Superjan Struck Down By Kryptonite Posioning

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.

Reinvention Is Survival

Reinvention is survival. It’s one of the most often quoted aphorisms in business because complacency can be as fatal to any enterprise as a economic downturn. Any leader knows that change is necessary but painful. The best way forward is to establish a clear goal that’s mutually agreed by everyone and build on existing strengths so that development is gradual rather than a transformative shock. However, there’s no escape from the harmful side-effects as adjustments are made before a new equilibrium is reached. Change is hard.

I missed Saturday’s match as I was at the Olympic Stadium for an evening of Paralympics, tickets bought a year ago before a disappointing but inevitable fixture clash. Although I’m never one to turn down an opportunity to watch sport, I wasn’t aware that shopping was part of the athletics programme. The fact that come kick-off I was jostling for space in a hideously heaving Westfield Shopping Centre could become the latest in the Life’s Great Mysteries series, coming soon to the Discovery Channel.

The Paralympics is a remarkable event, not merely for the heroic efforts of true athletes but for the interaction between these performances and the crowd. Every single effort is greeted by waves of genuine warmth and appreciation, win or lose, first or last. From what I’ve heard, there couldn’t be a greater contrast between that and the atmosphere at the Lane, where frustration turned into toxic bile at the finish. Still wish I’d been there, though.

Without going too far on the basis of Football First highlights, the irritating international break that provides a false start to every season  also offers a pause for reflection and reassessment. It’s a pity AVB doesn’t have more time with his players to create the blend that will turn frustration into fluency. The growing pains of our new Tottenham are hard to experience. I just hope the players are hurting as much as we are. However, it is only to be expected. My pre-season predictions have sadly been proved accurate. I wish I was wrong but this team needs time to settle. Brace yourselves for a rough ride early season. Hopefully calmer waters lie over the horizon.

Spurs had a decent transfer window. I’m disappointed that Levy did not produce a top quality striker out of the hat. Again in the interests of consistency, whilst I appreciate his financial prudence, I stick with my pre-season comments that he has room to manoeuvre regarding fees and salaries now, not just because we have the cash but also because the high earners have all gone so he can increase the top salaries without alienating the rest of the squad.  Moutinho is a loss, very impressive in the Euros and I would have gone the extra mile for him.We’ll never know where exactly negotiations reached and should take no notice of the bilious tabloids on a Levy/AVB search and destroy mission but the aftershocks of Ch**seas’s CL win are still being felt.

However, we have a 20+ goals a season man in Clint Dempsey, by no means Plan A but an absolute steal at £6m, and Dembele is a high quality footballer I have coveted for a while now. Lloris is good value – we undoubtedly needed a new keeper and competition can be nothing but good for us as Friedel proves once more that he is a wonderful professional. The squad has more strength in depth too. In keeping with policy, Spurs is a step up for all of the new guys so they should be bursting with ambition.

This season was always about the manager and his system. The focus remains on AVB to make the team greater than the sum of its parts and it’s clear he’s not sure what his best team is at the moment. Hardly unusual for any new manager – I said the same about Redknapp – but he’s been given a good squad and has to make a few tough decisions when the break is over. Up front, I don’t see Defoe as a starter. Dempsey was highly effective for Fulham playing around a central striker, with the freedom to come late and move across the field rather than being restricted to hanging around at the edge of the box. Therefore Manu must have a run alongside him. Further back, Dembele provides the vital link between defence and attack. Quick feet, sharp shot and a fine passer, he’s key to our fortunes.

I don’t know enough about Siggy just yet. However, I’d be inclined to play him in midfield.  This could either be at Livermore’s expense, so we have one DM (Sandro) or keep the defensive solidity of two DMs and let Walker offer width at Lennon’s expense. It depends on who we play.

One problem with those two DMs is that they are not defending well enough. They should protect the back four better, that’s what they are there for. Although we are hardly leaking goals, Friedel has had to be on top form and both goals conceded at home came from similar situations, plenty of men back but not clearing the ball and it’s loose at the edge of the area. Kaboul’s injury is a blow – this was to be his season and he’s getting hurt too often for my liking. I anticipate a long and prosperous Spurs career for the excellent Vertonghen, which leaves AVB with a decision to make about Gallas. Unfair to blame him but I’d opt for Caulker or Dawson with a reminder to the full-backs to tuck in tighter when we don’t have the ball.

Regular readers will know that I tend towards mild optimism but above all I’m a realist. So despite the frustration, it’s not wildly out of order to say that our possession is good and we are making chances, both signs of promise. Dempsey, Dembele and Siggy could all make an impact in the box to convert just one or two more chances each game. If we tighten up at the back and do not give away unnecessary free kicks, then we can move forward. Tweaks rather than major surgery. Let that run for a while and we can take stock.

That and get off AVB’s back. He’s ours and he gets enough stick from the media. Luckily Liverpool are falling apart so some of the negative attention is directed their way but if we don’t give him a chance, then he has no hope whatsoever.

Finally, a belated but none the less fond farewell to Rafa Van der Vaart, a fine player in the Tottenham tradition, whose touch, skill and eye for an opening enhanced the team whenever he played. It’s a risk to let a man of this quality go – I wouldn’t have sold him but I guess he wanted to move. He wanted to win and could maintain his form under pressure, and that combination of motivation and ability is hard to say goodbye to. Although he arrived so unexpectedly even the manager seemed surprised, he quickly became a Spur, showing genuine delight when he scored in big games. The long shots and chips make me smile at the memory but I loved those sweeping diagonal passes, 50 yards right into the stride or the chest of the receiver. But here’s one to cherish, from his last game. In front of the Shelf, under pressure he takes the ball on halfway. Bale is on, simple 10 yard pass then peel away to see what happens. For Rafa, that’s not enough. He holds it for half a second, looks Bale in the eye and gestures with a tiny move of his head. Bale’s off, down the line and Rafa knocks the ball between two defenders and perfectly into his stride. Endless possibilities. Class, Rafa, always class.

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.

Spurs and Wembley. Nice Day, Shame About The Football

I’ve known worse times as a Spurs fan. Forgive me if for the moment I can’t quite name them. An afternoon so utterly dispiriting, the fans, the decisions, the outcome, that heart and soul are thoroughly drained. Not anger, though there’s just cause – the referee, the way we just slipped away without enough of a fight. Instead, a cloud of gloom and doom that like a moorland mist seeps through the layers and into the marrow, leaving aching bones and weary muscle.

A feeble attempt at coherence in this particular post. I hope the points make sense even if they don’t exactly fit together. It’s not a good morning, and anyway I still have a headache from the man behind me banging his crutch on the metal roof of the stand.

As ever the comedown is worse when the expectations are raised. Not so much a heightened anticipation that we would win, I hoped we would and believed we certainly could, but any day at Wembley starts off being a good day. Never take for granted the walk up Wembley Way, the childlike thrill as you exit the station. I used to watch the Cup Final as a kid and dream of being able to make that walk, to be part of it, part of history, and despite the dampening effect of this ludicrous kick-off time, as soon as the stadium came into view I was grinning absurdly. We took the photos, even though we’ve taken them before. I saw Jackie who sits in front of us and her brother and wanted to say hallo but lost them in the crowd, wanted to share my joy at just being there.

As the players gathered in the centre circle, people around me were still singing. I and many others asked for quiet, and quiet we had. Many of us remember the Leppings Lane crush at the 1981 semi-final when better crowd control and allowing people onto the pitch prevented a tragedy. In the event, it was only postponed and Liverpool fans lost their lives, not us. By the end of that semi, I had been pushed down to below pitch level. If the police had dealt with this as they did for Liverpool fans, there’s a high probability that I would have been killed.

So when a substantial group of Ch****a fans sing through a commemorative silence, deliberately provocatively sing, it’s deeply personal. It’s beyond me. It’s not the majority of their fans, who are decent people. Rather, it’s a group who feel that because their club buys success, because the club defends its captain’s actions regardless, because their club’s preferred option when confronting alleged racism is to delay the judicial process so he may fulfil fixtures, they themselves are not bound by the unspoken but powerful values of other fans. Shameful.

The expectations of a good day out were further dulled by a stilted opening from both sides. Each made and missed chances, each had their fair share of possession without being able to take control. We were a side searching for shape and pattern and never established that natural rhythm and tempo that has characterised much of our season. For every good move. Luka’s pass inside the full-back to a rampaging Bale, Lennon underused but bright, there was an untidy unnecessary loss of possession. Bale on Bosingwa could have swung the match our way but there weren’t enough bodies in the box to get on the end of the crosses. Adebayor couldn’t hold it and Walker’s error nearly let in Mata. He lost the ball but Cudicini, who had a good game, did well to stand up rather than commit as many keepers would have done.

It’s difficult to have a balanced view of a performance in such a highly charged atmosphere. What I’m really saying is that my emotions were all over the place. Anyway, knowing we now know, there’s nothing but doom but actually, that’s not accurate. Although we never played to our potential, we had two cracking chances. I’ve not seen any replays, but the slightest touch from Manu could have converted Rafa’s ball that hit the post, then Rafa’s header that was cleared off the line. John Terry’s knee has a lot to answer for this season. It saved a certain goal both here and in the league fixture at the Lane.

Then goals that were and goals that weren’t. Credit where it’s due – Gallas may have been able to do more before Drogba’s shot but in truth I’m not sure what. Sometimes you have to say that the forward is better than the defender. A fine goal, damn him. Gallas should not have been left isolated, however.

And then the goal that wasn’t. Again I’ve not seen a replay but have seen a photo. At the time, and I’m right up the other end of course, it looked implausible as there was a scrum of bodies, so why should they be behind the line. I saw the ref pointing and said out loud, “Our free-kick.”

A Blues fan from another office just happened to be in reception this morning. Coincidence, it works in strange ways… I made him a cup of tea and placed it 2 foot away from him. “There you are, mate, it’s in your hand. Looks that way…”

Then Manu is through, a rare moment when he looked threatening. A clear foul in my eyes (I’m happy to be corrected). The keeper should have gone despite Bale being on hand to touch it in. The keeper prevented a goal-scoring opportunity. the fact that the ball rolled loose is immaterial. Anyway, even so Cech should have been booked.

Look – I’m under no illusions. We never imposed ourselves on this match and after a brief period of hope we melted away, tired and listless. Neither is this blog in the habit of banging on about poor refereeing. However, these were two crucial match-turning moments.

I’d say this took the stuffing from us but twenty minutes from the end we looked dog tired. It’s been a long season. Key men have been out of shape since around the Stevenage game and even the incentive of a cup final couldn’t enliven them. Parker was late for 4 tackles before being booked and substituted. Rafa never got on the ball often enough. Usually he rises to the pressure, yesterday he disappointed. As I commented for the Norwich game, Modric looked decent on the ball but didn’t work to get on it as often as he should.

In my preview for When Saturday Comes  I felt certain that we would revert to 4-2-3-1 after the Norwich debacle. Redknapp himself acknowledged it was wrong. Yesterday was 4-4-1-1 but the significant problems caused by that midfield four remained. We were too open. Bale and Lennon did not work back enough to cover and when they did, they did not pick up the opponents. On two occasions Bale stood 2 yards from an unmarked Lampard, loitering at the edge of our box, but did not move to mark him. Parker and Modric had to both defend and attack.

As a result our creaking back four was unprotected. As the game went on, our opponents took grateful advantage. Gallas had his worst match for us, left cruelly exposed with no cover and nothing in his locker. King was pulled out of defence because there was no one in front of him and the ball was popped into the resulting gap for at least one goal and there could have been more.

Both Gallas and King made goal-saving challenges but they are not fully fit and Redknapp knows that. He should have nurtured them and allowed them to  defend where they do their best work, in the box itself rather than being stranded.

Similar comments for the midfield. He asked too much of Parker and Modric, knowing that neither is as bouncy as earlier in the season. Livermore or Sandro’s legs could have helped out. As it was, as mind and legs went, we were cut to shreds. As Lampard shaped to take his free kick, the 5 year old boy near me covered his eyes with his hands, hardly daring to peek. That sums it up, from those of us who were left by then. It was a defeat that’s hard to take but the swathes of empty seats with ten minutes left paints a picture of Spurs fans to the watching TV audience that is at odds with our loyalty. I understand the emotions but it looked bad.

Redknapp’s a vastly experienced manager but this is virgin territory for him. He’s never before been challenging at the top of the league and for a cup. He’s not managing this well. More on this for another day, but he’s placed too much faith in certain players who are crucial to the side but have not been looked after properly. Parker, Walker, Modric, Bale, the season’s caught up with them. Redknapp doesn’t know about how to save players as does Ferguson the master. His famed powers of motivation will be needed more than ever as the season slips away, but they weren’t in evidence yesterday evening. He’s made some poor choices lately.

On the train home we got seats. Chels still in the ground celebrating, most Spurs had gone already. The modern marvel of twitter brought up a photo of the goal that never was. I showed it around the carriage, incredulity all round. Nearly home and we consoled ourselves with other tales of semi-final gloom. Everton, Newcastle. The 22 hour round trip to Old Trafford, outclassed by Arse**l, the last coach in the car park after two people didn’t come back after the match. I knew there were worst times. Were there?