The Return of Dembele
Coincidence? Around these parts we certainly think not. For the last couple of weeks young Master Carroll has been hopscotching around the place, with pretty passes a-plenty and a very serious expression, which does not make him look any less like a 10 year-old but is noble enough. However, if a Dembele performance were to comprise pretty passes and hopscotch I think we could all legitimately worry that some deviant had stolen his very soul. The difference between a Spurs midfield powered (and I use the term in the loosest possible sense) by Carroll and one built on Dembele is pretty noticeable, and with the former traded for the latter we were back to winning ways. Yes he gave away free-kicks, and at times possession, but Dembele also shoved opponents aside and drove things forward. There will potentially be a time and a place for Carroll, and we all ought to get used to his waif-like frame as he is evidently one of the little brood of younglings that Pochettino is – creditably – trying to integrate into the big wide world. And N17 is after all the spiritual home of the pretty passer with lovely technique. However, the relief at seeing Dembele’s name back in the starting line-up was justified by his general air of belligerence throughout. Between him and Alli that notoriously soft and squishy Spurs underbelly is being given a few layers of reinforcement.
As the first half wore on, and Sunderland’s dogged 10-0-Defoe formation proved quite the immovable object, the AANP cogs started to whir out a point about Eriksen’s effectiveness – or lack thereof. Then he went and scored, and scored again, which rather showed me, but I will conveniently ignore the small matter of those two fairly critical goals, and hammer home the point anyway. The chap seems to have lost that alchemist’s touch in recent weeks, what? In games like this particularly, and in the opening exchanges vs Leicester (Cup) last week, when a sprinkle of subtlety was needed about the place as a matter of urgency, to thread a pass through the eye of a needle or some such jiggery-pokery, the chap’s creative juices seemed to run a little dry. In fact, he went down a notch further in the first half hour today, and started misplacing straightforward six-yard passes.
The goals, naturally were welcomed, and it would probably be the decent thing of me to let bygones be bygones and simply slap the chap’s back and ask about the health of his family, but where’s the fun in that? He does seem to have gone off the boil a tad in recent weeks. I don’t mind lobbing into the air the theory that this might be at least partially due to being nudged out of his spiritual home, slap bang in the centre. Dele Alli appears to have dibs on the Number 10 role, while Dembele, as mentioned, does a fine job prowling up and down either side of the centre circle. All of which seems to leave Eriksen forced to set up camp in an inside right or left position. It ought not to make a difference to the price of eggs for a player with his natural ability, but somehow things just aren’t quite right with his size nines. None of which would be too concerning, but there appears to be a sort of pattern to things at the moment, whereby we start a game like a team of wild horses unleashed, fail to get an early goal against a massed rank of defenders, and gradually allow the opposition more and more oxygen, damn their eyes. Someone somewhere needs to find a way to unlock a packed defence, lickety-split.
It would appear that the Brains Trust have not tired of their Christmas toy, a shiny new full-back mix-and-match kit. An interesting one this, as quite a few debates have been thrashed out amongst my chums this season weighing up the relative merits and concerns around our various right- and left-backs. It is not entirely clear to me whether Pochettino is selecting them on a suitability basis – horses-for-courses, if you will – or simply deciding that one-game-on, one-game-off is the decorous manner in which such things should be done, but either way the four in question are being kept on their toes. And then elbowed back to the bench.
So was Walker’s omission today his purgatory for the sins of just about every game in which he has ever played, when he has had that brain fade and gifted an opportunity to an opponent? Is Rose seen as the better option against weaker opposition because of his willingness to hare forward? But isn’t Davies just about doing exactly that anyway? Does it count for anything that young Trippier looks ever so slightly like a young, squashed up Wayne Rooney? Whatever the deep-lying narrative, all four of them seem to be pretty happy to have been given licence to slap the words “Gung-Ho” on their family crest and go flying up the flanks to provide 90 minutes of width to proceedings. Frankly it is dashed difficult to call a winner on either flank at the moment, and maybe that’s exactly the point. As sub-plots go, it is perhaps not quite on a par with Karl looking to avenge the death of his brother in Nakatomi Plaza, but nevertheless a useful conundrum has been added to the lilywhite mix.
Not wanting to sound like a broken record, but at some point before man colonises Mars will we need to rotate some of these chaps? Vertonghen, Alderweireld in particular (apparently the only game he’s missed all season was Arsenal in the Capital One Cup, which feels I’m pretty sure was played in black and white, it was so long ago), Dier and Kane seem to be reeled out come hell or high water.
There are no doubt associated risks with rotating, not least the likely drop in quality that they entail, what with every point being so vital. It is a truth fairly universally acknowledged that we simply do not have an adequate substitute for Kane; and the fleeting glimpses of Wimmer have not exactly screamed that he is such a watertight deputy for Alderweireld or Vertonghen that the casual viewer would fail to notice the difference. Moreover, the eagle-eyed will have spotted that there is only one of him, so half of the centre-back combo will always be required (in common with the club management, I am assuming that Fazio is absolutely the last option conceivable).
Dier, one would have thought, could be allowed an afternoon off at some point with Bentaleb wrapped up on the bench each week, but this does not seem to be the way that Pochettino butters his bread. I would guess that one of the centre-backs plus Dier will start again against Leicester in midweek, which is all well and good, but we still have half a season to play, and sooner or later these chaps’ limbs are going to start dropping off.
There is, I suppose, a counter-argument that these chaps ought to be perfectly capable of playing twice a week. It is, after all, what a Champions League season would require. I nevertheless would like to see the aforementioned quartet occasionally yanked out of the spotlight every now and then, because if a tendon snaps or some similar fate befalls then we won’t look half as clever. And even if all tendons maintain fine working order, mistakes will presumably creep in (Alderweireld, for example, looked a little more fallible than usual last week in the Cup against Leicester, and while Kane has been blessed with a natural expression of exhaustion, his recent performances have not been quite polished).
In closing however, and dealing again with the present moment, it was another good day at the office. The response to defeat last week and to falling behind today was as positive as we could have hoped. 4-1 was a fair reflection of the way the cutlery was laid out, and the goal difference continues to prompt rubbed eyes and double-takes from seasoned Lane-goers across the land. The Top Four remains realistic.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.