this team and these players have more to give however much they have given already. Poch needs time with a match-sharp squad to work it out.

And so to deadline day, when the otherwise reticent figure of Dan Levy emerges from the shadows to cast a pall over our prospects. Against type we did our main business early, Wanyama and Janssen plugging the gaps that should have been filled this time last season, and good value in the current inflated transfer market. Then silence. N’Koudou has gone missing, to the point where an ironic Missing Person meme was retweeted on twitter as genuine, but that deal will probably get done to inject the option of pace into the line-up.

Discounting the usual rumours, it felt to me as if Spurs were hanging on to squad players like Mason and Chadli to see if they could upgrade. If not they would stay – wouldn’t they? Chadli is on the point of going to WBA, rumours persist about Mason and Bentaleb has already departed. We need cover and competition for every positon – this leaves a few gaps, the biggest being a creative midfielder to push and rotate Eriksen. We also need some extra class in midfield, because this league will be so competitive this season.

I’ve said recently that I don’t see the problem with a medium-term purchase of an experienced, battle hardened player to take us through a couple of seasons, but that seems unlikely. Which leaves us wondering again. With two days to go, is the cash from outgoings going to be invested in the team or the new stadium? Levy’s futile pursuit of Zaha had shades of the absurd bid to buy Berahino 12 months ago, his low offer being out of step with the inflated prices and seller’s market created by the new TV deal, where clubs are under far less pressure to sell. You would think he had learned his lesson by now.

We’ll know on Wednesday, but to stay competitive, we have to reinforce the squad. But we’re back to one of those key moments again, where the right players can boost the development and fulfil the burgeoning potential of this fine team. Laissez faire will hamper progress.

 

 

Wanyama The Unlikely Saviour As Spurs Stagger Over The Line

In a week full of sprint finishes and even a despairing dive for gold, yesterday Spurs fell over the line like a bloke wearing a Mr Blobby costume in a charity fun run.

The man who dragged us through the tape was Victor Wanyama. Bought to strengthen our defensive midfield, he displayed an enterprising spirit, often moving upfield to support attacks, although he is equally able to play a 5 yard ball sideways with some intensity. He unmistakably relished the honour of scoring the late winner against Palace on his home debut. Kane rose spring-heeled from a corner and his big straight header was touched past the keeper by Wanyama, loitering 5 or 6 yards out. Kenya’s finest footballing son dashed towards the bench to celebrate with his manager. Clearly they have faith in each other.

The goal was a relief, coming when Spurs had seemingly run out of ideas about breaking down the well-marshalled Palace defence. 10 behind the ball, stifle the space, hit us on the break. Limited ambitions – dull – but it worked last season in the Cup and could have been equally as efficient yesterday if they had had any punch in the box. Benteke is the man for them. Zaha especially elusive in the second half but there’s not much to give the ball to once he gets there.

Final ball. Final touch. Fine margins. Tottenham showed last season’s fluency only sporadically but even so, chances were made and missed. Much of our play came through Eriksen who had a bit of a stinker. Given the congested midfield he did well to find space. However he constantly fluffed his lines, hesitating on several occasions and falling between two stools, either shooting feebly or passing straight to a defender.

When the chances did come, they were missed. In the first half, Janssen was unlucky as Hennessey made a double-save low down, as did the Everton keeper last week. Kane shot wide. In the second, Kane missed a tricky diving header. Janssen was impressive throughout. He reminds me of those warriors in Clash of the Clans, muscular legs and wide shoulders, intent on doing some damage. He’s willing, works hard and takes up good positions. Finally, deep in the second half, the ball reached him in one of those positions as he burst into the box. It was by far the best move of the match, started deep by Kane and energised by Dele’s first touch after coming on as sub. There was no finish to match, however, Janssen missed it, but goals will come. It was an impressive home debut.

Spurs lined up at kick-off with three at the back, Dier to the right of that three, but soon reverted to our familiar 4-2-3-1 with Wanyama alongside Dier, Lamela on the left and Kane playing deeper than Janssen although his mobility meant he was able to get alongside the Dutchman. Maybe it was in response to Palace’s formation, maybe just a bluff.

Whatever the reason, it was pleasing to see Spurs opt for an attacking formation. But there are costs as well as benefits. When Kane came into the side, there was a feeling he was better playing off the front, now we see him as an out and out centre forward, albeit a mobile and adaptable one. He looked slightly out of touch, a hangover from the Euros. More to the point, did it disrupt the team’s flow that looked so instinctive last season? Playing with two DMs provides more strength, less creativity. Benefits and costs. We’ll see how it works out over the games to come.

One benefit was Kyle Walker’s excellence. Top speed down the right, slicing diagonally from right to left into the box, rock solid at the back, especially on the far post in the second half when Palace tried to stretch the back four. At least one English player improved after the Euros.

Lamela has a poise and purpose about him this season. Something’s changed. Maybe he can start putting it together now and taking more responsibility. Meanwhile, Townsend exhibited a masterclass in why Poch sold him. Late on he was stunned into immobility when Lamela nutmegged him, but he won’t be the only right winger this season to get no change from Danny Rose.

Sadly for my state of mind an early thought in the aftermath of the goal was how Pardew would whinge about it. Sure enough, he pointed to centre half Delaney’s injury and the consequent defensive reshuffle. In fact, Palace were allowed to bring on a sub before the kick was taken, whereas usually teams have to wait for a sub to come on after an injury.

The yawning gap in the northeast corner is the shape of things to come. Four cranes watched over us, towering above the old ground. Hard to grasp this is the last season here.

Usurping Walker for man of the match has to be halftime compere Paul Coyte. Interviewing Spurs mute new mascot Lily, Chirpy’s female counterpart (just good friends by the way, those rumours can neither be confirmed nor denied), must have been the lowest point of his professional career. Coyte is a bit Smashie and Nicie but he’s a real pro and people who know him confirm he’s a thoroughly decent bloke and Tottenham to the core. MOM is the least I can do for you Paul.

 

Scratch That Itch Spurs

Love is a nagging irritation
Causing my heart complication
Love is a growing infection
And I don’t know the correction
Got me rockin’ and areelin’
And I can’t shake the feelin’

Love is like an itching in my heart
Tearing it all apart
Just an itching in my heart
And baby, I can’t scratch it
Keeps me sighing, ooh
Keeps me yearning

Time to scratch that itch. This love affair gets stronger by the season and I’m in too deep to shake the feeling, even if I wanted to. Even got Saturday 3pm kick-offs.

There’s no debate about the key man at White Hart Lane this season. Mauricio Pochettino has become more than a fine manager. He’s a leader whose passion can inspire players and fans alike. We supporters hurt as the season disintegrated in May, yet no one felt the pain more than he did. He’s been extensively quoted on how his fury infiltrated his holiday and caused nightmares, not that you can imagine a man who spends 12 hours a day on Spurs business ever relaxing. No easy pre-season for the squad as they drifted in from the beaches. First team talk: “I wanted to kill all of them”.

At Everton on Saturday, the players may well have heard the same message at half-time. Spurs were flaccid, a limp imitation of the side that had swept away so many opponents last season with flowing football and intense pressing. Instead, old failings. A jagged, discordant pattern – slack tempo, conceding needless free kicks, Lamela lost, Kane isolated, players turning into trouble and inevitably losing possession. Seen it so many times before. Familiar and unwelcome.

Habitually I like my summer break and ease myself into the new season. This time, I couldn’t wait for it to begin. Not because I think we’re going to storm the league but for the pleasure of watching this fluent, fabulous, dedicated team play the game. Let’s take them all on, be proper contenders, make opponents skip a few fixtures ahead and say ‘we’re playing Spurs in a few weeks’. Let’s make them afraid of us.

No, mama can’t help me
No, daddy can’t help me
I’ve been bitten by the love bug
And I need some information
To help me out this situation

Help me Tottenham, help me. The mug’s free-kick, swung in, misses everyone, keeper by-passed as it plops inside the far post. Five minutes gone. Help me out this situation. Don’t give unnecessary free-kicks away. Put us under a lot of late pressure in games last season when we were on top but conceded the initiative. Wanyama has a reputation for this, he must learn to curb his instincts. A good buy though, value for money. He’s a defensive DM as opposed to players like Dembele and Bentaleb who are deep-lying midfielders and play from the back without being so certain the box. Second half, Wanyama twice made crucial tackles to cover Everton breaks.

More gloom. Lloris injured, a month out he says. Vorm the unlikely hero of the new season? Some guaranteed games might relax him and he could take responsibility in Hugo’s absence. There’s a proven PL keeper there somewhere….yeah, I’ll be holding my breath too. Made a fine save with his feet to stop a certain second, so that’s a confidence builder. Him and mine.

One advantage we have in this most competitive of PL seasons is a settled, established team to pick up points early on while our bigger spending rivals get themselves together. Last time out, the focus on the end of season falling away masks the draws we couldn’t turn into wins that cost us dear between August and October. On the evidence of the first half, that is a forlorn hope.

After the break Spurs picked it up, taking the game to our opponents. Things changed significantly however when Janssen replaced Dier and went up front. Lamela spent more time on the left. As a result, we were able to pose a threat in the box. Janssen had a couple of sharp efforts saved but his value could be seen in the way he rifted right and opened up space. Pochettino making changes here ten minutes into the second half rather than ten minutes from the end. Already Wanyama and Janssen give us more options for a Plan B, the lack of which has been a problem since MP came to the club.

 

Lamela took advantage, cutting in to hurl himself in front of a defender and on the end of Walker’s perfect right-wing cross. A classic diving header to equalise. Many have tipped Lamela to shine this season. I commend the effort he’s put into his game but to me he spends too much time looking lost rather than trying to impose himself on the game. However, if he can continue last season’s run of decisive contributions, whether goals or assists, he’ll prove his worth. The taker of sharp chances, the maker of sharp chances under pressure, that is what Spurs need.

You can’t, and shouldn’t, read too much into the first few matches on the season. Pochetinno’s intensity isn’t an act. It’s how he is, and he will convey this to his players. The disappointment of last season will make them stronger. A season older and wiser, the presence of mind to handle the pressure is the extra ingredient to keep us as genuine contenders in what could be the tightest title race for years.

There’s pressure wherever you look. Spurs played some breathtaking football last term, some of the best I’ve seen in half a century. Now to turn it on in the white hot heat of the crucible of expectation. We are targets and teams will go that extra mile to shoot us down. In April and May, teams sussed us out. Always happens in the PL, Leicester aside of course. Fall back, limit space, maybe concede the wings but reinforce central areas. It chimes with the message from Euro 2016 where teamwork trumped individuality and flair. Pressure to overcome that.

Pressure on our players to perform. We’re a top side, expected to win. Players like Alli and Kane are expected to deliver. The scrutiny will be cranked up, the media waiting to pounce if standards slip. It’s impossible to assume the five players returning from England’s ignominious Euro debacle can be unaffected, physically certainly from a knackering year, mentally too because they embraced failure. Young men like Alli have something new to learn. Pressure to expand the squad. I had hoped for more signings by now, pace up front, some guile behind.

Supporters have a role to play too. Let’s not plunge into this befuddled morass of instant gratification and overweening arrogance that serves as fan behaviour these days. Let’s be different, be Spurs. Let them play, get behind the shirt and give them time. The contrast between Spurs fans at Everton and the home crowd at the Emirates when their sides went a goal down this weekend could not have been more marked. And roll on Saturday. Always yearning…

And talking of Spurs fans (smooth eh?) A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, the story of Spurs supporters and support, is already the best-selling Spurs book on Amazon and it only came out yesterday. More on the book in the coming weeks.

This Photo – The Shape of Things To Come?

Spurs blog 152

This is the ticket availability for Spurs’ three Champions League matches at Wembley Stadium, as of 9.30 on Friday morning. Never red? I’ll make an exception this time. It could prove to be one of the most significant pictures in the illustrious history of Tottenham Hotspur.

As of about now, it means that almost every seat available at the moment has been sold, not for one game but for three, without knowing the identity of our opponents. The screenshot doesn’t actually mean that Wembley is sold out. Yet. The club say they have sold over 41,000 packages to season ticket holders and members. Some tickets are being held back for sale for individual matches only. Assume the away allocation will fill up but there’s Club Wembley, UEFA seats and the ring of shame, the executive boxes. But any remaining tickets will be snapped up by Spurs fans, of that there is no doubt. 75,000 Spurs at Wembley. It will bring the house down.

It’s an uplifting affirmation of the loyalty and passion of Spurs supporters. Any lingering sadness that these games could not played at White Hart Lane as part of the final season there was dispelled when out of the navy blue, the club announced a three-game package costing £70. Even then people on social media were complaining, until it was gently pointed out to them that it wasn’t £70 for one game, but three. No, I couldn’t believe it either.

The significance of this goes way beyond August’s credit card bill. The club’s future revolves around the new stadium. It has breath-taking potential. 61k capacity, stands close to the pitch, an end, in N17, ours not the taxpayers. One thing obstructs progress – the price of seats. Tottenham On My Mind has consistently and vehemently argued that accessible pricing will safeguard Spurs’ future, not just this generation but generations to come. Young people and families now excluded will be able to experience the unique pain and joy of being there. That picture proves it. For the first time, Spurs put that theory to the test. Not bloggers, supporters’ groups, fan activists or serial whingers, but hard evidence that the club cannot ignore.

Drop the price and keep supporters happy. You don’t have to be Brian Cox to solve that equation, yet in the last two decades the Spurs board have struggled to grasp the concept. In that time they have disgracefully exploited the peculiar football laws of supply and demand as distorted by the loyalty of supporters to charge some of the highest prices in the league.

In our People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur, Martin Cloake and I contend that a major theme of our history is how fan culture and identity is shaped by the interaction between the club and its supporters. Organised supporter protest has been a feature of Spurs’ fan culture since the early 1960s when Spurs fans demonstrated against the unfair allocation of cup final tickets. With Scholar, Sugar and Levy, Tottenham fans were one of the first to take protest from the fanzines and the streets into the AGM, the council chamber and the media.

Long aloof and unresponsive, gradually the board have shifted their approach. Partly this is down to economics. The PL luxuriates in a floatation tank filled with the effluence of sponsorship, commerce and distant ownership, isolated from what affects fans’ day-to-day lives, like being able to pay to get in, or racism, or financial probity.

Partly though this is due to fan pressure – from blogs, social media, individual complaints and the tireless efforts of the supporters’ trust. Partly it picks up the national mood. Slowly, too slowly for sure but something is happening none the less, supporter organisations are getting the message through that fans need to be treated with respect. Away tickets are now capped at £30, some teams like Watford and W Ham have introduced highly competitive price tiers. Dinosaurs such as Hull – no concessions for kids or pensioners – will be in for a shock, although in their case they seem to think they can manage without players as well as fans.

Spurs being Spurs tried their best to chuck away the goodwill achieved by the CL pricing by ramping up fan frustration as they watched the Ticketmaster Wheel of Doom move as quickly as Tom Huddlestone on the turn. Dismiss the mealy-mouthed platitudes on the official site about ‘unprecedented demand’ (ask the fans, we could have told you) and time checking memberships before allocating seats. It’s down to money – Ticketmaster did not provide enough server space and/or peoplepower. The less they spend out, the more profit they make. Either it’s their fault period and/or the contract they have with Spurs gives them too much leeway. Either way, the interests of fans come second.

So there you have it. Next year, keep prices reasonable, fill Wembley. It makes the club money, fine by me if fans are looked after too. Year after, fill the new White Hart Lane. Ten, twenty, forty years after that, it will still be full because those fans will have become fans for life. The people have spoken. Great idea. Make it a permanent part of being a Spurs and write the next chapter in the People’s History.