All Action, No Plot

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‘Arry ‘Ates The Uefa Cup? NEC 0-1 Spurs

Woooooooooooaaaaaaaaaah there ‘Arry, what’s all this about? The most striking thing about Old Twitchy’s post-match comments yesterday was his seeming assertion that he rather wished we weren’t involved in the Uefa Cup! It involves too many games, apparently! To quote some of my punctuation-and-text-obsessed lady-friends: “OMG!!!???!?!?!?!?”

Now the guy has made a massive, positive impact upon the club, there can be no doubt - but that is not what I as a fan want to hear. We want to win this cup. We want to win every competition in which we’re entered. We have a fine tradition in Europe. Well, that probably needs some qualification - our European history isn’t exactly trophy-laden, but still, we do have some history: first British team to win a European trophy, back in the ’60s. We’ve twice won the Uefa Cup, particularly memorably so in ‘84, and we’ve only lost twice at home in the competition.

Plus, a trophy is a trophy - winning one is important and fantastic. Just ask l’arse, who’s barren run is partly to blame for the current rumblings of discontent. Winning the Carling Cup back in March was one of the greatest footballing days (and nights) of my life.

And playing every season in Europe is important - it’s what we strive for for nine months! Would ‘Arry really prefer us not to qualify next season, just so that the fixture list is less congested? European football helps attract big players, excites the fans, improves the team, brings an added avenue for silverware and presumably swells the coffers.

However, there is a basis to ‘Arry’s argument, and it’s only fair to consider it. From his point of view, the priority is to avoid relegation. Personally I think that’s nailed on, and with such a congested table we’re practically pushing for European qualification (much to ‘Arry’s chagrin, presumably). Nevertheless, it’s an understandable attitude from the boss.

He also presumably wants to avoid injuries in such games, as the squad has already taken a few hits (Hutton’s broken foot, Ledly’s balsa-wood physique, Modric’s tissue-paper frame), and two games a week will only exacerbate niggles, especially on dodgy pitches like that of last night.

Maybe he was quibbling about the slightly drawn-out league format, in which three of five teams progress anyway, and which therefore barely even succeeds in separating wheat from chaff.

However, whatever his reasoning, I as a fan heard him say words to the effect that he doesn’t like playing in the Uefa Cup because it involves too many games. I firmly disagree, and I strongly hope that come next May Ledley lifts that funky mis-shaped silver badboy.

Spurs Uefa cup preview - a crazy foreign manager rants

Well this should be entertaining. Tonight we play Randomdutchguysh FC, or someone, and their unknown manager has taken advantage of the 15 mins of fame this affords him to denounce us as “predictable”, “long-ball” team. I love it when random foreign lads get a bite at a (relatively) big-name English team, and take the oportunity to go off on one like a madman, offering wildly deluded tactial insights with the most delightful, straight-faced insistence. It’s like when one of the Absurdistan teams is about to play England, and their boss insists for half an hour in a press conference that Rooney wouldn’t make the Kazakh under-17s women’s XI. Because he’s not aggressive enough. Think Comical Ali, but in football terms, and you get the idea.

So Mario Been, coach of NEC Nijmegen, has been fighting his corner, insisting:

“Tottenham is Tottenham. They play a type of football that is predictable. They play the long ball, then the game will start. We know that because we see English football every week. We are prepared for that.”

Erm, thanks for that Mario. Now admittedly I’m playing a dangerous game here, because if anyone can complicate the uncomplicated it’s Spurs. I should really know better than to patronise the charming little Dutch outfit, and ought to avoid complacency like the plague, given some of the results we’ve had this season. But irrespective of how the game pans out, that sort of chat is hilarious because it bears so little resemblance to reality. We certainly do have enough weaknesses in our team, but a penchant for long-ball tactics? Sounds like one Dutchman’s been spending too much time in the coffee shops. Been’s patter is vastly more intimidating when he offers an opinion that loosely corresponds to life on earth, such as the rather dangerous observation about our goalkeeper Gomes:

“Maybe he doesn’t have confidence in this moment.”

Dammit, Been’s done his homework. However, he rather spoiled the intimidatory effect, by then adding:

“It’s maybe a different way of playing for him - always the long ball.”

Schtop, schtop - Mario, we don’t play long-ball! We don’t play anything resembling the long-ball game. We may be allergic to tackling, and pass as sloppily as mushy peas, and treat the ball like a hot potato in defence, and spurn chance after chance, and have a goalkeeper who can’t catch and have in our ranks Jamie “Three-touch” O’Hara - but we definitely do not play long ball.

With such a tactical mastermind at the helm, I suspect we’ll be ok tonight. Maybe I will have to eat humble pie - after all, we’re without the ineligible Pavluychenko and Corluka, while Modric, Giovanni and Hutton are all injured and Ledley is being rested again. However, the stats suggest that we’ll cope - this lot stumbled to a 3-2 defeat against Dinamo, a week before we stuffed the same Dinamo 4-0 in the most one-sided game I’ve ever been to. Should we prevail, I’ll be intrigued to hear what Mario makes of it in the post-match interviews.

“They didn’t deserve it. They had no skill. They just kept hitting long balls at us…”

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A good pair up front: Spurs 1-0 Blackburn

After the famous revelation of erstwhile coach Gus Poyet that Bent and Pavluychenko couldn’t play together - just a couple of weeks after signing the Russian for however many million pounds - I was intrigued to see if and how the pair would combine today. In the absence of the injured Modric to play in the hole behind a lone front-man, in a 4-5-1, ‘Arry opted for the two strikers in a 4-4-2 today.

Watching on tv rather than at the ground somewhat limited my ability to observe them, but the plasma screen in the pub suggested that as a partnership they did little to indicate an innate understanding. The theory that they can’t play together is presumably based on the fact that they’re so similar (that’s playing style, not physical appearance). In a nutshell both seem happiest when playing as the furthest forward; neither seems inclined to drop deep. At times a couple of weeks ago, in the Carling Cup v Liverpool, Pav and Frazier Campbell showed the odd sign of instinctive awareness, playing cute passes to each other without needing to look up etc, but alas there seemed to be little of that this afternoon.

However, the “two-forwards-in-a-4-4-2-rather-than-one-in-a-4-5-1″ drum is one I’ve been banging for some time on these pages, particularly for home games, and I reckon it paid dividends today, not least for the goal. This occurred when we gained possession by accident rather than design (although much credit to Lennon for robbing the snoozing defender). Lennon found himself in possession unexpectedly, and looking up there were two Spurs bodies in front of him. The combo of him on the ball plus two forwards appeared to scare the bejeesus out of the Blackburn defenders, who back-pedalled and doesy-doed before Pav evenutally finished. Had Bent been on his own up-front I suggest that the Blackburn defenders might have been able to marshall the man on the ball and the man in support more successfully. Credit also to Pav for checking his run, while Bent and Lennon pushed forward, which again dragged the Blackburn defenders around.

Generally, Bent and Pav made some similar runs, but the mere presence of two dedicated forwards plus the man in possession seemed to give the Blackburn defence enough to think about. Playing two forwards does require the midfield pair to be particularly bright and energetic - but then playing just the one upfront generally requires the midfield to make sure they’re supporting. Another counter-argument is that 4-4-2 when we’re struggling for possession leaves both strikers starved of the ball and out of the game (as Blackburn’s front pair were today). However, too often this season I’ve seen a high ball lobbed towards Bent playing on his own, and for all his willing chasing it’s often no avail. My vote is cast in favour of 4-4-2.

Elsewhere on the pitch - great stuff from Lennon, who showed that an inability to cross need not hinder a winger if he’s capable of using pace to beat his man and then drilling the ball in low. Not only did he set up the goal, he also caused the sending off by beating the same man twice, enticing the two late tackles. Bentley by contrast seemed a little too eager to impress against his former side, although he delivered the good occasional set-piece. Jenas, as we all know, is a willing worker with a good attitude but isn’t good enough and therefore will never have his own song. Hudd has a lovely pass on him - and therefore has his own song - but with the pace of an anaethetised sloth is hardly the complete midfielder. Woodgate had a blinder, aside from his missed header in the second half. Generally there was a a touch of sloppiness in our play, both in passing and finishing, esp when against ten men. Need to be a bit more clinical there chaps, although we did create a number of good chances.

And the Daily Gomes Report. Inevitably, he dropped his first cross, but thereafter did the basics adequately. While his defenders (Woodgate in particular) did a sterling job in front of him the stats don’t lie - he kept a clean-sheet, and also sported an impressivley colourful mouth-guard, the first I’ve ever seen on a football pitch.

All in all - a home win against Blackburn is what I’d have expected before the season began, but something I wouldn’t have envisaged during the Ramos reign in August/September. Good work chaps, keep it up.

Gomes’ stay of execution

This week has seen a rather impressive PR campaign launched on behalf of Mr Gomes and his oil-covered gloves. All and sundry have come out in force to assert, most emphatically, that he actually is a pretty impressive goalkeeper, and is just having a poor run of form, coupled with a rather public crisis of confidence.

It may surprise seasoned all-action-no-plotters to know that I too actually subscribe to this opinion. Stop sniggering, it’s true. The guy was extremely highly-rated for five years at PSV, making the last four of the Champions League, and was a regular choice under Guus Hiddink. Indeed, he has already displayed here in England that he is a shot-stopper par excellence. However, this will count for precious little if his bizarre, vaguely vampiric allergy to crosses continues. While ‘Arry has apparently made a living out of “putting his arm around players” (never had a boss who did that to me, mercifully) and telling them that they’re great players and wonderful people and sensational human beings and actually deities, even his patience will wear thin if Gomes continues to use the sieve-catching-water method of gathering crosses.

However, Gomes has this week received the benefit of the doubt and a stay of execution. Instead, the fall-guy at White Hart Lane has been a chap named something like Hans Leitert, chap who’d only been at the club five minutes. He was brought in by Juande Ramos and Damien Comoli (a thousand curses upon him) as goalkeeping coach during the summer. And what a master-stroke that was. He’s now enjoying his P45 and the memories of thirty-six thousand howls of anguish on a weekly basis. His replacement is Tony Parks, a Tottenham legend whose claim to fame is having met my oldest brother (he, the latter, has a blog too btw - http://www.richlac.blogspot.com/), a moment recorded for posterity by a local newspaper, back in 1984. (Coincidentally enough, this clash of titans occurred just days after Parks had saved a penalty in the final of the 1984 Uefa Cup, thereby winning the trophy for Spurs). The drill given to Parks is simple - teach Gomes to control his area. This is apparently as much about communication with defenders as about movement around them. It seems a fair diagnosis, as many of Gomes’ problems have stemmed from ill-judged attempts to storm his way through masses of his own players to reach the ball. The lad seems not to realise that such a strategy, while noble in intent, is hindered somewhat by those pesky laws of physics, which dictate that his progress is impeded by the presence of phycial bodies obstructing his path. Parks was only hired this week, but fairly immediate results are required. Tomorrow’s match sees the return to White Hart Lane of our former number one, Robbo, to whom Gomes can refer if he wants any proof of how quickly a goalkeeper’s star can fall at Spurs.

Another point of note will be how ‘Arry adapts to the absence of everyone’s favourite paperweight, Modric, who is out for a couple of weeks with an injury (presumably inflicted when a strong gust of wind picked him up and tossed him around). One option would be to let Lennon play centrally, in the hole, thereby utilising his pace without having to subject everyone to his infuriatingly poor crosses from wide positions. Another, more daring alternative would be to opt for a second striker, in the form of the wonderfully cheerful Campbell, or the slightly stroppier Pavluychenko. A home game vs the team one place above us is one we ought to win - and I think we’d all be grateful if it turns out to be a nice low-key afternoon for Gomes.

A useless fact you can take with you into tomorrow’s game is that Blackburn is, bizarrely, a team I seem to have watched several times over the years. I guess everyone who goes to football matches has a team they inadvertently see fairly regularly - mine, for no good reason, is Blackburn. I remember seeing a game against them in the Hoddle era, a fantastic 3-2 victory over them in the all-action-no-plot days of Martin Jol, and then just last season seeing them beat us 2-1 in the last minute, the day before Juande took over. They have nothing in particular to recommend them, they just seem to pop up on my radar fairly frequently. Told you it was a useless fact.

The antithesis of an all-action-no-plot performance: Germany 1-2 England

“‘Tis a meaningless friendly,” they bleated. (And I include me in “they”, so should probably make that “we”…) It’s not looking so meaningless now, as plenty of lessons were learned, many of them positive. Inevitably, as there is only one international game per month, it’s easy to blow out of proportion a single match, but ne’ertheless:

Central midfield: As seasoned all-action-no-plotters will know, I had been planning to watch this particularly carefully, fine tooth-comb and magnifying glass at the ready. Neither Carrick nor Barry offered forward bursts from the centre, so I allow myself one smug, told-you-so smirk (if you don’t believe me check yesterday’s blog, then bow down and worship my sagacity). However, by way of compensation - and it was ample - they looked after possession fretlessly and for long spells, only perhaps losing control in the last 20 or so, when Germany toyed with the idea of coming back into the game. Rather than burst into attacking positions, they kept an eye on things like sensible childminders, while toddlers in the shape of SWP, Downing and Agbonlahor tore around all over the place. The Carrick-Barry partnership looked good because they let the wingers (assisted by the full-backs) and the forwards do all the running, and that was sufficient to cause attacking problems. Through the decision not to burst forward (or inability to do so?) they also offered protection to a back four which consequently never looked particularly troubled.

Is this what we want from a central midfield pairing? Limited attacking intent, no dribbling, no appearances in the opposition area? Well, it’s hardly the stuff of which all-action-no-plot dreams are made, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and last night’s food for thought was a controlled away win against the team ranked second in the world. It would be wrong to ignore the footnote that this was very much Germany’s second-string, but nevertheless, England’s system worked effectively. It was not particularly action-packed and adrenaline-fuelled, but my goodness it was disciplined and effective. Particularly impressive was the manner in which England maintained their discipline, and continued to control the game, after conceding the shoddy equaliser. No heads dropping and no resorting to the headless chicken act. Taking their cue from Barry and Carrick the players maintained their shape and treasured possession. And eventually forced a win. How often have England been chastised for squandering possession, and for an “attack-attack-attack” obsession, for playing the 100 miles per hour “English way”? Last night showed that an England team can keep possession and play patiently, and can beat strong teams this way.

Such a performance frankly leaves me torn - I want to loathe it, I yearn for a return to the mindless, kamikaze attacking style perfected by Spurs, of conceding four but trying to score five. I yearn for a return to central midfielders who bomb forward and dribble past people and shoot from outside the area, leaving gaping holes behind them and creating end-to-end madness. I yearn for a return to all-action-no-plot, dammit! And last not was all about plot, with any moments of action meticulously planned and never let out of control! And it worked a dream! Aaaargh…

Anyway. Another thing we learned from last night is that pace at international level is a fantastic weapon. Credit to Agbonlahor, he used his well, and the Germans struggled to contain him, as the Croats struggled with Walcott, and previous international teams have struggled with Lennon and even Rooney. The combo of two similar strikers (he and Defoe first half, he and Bent second half) didn’t necessarily give evidnece of a particularly promising nascent partnership, but having two of them scuttling about seemed to keep the German defence occupied, in a way in which a lone striker might not necessarily have done, given the lack of attacking intent from central midfield.

Downing played well. I feel unclean having written that, but no denying it, his natural left-footedness was an asset, and his distribution was good. Neither winger was afraid to drift ten yards infield occasionally either, with credit due here to the attacking full-backs for overlapping. The contributions of the wingers and forwards, all of whom looked like they knew exactly what their jobs were, meant that there was little need for Barry and Carrick to join in the attacks.

Upson looked assured in defence (and can now join Anthony Gardner and Jermaine Jeans on the list of greats who has scored for his country).

And finally, last night also taught us that a moment’s lapse in concentration at international level is likely to be punished. Worth remembering.

An abridged version of this badboy was also published on the letters page of football365.com:
http://www.football365.com/mailbox/story/0,17033,8744_4525308,00.html

A central midfield world without Gerrard or Lampard

The withdrawal of players from the England squad to face Germany has been well documented, with some nine regular starters now missing. While the likes of Young and Agbonlahor, Mancienne and Richards will be desperate to put in a performance that cements their positions in the squad, I’ll be focusing on two of those who are already well-established, within the squad if not quite within the starting XI. In the absence of both Gerrard and Lampard, the central midfield partnership is likely to be Carrick and Barry. Barry has, recently, tended to start more often than not; while Carrick is, it’s fair to say, fourth in the queue behind Messrs Gerrard, Lampard and Barry for the central midfield berth.

Gerrard and Lampard are notoriously similar types, both happiest when casting aside their responsibilities and bombing forward. Given their similarity, the problem of pairing them effectively seems to have been one of the great conundrums of the 21st century. A train of thought that has been gathering momentum has been to play just one of them, alongside the more sedate Barry. In Gerrard’s absence, Lampard and Barry performed admirably in the 4-1 away win against Croatia, our finest victory in years. I personally would prefer this combo, of one of Gerrard or Lampard, paired with Barry, while the other of Gerrard or Lampard sits on the bench, to provide a highly potent weapon as substitute. Successive England managers have begged to differ, and Fabio’s solution remains unknown, given that, in the crunch, competitive games, injury has deprived him of the pair of them together.

The notion of one playing and one on the bench gives the squad the appearance of depth. Few would doubt that a central midfield needs at least one attack-minded, creative type, someone who can spot offensive passes and time his runs into the area to support the forwards. However, I worry that with both Gerrard and Lampard unavailable, England’s cupboard begins to look bare, in this respect. Barry and Carrick are both players I admire, but for similar reasons – ie the positional discipline they bring, as foils for attacking players, and the range and control of their passing, priceless in ball retention at international level. However, just as neither of Gerrard and Lampard seems to have the ability, let alone the inclination, to sit back and hold fort as half of a central midfield pairing, so neither of Barry and Carrick seem to have the natural ability to burst forward and create as half of a central midfield pairing. In a top-level international game (as opposed to a qualifier at Wembley vs Absurdistan) the entire team will look to the central midfield pair to pull the strings and create. Pace on the wings, and vision in the hole are obviously integral, but if the midfield offers nothing then the other attackers will not receive the necessary service.

Which brings me back to tonight. What are our options, if both Gerrard and Lampard are missing? It will be exciting to see Young and SWP on the wings, and the pace of Agbonlahor upfront - but central midfield? Fabio looks set to go with Carrick and Barry – and frankly I’ll buy a hat and eat it if these two together pin back the Germans. I don’t see a natural conduit between midfield and attack with this pair in the centre, I see a great yawning chasm. On the bench we have Parker and Bullard, left back at home we have Jenas. In theory I guess Joe Cole could fill the “creative central midfielder” role, but I’m not sure anyone in England genuinely considers the former three to be international quality. I would be delighted to be proved wrong tonight, but beyond Gerrard and Lampard, England’s central midfield cupboard looks to me to be a little bare.

Fabio set to do Spurs a favour

The day before England’s friendly with Germany, and as far as most are concerned the spate of withdrawals has placed the fixture firmly under the folder marked “Farce”. Of the first choice XI the central core of Rio, Gerrard, Lampard, Heskey and Rooney are missing, as well as likely supporting acts such as the Coles and Brown. A shame, as it was to Fabio’s credit that he had planned minimal changes from the team that played in qualifiers. The strategy of maintaining the bulk of the team, and drafting in two or three new players alongside the regulars was one of which I was strongly in favour. It seemed to me that the newbies would have a better platform to impress and showcase their abilities if surrounded by seasoned pros. Unfortunately it’s all pretty academic now – injuries have forced wholesale changes, with James, Terry, Barry and Walcott the only regular starters.

Pretty meaningless then, to many (I don’t quite believe the “There’s no such thing as a friendly with Germany” line being trotted out by squad players and broadcasters). However, for the fringe players this, naturally, is a huge game, a chance to stake claims for regular inclusions in the squad if the not the starting line-up. With Spurs’ Darren Bent the leading English scorer in the country at the moment there is a strong chance that he’ll be given a start, alongside one of Crouch, Defoe or Agbonlahor. I would be particularly interested to see how he fares with a second striker to partner, given that he is primarily deployed in the frustrating 4-5-1 at Spurs. While the 4-5-1 accommodates Modric, it often leaves Bent chasing shadows in attack, always outnumbered and typically having to do a lot of chasing away from goal. With his pace, strength, ability in the air and shooting ability he ought to be a very impressive all-round striker – a poor man’s Shearer. However, as the lone striker he is regularly forced to hold up the ball, or chase balls down the flanks.

Shearer looked best alongside a partner (Sutton, or Sheringham) but such a luxury is rarely afforded to Bent. Conventional wisdom has it that similar strikers can’t play together, and as such one ought to play a more withdrawn role, to feed the other (think Sheringham and Shearer again, or Beardsley and Lineker, Heskey and Owen/Rooney etc). Yet with the possible exception of Crouch, none of the forwards in the England squad is particularly inclined to play the withdrawn role. Should Bent start alongside Defoe or Agbonlahor it would give an opportunity to see how two fairly similar strikers pair up, and how Bent copes as one of a front-two. As such, it will provide an excellent opportunity for Spurs to gauge the effectiveness of such a strategy. ‘Arry deviated from his norm and attempted a 4-4-2 vs Liverpool in the Carling Cup last week, with great success, although with Campbell and Pavluychenko together in attack. It therefore remains to be seen whether Bent is fitted for this purpose, and ‘Arry seems reluctant to experiment with a front-two in a competitive game for Spurs (understandably enough, given our lightweight midfield). Fabio therefore looks set to do Spurs something of a favour in Germany tomorrow night. As one who is far from enthralled by 4-5-1, I hope that Bent flourishes with a partner alongside him.

Squad: James, Robinson, Carson; Bridge, Davies, Lescott, Richards, Johnson, Terry, Mancienne, Upson; Barry, Carrick, Downing, Bullard, Wright-Phillips, A Young, Parker; Walcott, Crouch, Bent, Defoe, Agbonlahor.

The recurring Gomes nightmare: Fulham 2-1 Spurs

Dagnabbit. The unbeaten run ended on Saturday, in pretty limp fashion by all accounts, and once again all eyes are upon our wretched goalkeeper Gomes. While only the highlights of this game were available, that was enough to stare in wide-eyed disbelief. Remember the fat, malco-ordinated kid in the playground, who was unable to synchronise his hands to clap, let alone catch? Heurelho Gomes take a bow. I bet that when the Spurs players select 5-a-side teams in training, he’s always the last one picked.

In his defence, the guy is a cracking goalkeeper when it comes to leaping at full-stretch to tip away a screaming long-distance rocket. This presumably was the rationale behind buying him (£10 million? Ye gods!), given the chronic inability of last year’s goalkeeper to stop such efforts. However, his confidence now shot to pieces like Butch and Sundance, he treats crosses like hot potatoes, or kryptonite, or the blinking ghost of Christmas past – gawping at them in disbelief and confusion, one step towards them, one step back, arms a-flailing, until eventually the ball gently lobs towards him and he juggles, drops, turns, grimaces and picks it out of its comfy new home – the Tottenham net. If he were a dog I’d shoot him right now and be done with it.

Until the transfer window opens in January ‘Arry has little option but to stick with him – sigh – but unless Gomes pulls himself together we’ll be on the look-out for a replacement. With limited funds available it might have to be a stop-gap free transfer, in the Kasey Keller mould, and that really would be desperate. Personally I’d like to see Given, Jasskeleinen or Friedel brought in. Fridel, having only just joined Villa, is unlikely, but Given or Jasskeleinen would be most welcome, both being strangely underrated (why haven’t Man U or l’arse snapped them up? Bizarre.).

The issue of the wretched Gomes neatly diverts attention from a worrying broader picture – as Redknapp said in the post-match interview, in the first 25 mins our tempo was far too slow. Understandable against, say, Man U or Barcelona, but not really against Fulham. The lack of urgency from midfield has long been at the root of Spurs’ problems, and is hardly going to be redressed by the combo of Huddlestone, Jenas and Modric, all of whom look great players when we’re three-nil up and cruising, but have all the bite and tenacity of an housebound octogenarian who has just removed her dentures . Back in 19th place, and with the new-manager bounce having seemingly ended, it’s time for ‘Arry to earn his corn.

A test of our credntials, and a trip down memory lane

As honeymoon periods go, six games sounds about right, which means that around about now we can start gauging just how good Spurs are. The draw with l’arse, and wins over Liverpool and Man City could probably be attributed to the natural “bounce” that comes with the installation of a new man at the helm, as well as a fair share of luck. However, irrespective of our form, and the stage of the season, Fulham away is a game we ought to win if we seriously want to finish in the top 6 and secure a UEFA Cup spot. Fulham are no pushover, esp on current form, and away from home is (bizarrely to me) always tricky - but I repeat, if we want to make the UEFA Cup, we have to win games like Fulham away.

The form of our strikers presents ‘Arry with a pleasant dilemma up top - the 4-5-1 system with Bent on his own in attack, and Modric behind him in the hole, has worked particularly well recently, with Bent scoring 5 goals in 2 games, and Modric looking increasingly dangerous (if still lightweight to the point of emaciation). However, Pavluychenko and Campbell struck up an instant rapport on Weds, as we switched to 4-4-2, linking well and each bagging a brace. I suspect today will see a return to 4-5-1 with Bent, particularly as we’re away from home, but I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of the system. Even during the thrashing of Zagreb a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that crosses into the box were a tad pointless as Bent was often the lone target, surrounded by two or three defenders. I suggest that a 4-5-1 system really needs at least one runner from midfield mimicking a striker (ie pushing very far forward, towards the 6 yard box), and prefereably another midfielder arriving from deep, towards the edge of the penalty area, giving an option for a more pulled-back type of cross, and also stretching the oppo defence. With Jenas, Modric and Bentley in the team we ought to have enough runners from midfield to work this, but our lack of presence in the area, particularly when deploying the 4-5-1 formation, is noticeable.

Fulham away also takes me on a trip down memory lane, to one of the definitive all-action-no-plot games. ‘Twas a sunny September afternoon last year, when I went with my kiwi mate for his first ever football match, and my first away game. Away games rock. The atmosphere was cracking (presumably because only the die-hards are sufficiently fervent to go to away games), and as it was still the halcyon era of scary Martin Jol, we had Berba and Keane upfront. Berba scored one of his truly extraordinary goals that day, a volley on the run which left the keeper rooted to the spot, and we were 3-1 up and cruising. Fulham’s defending made the Three Stooges look elegant, with fully-grown men bumping into each other and falling over, presumably while humming to themselves the Benny Hill soundtrack . Anyone with an inkling of plot would have boringly opted to close down the game and nullify any Fulham threat, but all-action-no-plot Tottenham opted instead for the vastly preferable, if high-risk, kamikaze route. Jenas from six yards chose to pass rather than shoot, as only Jenas can, providing some useful insight into why, after five or so years at the club, he still does not have his own song (bar, perhaps, vituperative screams of “You’re sh*t Jenas”). We conceded an unfortunate own-goal, then in the last minute conceded an overhead bicycle kick goal, and drew 3-3. Crazy times, left me cursing all the way home, but it neatly encapsulated in 90 minutes the all-action-no-plot world of Spurs - and let’s face it, it was a million times better than a nil-nil bore-draw.

Back to today - it’s a big test of our top-six credentials, let’s see how we fare…

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