1. Much Improved, One-Touch Performance
That puts a rosier glow on the cheeks, what? A win that that was vastly more comfy and snug than the scoreline suggests, and delivered with the sort of breezy panache that makes one wonder what all the fuss has been about.
Now at this point one probably ought to pause, scour the surroundings and dive behind the nearest, sizeable inanimate object, to shield oneself from the countless caveats being slung this way. Foremost amongst these caveats is probably the fact that Middlesbrough just didn’t put up much resistance, instead tripping over themselves to allow us a goal at the earliest possible opportunity, and thereafter sitting back and allowing us to pass triangles around them for as long as we pleased.
So be it, folk these days will have different approaches to life’s problems. It’s a consequence of democracy, apparently. However, there have been a pretty thick stack of fixtures this season against the Middlesbroughs of this world – teams that, without wanting to put too fine a point on it, simply don’t possess that much God-given quality – and we have made quite the elaborate pig’s ear of swatting them aside.
So on this occasion I am pretty content to accept that our opponents were not amongst the finest ever to grace turf, and nevertheless bask in the glory of a match deservedly won and, more to the point, a performance that hit all manner of right notes.
Crucially, for much of the game, our passing was of the one- or two-touch variety. This sort of fare is not only easy on the eye, but – and here’s the rub – has the added benefit of being the sort of stuff that can cut an opponent to ribbons before they know what has hit them.
Where it has been hiding these past few weeks I could not say. Why our heroes have opted against its use I do not know (although I could hazard a guess that better opponents do not simply step aside and wave us along with adoring eyes). But from the off we were in full Quick Passing Mode, and the suggested dosage did not disappoint.
I don’t mind admitting that our weekend approach (which, you will recall, consisted largely of trying to soak up Liverpool pressure and then blast long balls forward in the hope of sneaking a goal) made my eyes bleed and soul howl. This judgement was met with some pretty stern words from various quarters, with knives sharpened and spears pointed, as if to suggest that mine was not an opinion that would win the public vote. Democracy, once again, in action.
Despite the negative press, I stick to my words, and was therefore greatly soothed by last night’s offering. Credit to all involved, both for looking to pick an early pass at every opportunity, and for constantly buzzing around off-the-ball, in order to provide passing options for those in the hotseat.
2. Lo Celso Continues to Make The Right Noises
Foremost amongst those doing the off-ball buzzing were two of our vaunted Argentine cousins. Lo Celso has taken a little time adjust, but his various cameos have tended to include flickers of promise, and yesterday, given the platform of a starting spot against weak opposition, he looked like a chap who enjoys this sort of thing.
As mentioned, his energy levels ticked over at a healthy rate throughout. Rather like Mary’s little lamb, he was in pretty constant attendance of any of our lot who found themselves in possession, scurrying towards them with arms outstretched and no doubt wide, pleading eyes.
This in itself is a positive, because too often in recent weeks our play has been characterised by one lone chap dabbing at the ball while looking around pleadingly for a chum to avail themselves.
But on top of this movement malarkey, I also enjoy seeing the light bulb in Lo Celso’s head suddenly flicker on when he has the ball at his feet, an idea form for an incisive pass and the whole routine culminate with an attempt to pick a particularly sneaky through-ball.
Admittedly a lot of these sneaky through-ball turn out to have been a lot more exciting at the stage of being initially pitched than as an end-product, given that they were quite often intercepted in transit. But still. In a world in which Harry Winks receives the ball on the half-turn but opts to send it back south to his defenders, seeing Lo Celso instinctively look for a killer pass into the path of a forward gives one hope for a brighter future.
3. Lamela Takes His Chance
In his own unique way, Erik Lamela was also at the hub of much that was good about our lot last night.
One sympathises with whichever poor soul was once paid to teach the infant Lamela his alphabet and three-times tables, because in adulthood the chap appears to be a fidget, so goodness knows what he was like when asked to weld himself to a tiny seat and stay there.
Lamela’s engine ran permanently throughout, and given the amount of possession we had in midfield it was just as well that it did. Like Lo Celso he was pretty constantly on the move, giving our deeper-lying sorts a constant moving target, and giving the Middlesbrough defence plenty about which to mull.
His goal was delightfully finished, but it was the opening salvo that I particularly admired, featuring the young nib chasing back to pickpocket his man, before whirring off into the area. The end-product is not always there with Lamela, and he does have a tendency to dwell too long on the ball, but at a time when our general play has looked lethargic and half-hearted, his presence perks things up no end.
4. Tanganga’s Education Continues
The great and the good were pretty misty-eyed about young Tanganga by the time the curtain came down on proceedings. One understands of course, for one likes to see the local lad take his chance, and he has certainly made a good fist of things in his two games so far, going toe-to-toe with a pretty exalted opponent on Saturday and then adapting well to a tweak in position last night.
To have flung the Man of the Match wreath around his neck struck me as maybe getting a little carried away, mind. He has exceeded expectations to date, and displayed plenty of the good, honest traits that one seeks in an imposing defender, but he is also decidedly rough around the edges.
He made a few mistakes last night – leaping in to challenges with the enthusiasm of youth, when circumstances might have called for simply standing his ground, and so forth. This is not at all to chide the young bean, but simply to suggest that it seemed a stretch to consider him the best player on the pitch.
That said, with Davinson Sanchez sporadically losing all sense of spatio-temporal awareness, Father Time rather cruelly giving Jan Vertonghen a poke in the ribs and Serge Aurier having repeatedly proven that for every positive forward run he will also generate an equal and opposite defensive calamity, the emergence of Tanganga – quick, strong, willing and pretty capable either picking the right pass or on the charge with ball at feet – has been one of the most positive developments for a while.