So, what’s eating Tottenham Hotspur?
Not the simplest of conundrums to disentangle bearing in mind that this time last week we were talking about the club’s bestest ever start to a Premier League campaign; the happy proprietors of more clean sheets than a Magdalene laundry and within touching distance of the table’s summit.
How much can one defeat, to a team who’d just firmly diddled John Terry’s Brave Chelsea the week before, change the complexion of a season that appeared, at worst, to be going rather steadily?
Context, Timothy, it’s all about context.
Record breaking starts, unequalled number of ‘to-nothing’ results. Arbitrary data of this kind is all well and good but if once the figures are boiled down to their syrupy reduced state, it doesn’t correlate to what you’re actually seeing on the pitch; what your miserable humanoid brain is processing in its bony strongbox – then it’s time to stop using them. They don’t mean anything. I often claim that my bank balance has six zeroes in it. But because there’re no real numbers before the zeroes- it’s just zeroes- well, then, it’s not really a piece of information worth sharing.
Were you aware that I’ve also never lost an Olympic 100m sprint final?
The truth for Spurs is probably somewhere on middle ground. While we’ve made a statistically decent opening fist, we’re playing some quite ponderous football at times. We’ve muddled rather than rocketed along; squeezing out points here and there and generally looking like we’ve not quite worked out what to do once faced with the big, white netty thing in the opposition’s box. We’re not playing sh*t as some have suggested; just okay. Not bad. So-so. What you might expect from a side making as many wholesale changes as we have.
Anyway, here’s a ten Nine Point Plan of what I’d do to haul us out of this momentary funk. Obviously no-one’s asking for my advice but hey-ho.
1. Too predictable. That’s what the experts are saying. This can be easily remedied with a dose of Heurelho Gomes. Up front. By a factor of mental. Put that in your prediction pipe, Professor Football.
2. Players, stop being unconscious. Can’t stress this enough.
3. We’ve only scored 9 goals this season, while playing with just one striker. It stands to reason, then, that THREE strikers would give us 27 goals. Which is considerably more. See point 1.
4. This, presumably, would work for goals conceded, too. Why not play an extra goalkeeper? Two goalkeepers would let in half the goals and thus making those extra goals for even more valuable. #goals
5. Invert the inverted wingers.
6. Play Jermain Defoe in more of a False Never position.
7. Use some of our points from the Europa League in the Premier League. We’ve got loads.
8. Erik Lamela.
9. Erik Lamela.
Doing Twitter, yeah?
Hugo Lloris’ worrying brain-thump was the major talking point from Sunday’s visit to Goodison Park, which is reasonable enough when you consider that the usual outcome of a collision with something with the weight and dimensions of Romelu Lukaku’s lower-thigh, is instant vaporisation. Of anything in a two-meter radius.
Whether Villas-Boas and the Spurs’ medical team did the right thing in allowing the dazed French net-guardian to continue his afternoon- and the consensus is, by and large, to the negative- you have to appreciate the resilience of someone who can tangle with 100 kilos of cleaved Belgian oak, and live to tell the tale.
My view, in all seriousness, is that Lloris should’ve been hooked off immediately. You can admire the resolve of the man, but Hugo probably has designs in the future to remember things like how to drive, where eggs come from and the name of his daughter. Maybe not straightaway but, you know, this information can be useful. The second it was obvious that he’d been knocked-out, the next course of action should’ve been removal. No question.
One does wonder, though, as suggested in the Football365 Mailbox on Monday, what the press reaction would’ve been had, say, Joe Hart taken a skull-clobber, in, say, a World Cup semi-final? Hard to imagine, obviously. But what if the England Number One stubbornly refused to trot off down the tunnel, despite all good medical practice telling him otherwise? What if, instead, he returned to the action, all bog-eyed and spoony-legged and valiantly made a series of match-wining saves? The default setting of some of the tabloids has been AVB HAS DONE ANOTHER STUPID! but how easily does idiocy turn to bravery in the right context. Indeed, not too much was made of Lukaku himself soldiering on for half-an-hour or so, after he was sparked clean out against West Ham some weeks back.
There’s every reason to believe that Villas-Boas could’ve been more delicate is his criticizing of the home support against Hull at the weekend, but if the resultant point is that the fraught and cagey atmosphere at The Lane is somehow affecting the players’ performance, then surely it’s one worth addressing. No matter how contentious or potentially incendiary the issue might appear.
Taking a pop at the fans who’ve haemorrhaged a good portion of their week’s earnings to buy a ticket is, let’s say, a dicey strategy- and by no means did the level of action on Sunday warrant a Rodgers and Hammerstein-style chorus line. But if there’s an argument that the crowd can do more, or in some way help matters, then what’s the problem?
Yesterday, the Spurs Supporters Trust admitted that there was ‘room for improvement’ with regards to the overall vibes at White Hart Lane and that they were working with the club to find ways to enhance the old Match Day Experience.
Did someone say cheerleaders and t-shirt cannons?
Anyway, it’s not all bad. Spurs are up to 4th after yet another slender victory courtesy of Bobby Soldier’s liquid-nitrogen-cool penalty taking skills. That, so I’m told, is what you pay the big bucks for.
Perhaps the ambassador is really spoiling us with all these 18-yard area decisions but not only was there a legitimate dump-tackle administered in our box shortly before halftime (if memory serves), which could’ve easily seen Michael Oliver awarded us a spotkick, I think we’re still in credit for around 23 of the bloody things from that Stoke game a couple of years back. We’ll just put them on the tab.
There’s a New Sheriff in Town etc…
So, the diminutive Don Juan himself, Jermain Defoe went level with Martin Chivers’ European goal scoring record last Thursday, with a 75th minute lace-pinger (plus ricochet) against Moldovan outfit Sheriff Tiralspol. Some achievement, said André after the game, falling just short of adding yeah, but have you seen some the toilet he’s scored against? Shamrock Rovers, Anorthosis Famagusta and Young Boys to name but three of the European heavyweight’s defences Defoe has breeched over the years.
All suspicions aside, it’s a great landmark for J-Dizzles. Regardless the measure of opponent, the man knows where the goal is and you can’t say fairer than that.
Well, all that goodwill towards the national team didn’t last long, did it? Widely lauded for squirming out of his tactical straight-jacket and giving youth, exuberance and Andros Townsend a chance against Montenegro and Poland, things were all of a sudden coming up Hodgson and coming up England. World Cup qualification in the bag, the chop-wobbling foghorn Redknapp put in his place and Uncle Roy is suddenly Lord of the Football. We’re going to BROOZIL, the tabloids declared, triumphantly. Huzzah!
And then the racisms happened.
Falling just short of apportioning blame for allowing Townsend to face the bit iffy sounding Montenegro last Friday, or for having the gall to once manage a club with word ‘black’ in their name, the redtops have courageously found evidence to suggest that Roy Hodgson is in fact one massive, walking hate-crime. Don’t be fooled by the urbane, continental demeanour, ladies and gentlemen, this man- this man- is worse than Killroy.
Meanwhile back at the ranch. Premier League kickball is happening later today; Aston Villa the hosts for our resplendent heroes in lilywhite. I’m told that everything should go like clockwork providing we don’t suffer any flashbacks from the last encounter with a claret and blue brigade, which, you might remember, didn’t go quite so well. No need to go into the specifics of the afternoon other than to mention that the machine which provided me the stream for the match exited my living room window like the last helicopter from Saigon.
We’ve already rumbled with Villa this season, of course, in the League Cup third round last month- a game remembered warmly for the cosmic performances of Lewis Holtby and Jermain Defoe and that surprising instance in which Jan Vertonghen revealed the undercrackers of Nicklas Helenius in a daring- and let’s face it, cheaty- last-minute foil. One imagines that if Vertonghen attempts any short-removal shenanigans on his compatriot Christian Benteke today- who’s back from his hip-twang- he’d likely pull his arms off.
TO THE CHALKBOARD!
No great dugout rumpus; no touchline eye-pokery, hair-pulling or my-fringe- is-neater-than-your fringe fisticuffs from the Portuguese coaches. Instead, squirming against the tide of convention, it was the football that took centre-stage and a game of two markedly different halves was enjoyed by all. Points, goals, laughs shared; everyone getting on famously
Well, not really everyone- but, you know.
In a game cleaved neatly down the middle, a half of relative dominance each; it was Tottenham who took the early initiative. Andros Townsend typified the early ascendancy, with a succession powerful, super-charged runs from deep. And not just forays into the abyss, either. Or predictable cut inside, left foot, kick it out of the stadium routines that we’ve bared witness to in previous fixtures. This was a performance with added brain. The slip to Paulinho which eventually skimmed off the post was, to use a technical term, phwoaar!
In the early exchanges, Christian Eriksen floated and popped in dangerous areas, brilliantly occupying the space between Soldado and the deeper-lying Paulinho and Moussa Dembélé. Gylfi Sigurdsson marked another fine half with a well-taken goal, fashioned from good work from his Scandinavian cousin and the nimble feet and marshmallow-light touch of Bobby Soldier. All very much deserved and with the run of play. At this juncture it’s a shame Spurs didn’t hammer home their early control. 2-0 would’ve made the three points seem a darn sight safer bet. (Check the latest prices at http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-ca)
Mourinho, though, not to be undone, made the change at half-time. Michael Owen in the BT commentary called it a work of genius but I’d say it was just a classic Bring on Your Best Player scenario which, shock of shocks, improved Chelsea’s fortunes. However you’d care to label it Juan Mata’s presence turned the thing about face. Paulinho and Dembélé were suddenly reluctant to bomb forward for fear of leaving too much acreage for the Spaniard to operate in and Christian Eriksen no longer exerted the same kind of authority he had in the first half. As a result Chelsea began to take charge. John Terry’s headed equaliser was not only a terrible thing for football in general (no-one and I mean no-one likes to see that) it was all rather inevitable.
A curious subplot of the afternoon was Fernando Torres and Jan Vertonghen’s ongoing playground scuffle. Faces were scratched, shirts pulled and lunch money stolen. All stuff that we’re told no-one likes to see, when in fact, there’s a chance we do. The former striker eventually received his much sought after red card but, in all honesty, a lunchtime detention and a letter home to his mother would’ve sufficed.
Onward. To Russia!