November 23, 2016

What Was Plan A Again?

After the Arsenal match I wrote about Pochettino’s new-found flexibility being a positive. I’m back again to add caveats. Yep, fickle Tottenham fan here, changing my mind within a couple of weeks. Hands up. You got me.

In the last two matches (against West Ham and Monaco) we’ve started with a sort of narrow diamond in midfield with two forwards at the sharp end:

Average Positions vs Monaco

Average Positions vs Monaco – image from WhoScored.com

And you don’t need a tactics board to show you that a team lining up like this can take full advantage — note the width:

Monaco's Average Positions vs Tottenham

Monaco’s Average Positions vs Tottenham – image from WhoScored.com

Monaco’s doubling up on the flanks, with the excellent Bernardo Silva (number 10) and Thomas Lemar (number 27) linking with the talented and athletic full-backs, Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe caused us the sorts of problems we often caused teams last season, when Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen/Dele Alli would drift wide to create triangles and help to get our own talented, athletic full-backs into dangerous areas.

The first goal came from Monaco’s system getting the better of ours. Mendy makes a late run — so late that Harry Winks cannot get close to him, with Kieran Trippier tucked in.

Monaco First Goal (1)

Monaco First Goal (1)

Once Silva has fed Mendy he steps inside Winks (who commits himself) and, with Victor Wanyama too slow to come across (having, to be fair, just been to close down Silva), Mendy has ample time to pick out his fellow full-back, Sidibe, who has created an overload at the back post, with Rose choosing to not mark *anyone* rather than to try to get close to at least one of his men.

Monaco First Goal (2)

Monaco First Goal (2)

The second goal is so preventable too. As soon as Monaco kick off, Sidibe gets on his bike down the right, leaving Danny Rose with an instant 2v1 situation. It’s Dele Alli that’s closest to getting back and trying to cover, but I presume in this formation that it should really be either Mousa Dembele or one of the forwards (possibly Son Heung-min) covering that run. We didn’t work out all night who was taking responsibility for that unenviable task.

Monaco Second Goal (1)

Monaco Second Goal (1)

Once into a crossing position, we’ve got similar problems on the other side of the pitch. Trippier has had to tuck in to mark Falcao, and nobody has shifted round to pick up Lemar; again, I presume this is Winks’ job, but who knows (I’m not even sure that Mauricio Pochettino did — and if he did, he clearly did not get his point across, given the regularity of our failings throughout the match).

Monaco Second Goal (2)

Monaco Second Goal (2)

Pochettino should have been fully aware of this threat because he’s been playing the ‘overload’ game himself for the best part of eighteen months, so why did he not change things?

Even with Erik Lamela absent (boy did we miss his tenacity on the flanks last night), we had options. With Moussa Sissoko and the barely seen Georges-Kévin Nkoudou sat on the bench, he had players who could come on and chase the full-backs down the line — many of us had previously warmed to Nkoudou for his apparent ability to track back, and Sissoko is nothing if not a physical barrier to a marauding opponent.

Tottenham were tactically schooled, and it was the second time in a week that this odd formation had been unsuccessful — only a late substitution saves our blushes against West Ham.

It’s time to return to our tried and tested 4-2-3-1 vs Chelsea next week, or we risk getting a real pummeling at the hands of one of the most in-form teams in the league. Hopefully, despite injuries and suspension, we’ll be able to put out a team that looks something like:

Lloris
Walker Dier Wimmer Vertonghen
Wanyama Dembele
Son Eriksen Alli
Kane

The centre-back pairing concerns me — particularly given how susceptible they were to long balls over the top on Tuesday night — but the Wanyama and Dembele pivot should provide plenty of cover. We might have to adopt a deeper defensive line (low block) and play more on the counter for this one. Either way, it’s time to go back to basics, and that means Plan A.

 

For more of this kind of tactical pondering, listen to the first in a special series of extra episodes of The Fighting Cock Podcast where I will be joined by Bardi and Talking Tottenham Tactics — hopefully out on Friday.

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November 8, 2016

Pochettino’s Plan B (And C)

It will seem strange to many Spurs fans for me to suggest that this season has illustrated Mauricio Pochettino’s growth as a manager. Strange due to a number of reasons:

  • We seemingly signed Moussa Sissoko for £30m based on Pochettino’s wishes, with Pochettino having taken on a new role with a wider remit. That signing has not gone well so far (though it is very early days, of course).
  • In fact, Pochettino has taken greater control in signings generally, and we have ended up with a lot of potential, but not a great deal of new players for the ‘here and now’.
  • Whilst last season we finished as the Premier League’s second top scorers, this year we are currently joint 7th (with Watford and Everton. Watford and Everton.).
  • Draws. Lots of draws. All of the draws! We have drawn six matches already; we drew 13 last season, which is near enough one in three. This year we’ve drawn more than half of our Premier League matches.
  • The hapless performance against Bayer Leverkusen, plus disappointing run-outs in several other games.

And yet I think there are mitigating factors for most if not all of those, and that we have notably seen him take strides in something he had been widely criticised for last year: adaptability.

Last season Pochettino rolled out his 4-2-3-1 most weeks. The starting eleven could easily be predicted, and there were very few tactical switches to compensate for other teams — one notable exception being a switch to a back three at Watford to cope with the in-form front two of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney.

This season, though, we have already seen numerous changes.

In our second game of the season (vs Crystal Palace) we started with Harry Kane playing off Vincent Janssen.

In Mousa Dembélé’s absence we reverted to a 4-1-4-1 in various fixtures, with Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli (largely) playing ahead of Victor Wanyama.

We started with Son Heung-min as a counter-attacking focal point vs Manchester City.

Average Positions vs Manchester City

Average Positions vs Manchester City – Son Heung-min leading the charge – image from WhoScored.com

And on Sunday, Pochettino made his most surprising tactical change yet — starting the match with a 3-4-1-2.

Average Positions vs Arsenal

Average Positions vs Arsenal – image from WhoScored.com

Shocking though it was, it made sense, at least in hindsight, for many different reasons.

Pochettino stated in his press conference — reported here, by the excellent Dan Kilpatrick — ‘Maybe the problem is not in front. Maybe it’s because we are not building in a very good way from the back and the ball arrives in the last third in different condition.’

With Toby Alderweireld missing, our build-up play has been stifled. This is something that Anthony Lombardi (amongst others) had pointed out previously:

Indeed, I touched on this on The Fighting Cock podcast that week too (great minds and all that).

The extra man at the back — and not least another player comfortable on the ball in Kevin Wimmer — meant that we had bodies back to cope with Arsenal’s fluidity, as well as the possibility for all three centre-backs to care for the ball, and ensure that play started properly from the back.

We must also remember that this was Harry Kane’s first game back. It made sense to have extra legs (in Son) alongside him, and whilst Kane’s 8.66km covered in his 72 minutes compared favourably with the 9.73km in 87 in his previous match (vs Sunderland), his top speed of 29.18km/h against the 31.39km/h in that Sunderland game perhaps shows that he’s not back up to speed yet (quite literally).

Christian Eriksen had a freer role, where he could focus on trying to nick the ball from the wrong-side of Arsenal’s midfield, plus look to free Kane and Son when in possession. Eriksen’s form has been a concern, so perhaps this was an attempt to give him more to aim at or play off.

Or, as I put it somewhat simplistically when responding to another Twitter must-follow, TTTactics… maybe it was just a case of allowing us to go with two up whilst having enough defenders available to stem the flow of Arsenal’s attacks.

And, of course, let’s not forget that the system is not *too* different to what we’re used to, given the propensity for Pochettino’s defensive midfielder to drop between the centre-backs, as well as how high the full-backs play.

Whilst Pochettino’s willingness to experiment with his starting formations this season has been welcome (to me anyway), he still doesn’t make in-game tactical alterations or substitutions early enough if at all. Against Bournemouth we struggled to contain their press, and might have found ourselves behind. We had no answer to their onslaught, and though the second half improved, we never really looked like winning. Pochettino’s substitution — Janssen for Son on 62 minutes — was an odd move (surely it would have been better to leave Son on to run off the target man) and, besides, some kind of switch had been necessary for half an hour at that point.

That match was, in terms of the pressing at least, similar to the West Hame game of last season (where, ironically, they played 3-4-3), though at least this time we had less of a rotated line-up out, and so didn’t totally collapse.

Against Leicester City, Pochettino waited until the 83rd minute to make his first change. Again, too little too late.

Despite this failing of his and some slack performances with an injury-hit team, our comparative results (switching the relegated teams for the promoted teams) are the same last as last year. Plus, after eleven matches last season we had 20 points, whereas this season we have 21. Hell, check this out…

And we really have been injury-hit. As lucky as we were last season, we couldn’t have been much more unlucky this — not just due to the number of injuries, but specifically who has been absent. Key players down our spine.

With Kane coming back into the fold and Dembélé and Alderweireld’s returns, we can look forward to an upturn in results (hopefully). Plus, if Pochettino can add in-game changes to his experimental starting formations, he should also be able to help turn some of these draws into wins.

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October 8, 2016

Know Your Role

Hey, remember when we comprehensively beat The Best Team In The Country™ last week? That was nice.

What staggered me about the City game was not so much the quality or even the aggression with which we played, but how every man stuck to his task impeccably. It’s been a trademark since Mauricio Pochettino’s second season, but rarely so clear.

From our set-up from City’s goal kick (check out Wanyama midway inside the City half)…

…to Son Heung-min’s pressing of Claudio Bravo, knowing full well that Dele Alli and Erik Lamela were backing him up and backing City in. In this match Dele made an incredible 90 sprints, Lamela 76, and Son 73. City’s Aleksandar Kolarov made 78, but nobody else on the pitch cleared 67 — such was our intent to put their goalkeeper and centre-backs under pressure.

But nobody covered more ground than Christian Eriksen (12.72km). Eriksen had an imperfect game, in which he won just one out of his five attempted tackles and dropped 5% lower than his average pass completion of 78.6%. What he did brilliantly, though, was cover huge areas of the midfield, supporting the full-backs in possession and picking up the pieces when City lost the ball.

Whilst Victor Wanyama was throwing his weight around, making six tackles and five fouls to disturb City’s rhythm, Eriksen was latching onto loose balls and retrieving possession. In fact, he gained possession 16 times in the match — the next highest number of ball recoveries for Spurs was Victor Wanyama’s nine.

But Eriksen does have more to do, and he has still not found his best form. He failed to complete a single pass into the box, and notably wasted two or three fantastic counter-attacking opportunities by misplacing passes — one in particular drew groans at a crucial period, and that’s the side of Eriksen’s game that hasn’t quite clicked yet.

And whilst he gained possession 16 times, he lost it 19 times. Put into context, though, that is a net loss of 3 compared to Jan Vertonghen and Erik Lamela’s 10, Dele’s 13, Moussa Sissoko’s 14, Son’s 19 and Danny Rose’s staggering 29. In fact, the only players on the pitch to gain possession more than they lost it were John Stones (2), Eric Dier (3) and Victor Wanyama (1). It was a fast-paced, high-risk game, and so it was natural that the ball would be surrendered frequently.

Of all Spurs players, only Rose had more touches than Eriksen (78 to 70) and Eriksen attempted 15 more passes than any of his teammates. He kept things moving nicely, and that is a role that cannot be understated.

Christian Eriksen's passing vs Man City

Alongside Eriksen, though, was the game’s outstanding player. As I said on this week’s Fighting Cock, Victor Wanyama was not a player who I was particularly excited about signing. It made complete sense, of course, because Eric Dier played too many matches last season, and Pochettino knows exactly what Wanyama is capable of. In fact, the only reason Eric Dier broke through at defensive midfield last season was that Pochettino failed to sign Wanyama.

On Sunday, Wanyama played the archetypal Pochettino defensive-midfield role. Dropping between the centre backs to create a three in possession, covering the full-back area when Kyle Walker and particularly Rose had pushed on, and disrupting City’s flow in the centre of the pitch with tackles and tactical fouls. After an early booking I think we all expected him to be substituted or sent off, but it seemed to add an extra focus to his game, and he put in a nearly perfect defensive midfield display.

Victor Wanyama's Dashboard vs Man City

Wanyama’s control of midfield since Mousa Dembélé was injured has led to Pochettino switching to a 4-1-4-1, and his post-match comments suggested that this is the set-up for the foreseeable future.  “The design to play is not only [for] today. We played against CSKA [Moscow] and against Middlesbrough and different games with only one midfielder holding. I think that the future and the project of the team is to play with only one.”

Dembélé’s return, therefore, will cause an interesting selection dilemma. One would imagine that Sissoko would drop out with Alli moving wide left and Lamela right, but it’s a nice problem to have.

Spurs will need to show similar focus if they want to match City this season, and the early signs are that we are an even meaner machine another season on.

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September 13, 2016

10/09/16 Reading U18s 4-3 Tottenham Hotspur U18s, Hogwood Park

Brandon Austin (17)
Tariq Hinds (16) TJ Eyoma (16) Jonathan Dinzeyi (16) Jaden Brown (17)
Oliver Skipp (15) George Marsh (17) (c)
Reo Griffiths (16) Jack Roles (17) Keanan Bennetts (17)
Aramide Oteh (18)

Subs:
Tashan Oakley-Boothe (16) for Skipp, 67.
Pablo Gonzalez-Velasco (17) for Bennetts, 78.
Dylan Duncan (17) for Brown, 85.

Subs not used:

Joy Mukena (17)
Jonathan De Bie (16)

Reading U18s: Collings, Howe, Green, Shokunbi (Coleman 70), Odimayo, Philby (Wallace 80), Rollinson, Frost, House, Loader, Holsgrove (Medford-Smith HT).
Unused subs: Hillson, Denton.

Reading official site report
Spurs official site report

It was pouring down at Reading’s Hogwood Park for this midday kick-off. I left the house in a bit of a rush, and I grabbed one of those netted bags which I thought had an old waterproof jacket in. As I opened it on arrival I realised that it was a pair of waterproof trousers! Still, as I approached the pitch I realised that there were stands with seats (!) so I was able to sit with my notepad on my lap and a golf umbrella sheltering me from the downpour!

You may have seen that Kieran McKenna, our Under-18s coach, has moved on to Manchester United. The rumour I heard — and I stress that it is only a rumour — is that things were not going so well at Spurs, and that he was essentially let go by John McDermott. There on the touch-line on Saturday were McDermott, Chris Riley (our former Academy full-back, now ‘Academy Sports Scientist’) and someone with a training top labelled ‘AM’, who I didn’t recognise.

Spurs lined up with Brandon Austin in goal, Tariq Hinds at right-back, and the rest of the defence made up of England players — England Under-16 TJ Eyoma at centre-back, and England Under-18s and Jon Dinzeyi , partnering Eyoma, and Jaden Brown on the left. George Marsh captained the side and started in central midfield alongside Oliver Skipp (another england Under-16 player) — making his first appearance at this level — with Jack Roles just ahead. Roles and Skipp had license to bomb on, and it was unclear at times whether the intention was that this was 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, because Skipp was always a willing runner, and Roles also put a shift in going back towards his own goal. Keanan Bennetts was on the left, Reo Griffiths was on the right, and Aramide Oteh was up top.

The match started with Spurs in control and they won an early corner, which Roles lofted slightly too high for Eyoma to reach. Dinzeyi’s concentration was tested soon after when Oliver Skipp’s pass went astray and Dinzeyi had to go to ground to make an important interception and stop a Reading attack.

Marsh played a lovely angled pass out to Griffiths but he lost the ball on this occasion. Eyoma stepped out from the back and found Skipp, who returned the ball but was fouled in doing so. The referee pulled play back and Bennetts angled a free-kick into a great area, but it drifted all the way through the watching pack for a goal kick.

Griffiths and Roles and Bennetts linked a nice move together but Bennetts’ pass went between Spurs shirts in the box. The ball popped back out to Roles, who fed Griffiths to cross, but his attempt was blocked. Bennetts’ corner ran over everyone and out for a goal kick.

Roles intercepted a poorly hit goal kick, allowing Skipp to play an excellent first time pass to Bennetts. He played Oteh in, but the offside flag was raised.

Oteh was next to make a good interception high up the pitch, but Roles got his pass to Skipp slightly wrong and the move petered out.

Griffiths showed terrific pace to get onto a long kick from Austin, but after running half the length of the field he didn’t have the energy to put a cross in, and his attempt to find Oteh was undercooked.

Fifteen minutes in, Reading had a big chance, getting down their right and putting in a cross which their number 8, Tyler Frost didn’t connect with in the box.

Skipp picked up the ball in the middle of the park and made a terrific surge forward; he put too much weight on his pass to Griffiths, but the pace of Griffiths rescued it, and found Oteh. Oteh’s attempted ball to Roles was poor, though, and it again came to nothing.

Griffiths picked out Bennetts with a great pass but his touch was awful and the ball seemed to go straight through him. This led to a Reading counter-attack and, after Austin had saved an initial shot from Ben House, the ball rebounded back to him and went in off his ahead to make it 1-0 — I’m not sure he knew much about it.

Reading’s Frost took a free-kick which was deflected for a corner which Marsh dealt with at the near post.

Bennetts fashioned some space on the left, beating his man well and getting round him to cross, which was blocked by a hand right on the edge of the box. Bennetts took the kick with his right foot (he generally used his left for set pieces, but this was from the other side) and it was bent nearly perfectly towards the far post — nobody got a touch on it, though, and it drifted inches just wide.

Skipp overhit another through ball to Griffiths, before Bennetts took a corner from the right with his left foot. Frustrated he shouted to his teammates ‘why is no-one attacking the ball?’. To be fair, despite not playing especially well in open play, he had put in some excellent set piece deliveries.

Reading were doing a good job of cutting off passing lanes. Marsh picked up the ball in deep midfield and, with no easy passes on, was forced to angle a long ball to Griffiths out on the right. He got it wrong and it went behind Griffiths and out for a throw — to no complaints, as Marsh had nothing else on.

Jack Roles made it 1-1 when he got onto a Skipp pass and whipped a strong finish across the keeper into the far corner with his right foot. Skipp had surged forward well and this was a confidence-building moment for him.

Spurs were pressing high and having a spell in which they were relatively successful, and Reading were becoming frustrated. Reading had an awfully well-spoken centre-back (Harry Philby) who shouted out ‘we are playing ourselves into pressure’, and he was spot on — Oteh and Griffiths were keen to intercept and press high.

A lovely bit of play from Skipp on the right allowed him to get the ball to Oteh, who dummied the ball when well-placed in the box when he should have let fly. It ran through him to a defender and was cleared, but only to Roles. Roles lifted the ball intelligently over the foot of the defender who came to meet him, but couldn’t pick out a Spurs man from the crowd.

Reading made it 2-1 from the spot when their talented number 10, Dan Loader, sent Austin the wrong way. Eyoma had impeded House, but I didn’t get a good look at the incident from my vantage point.

Jonathan Dinzeyi once again made a brilliant intervention after Reading’s Tyler Frost had burst forward and found Dan Loader. Dinzeyi stayed strong, took control of the ball, and then went to ground when his ankles were clipped.

With five minutes to go until half-time, Griffiths had a firm shot from range which was parried. The rebound fell to Roles, but it squirmed under his foot. He then found Griffiths again, and his cross-shot was half-blocked, before the flag went up for offside as Oteh had strayed beyond the last man.

Roles found Giffiths with a cracking pass and he in turn played in Oteh, but his shot was blocked for a corner. Bennetts’ corner went just over the head of Dinzeyi, who had pushed in closer to the goal-mouth this time at the instruction of John McDermott.

A good low shot from the edge of the box by Loader made it 3-1 before half-time; Spurs gave him way too much time to get his shot away, and it went into the bottom corner across Austin after taking a slight deflection.

It was nearly game over just before half-time as the Reading right-back got forward to latch onto a pass from the influential Loader, and fed in a low cross which Marsh dealt with well. Marsh then blocked a shot from the subsequent corner.

It was a poor half from Spurs, with too many rushed passes and lack of considered possession. It felt like the aim was to get the ball in front of Griffiths, Bennetts and Oteh into the channels early, which is not a Spurs-like quality. When there are ball players like Marsh, Roles and Skipp on the pitch who are more comfortable playing possession football.

Tsaroulla and Sterling were with the substitutes warming up at half-time. A good sign as Sterling has been injured, I believe.

Soon after the second half had started, Austin spilled a shot — understandably in the very wet conditions — but he fortunately managed to gather it at the second attempt.

Roles drew groans from teammates with a poor ball to Bennetts, before Bennetts came close to picking out the far corner from the left-hand side.

Spurs did make it 3-2 when Griffiths went on another surging run and was fouled just inside the box, and Oteh scored from the spot via the post… as per this:

Bennetts went on a mazy run but was stopped with a good tackle having not released it sooner — a teammate shouted ‘pass man’, and I had to agree — this is a bad habit which Bennetts needs to shake off.

An excellent interception and pass from Skipp saw Spurs start another counter, he found Roles who came very close to putting Griffiths in.

Oteh held the ball up and played Roles in for a first-time shot which was blocked for a corner, but Roles wanted a penalty for handball. Marsh had an effort blocked from the corner, and another corner was subsequently taken short and Oteh headed the eventual cross wide when he was in a decent position and unmarked.

A good tackle and pass from Brown led to Roles being able to play Bennetts through, but he lost the ball again.

A matter of minutes after our second goal, we got an equaliser. Griffiths went on yet another purposeful run, and he finished with a thumping strike from the edge of the box. There was a bit of good fortune involved, as the aforementioned posh centre-back, Philby, slipped as Griffiths got within range, but at this point it was difficult to argue that Spurs didn’t deserve to be back in it. In fact, it looked like their tales were up and that they would go on to win the game.

However, the action went straight up the other end and our forward, Aramide Oteh, was forced to head off the line from a corner, as tall centre-back Akinwale Odimayo got on the end of the ball in. Odimayo had more luck a few minutes later as he stooped to head in a free-kick at the back post to make it 4-3 to the home side.

Skipp played a good pass up the line to Griffiths but he fouled Philby in trying to reach it, before Austin made a terrific save after a glorious touch from Loader had created the chance.

A great team move from Spurs saw Roles delay his shot just a little too long, causing it to be blocked.

16-year old Tashan Oakley-Boothe, who had appeared as a substitute for the Under-23s in a 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge on Friday night, came on in midfield for the debutant Skipp.

Bennetts latched onto a slack pass across the back from Reading but took an awful touch and missed an opportunity to have a clear run on goal.

Roles dropped between the centre-backs to pick the ball up from Austin, and then pushed forward, linking well with Hinds to receive the ball in the middle of the park. He played a pass into the channel for Oteh, who had a one-on-one chance saved.

Spurs brought on Juan Pablo Gonzalez Velasco (known as Pablo) for Bennetts and, not long after his introduction, he was clearly fouled on the edge of the box — possibly inside — but nothing was given amidst protests.

Dylan Duncan came on for Brown for the final few minutes which prompted a re-shuffle; Hinds moved to left-back, Marsh came to centre-back, and Eyoma went to right-back, with Duncan pushed up on the right of midfield.

Austin saved a low free-kick and lost the wet ball again, but got up quickly to make himself big and block the follow-up as the game somewhat petered out for Spurs.

This was a disappointing result with some slack defensive play, and Tottenham got what their performance deserved. The second half saw improvement, but Reading were fairly resolute and stuck to their game plan. Spurs sometimes lacked patience and tried to play the killer ball, which led to the ball coming back at them time and again, and sometimes they were unable to cope with Reading’s counter-attacking. Having said that, Griffiths in particularly was a real threat going forward, and Oteh was a muscular presence who gave the Reading centre-backs a tough match. In many ways he reminds me of Kudus Oyenuga who, incidentally, now plays for Greenock Morton in the Scottish Championship.

Brandon Austin 6 – it wasn’t easy for him with a wet ball, and he did let a few squirm away from him. Overall he did pretty well.
Tariq Hinds 6 – couple of nice bursts forward, but he’s nowhere near as dynamic as, say, Kyle Walker-Peters. At this point, that’s probably a harsh comparison, as we were spoilt with KWP!
TJ Eyoma 6 – a laergely solid performance with a few blips.
Jonathan Dinzeyi 7 – made a lot of impressive recovery challenges and interceptions.
Jaden Brown 5 – struggled a bit and seemed to be targeted by Reading. Brown is an England player and is someone who I know people rave about — I seem to always catch his less impressive days.
Oliver Skipp 7 – Skipp is a great young player and whilst he didn’t quite find his passing range, he had a decent debut and I am excited to see more of him.
George Marsh 7 – tenacious as ever, Marsh never shirks a challenge and is happy to take the ball in tight areas to get a teammate out of trouble.
Jack Roles 7 – Roles has a tough ask, because he’s often picking the ball up on the half-turn with teammates screaming at him for the ball from both sides of the pitch. Unlike some of of his teammates, who were giving him a bit of grief, I felt he generally made good decisions and used the ball well. I would say that I would want him to take on his shots earlier — he could do with watching someone like Sigurdsson, who is the master of the early shot.
Reo Griffiths 8 – a real threat; his pace and physicality cannot be denied, but his technical ability was impressive too. I really like the look of this kid! Think Michail Antonio.
Aramide Oteh 7 – a big presence for Spurs who didn’t give the Reading defence any peace. He sometimes lacked finesse in the final third, but he tries his heart out.
Keanan Bennetts 6 – some really good set pieces, but a bit disappointing in open play; he needs to learn when to release the ball.

Tashan Oakley-Boothe – a fairly quiet cameo in midfield.
Pablo Gonzalez-Velasco – was unlucky not to win a penalty, and showed decent acceleration. Keen to see more!
Dylan Duncan – didn’t see too much of the ball in his short spell on the pitch.

Two more pieces of news! Firstly, Nya Kirby is seemingly about to join Crystal Palace, and it seems that we are in turn looking at their striker, Francis Baptiste

And finally, on Wednesday we play our first UEFA Youth League match against Monaco at Hotspur Way. The team selection will be interesting — the full squad is here. It is an Under-19 tournament with three overage players allowed.

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August 14, 2016

13/08/16 Tottenham Hotspur U18s 4-1 Southampton U18s, Hotspur Way

Brandon Austin (17)
TJ Eyoma (16) Jonathan Dinzeyi (16) Joy Mukena (17) Jaden Brown (17)
George Marsh (17) (c)
Sam Shashoua (17) Jack Roles (17) Tashan Oakley-Boothe (16) Keanan Bennetts (17)
Reo Griffiths (16)

Subs:
Phoenix Patterson (15) for Bennetts, 61.
Aramide Oteh (17) for Roles, 74.
Moroyin Omalabi (16) for Shashoua, 83.

Subs not used:
Nick Tsaroulla (17)
Alfie Whiteman (17)

Southampton Under-18s: Adam Parkes, Connor Langan, Aaron O’Driscoll (c), Harry Hamblin, Jake Vokins, Siph Mdlalose, Ben Rowthorn, Callum Slattery (Will Smallbone 54), Tyreke Johnson (Harlem Hale 75), Archie Thomas, Dan N’Lundulu.

Southampton official site report
Spurs official site report

Spurs formally announced their new intake of Academy players this week, with photos and biographies appearing for the following:

Jonathan Dinzeyi
Charles Freeman
Jamie Reynolds
Moroyin Omalabi
Timothy Joel (TJ) Eyoma
Tash Oakley-Boothe
Matthew Lock
Tariq Hinds
Reo Griffiths

The key name missing was Nya Kirby, who is still without a club having turned down a scholarship at Spurs. 16-year old Belgian goalkeeper Jonathan de Bie was not listed, amid rumours of his signing a three-year contract. It will be interesting to see where he fits in or whether the signing will be announced (much like the club took a long time to announce the signings of Miloš Veljković and Nabil Bentaleb).

Four of the first years started on Saturday morning as the team got off to a flier against a decent Southampton outfit.

David Pleat and Paul Mitchell were in attendance on an early afternoon which flitted between overcast and sunny. Keiran McKenna was seemingly not on the Spurs bench, but John McDermott was a big enough presence to make up for his absence.

Spurs lined up with Brandon Austin in goal, behind a back four of TJ Eyoma (normally a centre-back) at right-back, Jon Dinzeyi and Joy Mukena in the centre and Jaden Brown at left back. George Marsh seemed to be the dedicated midfield anchor, with Jack Roles and Tashan Oakley-Boothe ahead; Sam Shashoua and Keanan Bennetts started wide, and Reo Griffiths — prolific last year in the Under-16s — was up front.

Griffiths’ first impact came when he was clearly fouled when playing a cushioned first time pass into the path of Bennetts, who won a corner. This was a facet of the forward’s play throughout, preferring to try to play forward first time or to turn and run, rather than to hold the ball up and wait for support.

Brown advanced up the left and sent in a dangerous ball between defence and goalkeeper, but it trickled away for a goal kick.

Dinzeyi began his battle with the big Southampton forward, Dan N’Lundulu, when he was penalised for a foul — a decision which might have gone the other way had the referee spotted the holding. Tyreke Johnson’s free-kick was headed away by Joy Mukena.

Mukena’s slack pass into midfield put us under pressure, but he got back into position in the nick of time to make up for his error.

A lovely pass from Roles to Griffiths over the top tested his pace but, having got on the end of it, he tried to beat his man, rather than taking the safe option of laying it off to the supporting runners.

Sam Shashoua tricked his way past his man to launch a counter and was cynically fouled by Callum Slattery, who got a talking to from the referee.

Southampton were pressing high and putting our centre-backs under pressure, and it showed. Mukena gave the ball away again, this time chipping it to a Southampton player, as nerves started to show.

A nice one-touch passing move from Spurs led to Bennetts getting into a decent crossing position, but his effort was blocked.

Spurs took the lead when George Marsh played a high pass over the defence; Reo Griffiths latched onto it and was brought down, giving Shashoua the chance to score from the spot, which he didn’t pass up.

Roles showed good strength and determination to hold off three challenges in midfield to hang onto the ball, but soon after sent Mukena chasing after a poor pass which ran out for a throw.

Dinzeyi then gave the ball away and was rescued by his centre-back partner, Mukena, before Dinzeyi did aim a well-flighted long ball forward which Brown couldn’t quite get to.

It should have been 1-1, but N’Lundulu put a chance wide on the turn when in space.

Oakley-Boothe began to drop deep to collect the ball, as Southampton’s pressing began to take its toll. John McDermott wanted the players to move the ball more sharply, repeatedly shouting ‘quicker, quicker’ from the touchline.

Spurs made it 2-0 when Jack Roles’ low shot from the edge of the box was spilled by the Southampton goalkeeper, Adam Parkes. It was an unfortunate error, but reward for Roles’ willingness to test him.

Joy Mukena ventured forward to join the attack and played a wonderful slide-rule pass inside the full-back allowing Shashoua to strike a shot wide across the keeper from a tight angle on the right.

Eyoma made a great interception, latching onto a ball played to the Southampton left, but then gave the ball away sloppily.

Then Keanan Bennetts and George Marsh showed that they were switched on defensively to shepherd an attack into a safe area, with Bennetts seeing it out for a goal kick.

Austin was quick off his line to take the ball off the feet of South African winger, Siph Mdlalose, as he looked to latch on to a through ball.

A great one-two between Roles and Griffiths saw the latter nearly get onto the ball in the six-yard box, but it just evaded him, and then Bennetts crossed too close to the goalkeeper.

George Marsh showed his battling qualities by almost single-handededly forcing an attack out of the box follwing a corner, and then Dinzeyi made a terrific saving challenge after Mukena had been robbed in the box after dallying.

Griffiths held the ball up and won a throw on the right, which was an encouraging sign — he will need to do more of that.

Brown stopped Mdlalose in his tracks with an excellent challenge, and the corner from Johnson forced Austin to punch out for a throw-in.

Bennetts broke forward again for Spurs and found Oakley-Boothe, but he checked and tried an expansive pass to Brown, which he put too much on.

It amused me to hear a Southampton player shouting ‘let’s engage the ball’, which sounded like something he’d overheard from his coaches in training; amongst plenty of effing and blinding, it stood out!

Spurs took a 2-0 lead into half-time and deserved the lead.

Oakley-Boothe found Griffiths and he cut back for Shashoua, who couldn’t connect with a shot. It nearly ran for Eyoma, approaching at the far post, but a defender nipped in.

A clever pass from Griffiths put Oakley-Boothe clear, and he hit the by-line and returned the favour with a fantastic cross, but Griffiths got his feet in a mess and couldn’t put it away at the back post.

Shashoua won a free kick on the edge of the box with great footwork, and he took the kick himself. He shot low but his weak effort was saved.

Griffiths made it 3-0 when finishing a really classy team goal, which all started with some terrific play from George Marsh, and ended with Bennetts playing Griffiths in and the ball being slid beyond the keeper. Top stuff!

Three minutes later Southampton pulled a goal back when their impressive substitute William Smallbone found the bottom corner with a left-footed effort.

Griffiths had a chance to make it 4-1, but snatched at a shot with his left foot when a bit of composure might have seen him score.

15-year old substitute Phoenix Patterson nearly scored in the six-yard box, but needed to lift the ball and instead saw his effort saved low down.

Some great battling from Shashoua on the right saw him lose the ball when being fouled (which the referee didn’t spot), before showing strength and tenacity to win it back with a strong challenge. As he strode away with the ball he was fouled again, and this time the referee pulled back play and admonished the Southampton left-back, Jake Vokins, who told him to eff off!

Shashoua and Patterson linked well to set Griffiths free but it came to little.

Goalkeeper Brandon Austin was required to make a superb save, diving full stretch to his left to prevent a curling effort from Archie Thomas sneaking in at the back post.

Second-year forward, Aramide Oteh, came on for Roles, with Shashoua moving into the middle and Griffiths switching to the right.

Oakley-Boothe went to ground making a challenge to prevent a Southampton shooting opportunity, giving away a free-kick and earning himself a ticking off.

Just as midfield control seemed to have been won by Southampton, holding player Moroyin Omolabi replaced Shashoua to give the midfield some protection for the final few minutes.

Spurs had a wonderful attack on the right when Eyoma and Griffiths liked up effectively to see Grifiths drive into the box and beat his man, but his two crosses were cleared.

Spurs did make it 4-1, though, when Oakley-Boothe played a give-and-go with Griffiths before smashing into the roof of the net from a tight angle.

4-1 was a slightly flattering scoreline, and there were various points where Southampton could have got back into the match. It was an encouraging display, though, with some good individual performances. Some of the ratings below could easily have gone up or down a notch and this was just my perspective. For example, Eyoma was somewhere between a 7 and an 8 for me, Roles and Shashoua were somewhere between a 6 and a 7, with Marsh just a bit better than both overall. Griffiths got a goal and three assists, so you could definitely make a case for an 8, but his overall game was slightly inconsistent (though I do really like the look of him).

Brandon Austin 7 – was nice and alert when he needed to be and made one excellent diving safe. Will have his work cut out this time to get regular game time with Alfie Whiteman his competition.
TJ Eyoma 8 – a very encouraging performance, in which he defended well and also showed ability on the ball. There was one brilliant bit of play in particular which saw him protect the ball in midfield in an almost Dembele-like way.
Jon Dinzeyi 6 – had some nervous moments in possession but did make some very timely interventions.
Joy Mukena 5 – like his centre-back partner he looked edgy at times, and he ended up losing the ball in dangerous areas. Will need to improve on the ball as the season progresses.
Jaden Brown 6 – got up and down the line well, but needed a bit more quality in the final third.
George Marsh 7 – a typically busy, industrious performance. He really reminds me of Scott Parker.
Sam Shashoua 6 – a tidy showing but he did drift out at times. Shashoua is highly-rated, and has trained with the first team, so is one to keep an eye on.
Jack Roles 6 – there were times last season where he looked a little lightweight, but a really solid tackle in midfield showed his bravery and strength. I like the way he keeps it simple and also his ability to time a run into the box.
Tashan Oakley-Boothe 6 – not his best all-round game today, but the late goal showed what a big talent he is. I am very excited to see how he progresses this season.
Keanen Bennetts 5 – Some good early moments, but he drifted out of the match. I’m expecting more from him this season, as he has all of the physical attributes that he needs to be highly effective at this level.
Reo Griffiths 7 – an encouraging match in which he showed a real willingness to run and work for the team. The obvious area for improvement is his work with his back to goal, and this will come over time — he’s a converted winger, so it’s natural that that is not refined at this point. A goal and three assists!

Phoenix Patterson – fascinating to see him included on the bench, and I hope that this is the first of many appearances. See the video below for an insight into his ability.
Aramide Oteh – a bit of a battering ram of a forward, who could be useful in certain circumstances.
Moroyin Omalabi – my first look at him in the flesh, and he looked nice and composed.

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