strong>1. These Sort of Games: A Lament
Times, as the old bird murmured, are a-changing, and he may have had a point. It would not have happened in the day of WG Grace and chums, but in the modern game it is virtually the norm for one team to help themselves to 70% plus of possession and still spend the entirety scratching their heads as to how to win the dashed thing.
As recently as ten years ago, any team dominating the game thusly would rack up a hatful of goals and have cigars out long before time was called. These days however, there are pretty much 14 teams in the Premier League who are perfectly content to set up with nine or ten at the back and high-five their way home with a point in the bag.
It’s a riddle facing each of the Top Six, and at a loose guess I would suggest that our heroes drop points once in every half dozen or so of these games. If you expect that I have the solution you can dashed well eat your hat, but sometimes these things need to be said, and AANP may have been called many things, but a man to shirk his civic duty is not one of them.
It all seems to have sprung from the sackfuls of Champions League money hoovered up by the Top Six or so, creating in effect a league within the Premier League – or indeed two leagues, if you want to be particularly clever. And the whole bally thing is ruining the spectacle, because teams rarely go toe to toe any more. Further proof, if ever it were needed, that we should bring back the ‘90s.
2. Formation: A Complaint
As for the game itself, one would have to be particularly mean-spirited to chide our heroes for failure to triumph. The Wembley turf, one imagines, is bedewed with the good honest sweat of a race run, just forty-eight hours after ploughing through the swamp at Swansea.
If I have any recrimination, it is squarely aimed at our glorious leader. Having made the fairly progressive decision to use 4-1-4-1 away to Swansea, I can grudgingly accept that the reversion to 4-2-3-1 made a degree of sense at kick-off. This, after all, was West Ham’s Cup Final, and therefore one might expect them to pack some sort of punch. A midfield screen of Sissoko and Dier was, one accepts, not entirely the sort of insane guff that would have one led to the nearest padded cell.
However, by half-time it was pretty clear that the dreadful bilge being peddled by our guests rendered fairly redundant a defensive screen of two heavyweights. Moreover, while our lot were looking feisty enough, and producing the occasional slick passing combo, an extra attacking threat would have been welcomed aboard with gusto.
In short, the game was screaming out for a switch to 4-1-something-something (either 4-1-4-1 or 4-1-3-2), but Poch, as is his wont, kept his arms folded and persisted with one too many defensive types, until we were one down.
3. Sissoko: A Rant In No Uncertain Times, I Assure You
I have tried rather valiantly, in recent weeks, to identify the silver linings around the worthless, malcoordinated cloud that is Sissoko, but yesterday’s performance was utter tripe, even by his low standards.
How he is a professional footballer at all beggars belief, let alone an ever-present in our team and a member of the French international squad. The chap lumbered around like he understands the game less and less with each passing minute, comfortably the worst lilywhite on display. There might be some value in switching him to central defence, where his principal strength – namely, well, his strength, and general speed and power – can be utilised without having to torture onlookers with his rampant inability to control the dashed thing.
Such were my levels of apoplexy last night that I had to steady the nerves with an extra splash of bourbon, and hum the lines of one or two of the less aggressive arias. This rot simply has to stop.
4. Alli Improvement
On a brighter not, young Dele seems gradually to be rediscovering what it was that had everyone running around in a flap last season.
Let there be no mistake, his penchant for dwelling on the ball every time he touches it continues to try the soul, but he bobs about the centre with a bit more purpose than in previous months, and is beginning to make those marvellous Platt/Scholes-esque dashes into the penalty area that have the pulse quickening and one shouting an excited “Hoi!”
I admit I groan rather when one of our much-vaunted counter-attacks lands at his feet, for he will as sure as dash it suck all the speed out of the process. Broadly speaking, however, his dial is pointing back in the right direction, and this bodes well.
5. Eriksen Replacement
Difficult not to open one’s heart and reel off sweet nothings at the chap, no? His technique, his wicked dead-ball delivery, his sheer vim and eagerness to pick a match-winning pass – most of what is good at some point or other will pass through his bloodstream.
It makes the inner pessimist rather fret of what might happen should some malady befall him. With the Transfer Window now once again open I would like to see a creative type leap aboard the good ship Hotspur (and no, I don’t mean the chap Barkley).
Even in rude health it is probably unreasonable to expect Eriksen to mastermind all things creative, week in and week out. The return of Lamela is certainly welcome, but there is definitely scope for another blighter capable of dipping his shoulder and producing a spot of ooftah from nowhere. Particularly in games such as these, when our lot have to sit around the camp fire and work out how the devil to unpick a ten-man defence.
Three wins and a draw is not the worst festive return. We sit on the shoulder, as, famously, did Dame Kelly in 2004, and things worked out fairly sparko for her.