July 27, 2014

Chicago Fire match – some thoughts

If you didn’t get to see the match live, there are streaming links here. As with the Toronto FC match, I’ve written some brief notes.

First half:

- Mason seems to have taken to Pochettino’s tactics like a duck to water. He positioned himself intelligently again and seemed to enjoy playing alongside the defensive-minded Capoue. One example of his understanding was that if the centre backs were in possession with no pressure on the ball, he dropped into the left back area to provide an option with Rose pushing high up:

Mason dropping into left back

He did this frequently and it allowed us to patiently progress up the pitch, rather than the centre-backs having to hit long diagonals or go back to the goalkeeper. For more information about Ryan Mason, check out this article I wrote just over a year ago.

- The opening goal came out of nowhere:

Goal 1

We forced Chicago Fire back to their goalkeeper – Kane closed him down and Townsend/Lamela blocked off two of the simple ‘out balls’, leaving just one option.

Goal 2

Holtby quickly realised the pressing opportunity.

Goal 3

There was a slightly heavy touch from Larentowicz, and with the defender not realising anyone was near him, Holtby was on him like a flash – he nicked the ball and squared it to Kane to finish.

- Holtby was a bit of an enigma again. Whilst he has an impressive one goal and two assists in three matches on this tour, and his pressing has been fantastic, his passing has been quite poor and he’s committed a high number of fouls. He put the team in trouble a couple of times with sloppy passes – it’s early days, but if he’s to play as one of the midfield three, he will need to be a lot more assured in possession.
- Lamela was largely on the periphery of the action but had a couple of moments of real quality where he beat a man and then took on a shot; it felt like had we got the ball to him more, there would have been more of these moments.

Second half:

- Soldado showed an impressive level of motivation and responsibility by tracking back to the right back area and making a good tackle.
- It was no surprise to me that Dawson looked far, far more assured alongside Veljkovic. A quick note on Veljkovic – for an 18-year old who has mostly played in midfield for the last eighteen months, he has performed remarkably well at centre-back, and offers us another ball-playing defender, particularly useful in games where we would expect to dominate possession.
- When Holtby went off Lennon switched to the right (and tucked in as part of a midfield three in the defensive phase) – although he seemed less willing to press high than Holtby had.
- Veljkovic lost possession with a risky pass to Falque (who was pretty weak), but made up for it with a fantastic block.
- Eriksen looked pretty out of sorts again. He’s such a talented player that we will clearly find a role for him, but it does raise the question – where does he fit in? I’m not totally convinced that he has the intensity or fitness to play the role that Holtby started in and Lennon finished in, where he’s required to tuck in and make up the midfield three.
- When Fredericks came on for Veljkovic, our back four was Fredericks, Dawson, Davies, Naughton – it’s worth noting that Davies has played centre-back before.
- The second goal was well taken by Lennon, who linked up with Soldado and latched onto a somewhat hopeful ball over the top. The defending was really poor but he capitalised well.
- Eriksen had a similar chance minutes later but lacked composure as the goalkeeper came to meet him.
- The second half in particular felt very low-key, and there was no tempo to the match - tired legs at the end meant that we were creating chances with straightforward long balls over the top.

General thoughts:

- Last season a major complaint of mine was that we moved the ball too slowly and too predictably in midfield (which was one reason I liked Bentaleb, who moves the ball well). In Mason, Carroll and Capoue we’ve had players on this tour who’ve looked to move the ball quickly and often progressively with as few touches as possible. I’m sure Pochettino will have noted this.
- Capoue has looked really good on this tour and his fitness has visibly improved by the game.
- Ryan Fredericks made a positive cameo at right-back, beating his man and getting to the by-line twice. In a team where full-backs are asked to play high, perhaps he will be kept around after all (I’d assumed he would be loaned out or sold).
- Luke McGee made his first appearance in the first team and was confident enough to keep possession with short passing deep in the penalty area.
- Spurs loanee Grant Ward played a very tidy 55 minutes for Chicago Fire.

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July 24, 2014

Toronto FC match – some thoughts

I don’t want to go into too much detail, because Luke Balls-Burgess has done that here, and I don’t think there’s a lot else that can be said about the second pre-season friendly of the summer, but having just caught up on the Toronto game, I’ve written some brief notes. I’ve no desire to judge players or make bold statements this early on in pre-season, so these observations should be taken in context.

First half:

-Greater coherence than Saturday, especially in the first half. Unsure if that’s due to more practice or different personnel.
-Loved the way Capoue covered the left back area on a couple of occasions – something a modern defensive midfielder must do. He was a strong presence in midfield too.
-In fact, the central midfield was nicely balanced with the dynamic Mason alongside Capoue, and Eriksen adding craft ahead of them.
-If you’ve followed me on Twitter for a while, you might know that I think a lot of Mason – I genuinely think that, were it not for injury, he’d be in the England squad by now. Mason as well as Veljkovic looked perfectly entitled to be out there in the first half.
-Lamela’s intensity was highly impressive.
-Davies used the ball well from advanced areas – Naughton less so.
-Lennon was very involved, albeit not always choosing the right option.
-Lamela’s goal saw us make 11 passes from back to front – the first made by Lamela (a chest down after Kaboul’s clearance). The only players to take more than two touches in the move were Naughton, Eriksen and Soldado; Mason’s first time pass to Eriksen in particular was sublime. It was an excellent team goal.
-Soldado was rarely involved in build-up play, yet claimed two assists.
-There was a lot of fluidity behind Soldado, with Lennon, Lamela and Eriksen roaming.
-Pochettino was keen to pass instructions onto Lennon – on the face of it he seemed fairly unimpressed.
-Lamela’s second goal was a glorious finish – even if he didn’t fancy it, he had Lennon and Eriksen free in the box square of him.

Second half:

-We instantly looked less assured, and it was because of the midfield. With just Carroll holding, we looked unbalanced – it was like two separate teams of five – one in our half, and one in the opposition half.
-Holtby played a lot higher than Mason had in the first half, and this didn’t change all half so he was presumably instructed to do so.
-Rose made the cross of the match – Kane should have buried it but was caught a little on his heels.
-For the first Toronto goal, Ceballos gave the ball away when Holtby was ahead of ball – Carroll tried to jockey back to bide time, when he should probably have put some pressure on the ball. Fryers didn’t track his man – instead hesitating and trying to play offside (bad decision with no pressure on the ball!).
-Townsend has been written off by many, but he looks so different to our other players – very direct and willing to commit players. That alone makes him a useful asset. With a bit of coaching I still think he can be very good for us.
-Walker was understandably reserved in his first match back.
-Fryers’ man got the second goal too, but I think Friedel could perhaps have saved it.
-Carroll had a near impossible job of linking play, as there was a huge gap between him and the next nearest player. This reflected badly on him, but in truth when he received the ball and turned, he rarely had an option.
-What a hit from Townsend to win the game!

General thoughts:

-We’re going to complete a lot of passes in the forthcoming season, and players who are sloppy or ponderous will not be welcome.
-We’re going to need players in the final third who are productive, as I can’t see too many goals coming from central midfield.
-Dawson has received a lot of criticism for his performance, but I feel like he was hamstrung by playing alongside Fryers.

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June 12, 2014

The Fighting Cock Fanzine

I’m proud to say that I was asked to write again for Tottenham’s only printed fanzine, The Fighting Cock, and that it is now available for pre-order.

Free 1882 & The Fighting Cock stickers with the first few orders – Limited stock​

My article – Football Is Family – is a sentimental effort, something quite new for me, but hopefully it’ll strike a chord with some. A sample of some of the terrific artwork is below.

FiF

I hope you’ll buy it and, if you do, I hope you enjoy my article.

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April 22, 2014

Ode to Tottenham Hotspur’s 2013/14 Season

The summer didn’t go quite to plan,
Or certainly not to the boss’,
We took the wonga – lost a key man,
Daniel Levy protected his losses.

Goodbye and thankyouverymuch, Elvis Presley,
“Ahoy there!” to The Beatles,
Alas David Villa – wanted by AVB -
Couldn’t agree on the finer details.

Another Spaniard arrived instead,
And a prospect from Argentina,
Plus crop of players who, it was said,
Would make our midfield meaner.

The football began in earnest,
On the pre-season trip to the East,
Sunderland were a stern test,
Cabral (who?!) looked like a beast.

Palace first up in the Prem,
A solid 1-0 kept us sweet,
Bobby off the mark with a pen,
And Paulinho seemed to find his feet.

Onwards we marched – Swansea, Norwich,
And in Europe we were winning as well,
We ignored the little Arsenal glitch,
‘Cos the new boys needed to gel.

When West Ham caught us asleep,
We worried there was something awry,
But Townsend was earning his keep,
And we beat Hull in a cup tie.

Then Newcastle came to the Lane,
Escaped with a cheeky one-nil,
Their goalkeeper – Krul – was to blame,
But AVB took the flack still.

It seemed to go downhill from there,
Manchester City made sure of that,
Poor Andre and his lovely facial hair,
Seemed to be struggling to adapt.

He won some, he drew some, he lost some,
Until the Liverpool game,
Where we were outfought, out-thought, “outdesired”,
And the dreaded axe prematurely came.

The new man – Tim Sherwood – was promoted,
From the Academy set-up, from within,
And before too long fans were cawing:
“InterTim”, “Dim Tim”, “4-4-Tim”, anyone but him…

“Back to basics”, he shouted – and it was,
4-4-2, two wingers, goals,
But defensive midfielders were doubted,
And our midfield clearly had holes.

Adebayor came back in from the cold,
And Eriksen came to the fore,
But when we came up against Norwich,
We seemed even worse than before!

More thrashings against big clubs did follow,
First Chelsea and then Liverpool,
Whilst the European campaign ended in sorrow,
With a draw over in Portugal.

So here we are out of the top four,
With just a few matches to go,
Some players seem disenfranchised,
Vertonghen, Capoue and Sandro.

The big summer signing, Lamela,
Is still injured and nowhere to be seen,
Maybe it’s the English weather,
Or maybe he wants a new team.

As for Soldado – he from sunny Spain,
He’s been goal-shy and short on mojo,
Now he finds himself behind Harry Kane,
As Tim tries to give youth a go.

It’s not been the greatest of seasons,
For the players, managers, and fans alike,
But there are a couple of reasons,
Why the star men shouldn’t get on their bikes.

The squad is strong, and will be stronger,
We’ve good players, good facilities, great fans,
So listen up Lloris and Vertonghen,
And Eriksen with your ‘secret plan’.

This is Tottenham Hotspur FC,
A club that 16… 15… 14 (?) Premier League clubs fear,
And just ‘cos you’ve not won a trophy,
As us fans say, there’s always next year.

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April 13, 2014

Spurs, Make Me Your Opposition Scout

Tottenham Hotspur’s slow starts are less of a ‘common theme’ under Tim Sherwood than a ‘worrying pattern’. The phenomenon is illustrated perfectly by a stat that was doing the rounds yesterday: that Spurs have now conceded the first goal in each of their last six games. Being 2-0 down to West Bromwich Albion with just four minutes gone on Saturday was an extreme example of what we have almost come to expect.

It is certainly an encouraging sign that our players have shown the spirit and desire to come back from losing positions so often, but giving the opposition such a head start is asking for trouble. It means that games like yesterday become draws when they are games that we should win – and deserve to win, on balance.

Whether the team are unmotivated, unprepared, unfocused, or all of the aforementioned, it certainly feels like there is something missing. And, frustratingly, there are many actions that can be taken to mitigate against such starts.

André Villas-Boas employed Daniel Sousa as Head of Opposition Scouting – a role that he undertook himself at Chelsea. There are many ‘modern football’ jobs that could be seen as ‘nice to haves’, but this seems ancillary. Even if there is a not a dedicated role to carry out such activities, surely someone on the coaching staff must do the bare minimum research.

Even just showing the players the thought process – that we are preparing for the opposition team in detail – would surely better focus their minds. The laid back behaviour visible in the tunnel against Liverpool might have been replaced by some much-needed intensity.

Tim Sherwood’s comments prior to the match against Liverpool - “To be honest, I’ve not watched them that closely.” – seemed to suggest that this isn’t something he believes in; that he is more concerned with what his team can do, and how they can make the opposition react to them. But given that he also seems to feel that games are decided by who has the best technical players (and his later reality check that we are punching our weight), this is like admitting defeat before a ball is kicked against the top teams.

Likewise, it would imply that we should be rolling over teams like West Brom, because we are technically superior in most areas of the field. There has to be a balance, though. In the Premier League the cliché that ‘anyone can beat anyone’ is oft-repeated for good reason; respect must be given to every opposition team, and research must be carried out.

Had I been asked to provide a dossier on ‘West Brom under Pepe Mel’ it would have contained a cover sheet with key points, such as:

- High tempo; quick start.
- Wingers pressing high.
- Sessegnon in the hole.
- Rejuvenated Dorrans.

It is fair to say that all of these had some impact; although there were individual errors (again), the goals were preventable had there been some planning.

Both full backs had a disaster. Within twenty seconds, Danny Rose – who had his worst game in a Spurs shirt – committed himself in the corner, and missed the ball and the man. Morgan Amalfitano wriggled clear and sent in a cross which Spurs half-cleared, and Matěj Vydra finished well.

Just a few minutes later, Brunt pressed high and decisively on Kyle Naughton, won the ball and was instantly joined by a swarm of teammates. As the ball was switched to the right, Christian Eriksen missed an opportunity to clear. Then, he and Rose could not prevent a cross coming in, and the defence was utterly disorganised in the centre.

1

With Naughton coming into the centre to pick up danger men, Aaron Lennon simply has to come back to cover…

2

…but instead he is not even in shot when the unmarked Chris Brunt slams home a lovely volley at the back post.

How do you play against teams that start games like this? Stay compact. Get bodies behind the ball. Use your wide men to protect your full backs. Do not dive into challenges. Feel your way into the game. Did we do any of these? No. In fact, we went one step further for the third goal as we left Stéphane Sessègnon one-on-one with Vlad Chiricheș – a suicidal move even when chasing a game.

We played well for long periods, dominated and probably created enough chances to win two games, but we ended up taking just a point. So I say to you, Tim: make me your Opposition Scout – make anyone your opposition scout – and make sure the team are prepared for the remaining games.

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RT @DaveHytner: A piece on new #thfc signing Eric Dier, the centre-half born in England but shaped by Sporting Lisbon http://t.co/8oZO7vEJo…
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