1. Squad Depth
Galling stuff, with a distinct flatness about the place, particularly in the second half – but I suppose one has to take the rough with the smooth, and stiffen the upper lip accordingly.
Though easy to criticise in hindsight, the first half actually wasn’t so bad. Admittedly not of the ilk that will be seared into the consciousness for generations to come, but some of the link-up play from the front four bordered on the Pretty Darned Effective, and but for six inches here and a goalkeeper’s paw there we might have been ahead.
However, once that horrible lot had their noses in front, our attacking sorts almost visibly ran out of steam. It was like watching a child’s wind-up toy slowly grind to a halt, as there was simply no puff left in the little cheeks of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. One might have had the urge to dash out and offer a consoling pat to their shoulders, if one were not so frustrated by the dashed thing.
Disturbing times, and all the more irritating for the fact that every man, woman and child about the place has seen this coming a mile off. Failure to supplement the squad with either first-rate starters or useful reserves has come home to roost in pretty predictable fashion, and murmurs about our lack of squad depth were all the rage on the sparkling concourses yesterday.
Even ignoring the injured personnel, the lack of squad depth means that those who do play do so with diminished fizz. This actually makes perfect sense, because these good citizens are being asked to perform to the peak of their powers at a pretty relentless rate. If it’s not a Champions League tie against one of Europe’s elite it’s invariably a domestic joust with a Premier League team that thinks better of rolling over and having its tummy tickled.
The generous thing would be to invest in some personnel of vaguely comparable talent, to allow Eriksen the occasional weekend with feet up and bourbon in hand; but instead the liliywhite barrel is being scraped for whippersnappers and cast-offs, none of whom are fit for purpose, so every last drop of energy is wrung from the A-listers – and we end up losing winnable games such as this.
2. Absent Friends
On occasions such as this one’s heart rather yearns for Harry Kane. The strength to hold up the ball, the nous to drop deep, the sheer gall to look both ways, shrug his shoulders and have a biff from 25 yards – qualities which Kane possesses by the sackload, and which were conspicuously absent from the various reserves out on parade yesterday.
With the attacking sorts on show haemorrhaging both ideas and energy, one could not help but wistfully wonder what difference Kane might have made.
Similarly, the heart grows fonder for Moussa Sissoko as his absence continues. In fact, the heart grew fonder for the old bean even in his presence too. In this post-Dembele era, he and he alone is capable of picking up the ball and driving twenty or so yards with it, and it is the sort of urgency from which we would have benefited mightily yesterday.
Little that can be done about it now of course, but the whole sorry spectacle seemed to ram home in no uncertain terms the fact that these two have become pretty indispensable cogs in the machinery.
3. Juan Foyth (Or The Gradual Erasure From Existence of Kyle Walker-Peters)
Returning to more pertinent matters, yesterday marked another experimental twiddle of the Pochettino thumbs, as Juan Foyth was square-pegged in at right-back again.
The young imp had a fairly eventful time of things. In the credit column he could boast a forward foray or two, to occasionally useful effect – including the last-minute dash that almost brought Janssen a moment of glory.
At times Foyth’s little dribbles seemed to strike oil due to accident rather than design, the ball appearing to escape his whirring limbs and rather kindly pop back into his path to invite him to have another go; and at other times he simply got his sums wrong and spurned some handy opportunities.
In the debit column, more than once he was marooned miles up the pitch as West Ham broke, a white dot in the green distance, providing a sterling example of a chappie lacking the positional awareness that would come with a lifetime of right-backing, and instead looking every inch a wide-eyed youth drinking in a new experience with little grasp of what was unfolding.
But aside from the pros and cons of Foyth’s performance in the role, his selection raised a broader existential question about young Kyle Walker-Peters. From an opening day headline-making performance against Newcastle last season, via a flawed but admirable fist of things in the Nou Camp a few months back, the whippersnapper’s star has taken one heck of a tumble, as he now finds himself fourth-choice right-back, and fit for little more than a watching brief, even as colleagues drop like flies.
It has been a curious move from Our Glorious Leader to prefer Foyth – himself hardly an expert in the rigours of central defence, let alone full-back – to KWP, a full-back by trade, particularly given the faith demonstrated in the latter to date in his career. Quite what this means for KWP’s future at the club is anyone’s guess, but there is something vaguely Orwellian about the way in which Walker-Peters is being erased from existence.
4. Danny Rose, And The Implications For The Ajax Match
Another rather loaded selection was that of Danny Rose, for the second time in four days. Alas, AANP is not privy to the medical records of the great and good of N17, but I have been labouring under the impression that angry young Master Rose is not a fellow whose constitution can bear two games within a week. The sight of him taking to the starting blocks twice in four days therefore prompted a scratch of the head and stroke of the chin, as all manner of permutations raced through the bean.
Foremost amongst them was the question of whether this meant Rose will now be unfit for parade against Ajax on Tuesday. This, if it transpired to be the case, would be a dashed shame, for Rose is nothing if not filled with the spirit of battle, and his snarl and aggression would be of huge benefit in a Champions League Semi-Final.
The deployment of Rose, coupled with the complete absence from the squad of my best mate Jan Vertonghen, does prompt me mischievously to peddle the notion that Vertonghen might be selected as left-back vs Ajax. With Pochettino in his current, creative mood, there is no telling who might start in which positions.
5. Positive Signs From Davinson Sanchez
On a day of pretty grim tidings I did at least take some encouragement from a central defensive display from Davinson Sanchez that at times had something of the Ledley about it.
The chap is blessed with a rare but most useful combination of pace and upper-body strength, and both were on show at various junctures yesterday. There were a couple of notable sprints to un-muddle defensive lapses, on top of which he deserved some credit for keeping a beady eye on Foyth – which frequently meant haring across to the right to cover for the errant full-back.
Not a flawless showing – for if anyone were to blame for the goal we conceded (and it is debatable that anyone were) then he appears to have been the prime suspect – but as the mind flits towards the future and a potential post-Toby era this at least provided a shimmer of positivity.