Stunning Spurs Hunt Glory

I would have written earlier, except after last night I’m awestruck. Still a little stunned, struck dumb by Spurs’ shimmering brilliance. Tottenham tore a resilient Stoke team apart. It was outstanding even for an outstanding season, not merely the best we have played but it bears comparison with the best I have seen in fifty years of watching the club. To come up with that performance under white-hot pressure is beyond all expectations. It is impossible to exaggerate praise.

Spurs scored four, hit the woodwork twice, it could, should have been 6 or 7 and it would not have flattered us. But it’s the manner of the win that captivated. This was football to take your breath away, leaving you gasping in delight and amazement. Open-mouthed gobsmacked chin on the floor point at the screen how did they do that entertainment.  This was football of the highest class whatever your benchmark, whoever your team.

Stoke set up with an enterprising front four that could have unsettled our defence. However, they were not the sort to bust a gut when it comes to tracking back and pressing. Sure enough, after a few early efforts at penning us back near Hugo’s area, it was easy enough to pass our way through or over them. Any defence would have been stretched by the numbers coming at them from all angles. Rose and Walker offered constant width. This was dangerous for Stoke in itself but it also enabled Lamela and Eriksen to come inside. Time and again Stoke were outnumbered centrally as the Spurs players gathered to win the ball then split at all angles like fireworks from a roman candle. The electronic hoardings advertised a future murder mystery evening at the Britannia but the fans didn’t have to wait to see the slaughter. By the end the Stoke back four didn’t know where they were, and wished they were in a warm, dark room with a nice duvet for comfort.

The contrast in the teams illustrated what Pochettino has achieved. It’s not just the press or the movement, it’s how quickly the Spurs players see the opportunities. Kyle Walker, bless him, always popular with me because of his effort but he’s not the sharpest when it comes to positioning. Yet three times he was instrumental in shifting the ball from back to front in seconds because he started his run the absolute split-second a team-mate won the ball. It is only a shame that his final ball was not better but this is not a day for complaints.

Almost churlish to single out any particular player. They were all on top form but the team’s the thing and their understanding was uncanny. Curmudgeonly sceptic I may be but after this I could be convinced that telepathy exists. But – Kane gets better and better. Never take him for granted – he’s curling a shot past four defenders into the far corner, selflessly running along the line to drag defenders out of the way, linking with Alli to form an unstoppable partnership, back in his own half to tackle.

Alli was a constant threat. Some players loiter in between the lines in search of an opportunity. Alli feeds off the unseen energy, bursting into that space, making something happen. He shot over three or four times and missed an open goal but scored two, one the calmest, coolest chip over the keeper, the other a volley from 15 yards. Double figures for the season. He’s just 20 years old.

Praise for Lamela, effective in a central position. One assist but he did the Modric thing of being the man who made the pass to the player who gets the assist. Behind them, Dier provides the security that frees up the movement, Dembele is battling away alongside him and can turn defence into attack.

Eriksen’s sublime first-time lofted through-ball to Alli for the second, how did he see it never mind deliver… again in the move that set up Alli’s miss, that began in Hugo’s 6 yard box….he began the move for Kane’s third…involved twice in the fourth, providing the pass that Alli volleyed in…

Not so long ago, Pochettino was inscrutable on the touchline. Now he’s a dervish, pummelling the ground in frustration that were we ‘only’ two up because missed chances hurt. When Eriksen hit the bar as he was clean through, as the ball thumped against the woodwork I let out a huge groan as if the ball had struck me in the stomach. He feels it as much as the supporters.

Less than 12 months ago, Spurs’ lost 3-0 at Stoke. Centrebacks were Fazio and Chiriches. I’ll leave that thought with you.

I’ll stop now. I’m just not doing them justice. This is unbelievable. Unbelievable not in the sense of far-fetched unreality but because I never for a moment thought this young team, a newish team remember who are only now coming together, that this team could play this well. Pressure has led other sides to wither and wilt, and you can understand that perfectly well. What is harder to fathom, almost beyond our experience, is that pressure inspires Pochettino’s Spurs.

Leicester deserve the plaudits for taking on the vested interests in the Premier League. There never was a fairytale but that’s the media’s fault, not theirs. Recently I’ve expressed my disappointment that Spurs’ achievements would get lost as the media cling on to their precious narrative. After last night, not any more. The whole of football sat up and took notice. And Leicester, we’re coming for you.

Brutal Spurs Shatter United

Some games are won on points as the losers gradually buckle under sustained pressure. Others are won in a sudden percussive explosion of blows that land a knock-out punch. Yesterday’s Spurs victory was the latter. In a seismic 6 minutes Tottenham tore United apart, scoring three times. It was brutal. Even in a season full of incident and memories, it was sensational.

It had been pretty tight for 70 minutes. Spurs had the better of it, especially in terms of chances. Lamela missed a golden opportunity in the first half, heading Eriksen’s floated chip wide from close range, while De Gea had been far more active than Lloris. Hugo stepped up to the mark however for a match-defining save after Martial waltzed through our defence, which in the end was United’s only shot on target.

Sometimes a goal sums a game up. Spurs’ first summed up the entire season. Lamela furiously battled for a ball in midfield, ending up on the floor thrashing away desperately. But Pochettino’s Spurs don’t leave their mates on their own. Kane joined in. As the ball bounced his way, Harry knocked it on to Eriksen without hesitation. He took it on and produced the most perfect ball into the box, bending it round the retreating defenders and into Dele Ali’s stride. The combination of all-out effort, physical presence and sublime skill has been a feature of this season’s success. First touch and the deadlock was broken, as were United hearts. They never recovered.

Ah Spurs, you spoil us so. Our lousy home record against United was yet another impediment to the title chase, as if Sky’s decree that Leicester can play first and set the pace wasn’t hard enough to overcome. The sense that this might be unfair in any way just isn’t a factor for the Premier League, provided they have the TV cash.

All worries gone with that goal. A couple of minutes later, Lamela’s perfect free-kick (not a phrase I’ve typed that frequently this season) was expertly headed in by Toby Alderweireld, a phrase that has been used before now. He is a top class player, unquestionably my man of the season, confirming my view first mentioned in January.

The old Lane was rocking again, not the first time this season and hopefully not the last. The atmosphere was fabulous all game, helped in the first half by United’s lusty voices. But there was more. The ball was gently rolled out of our penalty area. Walker slammed it 50 yards cross field, Eriksen’s delicate flick fell to Rose and his cross was gloriously swept in from the edge of the box by Lamela. I saw the cross, saw his body arc in the act of shooting, saw the keeper plunge to his right but never saw the ball hit the net, only the Paxton rising as a blue and white wall to acclaim it. Barely 10 seconds from nothing to everything, one end to the other.

Lamela’s goal crowned a fine performance. Full of tackles, he ran and harried United players all afternoon. He added what I have wanted all season but have seen only sporadically, that poise on the ball in key moments. Maybe he’s best when he doesn’t have time to think. Later he ran at goal with the ball at his feet only to grind to a halt near the box, as he has many times before.

Not carping, just sharing, but sitting fairly close to the pitch I can see and sometimes hear the players at close quarters. Yesterday there were two occasions when Walker and Eriksen had strong words with our Erik about his positioning when United had possession. He has that habit of drifting inside, for noble reasons as he wants to get involved in the game but he has to focus on his task. Despite this, he should be our ‘11th man’ (the other 10 pick themselves) for the run-in. That goal will do him a power of good. Have I mentioned that I thought it was rather good?

Kind of Spurs to delay the kick-off to allow a loyal fan and his granddaughter to make it on time, having been stuck in Kent after the A2 was completely closed. Or maybe it was the late arrival of the Untied team coach. Not the biggest issue right now but just how can one of the biggest teams in the world not understand that London is actually quite busy even on a Sunday.

Whatever, it was Spurs who looked unsettled to begin with. United had their best period, working hard in midfield to close us down but they were weakest in the final third. Then Spurs had a spell in the ascendancy. Dembele and Kane featured with Rose as ever supporting on the left. Martial’s deployment on United’s left tied Walker down however but he made one fine dash at full-tilt into the box only to see his cross come shot blocked.

Never quite at our best, Spurs kept working. Many moves did not come off but enough did to give us the upper hand after the break. We kept playing, another feature of our play these days. Then the final twenty minutes became a celebration of how far we have come and how well we are playing.

The key moment may well have had nothing to do with Spurs. United’s excellent young right back Fosu-Mensah went off injured. Eriksen tiptoed forward into the space. Whether he worked this out himself or Pochettino deserves the credit, United didn’t spot him, either when he made the first or set up the third. In between, Kane was fouled out there for the second by sub Darmian.

Last week I wrote about my ambitions for the rest of the season, not so much the title but more the manner in which we take on the challenge. Yesterday Tottenham achieved everything I could have wanted and more. So proud.

Spurs Slug It Out But Can’t Land The KO

Spurs came away from Anfield with a point in a match of stunning quality and excruciating tension. The NHS may be busy but all Tottenham fans need a heart check-up. It’s an emergency.

The game crackled with electricity throughout, a feeling a bit like the time I picked up the end of a bare wire when I was a kid. I accidently pulled the flex from the standard lamp in our front room. Playing football, see, the standard lamp was a perfect goalpost. Football, the cause of all my troubles…

Like the shock, this was breath-taking stuff, football of the highest quality played at breakneck speed. Spurs got on top from the whistle, knocking it around with panache and majesty. I could have reflected on how far we’ve come this season, that this is the norm now, but there was little time to draw breath let alone stop and think. Couple of might have beens as Son and Alli stretched to balls that were just a touch too far or when Walker should have shot himself, instead passing to Eriksen who hit it straight at the keeper.

Then Liverpool collected themselves, got their game together and so from then on the two highly drilled pressing teams pressed each other in a pressing contest. Impressively. They hurled themselves at each other like two boxers in a 50s black and white boxing B-movie, going the distance toe to toe without landing the knockout blow.

Spurs were denied any space yet refused to back down, skilfully improvising their way out of defence, sprinkling the pass and move with long passes and crossfield balls to change the point of attack. For their part, Liverpool surrounded the man with the ball in the hope of forcing errors and saw the spaces vacated by our advancing full-backs as an opportunity. Then, they inserted Lallana and Sturridge into the gaps between our back four, allowing the wily Coutinho to find them with clever passes.

Palace and Wham closed down our full-backs. Liverpool instead targeted the awe-inspiring Dembele as our danger man. He shrugged them off like a wounded bull in the ring. Yet while the Reds never downed him, they did enough to limit his effectiveness going forward and in a game of the finest margins, that was sufficient.

Liverpool landed the heaviest blows. Lloris made three excellent saves, those powerful hands pushing away efforts at full stretch then an easier fourth when Sturridge shot straight at him, wasting the best chance of the half.

For Spurs it was one of those might-have-been evenings. The abiding image is of touches being a fraction too heavy and forwards stretching for balls that were just out of reach. I’ve not bothered with the stats but it felt as if we carved out more room in the box than for many a game with no shortage of bodies up front. However, the best opportunities were squandered. Kane uncharacteristically hesitated twice and saw his trademark cross-shot blocked as we glanced up expecting to see it nestle in its customary spot inside the far post. Alli and Eriksen too. Son meanwhile took his chance first time but volleyed a long ball from Dier decisively wide when a mis-kick or toe-poke might have seen it dribble in.

Liverpool finally scored in the second half. Not for the first time Tottenham were split apart by neat, incisive passes and Coutinho slotted home. Replays focussed on how Dier lost his man’s run from the edge of the box. Sure, but for me this was a game where good football from both sides rather than crass errors created the opportunities. Pressing occupied players further upfield, exposing the back four and limiting numbers. Both sides did it supremely well, Liverpool probably had the better chances. One cross come shot, I can still see it in my mind’s eye hitting the back of the net, but thankfully it was an optical illusion and the ball somehow drifted past the post.

But this is Pochettino’s Tottenham and they are relentless. Spurs came at them again, or rather did not stop attacking despite the setback of conceding. When Eriksen chased a lost cause into the corner, nothing much looked on but with the outside of his foot he hooked the ball back into play. There was Kane, one touch away from the defender but also away from goal. Such difficulties mean nothing to him. Second touch, he turned the ball back across the keeper into the goal, a masterful finish.

Good performances across the board with Lloris’s contribution by a whisker having the most influence on the final result. Kane and Alli were not quite as good as they were for England in Germany where the four Spurs players made a fanbase deeply proud and confirming that Pochettino is the best England manager since Ramsey. Predictably though their efforts blunted their edge on Saturday evening. The passes that connected in Berlin were inches wide, the first touch an inch too heavy and as I’ve said this was a fullblooded game with no room for error.

That 11th man problem in the forwards was again highlighted. We need everyone to function to win games of this level and Son for all his movement and effort failed to make an impact in and around the box where we need it.

Spurs have a knack of bringing out the best in their opponents. I keep reading about how Liverpool are weak in the last 15 minutes and concede late goals but no sign of that. Then of course the London derbies turn hurdles into Grand National fences. Claiming Leicester’s scalp doesn’t apparently have the same kudos. Then again, you can’t expect any favours.

Playing like this feels like earning a point not dropping two. I don’t carry a sense of failure from this match, which we could just as easily have lost as won. What can we do except keep playing, keep attacking, keep going for the win as we did to the final whistle yesterday. A wise man once said something about it being better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low. If in the end we’re not quite good enough, so be it. It’s the manner in which we take on the challenge that I’m so very proud of.

Pressure, What Pressure? Dreamy Spurs Rise To The Challenge

Pre-match, the same question is on everyone’s lips. Can we do it? It’s uttered in credulous tones. There’s no big-club hubris or culture of expectation here, more wide-eyed wonder at how Spurs got here, dreamy bewilderment at how it’s going to turn out.

At the latter stages of any competition, the experience of dealing with the pressure in the  past and building precious resilience is a distinct advantage. Been there/done that trumps all. It’s true for supporters as well as players. Truth is, Spurs fans aren’t sure how to react. Most are simply delighted with the way we have played this season, the commitment, the togetherness, the absolutely belting football that has taken us to second place.

Some are looking for problems, fearing it’s bound to all go to pot. This is a reaction we are familiar with, Spurs being spursy, and in times of trouble we all revert to behaviour we are comfortable with. Except spursy no longer exists as a concept. Tottenham are second in the league because we deserve to be, because we are playing better than anyone except Leicester. It’s tough to get to grips with, but that’s our Tottenham.

The supporters may be nervous but the team showed no signs of trepidation. The pressure brought out one of the performances of the season, a comprehensive victory in the most regal manner. The first half was simply sumptuous, a scintillating display of flowing football. Attacks came from right, left, down the middle. The midfield five changed positions as if controlled by a single mind, up front Harry Kane turned in a masterful display, the epitome of a complete modern centre forward.

And the pace of it all. It flashed by in a blur, yet you didn’t want it to end. Stop the clocks, press pause, I want to take a breath, take it all in. Many moves were flawless diamonds, twinkling, beguiling with each facet worthy of further consideration under the jeweller’s eyepiece. At half-time I couldn’t stop grinning.

Scoring after 44 seconds helps, mind. Bournemouth are no mugs with a fine recent away record but I felt beforehand that despite their undoubted work ethic, they would not be able to cut down our space and break up the flow for the whole match. From the kick-off, it was clear they had been told to press Spurs at the back to stop the attacks at source. As their front players dashed forward enthusiastically, they left a gap behind them. With a 40 yard cross-fielder, Lloris found Walker free and on the move, he rushed upfield and his laser-like near post cross was turned in by Kane. Watch a replay – in the build-up Kane refuses to allow the centre half to get ahead of him as they moved across the box together. Top class.

Whether it was pre-determined planning or off the cuff improvisation, Spurs not only kept a high tempo, they looked to pass incisively into space from deeper positions, thus avoiding getting tangled up in a series of one-twos in confined spaces around the edge of our opponent’s box, which has often been the case this season. Bournemouth’s centre halves were slow on the turn. Time and again we sought to slid the ball into the gaps around them. Crosses were earlier and, in Walker’s case, harder and directed into the area between keeper and back four.

Tottenham’s second was a case in point. Forget the 35-yard slam into the top corner, give me a through-ball and shot every time. Wimmer, Dier and Dembele were able to pass up the middle all game. This time, Wimmer’s low pass found Alli. One touch then a through-ball outside the centre-half into Kane’s stride, his first touch was to stroke it past the keeper into the far bottom corner. It was a thing of great beauty, something to cherish.

That pass. Alli was outstanding in this period, linking with Kane and a constant threat. He turned in another quick cross from the right but offside was given, perhaps because Kane was marginally off as the ball came across. Just before half-time he set Kane up but his cross eluded Eriksen on the far post. It was a match of ooohs and aahs. Gasps of frustration as the defence dug out the through balls at full stretch. Only Lamela looked forlorn. He’d taken up good positions all game without getting on the end of anything. Glumly he stared at the goal after Rose shot when he was unmarked 6 yards out. Four or five at half-time would not have been flattering.

Bournemouth made two substitutions at half-time and forced a series of corners but Spurs came closest to scoring. Eriksen led the break from deep in our half, Kane was involved, of course he was, Walker made a lung-busting 70 yards run but seared his shot just wide.

Any Bournemouth revival was snuffed out when Boric clumsily parried Kane’s shot to Eriksen who tucked it home. The players gathered to take a little moment for themselves, no madcap celebrations, just reflection on how well they were playing. The Cherries’ fans were great, their team did not manage a shot on target.

Line them up for a pat on the back. Kane outstanding, two goals, an assist, a defensive tackle when he could easily have taken a breather up field. His movement, touch and link-up play made this one of the most complete performances I have seen this season from any footballer.

Alli terrific in the first, Eriksen throughout. Alderweireld and Wimmer in a personal battle as to who could make the best 50 yard diagonal pass. Dembele strong, Dier sweeping up any danger before it reached the back four. Rose made two fine second half blocks at the far post, doing enough to prevent a bigger forward getting a clean strike on goal.

‘Leicester City, we’re coming for you.’ We’ve sorted it now. For the first home game, the fans placed our challenge in context. The chase is on, 1 down, seven opportunities left. Flat out in every game. Leave nothing in the dressing room. Ditch the prediction leagues, you can’t predict this. Our run-in is difficult, no question, but Spurs have no need to fear anyone or anything. Bring them on, bring them all on.