The Sound of Sighlence

You can tell how a game is going by the sound of the crowd, a surefire soundtrack as the game ebbs and flows. The exultation that greets a goal, unrestrained singing in celebration, the contented hubbub as the fans leave after a win or the sharp, bitter recrimination of defeat or worse, a side that is not trying.

The sound of Spurs right now is a heavy, deep sigh. There’s disappointment there, some shaking of heads, plus a touch of resignation. It’s not working out as we planned and we’ve been here before, so many, many times.

Another day, another big fat zero in the ‘goals for’ column. However, this one was different. Same end product but only after the Newcastle goal was peppered from all angles in a second half bombardment where for 25 minutes we played scintillating, high tempo football to create more genuine chances than in the last half a dozen matches put together. There was a lot to be pleased with but still plenty of sighing, then as I drove home and still going as I type this.

65% possession, 24 shots, 14 on target – about right, I read them on the concourse as I paused on the way home and, well, sighed. Match statistics in games like these are the contemporary equivalent of a consolation goal, that is no consolation at all. Newcastle keeper Tim Krul had an outstanding game. More saves in a single match than any other keeper in Europe this season, apparently. See what I mean, they don’t help at all. First half leaps into the stratosphere to thwart Soldado and Sigurdsson were the best but just as valuable for his side were the outstretched boots and scrambled clearances. I’ve not seen a replay but how on earth he and a single defender kept the ball out after a deflected free-kick settled on the goal line remains a mystery.

Yet the harsh truth is that keepers can only make those saves if the ball is close enough to them. Weak finishing close in was our undoing. Krul could have remained the star but noble in defeat, such were the number of good opportunities we fashioned. Eriksen, Paulinho and Soldado made it too easy for him.

Things looked rosy to begin with. It felt as if both team and crowd had responded to recent criticism. Immediately we stretched the Newcastle with a move at pace, Walker freed up on the right. His cross was too close to the keeper but it augured well for things to come. Lots of encouragement too.

Eriksen was prominent, moving across the line and out wide rather than staying comfortable in the central pocket. For his game and that of Spurs to develop, he has to become more consistently involved.

The promising opening petered out. Newcastle moved the ball neatly out of defence and played two up front so they remained a threat on the break for the entire game. They were helped by Spurs giving the ball away. Friedel saved well on two occasions, then we were caught out. Dembele was fiddling around with the ball deep in our half. Although he eventually cleared, it allowed the Mags to pounce on a ball than Paulinho first misjudged, letting it run across his body, then was weak in the challenge. Remy was in: he rounded the keeper to score.

Newcastle and Remy in particular were dangerous. Our high line became our best protection. Dawson was stranded on more than one occasion and Chiriches came across to perfectly time a tackle that surely prevented a goal. Remy, a player we have been closely linked with, reminded us what we have missed this season, a focal point for our opponents’ attack and a target for balls out of defence.

We spluttered away for the rest of the half. Bad old Tottenham – too slow, not enough width as Siggy and Andros repeatedly came inside, too many players standing still and waiting for the ball.

We should really remember to start playing from the first whistle, not half time. Galvanised by the team-talk, we emerged fresh and new. Newcastle were well-organised but did not present as much of a barrier as Hull or West Ham. It was everything the first half was not, pace, movement, support for the man on the ball and above all, chances. Eriksen missed the best one, a lovely intricate move down the right put him in, he had time to take a touch but tried to place a ball to send the keeper the wrong way rather than putting his foot through it.

Driven on by substitute Sandro, his energy and power reverberated through the team even though he was the deepest midfielder. Vertonghen fizzed the ball in from wide left. Soldado headed weakly to the keeper, Paulinho missed, that scramble on the line.

Defoe came on at about 70 minutes, the right choice but as we gathered ourselves for another effort, his arrival had the reverse effect. Sandro stayed deep and Newcastle brought on another midfielder. Their 5 outnumbered our 3 and the momentum disappeared totally. Tactically outsmarted by Alan Pardew…not AVB’s finest moment.

Vertonghen hit the bar from a corner but otherwise that was that. Dawson was thrown forward late on but we couldn’t even whack the ball forward properly.

So what to make of this? This was different from some previous games where we hardly got into the box let alone make a chance. We can put a lot of this down to the keeper and should not be too down because if we play like that for an entire match, we will do well.

However, it comes in the context of an inability to score and some of the same patterns were on display. Soldado needs service – through-balls and the ball in front of him in the box. Without it, he contributes little and did not play well yesterday. We have to have faith and gear the team around his needs. AVB knew that when he bought him but he’s not so far achieved that aim.

I’m boring myself with the inverted wingers, done to death in previous columns. Suffice to say we saw more of the edge of the box log-jam that has stifled our attacks almost as effectively as the opposition back four. We are doing their job for them. Siggy and Andros ran into trouble, while Paulinho and Eriksen prefer it on the outskirts of the area. Problem is, there are few cut-backs because no one is going to the byline, no one in the box to help Soldado.

I will break a long-held golden rule and just this once make a comparison with Barcelona, which is normally the refuge of those who don’t know the game. They are one of the best club sides the world has ever seen so no wonder Spurs aren’t that good. The point I’m making is a simple one, however. For their third goal yesterday against Real Betis, Iniesta chipped the ball into the box and 4 of their players ran through to converge on it. I’m not sure we have 4 men in the box for corners let alone from open play. Regardless of the result, AVB has to solve this problem.

Also we have too many men whose instinct is to run with the ball. Good players, just not the right blend. It slows everything down. Add the fact that we have right-footers on the left and vice versa, they too want that extra touch or two. Not much in itself but add it up and it extracts the pace from our attacks.

We have a number of men playing out of position, and if AVB is sometimes accused of stubbornness then this is the point where I agree. Dembele is not best employed as a DM. His strength and passing ability have tempted AVB but he is the wrong choice. Sandro made a huge difference when he came on and should start, if he’s fit. Paulinho made his reputation as a box to box player but he’s being used elsewhere. I said last week that he needs a rest as he has become less influential as the weeks have passed. So it proved yesterday, admirably willing but a mixed afternoon and at fault for the goal.

Eriksen worsened as the second half went on but could be the creative hub with the right players around him. The wide men are not going wide and are not the men you want on the end of a chance in the box.

Townsend’s honeymoon is over. Opposition defences have sussed him out – two men and push him inside – and by the end his frustration manifested in wasted, hopeless long-shots. he still has a lot to learn. On the other side, Siggy was ineffectual.

I hope the squad are not getting fractious. Defoe gave Kaboul a right mouthful after an innocuous misplaced pass, and kept on going. This season he’s been hitherto completely focussed – this felt out of place and different.

Finally, all this money spent and no plan B. A number of quality players who are looking as though they can’t provide an alternative. Whatever Adebayor has done to hack AVB off must be the most heinous sin since Judas turned in Jesus. I enviously watched United, Arse**l even, Southampton with their central strikers as focal point and really missed Manu. We need him.

AVB needs more time to work this through. By now though, he would have expected to be much closer to his best team than he is. Or to be more accurate, the team and set-up he thought was close to his best is not working out.

Social media is awash with suggestions, including mine of course, and all of them different. These days everyone’s a manager and we’re all like Alex Ferguson – never wrong. AVB is in danger of becoming one of us, which frankly is a nightmare. He has so much potential at his disposal, he’s chopping and changing, which will create an unsettled side. He has to send a message to key newcomers, Soldado and Eriksen in particular, Lamela too, that for the next ten or so games, he’s going to stick with them and build the side around them. Let them make mistakes, allow them to learn. We’re in this for the long haul. They need time and that’s the best way to use it.

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.