Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Sure, Superman is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, he may be able to leap tall buildings with a single bound but could he keep the Spurs defence together? Superjan can. Vertonghen can do the lot. Centre half, he’s assured and quick. Switch him to left back, the whole team is transformed. He takes free-kicks, he scores from other people’s. Charging heroically upfield, he scores too (I know it’s been adjudged an own goal but that United effort will always be his to me).
Last night, we discovered that somewhere inside Carrow Road, there’s a chunk of green kryptonite hidden away. Unsuspecting, he took the field only to find his powers drained from his body. Ten minutes later, he was revealed as a mere mortal. Norwich wear green shorts. Coincidence?
Villas Boas clearly believes in his powers. When Vertonghen came on as substitute, Spurs were on top as they had been from the kick-off without ever playing especially well. Norwich were cranking up for a final ten minute fling. Throughout the second half we had tried but failed to add to our single goal lead, so the manager decided it was time to protect what we had. Hardly radical, although it was a surprise to see Vertonghen slot into a central defensive midfield position. An extra defender who can also turn defence into attack couldn’t do much harm.
But Superjan looked odd to me. Normally focussed and keen, he didn’t look as if he had the appetite for this one. From a corner, he airily waved a leg at a shot that was going well wide and deflected it in. A few minutes later, from a free kick that was wrongly awarded to Norwich, he lost his man and Holt headed down for Jackson to tap in the winner. A complete turnaround against the by then well-established equilibrium of a match where we were the better side but failed to score the goals to confirm our superiority. Dempsey then missed a penalty to complete our indignity.
AVB is a meticulous man who has demonstrated his commitment to cup competitions by preparing strong sides in the Europa League and League Cup. However, in a sporting age where backroom staff outnumber the playing squad, little things make all the difference. I question why Vertonghen rather than Dawson or Caulker was marking Holt, Norwich’s most dangerous player. When the penalty was awarded, the players did not appear sure about who was supposed to take it. At least Dempsey had the guts to step up to the spot. Two small but crucial errors of preparation that proved decisive.
For better or worse, right or wrong, this blog is always honest with you, dear reader. I try to be consistent but when it comes to the League Cup, I confess to some hypocrisy. I can’t get too worked up about it, win or lose. Except of course if we beat Arse**l in the semi-final or reach Wembley, where suddenly it becomes a tournament we all want to win, officially designated ‘A Springboard For the Future’.
Neither should ew read too much into a single game like this one. Whatever the rhetoric, the players of both teams were not up for it as they would be for a league game. However, place it in the context of other recent performances and there were examples of unwelcome trends that Tottenham will have to work on if we are to prosper.
We don’t score enough goals, or to put it better, we don’t turn our superiority into goals. We have a tendency to look good and take up good wide positions – Bale and Falque (in the second half) were excellent. Falque has certainly developed his game and delivered 3 or 4 top class crosses plus one sublime cutting pass that took out the entire Norwich defence only for Bale to have a weak shot saved. However, there is nobody on the end of the crosses. Not enough bodies in the box and no figurehead striker. Either get one or play a different way because defenders can get heading practice on their training pitch not in competition. Without Dembele, we miss creativity in central areas. How we were spoilt with Luka and Rafa.
Connected with this, we sit back after we’ve scored rather than snuff out the game. To be fair, this was not so much of a problem last night. After Bale scored from range, we continued to keep possession well for a period but to retreat and hang on to just a single goal, as AVB is keen for us to do usually, is a game we’re not yet resilient enough to play.
Finally, there are too many games where a couple of players go missing. Last night there were extended periods where Siggy, Dempsey and Carroll were not involved. (In defence of a talented young player, Carroll demonstrated his customary involvement in the second half). It felt as if we were playing with ten men for much of the first half. Dempsey, a player I was pleased to buy, has not yet found his niche. There’s no doubt that Martin Jol got something from him that Villas Boas can’t.
Even so we were too good for Norwich. League Cup or not, this was a missed opportunity.