A quiet triumph for our glorious leader, this one. Coming on the back of the wretched Sunderland draw, and wretcheder West Brom defeat, the polite coughs around Pochettino had been increasing in volume all week, but credit to the man. The air around Finsbury Park presumably still resounds to the irate warbling of Wenger, who took a deep breath at the full-time whistle yesterday and has not stopped grumbling since, but this was a dashed hard-earned point for our lot.
This was not the time for coruscating interplay, merry quip and flashing badinage. This was not a time for Chiriches, and his Dali-esque take on the art of defending. Evidently not a fan of early 90s brat pack western Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory, Pochettino sagaciously eschewed the notion of our heroes getting shot to death one after another in the quest for bravura headlines, and instead stuck to the markedly less glamorous – but infinitely more sensible – project entitled ‘Work Your Cotton Socks Off, Stick to the Plan And Take Home A Point’.
Kaboul and Vertonghen had the right idea, neither toddling off more than six paces from the other, and all around them in lilywhite were faces etched with concentration. Rose and Naughton in particular can puff their chests today, for rarely have two young beans attracted such opprobrium over their careers as this pair from yours truly – but they jolly well filled the unforgiving minutes with distance run yesterday.
The shiniest gold star however, without doubt goes to our trusty guardian of the net. Amidst all the hours of debate surrounding his frightfully modern role of sweeper ‘keeper, one sometimes forgets about young Lloris’ du pain et du beurre, but when push came to shove and the shots flew in yesterday he dashed well had every angle covered, beaten only by the elaborate full-body-wrap-around dummy thrown by the wretched Welbeck. Rather excitingly, one second half save even had the gods of goal-line technology awoken from their slumbers, which presumably had Jonathan Pearce’s brain melting out of his ears.
A Mild Regret
Not wanting to sound ungrateful about things, but given that throughout the entire game we only managed to touch the ball about seven times, it was mildly annoying that we made rather a pickle of two or three jolly presentable counter-attack opportunities, in the first half in particular. We did eventually get the final ball right – Lamela hitting the bullseye with his assist for Chadli – but one or two more of those in the first half and we might have had a two- or even three-goal lead to spurn. Ah well, live and learn, what?
A Glimpse of the Future
If our general game-plan was one of locking ourselves in a bunker and waiting for the ongoing alien invasion to pass overhead, the longer-term Pochettino approach was at least given a brief and stirring cameo when we took the lead. Much hot air has been expelled about the whole business of ‘pressing high up the pitch’, but with Adebayor ambling around with all the energy of doleful sloth this fabled approach has been as rare as a two-headed rabbit so far this season, so it was jolly heartening to see our heroes snaffle the ball just 30 yards from the opposition goal yesterday, and proceed to cross t’s and dot i’s until the net was rippling.
And to round things of, a round of applause to the unfeasibly young arbiter of proceedings, who did a cracking job of preventing a full-scale riot by cautioning Chadli for his irresponsible and over-the-top goal celebration. Goodness knows, the very fabric of society would have come crashing down around us if that fine bastion of the rulebook had not waved yellow in Chadli’s face. The relief in the corridors of power today has been palpable.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
Such is life I suppose, but AANP is remarkably sanguine about the Late Own-Goal Fiasco. Mellowing with age, no doubt.
Dembele > Bentaleb
Pre kick-off, hearty roars of approval could be heard to resonate from every corner of the globe, as news filtered through that Bentaleb had been jettisoned and Dembele selected in his stead. No doubt a startled and dismayed Bentaleb instinctively looked sideways and backwards and backwards and sideways for explanations when the news was broken to him, but Sunderland away was no time for such unproductive ambling. All the possession in the world is of little use if we get nowhere near the opposition net, and while Bentaleb would presumably react to such a sentiment by slamming his hands on his ears and howling in dismay, Dembele dithers not. Straight from kick-off the chest was puffed out, opponents bounced off him and every time he received possession he looked to drive forward, and a positive tone was duly struck.
The Attacking Triumverate
Matters were also helped no end by the attacking triumvirate of Chadli, Eriksen and Lamela. Where two weeks ago Chadli and Eriksen in particular flittered around with all the menace and intent of a pair of particularly absent-minded butterflies, yesterday the two of them and Lamela brought with them bucketloads of brio and gusto, and proceeded to slosh it all around the park with gay abaondon.
If there were a pocket of space in between Sunderland’s defence and midfield one or more of that lot were popping up in it, and if there were a cute, eye-of-the-needle pass in the vicinity you could bet every last penny plus a couple of stamps that the aforementioned would be trying their darnedest to deliver it.
Frankly, everything went swimmingly from start, through the middle, via a couple of sub-plots and just about all the way until finale. But dash it all, instead of running riot and popping away the six or so goals we more or less merited, things went vaguely awry each time at the final hurdle. The ball would ping off the woodwork, or splat against the chest of that gormless goalkeeper without him even realising. A last-ditch tackle here, a narrow miss there, and before you knew it we had conceded a bally own goal of all things, and were left wandering off at the final whistle scratching our heads in bewilderment.
The Exciting World Of Vlad Chiriches
Presumably Master Vertonghen had a stubbed toe or man-flu or some other such malady, to explain his absence from the entire squad. As a result, young Chiriches bounded up to the plate, and promptly convinced himself yet again that this was a school playground and his name was Pele. Paying scant attention to the basic principles of defending the lad simply could not prevent himself from trying to dribble past everyone in sight every time he touched the ball. Here is a bean who no doubt grew up watching and re-watching that Saudi lad from World Cup ’94 who picked up the ball in his own half and ran the length of the pitch before scoring. The law of averages suggests that one day Chiriches will do the same, and I rather hope we stick with him because in the medium-term a ball-playing centre-back is not to be sniffed at. But at present the chap ought to have the word ‘CALAMITY’ written across the back of his shirt, because his penchant for dribbling into trouble is as predictable as it is hilarious.
Chins Up, What?
Back to the grand scheme of things, and disappointment aside I that in the marathon that is The Pochettino Era this represented another vaguely successful outing. Two points dropped no doubt, but given that we will regularly face teams looking to sit back and stifle the dickens out of us, the performance was encouraging. Sideways passes and meaningless possession can go boil their own heads, for there was creativity by the sackful here.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
AANP has just biffed off on holiday this last week (Malta, since you ask), and these sunny retreats to foreign climes would not be worthy of the name if they did not at some point involve tracking down an English-themed watering-hole to watch Spurs get thoroughly dismantled, to the mirth of the nearby pink-faced denizens.
Despite the uncontainable urge amongst some of particularly dramatic ilk to race to the nearest hasty conclusion and yelp “Crisis! False dawn! Just not good enough, dash it!” this strikes me as but a stumble along a fairly promising path. A jolly chastening stumble mind, complete with unceremonious landing and all the trimmings, but not yet the moment to be inciting unrest amongst the nearest angry mob.
Midfield Creativity: AWOL
Particularly infuriating was the fact that that smug lot beat us at our own game, blast them – harrying off the ball, counter-attacking in a blurry burst of heels and generally executing some slick, incisive stuff in the final third.
By contrast, Bentaleb and Capoue seemed resolute in their determination to avoid anything with the merest whiff of deep-lying creativity (which potentially gives the Brains Trust food for thought in The Great Capoue Vs Dembele Debate, given the Belgian’s uncontrollable urge to puff out a chest and trundle goalward). The dull hum of inactivity behind them meant quite the onus on Eriksen, Chadli and Lamela to run riot. Alas, the first two in particular seemed not to care for such frivolous duties, seemingly content instead to bask in the glory of the previous week’s efforts, and other than the occasional long ball hoicked over the top there was nary a sniff of goal all afternoon.
Adebayor showed a hint of spirit, as did Lamela in the second half, like a couple of puppies haring round after the ball, but for all their gusto there was precious little effect, and by and large ignominy was jolly well in her element and having an absolute whale of a time. This being Spurs such things happen, but the imperative for Pochettino and chums now is to ensure that this is most certifiably the exception rather than the rule.
And to round off a rather doleful few days we have now bid rather hasty farewells to a couple of the elder statesmen. Few could make a convincing case that Daws is still of top-rate Premiership quality (the highlights of his Hull debut appeared rather cruelly to corroborate this), but the blighter could not have been more committed to the lilywhite cause if he were hatched from a cockerel’s egg laid in the centre of the White Hart Lane turf. And by all accounts a thoroughly decent old bean too. Oh that a spot could have been found for him as a permanent mascot leading the players onto the pitch each week. Gone, but absolutely not forgotten, I suspect that it is not just at AANP Towers he will be welcome to a free bourbon any time he jolly well chooses.
Amidst the hullaballoo of it all, the bods at the top have sneakily shunted Sandro down the exit chute as well. Of quality and endearing commitment he had plenty, and the weekly axis of awesomeness that he formed alongside Dembele a couple of years back will live long in the memory, but the point has been made that the poor blighter was rarely in good health, so the rationale for selling him is understandable, if nevertheless regrettable.
Two long-serving troops is probably enough for one episode of this particular soap opera, but despite a few swirling murmurs Monsieur Kaboul remains in situ. Time is not in the habit of waiting for the good mortals of this sphere, but in Kaboul’s case Time seems to have legged it while the Frenchman’s back was turned and disappeared into the distance. No longer the colossus of two or three years back, the Liverpool game was the latest indication that the chap has lost several yards of pace, and is adding a distinct flavour of fallibility to proceedings at the back. Captain by default he may be, but he looks less and less the inspiring leader with every passing minute. One rather hopes that the new chap Fazio is fully-clad and limbered up, because his appears the next cab on the rank.