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.

AVB’s Reign Begins. In Defeat, Some Positives

The better team, dominant indeed for extended periods. Friedel has a quiet afternoon. That superiority isn’t converted into goals. Sure we come close, hit the woodwork maybe, but all the flowing football means little if the chances aren’t taken. Time passes, we fade, our opponents take full advantage of rare but significant errors and we are punished, albeit with at least one excellent strike.

A cursory glance at that summary of yesterday’s game and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s the new season but the same old Tottenham. Yet there was plenty to admire in a good performance characterised by movement, pace and possession, which augers well for the months to come. Cut out the sort of unforced errors that cost us dear and invest well in the market, then we have something to look forward to.

The speculation regarding our style under Villas-Boas became substance. This is what we know.

We know that as expected, AVB’s Spurs play an intense pressing game, hunting in clusters to restrict both time and space not just for any opponent on the ball but also for any team-mate he seeks to pass to. This left a weakness on the flanks, however.

That the famed and feared high line helps to compress the space still further when we do not have possession but it was not really in evidence too much. Newcastle never stranded our defenders.

That we’re offering a 4-2-3-1 with two predominantly defensive midfielders, Sandro and Livermore yesterday, and that frequently one of them drops into the back four at the earliest sign of attacking pressure. Bale, Sigurdsson and Lennon were the three further forward, swift and eager to support lone striker Defoe. Those runs from deep created opportunities because we had numbers forward far more swiftly than last season. Our totals of attempted and successful passes in the final third were very high, double that of Newcastle.

That whatever we call the formation, flexibility is the key. Lennon and Bale swapped wings, Sandro often went forward. So did Walker, who searches with masochistic relish for any opportunity to make a lung-busting 50 or 60 yard foray forward to turn defence into attack. Benny’s caution meanwhile was conspicuous by its contrast. That whatever the formation, possession is precious. That it’s tiring – we were noticeably less effective in the final quarter and that was not just about Newcastle’s improved second half performance. We cannot afford the luxury of going behind in games in the second half.

That Sigurdsson is an important player. In that central role, he put in both hard yards and clever touches, linking up with Defoe every chance he had. He’s been given license to shoot often. That he and Rafa may not be compatible in this line-up. Rafa has less energy, although he works much harder than many Spurs fans give him credit for, but he has the passing range to unlock defences. Several times we saw his long diagonals trying to pick out a man in the box, but this was not the way with our lack of power and strength up front.

That AVB is capable of surprises. Leaving Vertonghen on the bench in favour of Gallas was most unexpected. It could also signal the fact that we will not be after another central defender in the foreseeable future.

That AVB can clearly get his message through to his players. In a very short space of time they have become comfortable with the new system. It suits their skills and physical attributes, and there was an air of confidence from front to back.

That some of AVB’s decisions will frustrate and bewilder. Bale and Lennon were less effective after they swapped wings yet we persisted with that set-up for too long.

That we need a striker. But we knew that already.

Despite the defeat, there are genuine and lasting positives to take away with us. There’s plenty to show that the formation suits us, the players are motivated and we can play attacking football without forgoing the defensive fortitude often lacking last season that will serve us well in the long  haul between now and next May. At times the movement and pace stunned the Geordie defenders.

Having anther striking option would not necessarily have won this match,

Sandro Tweeted This Self-Portrait On Friday – “I miss play for my team.”

although it might well have done so, but it will win games in the future if we play like this. Defoe did well yesterday, using his brain rather than shooting on sight, or even when he can’t see anything but the centre half’s backside in front of him. He took up excellent positions, moving into the channels in tune with his team-mates. He certainly applied himself for the whole game even though he had some quiet patches where we did not find him. But we need more. We know that, AVB knows that and so does Daniel Levy. Expect business this week – maybe the defeat will hurry things along.

Last season we did not see the best of Newcastle against Spurs and for the first half that’s the way it carried on. Their back four was easily isolated as we made full use of the space in front of them. Siggy, Bale and Walker galloped into the gaps. Lennon had the beating of his full-back. Because we could pull the ball back into the space in front of their defensive line, the lack of an authentic centre forward wasn’t so apparent. Lennon set up Bale beautifully but he hit the bar, while earlier a  better choice of final ball could have produced a goal. JD hit the post after a brisk, flowing move, starting from deep.

Friedel had little to do despite the Geordie’s much vaunted striking duo and Krul was much the busier keeper. Sandro and Livermore were booked by the over fussy referee. Hearty congratulations to Jake for his England cap. He was too enthusiastic today – he must learn than you can press without tackling. Today his timing was off.

Newcastle were better organised in the second half and their resilience and team-work born from a season together proved its worth as the game went on. The same can’t said for their off-field organisation. With Pardew in the stands, his efforts to communicate with the bench turned to farce. We found out that the radio doesn’t work and no one in Newcastle has a mobile so the coaching staff waited patiently in line to take messages downstairs like Roman centruions along Hadrian’s Wall.

In the end, despite our overall superiority, one mistake and one example of being taken for mugs won the match. Walker’s poor header was picked up by a proper striker, who did nothing throughout except turn and plant his one opportunity firmly in the far corner. That’s what proper strikers do, after all.

Defoe and Spurs deserved the equaliser. After our incisive, clean play, this was a messy one, with first Defoe’s header then his follow up hitting defenders, the keeper and the post before going in. The shame was, we couldn’t hang on. We gifted Newscastle  penalty winner. We were tiring and they had used the space we left on the wings well, something AVB will have to address, but Ben Arfa played us for mugs, darting for a gap between VDV and Lennon. We fell for it and he toppled, a clear but avoidable penalty. A disappointing end when we deserved more from the game but there’s plenty of good things to take away. I’ve predicted a stuttering start then improvement in the longer run. Let’s hope that ‘it’s a long season’ gives us something to anticipated rather than dread.