March 3, 2015
Wembley Woes or an Arch of Ambition?
As Field Marshal Pochettino sent his troops off to the front line on Sunday (apologies, I couldn’t resist continuing my military analogy that I began on this week’s Fighting Cock podcast!) my optimism concealed a fear that we would be up against a wounded José Mourinho who would eke out a victory in whatever manner he could. My preferred team selection was identical to the team Mauricio Pochettino opted for, and a bursting hopefulness surged through me as the players took to the pitch.
But Mourinho’s vengeful cynicism was translated to his team and from early in the match they broke up play with tactical fouls – stopping moves before they had started – whilst drawing cheap free-kicks themselves from our players, waiting for the slightest contact before collapsing to the turf. Some of our players showed a fair amount of naivety and walked into this trap, giving Chelsea precisely what they wanted.
Of course, it wasn’t just a cynical Chelsea performance – it was a truly commendable defensive display in a season where Premier League defending has been oft-criticised. John Terry (*spits*) was dominant, ably assisted by Gary Cahill, and Kurt Zouma did a fine job as an auxiliary midfield player. Our wide players rarely got the better of César Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanović, and Chelsea kept us at arm’s length for most of the game.
But things could have been different. Spurs dominated the first half, playing some neat football and controlling the tempo of the match. Nabil Bentaleb was at his suave best, with Ryan Mason a bundle of industry and (attempted) invention beside him. With little help from the band of players behind him, Harry Kane was forced to drop deep to try to create for himself. On one such occasion, he drove through a clutch of defenders and won a free-kick. Christian Eriksen – so vital a player for much of the season, but recently suffering from #formloss – curled a beautiful free-kick over the wall, but it left the crossbar shaking with Petr Čech seemingly beaten by the pace of the attempt.
Chelsea scored at just the right time – a scruffy goal from a Spurs perspective – and went in at the break to receive instructions on how to shut up shop. Mourinho masterminded the second half to perfection, and it was Chelsea who looked most likely to score again, looking a genuine threat on the counter. It was somewhat inevitable that they got their second but, once again, it came via a deflection, which was unfortunate for Spurs and Kyle Walker in particular.
It wasn’t just Chelsea who showed defensive resilience, and I want to take a moment to praise Eric Dier who, for me, was our best player. At just 21, and in his first season in the Premier League, he put in an outstanding performance. Diego Costa is a pig of a player. All elbows and mouth, he tries to get under the skin of his opponent from early on, doing anything he can to gain an advantage. Dier was calm and dealt with him consistently well. Costa eventually got the better of us for the second goal, but he needed a big stroke of luck to do so – he’d been kept quiet for the rest of the game. This performance from Dier – with many eyes on him – should be enough to ensure that he starts at centre-back for England in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in the Czech Republic this summer, an experience that will undoubtedly aid his development.
I left Wembley with a real sense of pride. Pride in our young team’s performance, and pride in our fans too. Post-match, Pochettino was keen to point out just how young the team was. He said: “The average age for my players was 23 and a half and for many players it was their first time at Wembley. It’s true that we will play a lot of finals in the next few years. I think we have a big future.”
Our fans were also fantastic, and out-sung our Chelsea counterparts for most of the match. It was a genuine delight when, after the opening Chelsea goal went in, a burst of ‘Everywhere we go…’ started up in my block.
My trip to Florence was an experience. Florence is a beautiful city, with beautiful food and, fortunately for us, beautiful weather, particularly on the Friday. But, despite good backing for our team in a tough match, it didn’t click on the pitch, and not all of the players’ efforts matched up to those of our supporters.
On arriving in Florence, it would have been rude not to order pizza for lunch. I went for the ‘Fiorentina’, which the waiter found amusing. After a couple of beers and a quick stop at our B&B, we headed off to the stadium.
Pre-match, my friend and I had agreed to record interviews for Spurs TV (23:10 here), meaning that we were at the Stadio Artemio Franchi for 16:45, over two hours prior to kick off.
After the interview was finished, we began walking around to where we presumed we could enter the ground. We drew plenty of stares from Fiorentina fans, so we kept our mouths shut and hid our colours. As we approached the last block before a dividing fence, we realised that we were probably going to have to walk all the way back around the stadium – a steward confirmed as much. But after thirty minutes of walking back on ourselves, we met a bunch of Spurs fans walking towards us saying that there was no obvious way in around the other side either. We continued regardless and eventually came to a row of police officers, blocking off an entrance-way. We flashed our tickets, and walked through. Already the police vans were arriving behind them.
We passed through two layers of security, and received two very thorough security checks (!) and entered the stadium. The first impression was that it was basic. The toilets were underground and pretty disgusting. There was no roof on our stand, and it felt “industrial”. Spurs had two sections, but there was a large sheet of Perspex between us, meaning that the atmosphere suffered throughout. We were so high in the stand that the strong wind became a factor, and we were freezing after a few minutes of being there. A small group of our fans stood on a concrete area to the front of the right-hand section and were noisy throughout, some not even stopping to look at the game! Unfortunately, because they were so far below us, the noise didn’t always carry and so the atmosphere felt sporadic and diluted.
The game itself was a crushing disappointment. I could understand the team selection, but would personally have played Harry Kane for the first sixty minutes. In spite of that, it felt like we were in control until Fazio’s sloppy pass led to the opener. Whilst this changed little in terms of what we needed to do in the match – we always needed to score at least once – it gave Fiorentina heart, and seemed to make us more desperate; we lost the sense of calm that we’d had prior to the goal.
Benji Stambouli and Ben Davies had good first halves, but rustiness and a lack of sharpness showed in the second, and Davies in particular had a tough time up against Mohamed Salah, who had switched sides. Eriksen had some flashes of good play, but was dispossessed five times – he was hindered by not having Kane to dovetail with. Roberto Soldado cut a troubled figure. The missed opportunity – where he tried to find Nacer Chadli – was obviously a huge error, but it was his lack of movement and effort that was particularly striking. Or not striking, that was the issue. He lacked desire and played like a man whose mind was elsewhere.
In the end we made it easy for Fiorentina to beat us – a real shame, especially since they’d changed shape at half-time in the first leg to make it difficult for us to beat them.
Post-match, we expected a twenty minute wait, as had been advertised. After fifty minutes of being penned in behind large metal gates, with rain coming down heavier and heavier, the gates were opened. As we left this area, we were confronted with riot police – shields and batons at the ready – and numerous police cars and vans were parked along our route. As we got to the entrance-way where the line of police had been stood on the way in, we were told to board buses bound for the city centre. Our B&B was nearer the stadium than the centre, so we ignored the instruction and continued through the barricade, and saw no trouble (and barely another football fan!). We had a good dinner in a restaurant in which Fiorentina fans were also dining, and any interaction was friendly and calm.
Florence is a beautiful city, and Spurs’ performance didn’t do it justice. But the competition has been good for us, and we might not have the Harry Kane that we do were it not for this season’s Europa League. I look forward to hopefully being in the competition again next season, but I would understand if Pochettino used it to give more young players a chance.
January 31, 2015
I thought this was worth documenting as it’s something that comes up regularly.
We have several first-team players with contracts expiring this summer:
We then have youngsters with unknown contract lengths who I suspect might be released if their deals are expiring:
Grant Hall might be included too, although the club could get a fee for him – he’s a relatively proven Championship player.
Daniel Akindayini is on the 3rd year of a scholarship and will surely be released.
Lloyd Ross is the only one of the second year scholars that I am adamant will be released – the following are borderline between being given professional contracts or offered a third year of their scholarship:
Joe Pritchard – has had a serious injury.
Anton Walkes – 3 months ago I’d have had him on the ‘release’ list.
They have until the rest of the season to impress basically.
I gather the following have already signed professional contracts or received assurances:
This site is an excellent resource for contract info.
January 26, 2015
We were seven minutes plus stoppage time from progression in the FA Cup on Saturday before Leicester City started a comeback that culminated in a complete turn-around.
Spurs dominated possession in the first half without creating too many openings, whilst Leicester were happy to soak up pressure and counter – doing so effectively and creating good chances.
Andrej Kramarić had an opportunity to put Leicester 1-0 up, with Danny Rose failing to cover round despite having a good view of the forward. Michel Vorm’s save was exceptional – the sort that we have become accustomed to with Hugo Lloris in goal.
Leicester’s second chance summed up – for me – why Mousa Dembélé and Étienne Capoue are an ineffective central midfield combination from a defensive viewpoint.
In the above image, Jeff Schlupp has received the ball, brought it down and Vlad Chiricheș/Andros Townsend are approaching him. Neither Dembélé or Capoue are attempting to get into a defensive position to influence the game – presumably assuming that their team mates will deal with the situation. I have long been of the opinion that neither has particularly good natural defensive instincts, and this is a good example of that. Younes Kaboul has to keep one eye on Leonardo Ulloa, who has played the pass and is now getting forward to support Schlupp and Kramarić.
As Schlupp cuts in, there’s a huge gap in the centre of our defence. Either Capoue should have tracked Ulloa, allowing Kaboul to go across to the ball, or one of Capoue / Dembélé should anticipate the potential danger and get into a position to stop Schlupp having a free shot on goal. Presented with the same scenario, I would expect that Stambouli would have provided a more effective barrier.
At the other end we struggled to break down a stubborn Leicester defence, with all three of our central midfield players content to pass sideways to the wingers and give them all of the responsibility of getting in behind the defence. Lamela and Townsend actually achieved on occasions, but having provided openings, Paulinho was guilty of wasting them. His finishing was allegedly an in-joke at Hotspur Way last season, where it was said that he put lots of balls over fences. Based on this display it is easy to see why. He lacked composure and technique and wasted three presentable chances – one going wide, one over, and one straight at the goalkeeper.
Mauricio Pochettino has made some useful substitutions this season, but on this occasion his decisions did not help the situation. At 1-0 and with Leicester gaining a foothold in the game, it had become clear that we were going to need a second goal to kill off the tie. Bringing Christian Eriksen on, then, was a logical move. Taking Townsend off, however, was not. Townsend was having some joy on the right and was looking capable of creating something, especially on the counter. It would have made more sense to take off Paulinho or Dembélé to allow Eriksen to scheme in behind Roberto Soldado. Instead, Eriksen was played on the left, with Lamela switching to the right, and the ineffective Paulinho continuing in the centre (I won’t refer to him as a number 10 as he doesn’t possess any of the qualities of the traditional 10!).
Emmanuel Adebayor then replaced Soldado, which felt a little odd, as Soldado had passed the ball quite well and had won the penalty with an excellent piece of control. Adebayor added more of an aerial threat – challenging for and winning headers, as opposed to jumping into the man and giving away free-kicks as Soldado tends to do – but he undoubtedly slowed down our attacking play. Harry Kane’s introduction for Dembélé after the equaliser was too little, too late – ideally he should have come on for Soldado or Paulinho at the same that Eriksen was introduced.
Vorm’s dreadful error at the end was not his first mistake of the game and, in truth, he was quite lucky to still be on the pitch. Replays showed that he took Kramarić’s back leg rather than the ball in the first half, which should have led to a penalty being awarded and probably to a red card being shown.
Overall it was a disappointing result made more disappointing by the other upsets – this presented a fantastic opportunity to progress in a third cup, and the boos at full-time illustrated the frustration having been in a controlling position.
Pochettino has had to manage his squad carefully to mitigate against fatigue creeping in, which can cause long-term injuries as well as limiting players’ effectiveness (as was so clearly visible against Crystal Palace). But, personally, I don’t feel that we can afford to leave out Eriksen, Harry Kane and Ryan Mason. With none of them in the team we lack a player who can consistently pass forward or open up a defence. My preference would have been to play one of Kane or Eriksen against Sheffield United and the other against Leicester. It will now be interesting to see the team selection on Wednesday – both should start and both should feel relatively fresh.
January 25, 2015
Tom Glover (16)
Chris Paul (17) Luke Amos (17) Anton Walkes (17) Lloyd Ross (18)
Zenon Stylianides (17) Charlie Owens (17) (c)
Armani Daly (17) Marcus Edwards (16) Kazaiah Sterling (16)
Ryan Loft (17)
Anthony Georgiou (17) for Lloyd Ross, 62.
Shayon Harrison (17) for Ryan Loft, 62.
Cy Goddard (17) for Armani Daly, 70.
Tom McDermott (16)
Firstly, apologies for a slightly more brief report this time around. It was a very cold afternoon and I forgot my gloves – as a result, I can barely read my notes, and there are far less of them too! Secondly, to put this match into a bit of context: we were playing the second-placed team (before this match they were two points ahead of us having played two more games) and we were playing our second match in less than 48 hours. We made nine changes from the side that beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 in the FA Youth Cup, with just Anton Walkes and Luke Amos keeping their places.
Walkes and Amos – both of whom turn 18 in February – made up the most experienced element of the team, whilst Marcus Edwards (making his first start) and Kazaiah Sterling (making his second start) were promoted from the Under-16s.
We set up with a back four made up of four central midfielders, although Anton Walkes seems to now play at centre-back more than anywhere else, so perhaps it’s sensible to start thinking of that as his main position. Amos, Lloyd Ross and Chris Paul had all filled in in these positions before, but the full-backs did struggle pretty much throughout this match.
Former Spur Kodi Lyons-Foster was playing at centre-back for Villa, who had a front pairing of Rushian Hepburn-Murphy and Harry McKirdy – both of whom have consistently scored goals throughout the season so far. England Under-16 winger Andre Green lined up on the left with Swedish 16-year old Moustafa Zeidan on the right.
Spurs started off kicking into the strong wind and it was immediately clear that Villa’s game plan was to press high and trap us inside our ownhalf. The away side won two early corners – Tom Glover came to claim the second, but didn’t get near to the ball as the wind the conditions difficult.
Andre Green signalled his intentions after five minutes, beating Chris Paul and putting in a cross which Amos anticipated well and blocked. Spurs went up the other end and got some respite as Loft made the ball stick and went on a dribble which won a corner, but Owens’ kick was cleared. Edwards then showed his ability with some early touches, linking with Loft and feeding Sterling before Villa got on the attack again.
Green beat Paul for a second time, and this time the full-back absolutely scythed him down from behind, drawing a strong response from the Aston Villa bench. The referee did Paul a big favour and resisted the temptation to show a yellow card.
Villa took the lead minutes later – Owens (I think) made a loose pass, McKirdy picked up possession and came forward before getting a shot away. It hit the inside of the post, went back along the line, and seemed to go in off the unfortunate Luke Amos, who had got back onto the line to try to clear. The linesman flagged frantically to confirm that the ball had crossed the line.
Paul did well to chase down a high ball over his shoulder and come away with the ball, but Green came back at him and won it back – fortunately for Paul, Glover came out to smother as Green advanced into the box. A minute later and Green was beating Paul again but Glover got the ball out for a corner. Spurs didn’t organise quickly enough and a short corner created a shooting opportunity far too easily. Glover got down very smartly to save the low, deflected effort, before bellowing out to his team that he had told them about the space that the shot came in from.
Spurs made a rare foray into the Villa half – Stylianides broke forward and picked out Sterling, who used the ball intelligently to find Ross on the left. He fed a cross into Loft at the near post, but it was under-hit and Loft couldn’t come off the near post quickly enough to get to the flight of the ball.
On the other side, Armani Daly beat two men and won a throw, but it was feeling like a real struggle – having to use tricks to wriggle past two just to win a throw pretty much summed up how the first half had gone for Spurs.
25 minutes in Glover saved a stinging shot as Spurs started to get a little foothold and began to restrict Villa better.
Luke Amos went down after a poor challenge from McKirdy; the physio rushed on and there was a brief stoppage. Pretty much as soon as Amos was on, it was 2-0. Walkes’ clearance held up a little in the wind, Lyons-Foster helped it forward, and Hepburn-Murphy broke through between Walkes and Ross with a clear run on goal. Glover came out but perhaps would have been better off staying on his line, as the forward lifted it over his legs and into the unguarded next – an excellent finish.
Spurs had a little injustice 34 minutes in – Edwards got away from his man with some skill and was brought down from behind, but the referee did not even award him a free-kick. A few minutes later and Rory Hale was booked for dragging Daly back by his shirt as he looked to get in down the right.
Hepburn-Murphy made inroads down the right for another effort which won Villa a corner, before Edwards went on a run which opened Villa up. He fed Daly who had a shooting opportunity if he hit it first time, but he cut back – a tee-up for Edwards was on, but he dallied and the defender got a vital foot in.
The second half started with an early booking for Lloyd Ross as he tackled Zeidan but Spurs were far, far better from the off. Sterling beat his man on the outside and put in a left foot cross that was slightly too high for Loft. Loft returned the favour, crossing for Sterling, but this one was just over-hit too.
Stylianides volleyed inches wide from a Ross cross, before another cross towards Loft evaded him slightly on the stretch
Glover was called into action again, making a very good low stop to his right after Hepburn-Murphy had advanced on the left and had a crack.
Captain Charlie Owens made a bit of a mess of a free-kick after Edwards had been fouled, hitting it well over the bar from a decent position.
Spurs replaced Ross and Loft with Harrison and Georgiou – two of the best performers in Thursday night’s cup match – and they had an instant impact. Sterling did well out on the left, Georgiou overlapped from full-back and his cross fell to Stylianides. He found Harrison who turned neatly and finished well with his left foot.
Cy Goddard was introduced for Daly, and he and Edwards schemed away trying to create, but Villa were holding firm.
Edwards somehow kept the ball with the most audacious turn, which saw him on the ground swivelling and leaving defenders in his wake, before teeing up Sterling who himself turned well and got a shot away which right-back Ryan Strain blocked.
Villa had a rare breakaway from which Green fired across goal, but Georgiou was in command and helped it out for a corner.
I had to leave a bit early to get to White Hart Lane, but I’m told that Goddard and Sterling had half-chances but we were unable to get an equaliser.
It was a tough, tough match for what was effectively (at least at this stage in their careers) a second choice eleven, but I felt quite proud of the way that the players battled back in the second half. We beat Villa 1-0 earlier in the season with our first choice team, and I think we would have made it a double had we not had the Youth Cup match this week.
Tom Glover 6 – made some solid saves and was vocal throughout – not an easy day for a keeper with the wind being so strong. I felt he perhaps made the wrong decision for the second goal, but it’s easy to say that in hindsight.
Chris Paul 4 – Andre Green gave Paul an absolutely torrid time in the first half, and had it been a first team match he’d have been walking a tightrope as we would undoubtedly have been booked for an early challenge. Credit to him for coming out and improving as the match went on – he showed a lot of determination and perseverance, and won a few more of his battles.
Luke Amos 7 – despite not being the biggest (he’s tall but slim), Amos filled in admirably, exhibiting his ability to read the game, and putting himself on the line when necessary. His passing out from the back was vital for controlling possession in the second half.
Anton Walkes 7 – a calming presence at the back, but occasionally vulnerable to a ball over the top. Carried the ball out of defence with confidence and won plenty in the air.
Lloyd Ross 5 – he’s not a full-back and never will be, but he stuck to his task relatively well.
Zenon Stylianides 6 – struggled in the first half when we didn’t have the ball, but was good in the second, helping to control possession and break forward when necessary.
Charlie Owens 5 – as with Stylianides he was poor in the first half, but got a lot better as the game went on and as we had more of the ball.
Armani Daly 6 – was often left isolated and so struggled – not through a lack of trying, though. I think had he had a more natural right-back behind him, he’d have had far more success.
Marcus Edwards 7 – my first proper look at the much-hyped midfielder. The ball sticks to him, and he showed some glorious touches too – one in particular where he cushioned a pass first time to a teammate from a firm square ball from Sterling stood out. As he adapts to playing against more physical players he’s going to be a hugely important player in this team.
Kazaiah Sterling 6 – tried hard throughout but didn’t get much change from a good full-back (Liam Hailey). Looking forward to seeing more of him as there’s lots to admire in his game.
Ryan Loft 6 – the first half was very difficult for Loft, but he tried to make the ball stick and had some joy. He looked far better as we started to see more of the ball.
Anthony Georgiou 7 – came on in an unfamiliar left-back role and showed plenty of tenacity and attacking intent.
Shayon Harrison 7 – you can’t ask much more than coming off the bench and scoring!
Cy Goddard – was creative and lively off the bench.
January 15, 2015
17-year old Josh Onomah made his Tottenham Hotspur debut last night, coming off the bench to replace Andros Townsend on 76 minutes.
Tim Sherwood took Josh to Benfica with the first-team squad as a 16-year old, and the player was then also an unused substitute against Dnipropetrovsk in February, Beşiktaş in December and the first leg of the Burnley tie earlier this month. Born and raised in Enfield, he has been talked up by most who have seen him over the past two years – myself included.
He’s a central midfielder, and his main attributes are his dribbling, balance, pace, and strength. He’s strong in possession and hard to knock off the ball – the way that he bursts into gaps and dribbles in a natural, powerful way have earned him the nickname ‘Pogba-lite’ amongst some; the likeness is clear to see.
Josh joined Spurs as an Under-9, and has represented England at Under-16, 17 and 18 levels. He was a part of the England Under-17 squad that won the European Championships in May, 2013. It sometimes feels that when a young player gets picked for the national side at youth level, that they are subsequently kept in and around the set-up regardless of their progress or the progress of alternative options. However, with Onomah it feels natural that he will continue to represent England all the way to Under-21 level, and hopefully beyond.
Martin Lipton, the Daily Mirror journalist, named Onomah in his ‘How England might look in 2018 XI‘ back in July 2014, saying: “I’m backing Tottenham’s Joshua Onomah to fulfil his promise and come through.”
Onomah is so highly-rated internally that, despite technically being a second-year scholar, he has already signed a professional contract. This generally happens when the club wants to tie exceptional players down, and is quite a rare occurrence at Spurs.
I first saw Onomah as a 15-year old and it was immediately clear that he was immensely talented, although he was quite loose with some of his passing. There had appeared to be question marks over his temperament – I remember seeing him with a face like thunder after one match, with Academy Manager, John McDermott talking to him with his arm around his shoulder as he walked off the pitch. Talk around Hotspur Way was that he got frustrated quickly – whether that was frustration at his own performances, or frustration because he was better than his teammates, I’m unsure. Regardless, in May 2014, McDermott commented on his maturity and it seemed that he had really turned a corner in this respect:
“Another thing I’m pleased about is that he’s matured as a young man, not just on the football pitch, but off it. I’m really pleased with his overall development, not just his football development.”
His post-match interview yesterday was genuinely endearing – he looked so happy to have made his debut and spoke well about where he goes from here.
And below are some more links which might be of interest.
JOHN DELIGHTED WITH JOSH’S PROGRESS
A 9 vs 9 Under-18 match against QPR played behind closed doors from 2013 – Onomah is number 17. NB: Bentaleb scores after about 30 seconds! (EDIT: this has now been made private, apologies. I’ll leave the link here in case it returns.)
Chelsea U21s vs Tottenham Hotspur U21s – Onomah is wearing number 10.
Tottenham Hotspur U18s 2-3 Fulham 2-3 U18s, Onomah is wearing number 8 and scores after 3 minutes of the match.
Norwich City U21s 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur U21s, Onomah is wearing number 10.
Tottenham Hotspur U21s 2-1 West Ham U21s, Onomah is wearing number 10.
Some of my previous reports featuring Onomah:
25/08/12 Tottenham Hotspur U18s 3-4 Manchester United U18s, Tottenham Hotspur Training Centre
12/10/13 Tottenham Hotspur U18s 2-3 West Ham United U18s, Hotspur Way
23/11/13 Tottenham Hotspur U18s 4-2 Arsenal U18s, Hotspur Way
And some further links from RifleEyez:
Excellent bit of skill
England action vs Turkey. He’s number 8, with yellow boots.
England Under-17s vs Gibraltar, he’s number 10.
England Under-17s vs Holland. Onomah is number 8 again and scores the 2nd goal in the 74th minute.
England Under-17s vs Italy, Onomah is number 8.