Bless them, Swansea genuinely are a team I would like to play every week. Like some sort of Tottenham Hostpur-lite, they really do not look the sort of troupe who like to get their shirts dirty with any of that tackling nonsense (although Chiriches and his pretty little face might beg to differ), and they would happily spend all day pinging short passes to one another if they could, even if doing so means creating all manner of difficulty for themselves in their own area, just because it all looks so pretty. In the final analysis, it feels a little bit like watching our first eleven playing the squad players.
In the opening half hour it did admittedly seem that our back-four were but one killer pass away from being rather brutally dismembered, but with each passing week it becomes ever more apparent that this is actually just a hilarious optical illusion of the Sherwood Era, and that Chiriches and Dawson actually have everything under control at all times, and are secretly smoking cigars rather than breaking sweat.
A pat on the back too for young Master Walker, who went steaming up the line with such vim and vigour that one imagines he eschewed the bus ride and instead sprinted all the way back to North London. Bentaleb also toddled around with the air of a young man who had arrived at the office with pencils sharpened and a nice clear agenda for the day. It is easy to see why the Brains Trust ’14 like the cut of his jib, for as jibs go his is cut with a pleasing mix of aggression and uncomplicated passing.
However, the shiniest star is saved for young Eriksen, who seemed rather at ease with life in a more central position. Indeed, the forfeiting of Soldado for Chadli had the salubrious side-effect of allowing the midfielders generally to buzz into each other’s territory whenever they spotted something that took their fancy, and this being Swansea it didn’t particularly matter who did what. Chadli himself did not exactly blow up anybody’s skirt, but the principle served well enough, and suggests that when fit again the future could look bright for Lamela.
AANP would not be the grumpy soul he is without a whinge or two about glorious captain, and indeed in the first half boxes were duly ticked as he went sliding full pelt in typically whole-hearted and ill-time manner at one point, and then executed that scarcely believable two-handed shove on a chap in the penalty area, a manoeuvre rather generously ignored by the ref. But by golly all was forgiven in the second half, when of all things he rolled a perfectly-weighted diagonal pass inside the full-back and into the path of young Master Walker, leading directly to our second goal. Who would have thought the old man to have so much cunning in him?
As well as Dawson’s Modric moment, there was also Kyle Walker’s quite glorious dummy in the final moments, that left some poor Swansea bean on his posterior, and the Eriksen cross for the opening goal, that curled so viciously I felt a little dirty just watching it. To their credit, both Dawson and Chiriches did the honourable things in central defence with minimal nonsense, particularly against an opponent such as Bony, who appears to have much of the barnstorm in his constitution.
A cheery day’s work then, and the glint in his eye will tell you that Sherwood has his little mitts set on that Manager of the Month award. The fixtures may have been kind, but the football is fun, the goals are rolling in at a healthy lick and the Top Four remains within spitting distance.
And so the interminable wait continues, amongst just about every Spurs fan of my acquaintance, for the Sherwood bubble to burst, so that those sharpened knives can be plunged with gusto. Nevertheless, it’s four wins and a draw in the league, and another win or draw would seem to be on the agenda today. The approach these days appears to be kill or be killed, so while the defence bears a permanent ‘skin-of-its-teeth’ take on life, up the other end the Eriksen-Adebayor-Soldado-Lennon axis poodles along in pretty fine fettle, and one or two of that mob will presumably be to the fore again today.
Depressingly enough there won’t be too many more opportunities to ponder this in the future, but Sherwood will presumably be scrawling in ‘Credit’ and ‘Debit’ columns respectively the various permutations of replacing Soldado with Defoe. I jolly well know where my own preference lies, but I presume we will again be treated to 70 minutes of Soldado sliding in to knee the ball up into the stands and pick himself up with that rather angry expression on his face as if it’s really all our fault for shouting at the telly-box in the first place.
The rest of the team picks itself these days, and that there is now consistency in team selection makes a welcome change from the slightly more haphazard take on things of the previous regime. The downside seems to be that one cannot stretch a limb these days without crashing into another soul who wants to hitch a lift on the Defoe Express and set off for pastures new. Holtby, Capoue and Chadli have all apparently toyed with the idea in recent days, and Lamela’s name is rarely far from a transfer gossip column. All of which makes me wonder what has happened, six months on, to the summer blueprint of creating a squad for all seasons, which was so enthusiastically endorsed by the suits in the corridors of power.
Meaty stuff I’m sure you agree, but a sizeable digression from the task in hand. I rather like watching Swansea, truth be told, and given their keep-ball style, and our new-fangled approach of back-to-front-as-quickly-as-humanly-possible this ought to make for entertaining viewing. As ever I rather fear for our defence, but all things considered we ought to out-score this lot.
Plus ça change and all that, what? The 4-4-2 business will win us more games than it loses, particularly given the Sherwood mantra that bonus points will be awarded for whizzing the ball from back to front as rapidly as humanly possible, a most edifying change from the sidewards sidewards catchy monkey snooze-fest under the previous incumbent. However, yesterday – and, one imagines, against most of the slicker teams in the country – we were simply outmanoeuvred in midfield. Like a broken clock shouting ‘Bingo!’ twice a day, Andy Townsend stumbled upon an unfortunate truth yesterday when he mused that l’Arse were taking better care of the ball, and that, coupled with their numerical advantage in midfield, rather did for us.
The Three Stooges
It is never too encouraging to see Curly, Larry and Moe line up across the back-four, and while the defensive line is not quite so high these days, blind panic still broke out with disturbing regularity at the back. Walcott’s pace had poor old Daws and Chiriches scuttling around doing their very best decapitated poultry impressions, and as they spun around in little circles and bumped into each other they could not have been more convincing if adorned with blood-spattered feathers. Were one to use the ‘”Who would buy them?” test of a player’s ability, it is difficult to imagine any top-half team pausing to stroke the chin and count the pennies.
There is at least some consolation in the fact that these are our third and fourth choice centre-backs (one hopes), but the news is worse out on the left. The excruciating little tizz into which young Master Rose imploded can probably be shrugged off as the sort of occasional mistake that befalls even the best of us, but the regularity with which he cedes possession jolly well makes me grind my teeth, and not in the good way mind.
Young Walker tends to attract opprobrium on a regular basis, and admittedly yesterday, having done the hard work of racing back to catch Rosicky, it was a little odd that he opted not to intervene any further in matters to prevent the goal. However, I tend to exonerate the chap on the grounds that few men in Christendom seem to take things quite so seriously and passionately as he. Oh that all our lilywhite heroes cared as much about winning their individual battles throughout the 90.
The Unfortunate Lot of a Midfielder in a 4-4-2
The midfield beavered away, bless them, but that whole thing was rather a mismatch. Adebayor’s commendable exertions in dropping deep were not really enough to fight the fires, and when l’Arse got their groove on and started pinging the ball in neat little triangles one imagines there were a few embarrassed looks amongst Bentaleb and chums. On the bright side, when in possession and merrily bursting out on the counter our heroes look about one smart pass away from a one-on-one every time, with Eriksen and Lennon evidently being given all sorts of encouragement to bust a gut in search of goals. Eriksen in particular looks like he has a nice picture of things in his head. The execution still tends to be a little off-key, but one gets the impression that in time he will be quite the play-maker.
Whether Sherwood sticks with this approach for our trickier away-day assignments will make for interesting viewing in the coming months. The 4-4-2 gamble of losing the possession game but having excess numbers on the counter worked a treat vs Man Utd, but had us panting and wheezing a tad yesterday, and ultimately our glorious leader will probably be judged on results in those biggest of big games.
In this part of the interweb nothing really set the juices flowing like a perfectly-weighted diagonal pass that rips open a defence like a dismembered carcass. If it is played inside the full-back so much the better, and if, on top of all of the above, it is threaded through the legs of a defender en route to its destination, then it jolly well deserves a bonus point.
On which note, Señor Soldado can take a bow. The ball may bounce uncontrollably of the wrong limb whenever he gets within spitting distance of the net, but if ever a pass deserved to be dressed up in a tux and immaculate bow-tie, given a full two minutes applause and awarded a shiny statuette it was Soldado’s in the first half to set up Lennon for his early one-on-one.
While wittering on about the forward line, Adebayor, it seems, continues to eat his five a day, and another rip-roaring performance ensued. Whether holding up the ball, taking on Wayne Rooney of all people in a mano-e-mano tussle by our own corner flag or showing his contempt for that old gravity malarkey by hanging in the air for nigh on a minute and a half in order to head home our first, the chap bounded around with absolute lashings of verve and eagerness. Oh that the secret to his enthusiasm could be bottled and recycled on a weekly basis.
Elsewhere on the spectrum stretching from Most Welcome to Dashed Infuriating striking performances was young Harry Kane. He may fit into his lilywhite shirt like a steroid-enhanced oak tree but there the similarity with Monsieur Drogba ends. In his defence, Master Kane was almost certainly put through a condensed army boot-camp session during half-time, as that would reasonably explain why the lad looked absolutely shattered from the moment he puffed on to the moment he panted off at the final whistle, presumably just seconds before collapsing in a muscular heap in the tunnel. With fresh legs needed to hold up our attacking play and chase down every United defender in sight, Kane seemed to spend his minutes treading through wet concrete. (Although the moment when he stood offside and deliberately whacked the ball into the crowd did make me chortle.)
T’Other End of the Pitch
Hats tipped at a jaunty angle to the defence – and their chums from elsewhere – for holding firm in that nervy final quarter. Ranting about Dawson’s footballing prowess or lack thereof comes about as naturally to yours truly as letting the eyes glaze over and humming the theme to Beverly Hills Cop while the various marvellous womenfolk in my life rant about my lack of attention or some such thing, but if our intrepid skipper does one thing well it is put his body on the line for a humdinger of a backs-to-the-wall defensive effort. Defending deep removes from the equation his ‘pace’, and lets him get on with the meaty business of repelling the myriad crosses and shots fired in, and thus did he strain the sinews with gay old abandon for the cause.
None of which was quite enough to detract from the shortcomings of the boy Rose, who dribbled into trouble, was effortlessly dribbled past or misplaced his passes with fairly metronomic regularity. Meanwhile the jury remains in a quandary over Chiriches, who mixes sterling interventions with moments of thinking himself the Romanian Pele and trying to dribble past everyone in sight. The midfield seemed well drilled however, each seeming to pick the right moment to bomb forward and the right moment to roll up sleeves and muck in.
There is a growing sentiment that Lloris has not quite been the same dapper chap he once was since getting that clout on the head, and there was certainly a hairy moment when he gave a Gallic shrug and opted to flatten deserving miscreant Ashley Young. However, one cared rather little about this by the end of proceedings as he flung himself hither, thither and every point in between in order to repel our hosts, antics that were probably worth a hat-trick, if you get my drift.
A 100% Record in 2014
So far things are bright and beautiful on the good ship Sherwood. The 4-4-2 selection at the outset certainly gained a nod of admiration from these quarters, for showing, if nothing else, a willingness to live by the sword, even if carnage did appear to beckon, but for an hour or so we played a mighty impressive counter-attacking game, preventing United from fashioning any particularly straightforward chances while carving open a clutch of glorious ones ourselves. Things certainly took a wobbly swerve after United pulled back their goal, but all’s well etc. The only shame was that the delicious irony, of the big decisions going against United at Old Trafford, appeared to be lost on the humourless chappie manning their helm.