Tottenham Hotspur That Was The Season That Was. The Future

The final piece of four wrapping up the season, delayed by a few mishaps but here finally

So let’s pull this all together. I’ve looked back at the players, the team and the manager. It’s been a positive season with unforgettably cracking football and the blazing thrill of the Champions League tainted by the frustration of what might have been. The goal is to keep the positives, learn from our mistakes and put them right next year. Get it right and the prospects take the breath away. This is the best squad we’ve had for twenty or thirty years. Well placed financially, without the riches of the the top four but unencumbered by debt, the potential is staggering.

This summer is a watershed period for the club. Lurking in the background are the imperatives of history – Spurs’ saga of unfulfilled expectations and the unerring capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Chairman Daniel Levy and manager Harry Redknapp have momentous decisions ahead of them that could cement the foundations of a top class team for years to come or signal a slide back to midtable mediocrity. It’s that big a deal:. the season ahead of us isn’t just about rebuilding, certainly not another transitional season. This is a once in a generation opportunity that we must seize with both hands.

The most significant decision in the transfer market is not the purchase of a new striker, despite our desperate need for goals. It’s keeping four top class footballers: the divine Luka Modric, one of the finest midfielders I’ve seen at Spurs, Gareth Bale, Rafa van der Vaart and Sandro. Europe may have given us glory: it was also one long advert for the brilliance of these players.

There’s no irresponsible ITK in these pages but this summer there will be an auction between Chelsea and Manchester Untied for Modric. Accounts vary: some say he’ll stay, others that he wants to go. The reality is both are true: I believe he is happy here but every player in the world would consider CL football at double the salary, which is what both clubs would give him. And that’s not including the rest of Europe.

Some say Bale is at his peak and think what we could do with the inflated fee. Madness: no reason at all to dispose of talent like his whose career has only just begun. VDV is not so much in demand but again there’s quick profit to be had with a sale. Sandro is the dark horse that few are mentioning. However, his best games have been against Milan, therefore in full view of Europe’s top clubs, he’s young and to my mind has got the lot. The star of the new era of Brazilian football will be in demand.

As ever Levy is the key. How he deals with that auction and whether he bites will determine the future of the club. £30 or £40m could revitalise our buying power but I would not sell any of them under any circumstances, for this quartet are the bedrock of our future. They are here now, they know each other’s game, they know the club. Build on this continuity, not destroy it. Sadly, I give some credence to the rumours that Modric and Bale have been touted around. I sincerely, desperately hope I’m wrong. Both are so wonderful they make the game a thing of beauty and awe.

The money for new players has to come from elsewhere and not necessarily by reckless firesales. We have to take the hit on Keane, Hutton and Bentley but I would not sell players like Kranjcar, Jenas, Palacios and Bassong, back-up men currently, without ensuring we have replacements in the bag. If they left, I wish them well but won’t lose any sleep. What this does mean is that Levy must decide soon about our own Big Four. Wait until deadline day and we could be left with nothing.

Next, Redknapp has to decide how we are going to play then buy players who fit the bill. As Modric blossomed and VDV arrived unexpectedly, HR’s oh so English big man-little man combo looked old-fashioned. We have to get two pacy, alert strikers who can both score and bring others into the match, not necessarily bag a hatful of goals, the assists total is almost as significant. They may not play together often. This season people have said Rafa doesn’t fit in but I would play around his skills, so that’s a free role off a single striker with another attacking midfielder to cover for him. Kranjcar would be ideal despite my misgivings about his efforts but looks like he’s on his way. Lennon may not have the luxury of being both a winger and a regular starter. However, variety and variation are essentials in what could be a season of over 60 matches in very different situations. Whoever, we must score more from midfield.

Another centre half is likely, preferably one with a bit of pace. Kaboul could well make a breakthrough into top class. Friedel is a decent signing. Free, solid, capable, he’ll either give Gomes a gee-up or compete with a replacement as well as providing cover. Again I’d be in no rush to sell Gomes: we must avoid the mistakes of L’arse and ensure that if we buy, it’s a genuine upgrade.

Whoever we buy, they must have two qualities: the ability to keep possession and the bloody-minded focus on being a winner as epitomised by Willy Gallas. This is what we’ve learned during our travails in Europe and at the top of the league.

Finally, let’s not forget the overall plan that got us here. Several years ago more out of necessity than design, we started to identify, buy and nurture talent for the future. It’s not been smooth by any means and many have fallen by the wayside but here we are with Bale, Modric, Hud, BAE, Lennon and now Rose. We must think now about the next crop. it takes time and no little agony as we watch their growing pains but it’s worth it.

So it could be a momentous window as make our plans, but ironically not in the way I envisage because two crucial matters totally beyond our control could scupper the whole voyage. Redknapp’s tax case could at best leave him tainted, at worst a criminal, while if Capello keeps this up, England could come calling sooner rather than later. Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to it already.

Tottenham On My Mind will be here during the summer as and when. Many thanks to everyone who has visited the blog this past season, especially those of you who have taken the time and trouble to make the comments section so vibrant. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate your comments

Tottenham Hotspur That Was The Season That Was – The Players

The second in a series this week – the Players

Rubbishing Crouch and Jenas, demanding a wholesale clear-out, insisting on bids for every striker in La Liga. If only it were that straightforward.

It’s not just about the individuals, it’s where they will fit into the shape of the team as defined by our tactics and how they combine with each other in crucial areas of the field such as up front and in central defence. It’s also going to be a busy old season, with two European games before the end of August let alone the league and two cups.

The absurd demands of the Europa League mean that we have to have a squad capable of playing consistently well over a long period of time. Old heads to steady the ship alongside youngsters who should relish the chance not only of first team experience but also of reminding the manager that they deserve a step up into contention for a league start. We have much to learn in this respect – last season we could not rotate the squad to any extent without significantly reducing our chances of winning.

Redknapp has some big decisions to make regarding our approach next season. In the previous piece I advocated a more cautious approach – reality dictates that our open formation neglectful of our defensive responsibilities will not bring sustained success.That doesn’t mean we have to be dull and boring – that’s not what I want from my Spurs and that too does not win trophies. It’s asking a lot but we have the nucleus of a team who are able to deliver, better perhaps than for twenty or thirty years. Top class players who could be the heart and soul of a consistently successful team for years to come.

Some of those partnerships are well defined. Our strikers have looked lost and lonely for much of the season, an estranged couple waiting for the divorce papers to come through. At the back Dawson’s game has improved but he’s mightier still alongside Ledley’s pace and anticipation. Other combinations are no less important, however. If our wide midfielders are going to attack, perhaps they are better off having a defensive minded full-back behind them, who prefers to stay back. Alternatively, a flank combination of full-back and attacking midfielder is potent going forward, then an extra defensive midfielder to slide across can protect us at the same time. It’s about equilibrium – change one part of the system and the rest has to readjust to maintain the balance.

Finally, one formation isn’t enough. We need not only to have  plan B at our disposal, we should be comfortable  and familiar with any changes necessitated by the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents or the need to change gear during a game.

The very roles themselves have been altered by the demands of success in the modern game. Flexibility has a high value, the ability to be mobile and alert physically and mentally, to play a variety of roles often within the same minute or two never mind in the same game. Midfielders have to defend whether they like it or not. A player like Defoe suffers because he’s geared to do his best work in the box but doesn’t bring other players into the game. In the crucial position of defensive midfield it is no longer sufficient to be able to run and tackle. You have to be able  to pass the ball and turn defence into attack.

Goalkeepers

Ah Gomes, you were so nearly the love of my life. Our very own cult hero, derided by many, we could see the potential. We nurtured and protected you until the world saw what we already knew – you could really do it. Until this season when you kept chucking the ball in your own net. Overall he’s not had a bad season, making many vital saves almost as a matter of course. The problem is, the high profile cock-ups have ben recent and stick in mind. Better on crosses lately, the real problem was not the soft one against Madrid or Chelsea (although of course actually that was a save because it didn’t go in) but the panic shown against Blackpool and earlier versus Inter. Mad dashes off the line are one thing but pulling down players for no real reason indicate a lack of composure essential for any reliable keeper.

Reliable, that’s all we need. Solid rather than spectacular will do, good handling, takes the crosses, cuts out the mistakes in front of a sound defence and maybe doesn’t always get into the top the corner. I’d keep Gomes unless we can buy a world-class upgrade.

Cudicini has been a capable back-up but we need more. His legs have lost their spring and anyway I’d prefer to see someone challenging Gomes for the first team place rather than just hanging around for injuries. Pietklosa came well rated but ignored, while if Alnwick cost a penny it was too much. His signing shows the dangers of buying a back-up as opposed to someone who could mount a proper challenge for the first team.

Defenders

A few weeks back i started selling the house and all my possessions, not for the Rapture but for a charitable medical foundation with the sole aim of healing Ledley knee. A true Tottenham great, I raved about him a couple of weeks ago. His magnificence radiates not just from his pace, ability to read the game and perfect timing, it’s his dedication to just playing. he’s adapted his game, using short scurrying strides when once he strode across the turf, minimising his running to save every last drop of energy for the few yards that take him into the right place at the right time. The many fans who wrote him off should be ashamed of themselves. They failed to recognise the willpower of the truly great.

However, he can’t play every game. Dawson can, or appears to want to. Undeterred by a serious injury sustained whilst playing for England. he’s come back stronger than ever. He’s learned to deal with his lack of pace and doesn’t plough in high up the field, timing his interventions with assurance. He does his best work  in the box, however, as does Gallas, so Spurs benefit from some defensive midfield protection. This was conspicuously absent in the matches where our back four were stretched. Any defender on the planet looks uncertain if left exposed and vulnerable.

Gallas and Assou Ekotto both demand special praise for outstanding seasons. Harry’s best acquisition, once fit Gallas has proved himself a fierce warrior. His performance at the Emirates was one of my highlights of the season, his goalline clearance against Milan one of the moments. No hint of the dressing room disruption that has tainted his reputation. On the contrary, everyone around him must surely learn from and respect his attitude. In two or three games he has been injured yet played on as if nothing happened. At the Lane I sit close enough to the pitch to see his pain was real, yet he simply will not bow to the pressure.

If Redknapp likes a player, he will give that man a chance. Although Benny appears not to be moved by anything much, he’s taken his chance, upped his game and become a canny consistent footballing full back, good touch, bit of pace and neat on the ground. He still makes mistakes, usually due to his welcome obsession with not conceding possession – ironically he tries so hard to hang on to it for the team rather than wang it away that he ends up being caught – but the moments where his brain checks out have virtually disappeared. He still needs to tuck in closer to his centrebacks, though.

Another player given his chance by Harry and who has taken it is Kaboul. Sometimes he still looks like an overgrown Labrador puppy but once those growing pains disappear, we have a top class centre half versatile enough to cover at full back. These things are important if we are playing over 60 games a season with squads limited to 25. Another one with a great attitude.

Woodgate’s demise seems to be premature with rumours of a pay as you play deal on the table. Only the club know his true fitness but it will have to be good to get a squad number, given that Ledley will certainly be there.

Less good news on the right flank. Corluka has been extremely disappointing this term. We’ve seen little of the positional shrewdness and strength on the ball that used to cover his chronic lack of pace, whilst his distribution has not been up to previous standards. I still see him as a centre back playing out of position. With Hutton, it’s the opposite – his pace can’t make up for his dreadful positioning. He has no future here.The speed of  Walker’s development has certainly surprised Harry but he will be first choice and vindication of our policy of armin gout young players to gain firs team experience, although from what little I’ve seen, he has work to do on his defensive play.

Bassong needed a run but never quite deserved it on the basis of his play. he had a good subs appearance marking Drogba but fatally he lets players get behind him

Danny Rose. Was he a winger or a central midfielder? No, he’s a full-back and a damn promising one at that. Remarkably good positioning and determined in the air, he’s definitely a first team squad man.

So we are in good shape at the back. Bassong will probably depart although he has the ability to stay, and we will go for another centreback, It’s up to the coaches to weld them into a unit – the raw material is there already.

Midfield

I have never made any secret of my love for Luka and I remain besotted despite his many other suitors and admirers who belatedly have succumbed to his charms. My eyes linger for a fatal fraction of a second after the ball has left his foot, just to see him run. One of my moments of the season was against Newcastle, when as the knee-high tackles flew in, three opponents descended upon him in the centre circle, scenting blood. Waiting until he could feel their breath on his collar, he dropped one shoulder, left two of them stranded, beat the third and was away in a flash, the same focussed, purposeful expression on his face, already looking to shift the ball forward in search of an opening. World-class, he makes football beautiful. One of my favourite players of the last thirty years.

Gareth Bale suffers from being too good. Fans’ expectations reached absurd heights, then he gets criticised for not doing the impossible. This is the Premier League not Melchester Rovers. He’s marked by two or three players most games so he can’t run through the lot of them any more. To me it is astonishing how often he almost does. I’ve never seen someone as big and powerful with such pace and touch. If our strikers had been half decent he would have twice as many assists. He delivers more than enough excellent crosses despite the attention he receives now, and his exploits against Inter are the stuff of legend. Long term his best position may be full-back, where his height and pace will be handy in defence and he can make runs from deep.

Sandro is the discovery of the season. His performances against Milan were those of a man who’s played 210 games, not 10. He’s everything a modern DM should be – moves well, slots into the back four and tracks the runner, yet in a trice is up the other end, and he can pass it too. Genuinely a world-class prospect, he and Modric are already a magnificent pairing and could be the cornerstone of years of success.

Pienaar will fit in well next season: his movement and passing can keep attacks going. I’m less enamoured of Kranjcar, Jenas and Palacios. The former may be able to hammer the ball in from distance but he’s overweight and does not work hard enough. If a theme of this year has been the way several team-mates have made the most of their opportunities, he seems intent on wasting his considerable talents, although to be honest he’s had little chance to shine of late. I always liked JJ although he’s so frustrating. he seems to have the ability to do anything and everything, effortlessly, yet he’s never consistent. His arrival as sub has injected drive in the second half when we have been flagging but he’s now in Sandro’s shadow. Palacios is more of an old-fashioned midfield ball winner and does not either pass the ball well enough or tuck himself into the back four when required. We may have outgrown them all.

Lennon’s game is still developing and he’s come on again this time but his final ball, although much improved, needs further polishing. He’s a fine sight whizzing down the wing: his future to me is more about the shape of the team and whether we can afford to have so many attack-minded players in the team at once. Believe me, I hate to say this, but he and Bale have to work back more than they do.

Hud did well before his injury. We seemed most comfortable when he slotted in in front of the defence and we don’t make the best use of his passing range. For someone who once played centre half, he has little awareness of his defensive responsibilities: it’s partly his stature but mainly he does not have that sense of anticipation. A fine player, if he had that first yard in the head he’d be a world-beater.

Van der Vaart was a steal at £8m. We’ve learned enough to know that he must play in that free role between the midfield and the striker. More about this in my final segment of this series, about the future, but suffice to say I would gear the team to play to this strength, perhaps sacrificing a winger and definitely finding a striker who can genuinely play up front on his own. Rafa can play off and around him with the midfield piling through to help out.

Once again we have riches almost beyond my dreams. Another wide man with different skills to those of Lennon to prevent Luka being moved wide is on the cards and perhaps some experience for the long haul ahead. Again the coaches have to the get the formation right. If Hud could lose 7 pounds, who knows?

Strikers

This is the shortest section but has been the biggest problem all season. Shortest because I’ve been banging on about the same things all season, most recently in the previous blog post.

Crouch is immobile, his touch is dreadful and his accuracy from the balls he wins in the air is poor. We’ll always get something but I want more than a percentage game. Moreover, his mere presence encourages the high ball, thus negating the advantages presented to us by the skilful players in the rest of the team. If he hammered in towards the goal with headers, touches and deflections, that would be fine, but he doesn’t know where the goal is half the time and a nudge in the back takes him out of the equation.

Pav is great if he has the time. Many of his goals are scored when he can push the ball a metre or so ahead of him and move onto it. Sunday was the prime example. The reality is, this seldom happens in the Prem and his touch lets him down more often than not.

Also technically poor is Defoe. Erratic ball control, inadequate positioning and a reluctance to get in where it hurts in the box have led to a poor season punctuated with a few great goals, again when he has the space to move onto it. He’s worked harder than ever (not on Sunday) and his link up play is better but that does not mean it’s up to scratch. Hugely disappointing.

In this department, major surgery is required.

The rest

Some players have not been around for a while and we’re never going to see them in a Spurs shirt again. Keane has been an example to every professional footballer that the grass is not always greener. Stick to what you know, where you feel comfortable, and it will bring out the best in you. I’m sure he’ll find another club that he supported as a boy.

I was all for the signing of David Bentley – he worked hard and his crossing would be just what we need, so I take no pleasure in identifying why it’s not worked out. The signs were there early on. Suddenly he began to appear in the media, opinion pieces and interviews. His agent was shaping him to be the star he was in his own head but he failed to realise you have to work at it. He didn’t have the nouse to realise that alongside Modric and others, he could cover up his inability to beat players and his lack of pace. A real shame.

Dos Santos never showed any consistent talent. To be fair to him, he was always stuck on the wing (small and skilful, see) whereas for Mexico he has a freer role across the pitch. Levy will have to take the hit on all three.

Next – the manager

Modric Takes Over

You can tell the true value of a player by their absence. On Sunday, Luka Modric jogged purposefully on to the pitch at half time and proceed to transform a lacklustre Tottenham team.

Before and after – the footballing equivalent of a Head and Shoulders advert. Before – dry and dull, all the shine has gone, flecks of ugly debris all around. After – why, bright and shiny, I feel like a new person and the boys love it! Cue swishing of improbably thick and glossy mane, a suggestive look over fluttering eyelashes.

Troubled and toiling as the first period ended, unable to find a way through Charlton’s massed ranks, Luka took over. No fuss or flamboyance. Head down, into midfield, straight into the groove. He came deep to pick the ball up, moved it, then advanced 15 yards, more space, me again, come on, a touch, run again. Suddenly everyone is moving easily, freely, with purpose and energy.

This is what he does. Many players have fantastic skills, precious few have the ability to change totally the way 10 other players behave. And here’s the thing – he just gets on with it. Job to do, no time to pick up the pace of the game, I’ll alter the pace to suit me.

Before Modric...then Apply Well and Instantly...

It was no less remarkable for being against a League One team (is that what the Third Division is called? I still have to think about it). Charlton, buoyed by excellent support from the stands, closed us down remarkably well. Any pretentions to push us back gradually faded as the half went on, although they came close to scoring early on with a couple of balls across the box that stretched us unnecessarily. Nonetheless they erected a solid barrier in front of their back four and we seldom looked like scoring.

Credit to our opponents for an organised response but we also played into their hands. We have a fine squad but the absence of key men always shows. Harry’s team selection of a strong back four rightly gave few concessions to our lower league opponents and Defoe could provide some sparks up front. However, the midfield came unstuck, or at the least the two most experienced members, the ones we were supposed to rely on, did.

Palacios and Sandro, two defensive midfielders side by side, offered no creativity or inventiveness. An odd selection. Both seemed uncertain about where they were supposed to be. To his credit, Wilson looked for the ball and took up advance positions that didn’t suit him but once more he gave the ball away too often and when under little pressure.

I’ve always appreciated what he does and will be forever grateful for his work when we were at the bottom of the league. His was the single most valuable contribution to our rise up the table. However, he looks to have fallen behind our current levels. Simply put, it’s pointless winning the ball if you give it away again. Also, I still think he drifts around at the edge of the box when we don’t have the ball rather than tucking in closer to the back four. I counted at least three Charlton raids out wide when he was loitering at the edge of the box covering a run that no one was making.

..Modric Works Wonders! And It Shows...

Sandro looks a good prospect to me. Raw around the edges and too reckless with his tackling, nevertheless he’s mobile, hard to shift and confident in possession. He takes up defensive positions naturally and when we get it back can drive forward into space to turn defence into attack. He had a decent second half, sure of his place alongside Modric. I don’t want to either write off Wilson or make extravagant claims for the Brazilian, but with Palacios the man taken off at half-time, without being premature it was hard to escape the feeling that one was on the way up as another was falling in the opposite direction.

The rumours that Krancjar is on the move may be true after another poor performance. It’s hard to see why he’s wasting his considerable talents. He seems bulky and below peak fitness, and not that interested in doing something about it. He wasted this chance either to force himself back into the team or at last put himself in the proverbial shop window. His limited defensive abilities and lack of pace make it hard to see where he will fit into the present team. A real pity, he’s so talented.

As it was, he was asked to drift inside but we are used to having width these days and Benny didn’t overlap into the space he vacated. Then, Niko was gobbled up by the waiting Charlton defenders, shooting increasingly forlornly from further and further out, apparently oblivious to the presence of defenders between him and the goal.

Pav was in the middle of another of his ineffectual days. He dropped deeper to look for the ball and hopefully to shift Doherty and Dailly out of the back four but he lost control so often that they were largely untroubled. The ginger Pele therefore stood resolute and, well, not so much tall as slightly stooped. According to Wikipedia he’s not 30 til the end of the month…. Never the most agile of footballers, the Doc finally got it together at the start of one season, rather like Dawson started to blossom. Then he broke his leg in a televised match at Everton and was never the same again. He would have moved on anyway, he’s a lower league natural, but that leg break did him much harm. He’s not changed in the interim – first touch the ball slid two metres from his foot, but in the first half we kindly played to his strengths. We crossed it and he and Dailly headed most of them away. I liked the way he looked to the Park Lane at the end of the game and we gave a round of applause. He still feels it, being a Spur.

Enter Luka and we took them apart. For 15 minutes he was faultless. Just as I was about to moan about another aimless long shot, Townsend scored a debut goal, not the hardest shot but perfectly placed inside the post from 20 yards. Defoe was rampant, taking the ball right across the box before slotting home for the second, then the third from a rebound. We missed a few more and Cudicini made three decent saves but we were never in much danger. Like many sides, Charlton had the organisation but fell apart once they had to move forward. They have nothing up front.

It will be fascinating when Huddlestone returns, because earlier in the season this very different style of player made the team feel most comfortable. He and Luka could become a combination that dreams are made of, if Big Tom does more defensively. This could really be something big. And I don’t mean Tom’s tuchas.

Before the game the Charlton left back must have been delighted that Lennon was absent. Little did he know. Azza at his trickiest could not have given him a harder time. Repeatedly Andros Townsend took him on and took him apart. Twisting this way and that, right foot on the outside, left foot coming in, Townsend on this display had it all, including a couple of posey tricks and flicks to rub it in. A fine debut full of promise. He had good control, keeping the ball close while he ran at full tilt and as I said could come off both feet.

In other news, David Beckham is training not playing now, but by the time I finish typing this sentence it may all have changed, or he may be having twins. I don’t know. I’m less bothered by this than I am by Harry’s clear irritation on 5Live. When asked about it, he snapped at the interviewer.

“I don’t know what the issues are… and I don’t know the answer. I wish I knew…it’s sorted about above my head. I don’t think there’s a problem with the insurance, I had that wrong.”

Sounds like he’s in the dark and that Levy is pulling the strings. In playing matters the manager must have overall control, although Harry added that he said he would like Beckham at the club.

One reason for Beckham’s arrival is in this column by financial journo and Spurs author Martin Cloake:

“The news sent shares in the North London club shooting up on Friday. This morning, they are back down. Between the hot rumour and the cooling down, the team comprehensively beat Charlton to qualify for the fourth round of the FA Cup. This fact did not have the same affect on the share price as the rumour.”

http://www.dailyfinance.co.uk/2011/01/10/fa-gets-new-sponsor-beckham-update/

 

 

 

 

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Does Moyes Read Tottenham On My Mind?

David Moyes reads Tottenham On My Mind. Obvious. How else would he know that the best way to counter our attacking tactics is to give us a taste of our own medicine. I’ve been saying so for ages, and more fool the rest of the Premier League for not paying attention. Big Sam for one. Comes to the Lane with a revolutionary 5-5-0 formation, four down in a trice, sacked a few weeks later. Sam Allardyce – My Part In His Downfall. At least Tottenham On My Mind can take some crumbs of comfort from last night’s emphatic defeat by Everton.

From first whistle to last, we were never comfortable. Saha and Beckford’s movement, coupled with Coleman’s right side raiding pulled the back four all over the place and occupied the midfield to snuff out our attacking intentions at source. Said midfield were also strung wide apart to the point where Bale and Lennon were as far apart as Peter Andre and Katie Price. Later, as the match wore on, Lennon, Kranjcar and then Keane gradually faded from view like ghosts disappearing into the mists on the moor. Did they ever really exist? The apparitions on Most Haunted have a greater presence.

We witnessed a series of poor individual performances but this is one for collective responsibility. The midfield provided the back four with absolutely no protection, bar a few blocks and tackles from Jenas. Bale and Lennon should have tucked in more during the extended periods when we did not have possession, a fault that we’ve seen before this season, especially in Europe. If they don’t work back, the full-backs are unprotected and vulnerable. Hutton and BAE both had torrid times, Benny in particular as Everton repeatedly pushed down our right, and Hutton’s distribution was rotten, but defending is primarily a team affair. They should not have been left one on one with their opposite number. As a result we were treated to the slightly bizarre sight of Phil Neville as the flying full back, cutting the ball back from the byline. He and Coleman combined well, creating several two v one situations.

A Pictorial Representation of the Gap Between Our Defenders

In short, we were a mess. Saha had so much time and space to shoot, although his was a well-struck shot. With nothing in front of him, Gallas had to come way out of his comfort zone and Saha found the room behind him. This pattern continued throughout the game and great credit to an Everton side whose passing and movement made us struggle in the first half, then in the second we went under, never to bubble back to the surface. Overwhelmed, we held out only because in front of goal, Beckford is rubbish and Saha and others little better.

It’s a while since we’ve been as badly mauled. Saying that it had to happen sometime is in this case a little more than mere philosophising to excuse a defeat. We have been stretched badly on other occasions but managed to get away with it. However, this Everton performance was the best I’ve seen against us for a while now. They were superior in every department. They applied themselves much better whereas we looked jaded, and passed the ball extremely well. In contrast, in the second half we reverted to the bad old habits of conceding possession.

Yet if we had taken the chances that came our way the outcome could have been different. Equalising was straightforward enough, and without playing well we made other chances in a first half that ebbed and flowed, with first Everton then ourselves getting on top before Everton finished the half the stronger.

VDV was running wild and free, largely unfettered by the opponents’ defence. Modric also did some good work before fading. He was pressured hard in the second half by his opposite number. We made passes and half-breaks into the channels but missed or the ball was just cut out. Crouch once again delighted in the way he set up Rafa’s goal (he’s assisted 6 out of Rafa’s 11 goals) then infuriated by missing decent chances in the air and on the ground. That header in the first half – for goodness sake. The offside goal – what a waste. In the home game, Baines did the best marking job on him this season by tucking himself into Crouchie’s armpit and easing him off-balance. Did him every time. Neville sussed this by the end of the first half and the big man couldn’t handle it. If only he didn’t do things like that brilliant run near the end, we could consign him to the bin, but that’s what makes him so exasperating, the ability is there, it’s just that he fails to make use of it so often. Too often.

Half time provided some respite and a chance for Harry to regroup. Before the break, JJ was being bellowed at by Jordan and Bond. That may not be unusual – one imagines Jordan’s normal conversation as starting with the bellow and building from there. Also, Harry was taking notes – never seen that before, although he was using the same type of biro that I have in front of me. Me and ‘arry – two sprigs from the same bush, us.

Didn’t do any good. By the middle of the second half I lost count of the number of times that we gave the ball away. Luckily it was almost matched by the number of Everton missed chances, but in the end the goal was both inevitable and deserved. By this time, Everton were swinging it around like champions, we were bewildered. Bale was off injured. Neville gave him the treatment but no worse than the tackling he’s received earlier this season. Niko came on and was pathetic. An inexcusably feeble effort. If you can’t be bothered, just leave.

Gomes did well. He might have parried the second out wide but it was a fizzing shot. No chance with the first – credit to Saha for a firm, well-placed effort. Otherwise he had plenty to do, being unprotected and all, and he handled it all. In particular, he stood tall when Coleman was given the freedom of Merseyside, rather than committing himself early as he has done in similar situations lately, and this was a factor in Coleman’s miss. Hopefully with Tony Parks he’s working on righting that fault.

A forgettable night. Let’s console ourselves with the fact that Everton played really well, that we remain 4th and we took 9 out 12 points in 4 knackering games in 10 days.

A final more sobering thought. Perhaps our open style caught up with us last night. The idea lingers, that Everton were the first team to exploit fully a weakness in our play. The midfield have to be 100% to make it work, in terms both of going forward and when we don’t have the ball. I didn’t see the game but I strongly suspect the two teams at the Emirates didn’t approach the battle for the CL spots in quite the same way. Maybe we have to moderate our natural instincts for the long term good. One thing’s for sure – we can’t play like that again in the future.

 

 

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