Krul Irony as Lloris and Spurs Excel

Away season tickets – the must-have accessory for any self-respecting Spurs fan. Props to all who made the long and hazardous journey to Newcastle last night through the windswept Armageddon that is the British weather these days. Those of us who made do with a stream could hear you loud and clear and enjoyed one of the honeypot delicious performances of the season almost as much as you did.

Spurs have one of the best away records in the league and this was the best of the best. The better side for the vast majority of the match, a tight, unified team effort provided the platform for Adebayor to score twice and lead the line like a master, while Bentaleb’s calm dominance of midfield proved once more that he is a high class prospect. Dembele was strong in an unusual role on the right while the return of Younis Kaboul alongside Vertonghen was very welcome. Even Chadli scored for goodness sake.

For once there was plenty of competition for man of the match but Hugo Lloris streaked ahead at the end. Flinging himself to all four corners of his goal as Newcastle finally emerged from their self-induced torpor, he made sure there were none of the Typical Tottenham wobbles late on. That strong left-hand is becoming his trademark. For the third game running he plunged low to his left to push out two chances, then kept his best til last with a reaction left-handed tip-over. Underlying the showreel saves is a determination to cut out the mistakes that have bedevilled his game since his injury versus Everton.

There is a context for all this: Newcastle were dreadful. They signalled their intent right from the beginning when Santon got caught in the corner for Dembele to steamroller in. Manu’s shot was deflected just wide. Not to be deterred, Santon did it again. We pushed forward scenting blood.

In a hectic opening, there was poor defending at both ends, ours from a free-kick when we couldn’t sort out the marking. Cue Hugo’s first save although Cisse should have put the ball further from his body.

It was very open and entertaining but then settled into nondescript period with Spurs holding sway without getting anywhere. Both teams gave the ball away frequently. Then a fine piece of football from Bentaleb created our opening goal. He shepherded the ball out of danger, deep in our half, then drove on with that seemingly effortless running style that appears slow yet takes him away from defenders with pleasing regularity. He beat one with skill, held off another with strength then crossed from the left into the danger area at the edge of the 6 yard box. Krul, on fire in the home fixture before Christmas to secure the Barcodes’ victory, got his hand to the ball but only to obligingly place it onto Adebayor’s left foot.

We should have had more before half time. Lennon hit the post and Paulinho split the defence apart with a ball to Walker whose cross was scrambled off Azza’s toes in the nick of time. The half fizzled out, Spurs on top by not giving the ball away as often as the Geordies.

Paulinho looked more fluent yesterday evening – I thought he was stiff and glum on Sunday. Good rather than great but he has that ability to up the pace suddenly. In the second half our attacks had been one-paced. The Brazilian seized on an opportunity, initiated a quick one-two and was on hand to score as Krul again parried rather than cleared.

The goals emphasised Spurs’ control rather than establishing it. Newcastle played as if running through treacle and we took full advantage. Adebayor made it three, banging home a ball on the bounce. The Barcodes looked dangerous for the only time in the game. We sat back too deep and failed to stop the crosses coming in, a fault of our attacking formation and the unwillingness of the wide midfielders to cover as assiduously as they should have done. What the back four could not handle, Lloris welcomed. Chadli scored the fourth and final goal, the classic right-foot curler into the top far corner from out on the left, but he had more time to line it up than Tiger Woods with a five iron to the green.

12 years and counting into Levy’s chairmanship, £80m give or take spent in the summer and I did not expect to watch an inexperienced manager learning on the job. It’s alternately fascinating and frightening. Sherwood has not played the same formation for two games running since his first couple of 4-4-2 efforts. Yesterday he went 4-3-3 with Lennon wide left and Dembele wide right. Newcastle did not play wingers so this gave us numbers in the centre where we were strongest. Good tactics. supposedly he doesn’t like DMs yet our efforts rested on the foundation of Capoue sitting efficiently in front of the back four. Ungainly and sometimes wasteful, he nevertheless gave others freedom, notably Bentaleb, who could get forward, leftish, to prompt and harass.

Kaboul available, Kaboul straight back into the side to replace Dawson who until now has played every minute of every game. The shape of things to come. A big man, he looks overweight to me. However, his timing in the tackle was excellent and he had enough pace to repeatedly snuff out the rare moments that Newcastle looked dangerous. Lennon again did little. Out on the left, he kept on turning onto his right foot, and turning into tackles when he should have been running wild and free into the space that Capoue and Bentaleb gave him. Interesting that we had more space because Demebele and Paulinho did not get in each other’s way down the centre.

Inverted wingers. High defensive line. Dedicated DM. Sound familiar? Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, as Tim would never say. Let him take some credit here, though, for getting this to work better. Away from home, his personnel and tactics are shrewd and insightful. Add that to his motivational powers, enabling Adebayor to blossom like a teenager again, he did well last night. Not everything has worked so far but he’s learning fast. Only fair therefore to conclude with this stat courtesy of Four Four Two’s James Maw via twitter last night: I am not sure how it has happened but this is the closest Spurs have been to the top of the table at this stage of the season since the Premier League began.

 

High Comedy At Spurs

Several years ago I spent an agreeable few days in Venice. Pretty soon I ditched the guidebook and ended up just meandering through the narrow streets or toodling round the canals on the vaporetti rather than seeing the sights. I loved the atmosphere but didn’t achieve very much.

A quarter pounder with onions outside the Colonel’s burger van in the Paxton doesn’t quite have the same ambience as a macchiato and ice cream in San Marco but the pleasant disorientation is not dissimilar, a blissful disconnect between surroundings and emotions, being there but not fully involved.

This is an odd phase for Spurs fans. There’s so much going on – new manager, different formations, the dust not quite settled yet from AVB’s departure. Yet it’s hard to engage fully. It’s going on around me but I’m not part of things.

Not sure why really. Nothing but good wishes to Tim Sherwood but I can’t as yet escape the nagging doubt that this is all temporary, that Levy and Sherwood both have long-term plans which do not necessarily involve each other. Levy will continue to seek options for another appointment in the summer, someone with kudos and experience, while Sherwood in the short-term is going along with the party line – plan for the future, no new players this window, leaving us with only two strikers is perfectly acceptable – and knows this is his chance to create a reputation for himself as a manager, but not automatically of Spurs.

For the moment, Sherwood’s gaze is fixed immovably upon stamping his authority on the side, and a frankly scary gaze it is too. Sometimes we ask the children I work with how they know their foster carers mean business, they reply simply, “It’s the look.” All the complex interaction and attachment theory takes second place to the look, and I reckon one glance from Tim sends a few of those players scurrying to do his bidding, double quick. And that’s a good thing – he’s working hard to get things right. Still, a lot of attention has been focussed on Tim’s team selections and tactics but again we’re waiting until the team of injured players return to contention to truly see what the rest of the season holds.

I guess I thought we would be somewhere else right now. After New Year was the time the plans, the training, the talent, would begin to bear fruit. Not a conscious thought, you understand. Sometimes you define your hopes only when they fail to materialise.

Plenty of time to ponder the meaning of it all during the first half on Saturday. I watched incredulously a comedic tour de force of slapstick and pantomime. This was a surreal masterpiece with an entire team apparently unable to pass the ball to each other, or run around with even the vaguest purpose, or defend, or attack. Walker and Dawson were our very own Chuckle Brothers, competing to kick the ball as hard and as far away from a team-mate as possible. Adebayor played statues; Soldado came to the party as the invisible man but no one knew if he had arrived or not.

Dizzy and disoriented, I waited open-mouthed for us to pull ourselves together but things just got worse. Palace didn’t help. Half their team of giants were lumbering around in those padded superhero suits that kids dress up in, with six-packs of stuffed cotton-wool. If only they had scored, it would have brought me back to reality. But they couldn’t, not through any skill on our part but through their own role as sidekicks, setting up the gags and executing with wild passes and misplaced crosses.

If the humour begins to flag why not get in the way of your team-mate’s goal-bound shot or wait, here’s a penalty! Dembele obligingly fouled Chamakh – that will teach him for trying to run back and tackle! Puncheon stepped up and with exquisite comedy timing choreographed his routine with the sole purpose of placing the ball into row Z. Not blasting you understand: make ‘em laugh is the motto and that would have been too obvious. Lloris added a neat touch, quietly fist-pumping as he lay on the floor, as if he had had some role in a penalty miss that left the crowd past derision into helpless laughter.

We were chuckling too at the absurdity of this game, one of the most inept 45 minutes I can recall from Spurs, so bad that the crowd were past anger. Just as bizarre was the fact that although Palace could have been three up, we came closest to scoring in the first half, when Adebayor might have got his head closer to Lennon’s cross and then Bentaleb’s sweet first time long-range effort hit the woodwork and defied the laws of physics by twisting along the goal line and out.

At half-time Sherwood got the look going. He had been dancing around on the halfway line like a demented jester for much of the half – he must have been furious. To his credit, he got through to them. Without playing especially well, Spurs upped their game to get enough of a grip to overcome a poor Palace side. A early goal helped settle any nerves. Never mind the cultured stuff. Route one, Adebayor headed down perfectly for Eriksen to smash it gratefully into the net. Manu had one of his sedate afternoons – in the first half he was at his most energetic when shouting long and hard at the bench about something or other – but his presence offers the option of the high cross or in this case, long ball.

Talking of odd things, has a player ever scored for Spurs having been sold? On came Defoe and soon afterwards reacted with quick feet in the box to stab home our second. Today there are pictures of him in Toronto doing the scarf overhead thing beloved by new signings the world over, greeted by concerted indifference from passers-by in the airport. Saturday he’s back on the bench, presumably? Like most things about this game, I don’t get it but I’m grateful for the goal, JD.

The match drifted to a conclusion. Palace were never going to score so we didn’t bother defending corners and their giants queued up to head it wide. They were unlucky early on but the organisation that confidently resisted our first half attacks broke down too easily in the second. Their supporters are second to none, however, loud, scurrilous and funny. Good luck to them.

We were dire, got three points, let’s move on. But not before praising the performance of young Nabil Bentaleb. If he is anything to go by, Sherwood is a fine judge of a player. Upright, mobile and aware, his passing is quick with a sure touch and weight. Highly promising and apart from decent supporting roles from Lennon and substitute Naughton, the only one to rise above the dross.

Ifonly Adebayor: Don’t Rely On The Unreliable

Since Andre Villas-Boas was sacked as Tottenham manager, one man has emerged from the shadows to become the key influence on Spurs’ success or failure this season. Only Emmanuel Adebayor can unlock the potential of this able but disoriented squad and manager, coach or whatever he is Tim Sherwood has placed great faith in the striker’s ability. So far it has paid dividends but it remains a big gamble.

Manu’s disappearance from first team contention remains the most telling indictment of AVB’s stubborn rigidity. In August, it didn’t seem to matter. Adebayor was last year’s model, barely worth a mention in the excitement that greeted the new era with all the shiny, gleaming signings. Chief amongst them was Bobby Soldado, an expensive marquee centre forward for whom we had searched for years, the stuff of myth and mystery, the holy grail at the end of a seemingly eternal quest who surely would convert the chances that came his way.

Through September we waited for the spark to ignite the flame. Manu was on compassionate leave after the death of his brother, then he was unfit. Supposedly: no one outside the club really knew what was going on and frankly few were that bothered. This was what he does – one season wonder, loses his appetite for anything except his pay cheque, moves on after a sulk. Anyway, we had Bobby, and wingers, and it was only a matter of time until it all settled down.

AVB was happy to blame the fans when it suited him but frankly the flaw in that scenario dawned on us far sooner than it apparently did on him. We had a Soldier but no goals. The system wasn’t working either. We needed a change, some variety, some bloody goals, but apart from one appearance as a substitute, Adebayor remained an outcast. There are rumours of an argument over Manu wearing a beanie to a team-talk. Whatever the truth of that, Villas-Boas appears to have willfully frozen him out at the expense of the well-being of the team and that is unreservedly disgraceful. The club comes before individual pride.

Sherwood brought him back. Call his formation what you like – 4-4-2 which Tiger Tim refuted in a garbled post-match conference after the Ars***l game – Adebayor is the fulcrum. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that when Manu plays well, Spurs play well. They say you need to play to show off your skills. It’s also said that sometimes a player’s true worth is shown by their absence. Against W Ham, Adebayor managed both in a single game, transforming a dour, directionless Spurs into a free-flowing attacking force, target man and goalscorer with an eye-opening volley before coming off with Spurs apparently secure. Whereupon the Hammers took over the last 15 minutes and won 2-1.

That was the warm-up. Against Southampton he was mobile, involved and fully committed. Having a man to lead the line, who knew when to hold it, when to give it and could score too transformed the side. The following weekend, Manu had one of his static days, mooching around up front and we couldn’t break West Brom down. Goals aplenty versus Stoke, a match where the midfield excelled but they just had to look up and Manu was available for them.

Then United beaten and Sherwood coaxed even more from his centre forward. Now Manu was dropping back into a forward midfield position when we lost the ball, vital if we only have four in the middle. The importance of this element of his game and Sherwood’s tactics was reinforced in the NLD when we faded after a decent start. Adebayor was tired, didn’t work back enough and our opponents gained a grip on the centre of the park that they never relinquished.

So he’s Ifonly Adebayor again. Inconsistent, moody, frustrating. Sherwood has done extremely well to motivate him, appealing both to his sense of personal pride in his performance and to the most base of emotions, revenge. Judging by his efforts against West Ham and Southampton, if we could somehow have harnessed Manu’s anger to the National Grid, the nuclear/fossil fuel debate would have become redundant.

Sherwood sees his task as getting Adebayor to play to his best, “go out and do what you do best” or something similar were his comeback instructions. That’s fine but only up to a point. It’s a mistake to see Adebayor as an enigma. He’s a known quantity: we know he will be inconsistent. Not only that, we also know that it’s hard to predict how he will perform on any given day. It may be apparent to people within the club, I don’t know that of course, but that’s how it appears.

This has been the case since he came to this country. A couple of months before he turns thirty, he’s not going to change now. I doubt very much if there are some magic words, some pre-existing conditions, a carrot or a stick that will change him. He’s magnificent, a world-beater, he’s lazy and lacks committment. Adebayor is a contradiction you can’t resolve. That is who he is.

You can’t rely on him and that’s the problem, because that’s exactly what Sherwood is doing. He plays a key role in Sherwood’s formation. He scores goals, makes them, makes space for others by pulling out wide. He slots back deeper when we lose it, defending from the front. Giving him such responsibility is asking for trouble because he’s never been consistent and at the moment we don’t have a fall-back or an effective back-up plan.

Can I say what I am not saying? Sherwood is doing a decent job at the moment with what he has available, and he has limited options up front with Defoe on his way to Canada, so I’m not saying Tim should not play him. I would pick Adebayor and would have back in the autumn as it gradually became clear we had lots of providers of chances but no one on the end of them. I’m also not saying Adebayor should be excused criticism: there are countless times when I despair at his lack of application.

The one thing we know for certain is that Manu will always let you down and so Sherwood needs to look long and hard at plans B, C and D. This could be as straightforward as reinforcing the midfield because a player with a more defensive outlook could provide the cover for Adebayor to do his thing and to compensate if Manu isn’t working back.

Sherwood has put considerable faith in his centre forward. I would like to say to Manu that he should work his backside off to repay his manager. Sadly I know that is never enough. How often have we heard managers moan about the ‘if onlys’. I don’t want Tim to become like Allardyce, creating a team around a centre forward and having nothing left when he’s out except whinging and a redundancy package. You can’t rely him so don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

 

Hats Off To Spurs, Winners Again

The unexpected victories are often the best. If you truly thought Spurs could beat United, I take my hat off to you, because I didn’t, and enjoyed this win more than most precisely for that reason. Every player exceeded my expectations and the manager’s tactics and motivation were spot on.

Sure, we nearly threw it all away – more of giving away goals and penalties later – but this is Spurs, and the overall performance more than compensated for the tension of the last 15 minutes. A lovely win.

A lot has been made of Sherwood’s 4-4-2 and his comments about liking to take a few risks. What’s more significant is the variation he has employed, partly to adjust the set-up to the demands of different opponents, partly to compensate for injuries and suspensions beyond his control and partly as an element of his crash-course in How To Be A Premier League Manager.

Having smoothly disposed of a weak but negative Stoke side, Sherwood faced the very different challenge of defending against United for lengthy periods. When United had the ball, we kept a familiar shape but everyone dropped five yards deeper whereas against other teams we have pressed near the halfway line. The full-backs conspicuously did not get forward very much except on the break or on a run from deep when they were covered by a team-mate. Eriksen stayed wide left.

As a result, we were better than we usually are at stopping crosses at source and it was only when the Reds began to  bang them in late on that we looked in any consistent danger. Hardly surprising – we tired after massive effort for the whole game and by then United were playing a 0-10 formation with virtually an entire team of forwards.

Key again was Abebayor with another excellent performance. His movement for the goal bamboozled Smalling into submission. He foraged deeper, dropping off with or without the ball and leaving Soldado usually the furthest forward. However, they interchanged as required. The pass before the pass for the assist in both Spurs goals came from the Spaniard, cut free from his anchorage at the edge of the box under AVB.  Manu thus got in the way of United’s attempts to build from the back, although Cleverly and Carrick were inconsequential, while Lennon kept Evra fully occupied so he seldom was able to get forward.

Sherwood is a good communicator too. The players could not have responded in a better manner. Their effort and application was universally excellent, the tempo high when we had possession. Capoue was solid and economical, providing a sound base. I like him: good positional sense, an awareness of what’s going on around him, he wins it then gives it quickly. In one terrific move from defence to attack before half-time, he touched the ball 6 or 7 times, keeping it moving. Alongside him, Dembele is ferociously active.

With Eriksen we have the Modric Conundrum – he can play there but it’s not his best position. But he’s clever – witness his popping up on the right to cross the ball plumb onto Manu’s forehead for a classic far-post header, our opener. Plus he’s involved. He may like being the number 10, it may yet be his best position but his whole attitude and demeanour has changed for the better since he dropped back because he’s on the ball much more and is willing to take that responsibility. He’s eager and wants to play, which come to think of it sums up what Sherwood has done with the whole of the side. Like Redknapp at his best, Tim has given each player a role that suits them, as opposed to AVB who persisted with square pegs in round holes. Even the subs leapt to their feet in delight when we scored.

I haven’t mentioned Lennon yet. He should have crowned a fine performance with a goal, hitting De Gea early on when clean through then sliding the ball wide from the left in the second half. It would have made the game safe but as it was we had to endure another fractious and nerve-shredding 15 minutes or so. He should also have had a first-half assist when poor Soldado failed to convert his low cross at the far post.

Lennon did set up our second, his deflected cross from the right bouncing into the area. Valencia rocked back on his heels, apparently transfixed, whereas Eriksen delightedly pounced on the opportunity to dive forward and head it home. I thought De Gea could have had stronger hands and done more but then again I was in mid-air, not analysing.  United never coped with his pace and it’s noticeable how well he not only times his runs from deep but also the angles he decisively employs, dashing into space where it hurts the defence most.

After a bright start when Welbeck nearly scored and Hugo punched the ball away from outside the box (no foul), it was strange to see United so ineffective near our box for lengthy periods, but hey, I could easily get used to this. Apparently however this is not our destiny. Two up, we immediately came over all Spursy and conceded immediately. Could not have been more convenient for the Mancs – Chiriches let Welbeck run behind him, good finish – but the real problem was the ease with which the pass from deep reached him. No pressure on the ball.

Predictably this gave United momentum for the rest of the match and we were under intense pressure. Adebayor was carried off and we were more vulnerable for that loss. However, Lloris made four good saves plus a diving defensive header from the edge of his box that reached past the halfway line! Saves and bodies in the way, fighting spirit., Moyes cunningly moved Rooney, their most dangerous player, back to deep midfield and confused his team with his substitutions, so we made it.

Apart from one scare. Better to be a lucky manager than a good one, as the saying goes? Late on, Lloris launched himself wildly at Young, took him out at both ankle (right foot) and waist (left foot) but no penalty. After the Mendes “goal” and the Gomes “penalty”, I indulged in a moment’s karma and could not resist a chuckle at Moyes’ ashen-faced post-match apoplexy even though he was right in hammering the ref for a lousy decision.

I thought Smalling handled an innocuous cross in the first half when under no pressure but MOTD showed a replay. Not part of a narrative that focussed on United’s bad luck over the decisions rather than Spurs’ excellent performance that warmed this slightly soggy heart and soul.

Thanks to everyone for their good wishes after my flood and the loss of my Spurs programmes – frankly touching response, deeply appreciated. I will spare their blushes but the three best-known Spurs authors are kind, generous and entirely worthy of any money you invest in their books, so buy them. The piece is really about the hold the club has on our passions and emotions, which is the single most important theme of this blog, and that woe betide those who seek to undermine that. A very Happy New Year to you all.