Monday, 28 September 2015

Finding the Groove is one thing...

... But keeping it is another.

Spurs have shown a few times in recent years the flare of the dynamic Redknapp year(s), except on Saturday what they did was in many ways leaps and bounds ahead of what you would have expected Bale, Modric, VDV and co to have done because these were kids, products of youth academies, as are most footballers, but these are playing on one of the toughest stages in the world and beating the world beaters.

Last year, Kane and co., disposed of Chelsea in a similar cavalier fashion, but the defence last year had pockets that got picked, a lot. Against an arguably much better Man City side, Spurs came back from a seemingly desperate situation - they might have only been 1-0 down, but they were second best to City in almost every department, while, remarkably, not looking half bad - City were just up for it and if it hadn't been for Captain Marveaux Hugo Lloris, we could have been 3 or 4 down and finding out just how much character this young team has.

Instead, the rub of the green evened out and we got a goal from a position that should have been a free kick for the opposition and Eric Dier continued to silence the people who don't believe he has the ability to be a holding midfielder with a cracking, skidding, half-volley that pinged in off the post and you know what they say about a goal on the stroke of half-time?

Over the last couple of years, I hate to admit it, but this is a fixture I tend to make sure I'm out for. The number of times in recent years I've checked my phone and my heart has sunk at the amount of goals we've shipped. This year, the early kick off meant I had no real excuse, so I sat down to the second half expecting a rear-guard action and probably us losing valiantly to an injury time winner from Toure or bloody Raheem Sterling and the second half started exactly how I expected it, except... instead of sitting back, we took the game to City and started probing them with a lot of unexpected forward balls.

There was a point at 2-1 when instead of panicking I watched the dodgy feed and thought, "we're going to tear them apart; they look utterly lost." And that's what happened; the 4-1 score line actually could have been more had the linesman been consistent and allowed Son's offside goal and the hapless City keeper not actually done his job a couple of times. The other thing that made me happy was our substitutions seemed to benefit from the team playing so well, because N'Jie looks a dazzling proposition and suddenly the question marks over our goalscoring capabilities are forgotten.

The performance was stunning and now, the question a lot, if not most, of the supporters are thinking is 'can we keep it up?' This has always been the problem with Spurs, but let's just have a look at the improvement. They were the better side at Old Trafford and lost by an own goal; they ran out of steam against Stoke and Leicester were arguably the better side but they came away with a difficult point. The Sunderland and Palace victories might have been 1-0 but both of them were, shout it, victories, and as The Arse will contest, any victory is 3 points.

So far the team looked like it was in need of clicking; there were good individual performances but also mistakes and you have to expect that from any team at the start of the season and more savvy teams will benefit not just from that but also from lapses of concentration that a younger side might be more prone to do, especially when they're coasting to victory. When it has clicked the team have looked good, they just haven't finished moves and that led to the single striker furore when the transfer window closed. I think we saw as near as damn it Pochettino's starting 11 on Saturday and it's going to be tough for Mason and Bentaleb to break back into that when they're fit, because Deli Alli plays with an assurance that belies his age (he's 19) and Eric Dier looks the part more and more every game and all that must thrill Roy Hodgson.

In fact, watching Spurs must really please any advocate of playing youth and watching them succeed; because let's not dismiss this win, it was a crushing defeat for a would-be champion side and it was done with a style that would have made the casual observer think that it was Spurs who would be there in May and not City. There have been false dawns aplenty in my life as a Spurs fan, but there is something extremely likeable about this young side and something that teams are going to start fearing. A top 4 spot is a long way away, but if teams such as Liverpool and especially Chelsea don't start stringing together results and we do, then two of our rivals for that spot will be playing catch up and against this hungry and ambitious bunch of kids that's not going to be easy.

It's the 'inferior' opposition they need to worry about; because if teams don't give players like Lamela the room to prove his worth the frustrations mount again. Pochettino needs to address our weakness in being unable to consistently beat teams we should be beating, specifically at home. It would be nice to turn White Hart Lane into a fortress just once before we move to the new stadium and that will only happen if they don't get complacent against sides they think they should be beating. That's the final - missing - piece in the jigsaw and none of the previous managers have been able to find it.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015


The transfer window has slammed shut again and this time around it has been more the deals that didn't happen that dominate the news headlines. There are five teams that have been highlighted for their failures in the window - Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs and Real Madrid. The first and the last are in the news because of the David De Gea debacle, the other three have been criticised for their lack of transfer activity. Chelsea bought a bunch of people, loaned a bunch out and not one pundit thinks they've had a good window. Arsenal bought one player - just one - a world class goalkeeper (possibly). Spurs played hardball and got shafted - karma's wheel and all that...

Let's start with Man Utd. I'm going to buck the trend here and suggest this was possibly the best bit of transfer business done all window. Look at De Gea - he's out of contract next summer and will leave (unless he signs a new contract which is unlikely), but what was on offer was a lot of money and a keeper who isn't world class. What was also on offer was Man Utd's best player of the last two years going to one of United's main Champions League rivals - they might not win this competition but they weren't about to help the favourites for it increase their own chances. De Gea wants to be Spain's keeper in next year's Euros, to ensure that he needs to be playing and playing well, so United get their star keeper back for another season and it gives them a year to identify (and tap up) the replacement. There are lots of disgruntled people and journalists looking at the blame game and how this has been a joke; I think LVG and the United board have been shrewd - it's not like a club like Man Utd can't afford to lose a transfer fee if it means the money will come from another source.

Chelsea - apparently stole Pedro from under Man U's noses and he is likely to be a good acquisition. The rest just seemed to confirm that Chelsea want more players than they'll ever need and will loan them strategically so they barely have any impact against the main team. Chelsea are complacent and have a sense of self-belief that is being shaken by events - they will come good and shouldn't be written off. The season is only four games old.

Arsenal are coming in for more criticism than Spurs, yet on paper you wouldn't write this team off at the moment. Some major clubs stutter at the start of the season because the opposition are playing for impetus - the quality Arsenal have will shine through faster than you think and by Christmas, when the next window is about to open, Arsenal will have made light of their inactivity.

Spurs and the reasons for why they are where they are at the moment is clear - despite what has been said, Spurs are treading water and the stadium and development of Northumberland Road has now become the most important thing on Daniel Levy's mind. Had the management been clear that the next few years would be tough and depend on academy graduates there would have been a backlash but we would have known and it would have been a kick in the teeth but it would have at least given us some hope that someone in the club sees quality in the ranks and enough to ensure that a top half is ensured. But they didn't and we are short in key positions because the club wanted to get rid of all of its deadwood.

To face the next few months with what is essentially a threadbare squad is quite frightening. Spurs have had an indifferent start to the season, drawing three and losing to an own goal at Old Trafford. The next three league games could be tough - Sunderland away could be a banana skin waiting to happen because Sunderland are already fighting for their lives. Crystal Palace at home would have been considered a banker once upon a time, but Pardew has worked wonders at the club and now they're not even thought of as relegation fodder; they have also had a good start to the season and they have some momentum. Then it's Man City in Manchester and the Spurs side made up of mainly hot prospects will be pushed, pulled and possibly torn apart, especially if early goals are conceded. During this period we also start the Europa League and play Arsenal in the League Cup - it is an incredibly crucial period for this young side and if it doesn't go right for them then heads will drop. We will see whether Pochettino has what it takes to turn things around - history suggests he might struggle.

The newest additions - Clinton N'Jie and the Korean (whose name will eventually roll off my tongue and into the keyboard) are really nothing special - I say this because neither has played in the Premiership and at Spurs we know the term 'bedding in' better than most - we are the bedding club. That leaves Spurs with one recognised striker and a possible 60 odd games this season and the Euro Championship following in the summer, if Kane remains in Roy's plans.

The fact that Spurs are going into the next few months with Erik Lamela still at the club fills people with a lot of dread. His contributions to the team have been less significant than some of the club's most famous flops and the fact that Pochettino wants to keep him says more about Levy's lack of backing him than anything else. Arsenal fans are almost apoplectic about their club's inactivity, but they have a bloody decent starting XI and a fair few fringe players who would walk into most teams; Spurs have potential and little else.

As a fan I've watched clubs that historically are not serious competition to Spurs and their aspirations buy players with Champions League quality and early enough to hit the ground running. I've watched this largely inexperienced Spurs throw leads away and threaten but not score against quality teams that know how to play against predictable formations and systems.

But it is early days and we were never going to threaten for the title so the setbacks and dropped points need some perspective. Two of the 'nailed on' top four teams are just above us and realistically clubs like Palace, Leicester and Swansea should start to even out and slip down the table - the natural order is expected to assert itself... but... could this season throw up some shocks for a change? Will complacency have devastating effects on some of the top clubs? The table will make interesting reading at Christmas.