A Hero For Our Time

Spurs comprehensively dismantled QPR yesterday at White Hart Lane with a first half display of sustained flowing football that was delightfully easy on the eye. Everyone contributed and there’s a confidence about the way they went about taking control of the game from the kick-off that is remarkable given this is only Pochettino’s third competitive match in charge. 

From Lamela’s running with the ball through to Rose the overlapping full-back and Capoue’s purposeful graft to Eriksen cushioning a sky-high ball stone dead and thumping a free kick against the bar, the first half was pure purring pleasure. For once Tottenham could be excused easing off in the second. Let’s not get carried away – Rangers were dire – but Tottenham On My Mind’s mantra is enjoy it while you can and if my ambition for this season is to enjoy it all again, this was a great start.

“Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.” (Brecht) Football needs heroes and we’ve been looking for so long. Someone to revere, to get us excited when he’s on the ball, to boast about, to anticipate. In Erik Lamela, maybe the search is over.

There’s a theory that while coaches can make the running style of elite athletes more efficient, for most of us the body sorts out the biomechanics, which is why our gait is individual. Lamela is at his most natural with a ball at his feet. Relaxed and at ease in possession, he has to be on the move. He glides over the turf, effortless yet alert, making his own space and time, in search of an opening. Like a venus fly trap he seduces defenders into believing it’s safe. A slight figure, no outstanding pace, the temptation to tackle is overwhelming. They commit and he’s gone. 

He carries himself with the casual, oblivious insouciance that defines class. See him on the other side of the field, amidst a group of players, he stands out just by being there. He may not spend that much time on the ball but that’s not the point. His sudden bursts into space are game-changers. There’s danger for the opposition whenever he has room to breathe, even if as yet he’s not quite sure what to do with the power at his feet. Reminds me a lot of that great Spurs maverick, Alfie Conn. Yesterday he had more time in the second half as QPR vainly pushed forward and paradoxically was less effective. On one occasion in particular he dallied in the box when beautifully set up. Sometimes you just have to put your foot through the ball. We like our heroes to be fallible. 

Every time he was on the ball, there was anticipation in the air. He worked hard too – a few of his best moments came after he had won the ball in a hard challenge. On the few occasions we spotted him last season, he wandered aimlessly but Pochettino has enabled him to find a role. Capoue and Bentaleb provide a secure platform for the attacking midfield three to take the ball to our opponents. Capoue was strong throughout, although he must moderate his challenges or else he will be booked every game. Bentaleb had a good first half hour, important as we quickly established midfield superiority despite Rangers putting 9 and 10 men behind the ball. Rangers missed a great chance at 1-0 and that was that.

 

In front of them, Lamela, Chadli and Eriksen’s fluent interchanging of positions kept the opportunities flowing. Rose and Dier willingly pushed up to offer width. One big improvement with the new model Spurs is that as one element of the system moves, so the others shift around to maintain stability. Two examples. Last season Adebayor often had to be in two places at once, moving wide to create space while simultaneously being in the centre to get on the end of a pass or cross. Yesterday he missed two good chances, an early header from well within the box and a tame shot from the edge of the area, straight at keeper Green when Spurs had a 3 to 1 advantage after slicing through the Rangers defence. But later, when he pulled wide to unsettle the three centre halves, others took advantage of the space. Chadli at the far post controlled Manu’s cross on his chest and with calm delicacy touched it home for our opener.

Chadli again for the fabulous thrilling third. After a period of possession, Lamela burst diagonally leaving defenders in his wake. Chadli launched himself at the Argentinian’s cross, athletically powering home a thumping header. This was just terrific and Spurs were rampant. 

Also, Danny Rose can time his runs better and move forward knowing that Spurs won’t be exposed at the back if he does so. He’s not trotting forward to make up the numbers. He’s decisive, and his wing eforts helped dismantle the hapless QPR 3-5-2 system, exposing the full-back/midfield whatever (he didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing). Three of our four goals came from crosses from the left. Our fourth, Rose belted onto a Chadli pass and crossed for Manu to slide home. Two passes, 50 yards, 5 seconds. Sitting on the Shelf I could hear Rose call for that ball from the opposite side of the field. That’s how much he wanted it.

Rose was excellent defensively too. When he said he wanted to stay and fight for his place, for once it wasn’t just an empty soundbite. 

I wish Glenn Hoddle well in his new coaching role at QPR but this appeared to be a case of what looks good on the tactics board fails miserably when it comes to putting into practice. It was easy for Spurs to get round their flanks and the three centre halves just confused each other. It’s not that easy to leave so much room in the box but they managed it. Barton dutifully pressed then looked round in despair to see that none of his team-mates followed his example. 

The Rangers fans could not have been more let down by their side, except of course by their manager. Four down, the Spurs fans chanted, “Harry give us a wave”, and he obliged. I could feel the heat of their fans’ anger from the Shelf. There’s an article on the Four Four Two weekly online, entitled something like, Why Do Fans Hate Harry? I don’t hate him but wherever he goes, you don’t need to hand him a shovel, he can dig a hole all on his own.

Dier looks a right bargain of a prospect, a second accomplished game with a bonus goal, a near-post header from a whipped Lamela corner so firm Green got two hands to it but could not keep it out. Pochettino’s substitutions kept our momentum going, with Dembele coming on for Bentaleb and Kane too. He’s in tune with the rhythm of the game and is pro-active.  

 

Eriksen Shows Spurs The Way

Christian Eriksen’s eye-catching debut provided the creative spark that has been missing from Tottenham Hotspur’s season thus far. He was the focus of an easy win against Norwich, strolling through the massed ranks of yellow and green with the insouciant air of a man out for a pleasant afternoon walk.

The supporters quickly made him our own, applauding wildly as he took first half corners. It was a bit over the top – he’s not the messiah, he’s just a fair-haired little boy – but Spurs fans know class when they see it. Two good feet, well-balanced, the upright stance of man comfortable with his body and that precious awareness of what’s going on around him. Above all, he has the ultimate mark of a quality footballer – time. Early days but let’s enjoy this fine performance while we can.

When he heard the criticism over Spurs’ early season sluggishness in front of goal, Villas-Boas bit his tongue and smiled inwardly. I bet he was bursting to tell us about what he had in store. Eriksen was the centre of attention for our players too. For a side that hasn’t worked together much on the training ground let alone the pitch, our understanding and team-play was pretty good and Eriksen was at the heart of it. A little touch here, a short pass there, to feet of course, dropping back and keeping it moving, he kept the side ticking over until his energy fell away and AVB made well-timed substitutions to ensure we kept going.

The little things – in the warm-up Spurs do a surprisingly basic drill where in pairs they pass to each other, first short and then longer. Working with Walker, Eriksen took a single touch before passing and used both feet whereas Kyle sometimes took two, left the ball further from his body and always used his right.

Spurs pushed forward from the start, giving Soldado plenty of support in the box. I would have found a place for Sandro – I can’t resist the vision of The Beast and Paulinho in that central midfield, surely that’s the long-term way to go. However, Sigurdsson, the guy most vulnerable in this set-up, has the asset of being able to get into the box. He’ll never beat his man out wide but offers width to spread the play then comes inside, allowing Rose to get outside him if required. This time, he broke the deadlock with a perfect finish, coming onto Eriksen’s deft pass, a mere two or three yards yet delightfully perfect, and planting the ball into the far corner.

We kept possession well and were always on the move, maintaining a decent tempo for most of the first half without making too many chances. Eriksen created the best, slow-motioning through three defenders deep in the box before Soldado’s improvised back-heel hit the post.

If I were a Norwich fan, I would be less concerned about the ref’s generosity towards Tottenham in the challenges and much more about the quality of my team. They were outplayed today with Lloris a spectator for vast swathes of the game. Other sides will provide a greater test but nevertheless they were well-organised in defence and hard to break down, but we did so with patience and controlled probing. In the past we’ve floundered against sides like this, not now.

Complacency was our only problem. The Spurs defence seemed disoriented when forming up for a free-kick late in the first half, the first time they really had anything much to do.

The first half rather petered out. The crowd was as quiet as a cricket-ground with the low hum of conversations from each stand. Things picked a bit in the second. We scored again, just when there were doubts about our ability to confirm our superiority. Siggy again, a far post tap-in from Paulinho’s cross. Wonder if the keeper should have cut it out. The execution was simple but the result of a passing move that took its time to move the defence around then found the weakness.

We should have scored again, Eriksen shooting when others were well-placed for a pass then Townsend’s shot hit the keeper when Soldado’s touch let him down. There were other oohs and aahs too – Siggy from range trying for his hat-trick, Townsend shooting from anywhere.

We played out time with ease apart from when Lloris, no doubt to end the boredom of his afternoon, dashed out to the edge of his box and beyond to punch the ball away. It was poor judgement but the free-kick came to nothing and the kit-man won’t have to wash the goalkeeping gear because it didn’t get dirty.

Individual performances – everyone played well enough. Paulinho and Dembele interchanged productively. Twice both were inexcusably caught forward leaving the back four unprotected, they will show more caution against better sides. I endorse the posts in the comments section of my last piece from regular correspondents concerned about Tom Carroll’s loan. However, the performances of Rose and Townsend, back from loans fitter, stronger and with the air of a first-teamer, show the value of our policy with these younger, promising squad members. Rose won all his challenges – he’s put on more muscle – and was alert to gaps at the back. Townsend had a good game throughout, always pressuring the Norwich left but shooting once or twice too often. Better sides will exploit his weaknesses when defending but that’s for another day. Nothing to get carried away about but plenty to enjoy.