So, like a pair of butcher’s sausages, the resplendent fortune-hunters of Hotspur have managed to string together two wins against teams who’ve spent a good portion of their season encamped in the bottom three. In Sunderland’s case, one so long stationed in the relegation zone, they might soon be required to pay rent.
While it’s doubtful beating Fulham and the League’s absolute worst will convince the cynics (or fans of Glenn Hoddle: Football Manager) that the ship is at least facing the right way; it does count as some kind of start. By the power of almighty greyskull, it’s a start.
The arse of Twitter came awfully close to falling through in the minutes before kick-off on Saturday, as many Tottenham fans looked upon AVB’s line-up and decided it was bad. He’s gone insane, was the cry. Throw him in the river, said others. This all before remembering that, as well as having to countenance one or two key injuries, the Spurs coach was in the helpful position of having seen his players in training all week and perhaps the savvier judge.
Hey, I’m not going to sit here and say that I glanced at that team selection and thought wow, we are looking sharp tonight, Matthew but I don’t get to choose. And that, demonstrably, is a good thing.
Elsewhere some shoestring outfit called Arsenal were drawn in the F.A Cup third round.
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?
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.
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!
Last season, Spurs finally discovered the antidote for defensively resilient outfits like Cardiff City: it was called Give the Ball to Gareth Bale and Wait For the Fireworks. A high-risk, perhaps one-dimensional strategy at times, but by golly, more often than not, it worked.
Before the Welshman’s propulsion into the realms of Last Action Superherodom, Tottenham had a fine tradition in dominating the lower-rung sides with no end result; gluttonous amounts possession, shots raining in from all angles and ranges- usually to be met betwixt the posts by a reincarnated Lev Yashin, in no mood to be undone. Stoke, Wolves, Hull. You name them, we’ve made a bungled job of beating them.
Without a Gareth Bale even in the same time-zone on Sunday, then, Tottenham eventually managed to breakdown a dogged Cardiff side with keeper, David Marshall, in the form of his life. Twenty-nine shots we attempted, including those blocked or hammered out of the stadium by Andros Townsend, who continues to impress and frustrate in equal quantities.
For most of the afternoon, Mackay’s men were pegged back and dragged apart by Spurs’ velvet-brand passing machine- Dembélé, Eriksen and Sigurdsson at the heart of everything good. Crucially, though, despite the Icelander thumping one against the crossbar and Soldado going close on a number of occasions, Marshall’s net remained unruffled and that way you could imagine it staying. Just one of those days, you’d reason with a lukewarm despondency.
Until that is, glory be, the 93rd minute. Reminiscent of Del Piero’s consolation goal in the ’97 Champions League Final, Paulinho tears into the box to back-heel the winner and save the day. Impacting substitutes Lamela and Holtby combined well down the right and the Brazilian showed great resolve to meet the cutback. Cue elation, relief and an A Grade bundle. Three deserved points.
Here’re some more arbitrary player ratings, this time as represented by varying forms of cheese.
Hugo Lloris: Camembert de Normandie. With added crackers. IN the box.
Kyle Walker: Maturing Cheddar.
Kyle Naughton: Dairylea Dunkers.
Jan Vertonghen: Boursin.
Michael Dawson: Pineapple and Cheese on a Stick. Hard to beat.
Gylfi Sigurdsson: Cheese Flavoured Moments. Popular with (cross)bars.
Moussa Dembélé: Very Gouda. Sorry. Again.
Paulinho: Stinking Bishop. Overpowering.
Andros Townsend: Emmental. Holes.
Christian Eriksen: Danish (in) Blue.
Roberto Soldado: Parmigiano-Reggiano. Hard cheese.