1. One-Touch Passing! Huzzah!
I haven’t paid too much attention to fan sentiment this weekend, domestic life being what it is, but I imagine that the internet has been creaking under the weight of Spurs fans chuntering like nobody’s business about our lack of shots on target. One might quibble that this is a tad rich, given that Lo Celso came within a cat’s whisker of scoring yesterday rather than hitting the base of a post – but the fact remains that we haven’t had a shot on target in an age, and the broader point is a strong one, that we lack a spot of thrust in the business area of the pitch.
Yet despite this, the mood at AANP Towers yesterday on watching the spectacle unfold, was decidedly bobbish, and I’ll tell you why. “Never mind that we haven’t created a chance worthy of the name,” was pretty much the chorus around these parts, “just look at how slick our passing game has become as we traverse from south to north!”
I appreciate the counter-argument would doubtless be along the lines that all the slick passing games in the world aren’t worth a dam if nobody at the business end is drawing back his arrow and letting rip – but I maintain, my spirits were buoyed immensely by the sight.
The reason being that for what seems like an absolute eternity – specifically ever since the arrival of Jose, however many moons ago – our passing, particularly from the back, seems to have degenerated into a stodgy mess in which nothing happens, but in an endless cycle of repetition. Close your eyes and I’m sure you can picture the scene as sharply as if it were happening again in front of you. It was chiefly characterised by each party taking turns to dwell on the ball around the halfway line, pivot one way, then another, waggle the arms rather pleadingly at those nearby – before passing sideways or backwards, for the exercise to begin again with a new principal.
Yesterday, however, whether by dint of the new formation or the new manager, the directive seemed to be for someone in defence to sneak a cheeky angled pass between the lines into midfield, at which point everybody involved donned their one-touch-outside-of-the-boot passing shoes, and within a blink or two the ball was being zipped over halfway and towards the final third.
Given the slow and turgid guff that had previously been peddled, incessantly, this was an absolute pleasure to behold.
Nor was it an isolated incident. Whenever we nicked possession from Everton, particularly when they were on the attack and hovering by our penalty area, a switch appeared to be flicked and everyone in lilywhite adopted one-touch mode, the aim of the exercise being to get up the pitch at a rate of knots, using no more than one touch each to get over halfway.
Now while it would obviously have been pretty spiffing stuff to have rounded off all this slick build-up play with a clear-cut chance or two – or even, dare I suggest, a goal – I’m inclined to think that playing this progressive way will inevitably lead to opportunities before long. Until that happens, I would qualify myself as moderately happy to watch our lot zip the ball around in such appealing one-touch fashion.
2. Passing Out From the Back
A related, if less inspiring, feature of Conte-ball has been the ongoing determination of our heroes to pass out from the back. “Nothing novel about that,” you might chide, and with some justification, but the Conte version of passing from the back involves doing so amongst a back-three rather than back-four, as well as wing-backs, goalkeeper, central midfielders and even occasionally Lucas all popping their heads in to lend assistance.
Whereas trying to pass out from the back within a back-four always seemed to have much of the Skin-Of-The-Teeth about it, somehow passing out from the back via the back-three and various supporting cast members comes across as a much more manageable operation – even if the protagonists are eminently capable of over-elaborating and gifting the ball to the opposition right outside our penalty area (witness Lucas in midweek ahead of Vitesse’s second goal).
To spell the thing out, within this formation the man in possession seems always to have more options when picking his next move, as opposed to those attempts of yesteryear within a back-four.
I suppose this approach is assisted to an extent by the fact that each of the aforementioned back-three (Davies, Dier, Romero) are, at least according to the official literature on the side of the tin, vaguely comfortable in possession (where ‘vaguely comfortable in possession’ could be contrasted with Davinson Sanchez levels of anxiety in possession that lead to him visibly panicking before either passing backwards or blasting the ball into no man’s land).
To be clear, however, this is not an element of our play that remotely excites me, unlike the one-touch stuff described above. This is merely an observation. It neither thrills nor devastates me; it merely happens, and I observe it. Done correctly and it can lead to the one-touch stuff, causing me to sit bolt upright and rub my hands with glee; but of itself it does little more than mark the passage of time.
3. Ben Davies
Inspired by his jaunt into the opposition penalty area to set up a goal in midweek, bang average Ben Davies yesterday seemed particularly keen to hammer home the point that that was not simply a one-off event, but an attraction that we might all become accustomed to seeing.
It makes for an interesting, additional tactical quirk. One would hardly say it is pivotal to our approach-play, nor does it define Conte-ball, but Davies’ sallies into the final third now seem to occur often enough to be classified as officially part of The Masterplan, rather than simply the whim of someone devastatingly unspectacular in everything he does.
And to his credit, and indeed to the credit of whichever member of The Brains Trust concocted this ruse, it adds some moderate benefits. With Reguilon hugging the touchline, and Son as inclined to cut infield, the presence of another left-footer lends – well, I hesitate to use the word ‘threat’, because I’m not sure Ben Davies could ever be described as ‘threatening’, but when he wanders upfield, waving his arms and definitely being present it presumably gives opposing defenders an extra bullet point on their To-Do lists.
A complimentary mot or two seem due to Monsieur Lloris, not least because he is vaguely topical, after the VAR penalty call.
Starting with that penalty call, it was pretty uncontroversially correct, and really ought not to have escalated to the extent that it did. First glance, and the change in direction of the ball, was enough to indicate that Lloris must have stuck a paw on it. I’m a little surprised that the referee did not pick up on this basic principle of physics himself, but justice was done and life pootled on. Lloris can be commended for timing this intervention particularly well.
But more than this, I was rather intrigued, and gently impressed, by the way in which he dealt with Everton’s first half tactic of bunting the ball into orbit and letting the wind swirl it around a bit.
Nobody likes a gust of wind. It can’t be seen, arrives without warning and generally makes a mess of things, or at least threatens to do so. And for clarity, I’m not talking about a gentle breeze that tickles the chin; I refer to full-on gusts.
Everton cunningly decided to use these gusts to their advantage yesterday, by tossing the ball over the top of our centre-backs and chasing. The result was that what would ordinarily have been tucked neatly into the back-pocket without a second thought suddenly became a vaguely mesmeric battle with the elements, as Dier and Romero washed their hands of all responsibility, leaving it to Lloris to come charging forward to resolve things as efficiently as circumstances allowed.
Not the most dramatic stuff one will ever see, admittedly, but I thought he handled these potentially awkward spots extremely efficiently. Credit to him for his starting position, awareness to gallop forward and then presence of mind to head the ball clear each time it became clear that the wind would prevent it from sailing safely into the area.
All of which is really a polite way of apologising to the chap for omitting to praise – or even mention – him for his impressive performance vs Vitesse last week. I’ve been rather surprised to read of our supposed interest in potential replacement keepers for next season, given that he is looking as sharp for us as he has ever done. His clean sheet yesterday seemed a fitting reward for his week’s efforts.