January 25, 2016

25/01/16 Liverpool U21s 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur U21s, Deva Stadium

Tom Glover (18)
Walker-Peters (18) Cameron Carter-Vickers (18) (c) Filip Lesniak (19) Anthony Georgiou (18)
Luke Amos (18) Anton Walkes (18)
Andros Townsend (24) Cy Goddard (18) Joe Pritchard (19)
Will Miller (19)

Subs:
Emmanuel Sonupe (19) for Joe Pritchard, 68.
Christian Maghoma (18) for for Will Miller, 77.
Christopher Paul (18) for Cy Goddard, 84.

Subs not used:
Harry Voss (19)

Liverpool: Bogdan (28), Virtue (18), Hart (19), Caulker (24), Enrique (30), Stewart (22), Ojo (18), Chirivella (18), Sinclair (19), Brannagan (19), Kent (19).

Spurs lined up with Kyle Walker-Peters and Cameron Carter-Vickers joined by midfielders Filip Lesniak and Anyhony Georgiou in the back-line. Luke Amos was the dedicated holder in midfield, with Anton Walkes playing as the 8. Andros Townsend started on the right, with Cy Goddard centrally and Joe Pritchard on the left. Will Miller was ‘leading the line’ – I use the phrase loosely.

Spurs were the much younger side, an average of two and a half years younger according to @thfcacademy.

Liverpool had two Premier League players at centre-back, up against a player in Will Miller who had barely played a string of matches for the Under-21s, and certainly not as a striker.

Spurs were missing Shayon Harrison, Nathan Oduwa (recently returned from Rangers), and Milos Veljkovic through injury, Dominic Ball, Grant Ward and Connor Ogilvie who were out on loan, and Josh Onomah and Harry Winks who were with the first team squad in Barcelona. Walker-Peters was available after his trial at Roda did not lead to a loan (apparently due to their long-ball approach!).

It was obvious from the start that the gegenpressing was not just a first-team tactic for Liverpool, as they pushed up quickly on Spurs’ back line and forced them to play long-balls out, a style the players are not accustomed to. Cameron Carter-Vickers was struggling as a result and played one long pass straight into touch and another cannoning into Walker-Peters’ legs after a ‘hospital pass’ from Anton Walkes.

Jerome Sinclair broke forward well for Liverpool but Carter-Vickers read the danger and shepherded him out before clearing for a throw.

Walkes and Amos were both a bit sloppy in possession in midfield in the early stages, which was not helping Spurs in their attempts to gain a foothold.

Georgiou played a nice ball to Miller who had dropped into midfield; he got it wide to Townsend, who cut in but tried to best one man too many. Liverpool were closing Townsend down well, getting bodies around him and causing him to take an extra touch.

Amos, meanwhile, was playing himself into the game nicely with some good passing, taking the ball in tight spaces and using it intelligently.

Liverpool nearly went ahead on 10 minutes as Ojo got the better of Georgiou and played Sinclair in on the inside of Lesniak; his cut-back just evaded the bodies in the box.

On 13 minutes, Ojo won a free kick off Georgiou on the Liverpool right and Kent’s left footed cross-cum-shot slipped right through the body of poor Tom Glover. 1-0 to the home side.

Amos got Spurs on the front foot with a nice pass to Pritchard, but he overhit his knock to Townsend – the story of Spurs’ night.

Glover played a very poor pass out to Georgiou which he just got away with, but Georgiou miscontrolled it; Spurs were their own worst enemy.

There was some nice interplay from Goddard and Townsend but Goddard’s pass towards Miller was too long.

Spurs’ first opening came on 23 minutes as Pritchard bundled his way into a shooting area but dragged his effort wide.

Sinclair’s effort was straight at Glover after Brannagan won the ball and found him well.

Georgiou found Pritchard, he danced across the edge of the box and teed up Goddard, but Liverpool players converged on him and ex-Spur Stewart blocked the effort.

Spurs then won a corner which Georgiou and Townsend managed to waste between them by trying to be too clever.

Amos did brilliantly to rob Virtue and, as he cut in readying himself to shoot, Virtue took him down right on the edge of the penalty area; he was lucky not to get booked. Townsend’s free-kick was the right idea, but hit straight at Bogdan.

Townsend won a foul from Hart after getting the ball from Goddard, and his free kick was taken towards the near post, with Caulker clearing it as Walkes lingered.

Spurs got Miller into the box in a good position but his cut-back was wasteful. Miller then lost the ball again after a good pass by Pritchard.

Goddard showed some lovely skill and quick feet to hold the ball under pressure and then get the ball wide as Spurs were having their best spell.

Townsend made a fantastic driving run down the right and his cut-back was perfect to Miller, but he lacked composure and smashed his shot over with his left foot when well placed.

Walker Peters held back Ryan Kent and somehow got away without a booking – this became more controversial later in the game, when Stewart picked up his second for a similar foul.

Georgiou did well to dispossess Ojo who was well positioned on the right of the box after a lovely pass from Enrique.

Amos nicked in to win possession again – something he did a lot throughout the half.

Walkes played an impressive first time pass out wide to Georgiou but he had strayed offside. At half-time, Spurs went in 1-0 down after a pretty dreadful half of football with very little quality on display. Liverpool, the more experienced side, were marginally better.

Spurs started the second half poorly, with Walker-Peters clipping Sinclair’s heels as he was about to run through – in a Premier League match, that would definitely have been a booking, and probably Walker-Peters’ second. Fortunately for Spurs, Kent’s free-kick came back off the wall.

Glover got himself into a mess once again when he took an unnecessary touch in the box and then struggled to clear his lines – he was eventually glad that Carter-Vickers mopped up the mess.

Amos did well to win the ball again but Walkes gave the ball straight back to Liverpool, playing a dreadful pass straight down the middle to Bogdan.

Amos fouled Stewart after a nice Stewart dummy and then committed another foul which saw him go into the book. Carter-Vickers defended Brannagan’s free kick well, but Liverpool persisted and Ojo crossed for Sinclair to tuck in, with Glover suspect once again. 2-0 and it looked like game over.

A couple of minutes later Amos committed another foul – he was walking a real tightrope.

Sinclair’s header went easily into Glover’s hands after a lovely cross from the impressive Ojo, before Kent nutmegged Walkes on the edge of the box but flashed his slot well wide.

On 65 minutes, Spurs strung together their best move of the half but Townsend lost possession on the left. Walker-Peters regained the ball on the opposite side but Pritchard overhit his cross wastefully.

Kent had a good run and shot but Glover got down to claim it at the second attempt, before Braanigan’s superb burst into the box ended with a shot which flashed just wide.

Sonupe came on for Pritchard on the left, and on 68 minutes he cut in off the line but his through ball went straight out for a goal kick.

A minute later, Walker-Peters exchanged passes with Townsend and went on a trademark mazy run; he got the ball into Miller who found Sonupe but he passed up a shooting opportunity and ended up with a corner which was hit too long by Townsend.

Walker-Peters then dribbled expertly out from the back and won a free kick, before Townsend showed some good skill and awareness to to cut inside and find Walker-Peters again.

Miller received the ball from Walker-Peters and turned Enrique well, but Stewart barged into him to take him down on the edge of the box, and received a booking. Townsend took the free kick and fired it just over.

A couple of minutes later, Stewart received his second yellow for dragging Walkes back – an easy decision for the referee.

Will Miller was replaced by Christian Maghoma. This meant that Lesniak moved into midfield (yay!) and Walkes moved up front (boo!).

Chris Paul replaced Cy Goddard in our final change, as we tried to press home the numerical advantage.

In truth we created little more, and Walkes’ horribly over hit pass for Sonupe summed up our attacking intent.

This was not a good performance from our side, and I am getting increasingly concerned about the way the team is being managed. Without wanting to single out individuals, there are a few players in this team that are simply not up to playing at this level, and Ehiogu’s unwillingness to recognise this has led to some good players 1. being played out of position and 2. losing confidence as a result

I will not be doing ratings this time, mostly as they won’t make nice reading. Suffice to say that Townsend tried hard but had little success, and Walker-Peters was his usual self in possession. He is a level above most of his teammates and I cannot see what this is doing for his development. He needs a loan move, even if it is to League Two or to Scotland, like Oduwa; Mark Warburton would handle him with care.

While we had a lot of players unavailable for various reasons (e.g. I imagine that the following team would have given Liverpool a much better game: McGee; Walker-Peters, Carter-Vickers, Ball, Ogilvie; Veljkovic, Winks; Ward, Onomah, Oduwa; Harrison), these consistently poor team selections are worrying.

It is time for us to give ourselves a platform by playing Carter-Vickers and Maghoma at the back, Lesniak (or Veljkovic, when fit) and Amos in deep midfield and to give Marcus Edwards and Keanan Bennetts more minutes behind Shayon Harrison (or, when he’s not available, Kazaiah Sterling).

Obviously I do not know the ins and outs of daily training – I can’t say who is and is not deserving of team spots based on that. But from watching the games that I have, and from speaking to people who watch every week, I cannot see Ugo Ehiogu being in charge next season as it stands, as too many players are going backwards.

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January 21, 2016

The Tottenham Clique

I was going to try to go with clique-bait as a title, but I’m not sure it works and I’m not clever enough to think of something else witty. Anyway, I wanted to write a few words about last night, because I *really* enjoyed the match…

We know we have a good squad, missing just a couple of players to make it a ‘complete’ squad — a striker and a defensive midfielder, yada yada yada. But, when we have rested players previously, the team has not always clicked. Last night it felt like it did, eventually.

The first ten minutes or so were pretty loose. Nabil Bentaleb was loose, the passing was loose, nothing was really coming off. We kept trying to do things ‘the right way’, though. We moved the ball quickly through the centre-backs and particularly through Tom Carroll and Bentaleb and got it into the final third as early as possible. The attacking quartet of Son Heung-min, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli tried to play early passes between Leicester defenders or into channels and made aggressive runs in behind regularly enough to keep Leicester guessing. They didn’t often come off but the ideas were there. And then finally Son smashed a beauty in just before half-time and we were halfway there.

When Leicester came at us in the second half we were under pressure without ever really looking vulnerable. The second string centre-backs were doing a great job – Kevin Wimmer was as solid as ever and Eric Dier dropped in as if he’d never played anywhere else. Even Michel Vorm put in a steady performance.

It was pleasing to see a (mostly) second string play at a promising tempo and with a style nearly identical to that of the first team, and for the job to be done in such a professional way. It gives me hope that we *can* compete in three competitions, and I hope that it gives Mauricio Pochettino more confidence to be able to rotate more regularly, as several players are at risk of burn-out at this point.

Whether Son has done enough to force his way into the starting XI for the Palace game is to be seen, but we know from experience that Pochettino does tend to operate a meritocracy. Of course, he could legitimately be rotated in for any of the attacking midfielders without question of one of them being ‘dropped’, as all will need a break — particularly Alli.

And Bentaleb did himself no harm either. After a couple of dicey moments early on, he settled into the game and spread play early, with nice, firmly struck passes which got us moving forward quickly. That won’t have gone unnoticed and I think we can expect to see him get more game-time over the next few months.

Colchester United await in the next round, and another opportunity to give the second string a go – hopefully with Josh Onomah and Harry Winks getting some pitch-time. It’s all going so well; what could possibly go wrong?

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January 11, 2016

11/01/16 Tottenham Hotspur U21s 4-5 Chelsea U21s, Lamex Stadium

Tom Glover (18)
Luke Amos (18) Cameron Carter-Vickers (18) Milos Veljkovic (20) (c) Anthony Georgiou (18)
Filip Lesniak (19) Harry Winks (19)
Andros Townsend (24) Anton Walkes (18) Will Miller (19)
Shaq Coulthirst (21)

Emmanuel Sonupe for Lesniak, 57.
Joe Pritchard for Walkes, 73.
Cy Goddard for Miller, 82.

Sub not used:
Voss

Chelsea: Collins, Dabo, Tomori, Clarke-Salter, Dasilva, Colkett (c), Mitchell, Ali (Kiwomya 45), Abraham, Palmer, Musonda

With Kyle Walker-Peters on trial at Roda JC ahead of a probable loan move, and Connor Ogilvie on loan at Stevenage, Spurs lined up without a natural full-back. Defensive midfielder Luke Amos filled in on the right, and winger Anthony Georgiou started on the left.

With Shayon Harrison missing through injury, Nathan Oduwa, Dominic Ball, Grant Ward, Ogilvie and Walker-Peters on loan, and Josh Onomah recently promoted to the first team, Spurs lacked some of their best talent but still had smatterings of quality throughout the side.

The game began in an open, flowing style with both teams playing balls in behind for their wingers to chase; Chelsea’s winger won a corner off the retreating Georgiou which was easily cleared at the near post.

Charlie Musonda gave Luke Amos a scare when he beat him on the outside and put in a low cross, but Cameron Carter-Vickers was there to clear for a corner (which was overhit).

Georgiou on the other side stuck to his task well to dispossess Mitchell and set up a spell of Spurs possession, led by Winks and ending when Veljkovic’s angled long pass went straight out for a throw-in.

Winks was showing a willingness to take the ball under pressure in central midfield and with Veljkovic happy to step into midfield and switch play, Spurs were looking more than competent in possession, although Chelsea were keeping them at arm’s length.

A long ball from Carter-Vickers was nearly brought down in a great position by Will Miller, but it just got away from him and, although he did well to play the ball off his man for a corner, a goal-kick was awarded.

Luke Amos did well to win a free-kick through beating his man on the outside and being tripped, but Andros Townsend’s set-piece sailed out for a goal-kick. We’ll blame the wind for that one.

A poor pass from Lesniak trickled through a Chelsea man to find Townsend, but as he was dispossessed he looked to the referee, with no free-kick being awarded – he had a case that time.

Georgiou was guilty of a cynical foul out on the left, as Mitchell burst beyond him and Georgiou knocked him off the pitch with a lunge which fortunately went unpunished. Glover claimed the angled free-kick with ease.

Coulthirst made a good run in behind to get on the end of an excellent Veljkovic long-ball and, when he was fouled, Townsend swung in a fantastic right-footed (I really like that he can use both feet) free-kick which Carter-Vickers somehow missed.

Coulthirst then burst through the middle and his battle with Tomori ended in the Chelsea centre-back’s favour, as he made a strong challenge to force Shaq wide.

On 18 minutes it was 0-1 through Tammy Abraham. Tom Glover played a poor pass out from the back, Mitchell pounced on it on the right with Georgiou upfield; he ran forward and put it on a plate for Abraham to tap in.

It took just two minutes for Spurs to equalise. Winks found Miller with a really nice forward pass, Walkes held the ball and played it back for Georgiou. His first-time cross found Coulthirst, who had an awful lot to do, but he guided a looping header over Collins and into the corner.

Veljkovic made a terrific clearing header in his six-yard box, but from the resulting corner Tomori got on the end of a ball helped back in by Clarke-Salter and he headed home – he’d got between Georgiou and Carter-Vickers in doing so. Spurs are very poor at defending set pieces at this level.

Spurs put together a neat move on 24 minutes, with Walkes passing to Miller and the little attacking midfielder finding Georgiou, but he ran into a blind alley and the momentum was lost. From the resulting throw-in, though, Winks went on a driving run and was brought down right on the edge of the box. Townsend stepped up and nearly found the bottom corner of the net with the wall jumping in tandem.

Abraham got on the end of a Palmer pass and went down under pressure from Carter-Vickers – the referee somewhat generously waved play on as the ball ran away from the forward. I felt that our centre-back had clipped him – perhaps there wasn’t enough contact to justify a spot-kick being awarded.

At the other end, Townsend played in Coulthirst, but he tried to turn and shoot from a difficult angle when some composure was required. Townsend then whipped in a fantastic ball which Miller got on the end of, but it was blocked for a corner. Townsend’s corner was punched clear by Collins before Spurs made more headway through Winks and Miller linking nicely, but Townsend lost it on the right.

There was another terrific clearance again from Veljkovic with Palmer arriving behind him ready to finish a ball from wide, as the game became a little more open.

Winks made inroads don the left and fed Georgiou to cross, but it was a bit behind Coulthirst as he looked to turn. It went all the way through to Townsend though, and he took on two men, beating both and earning a free-kick from Musonda.

He took it himself — short to Amos — who returned it and, after eventually getting a cross in, it came to nothing.

Veljkovic gave the ball away cheaply in the Chelsea half but retreated and intercepted a poor pass form Musonda to win it back.

Coulthirst drove an effort well wide from another good Winks pass, before the forward then dropped off his man to control a Winks pass and find Townsend. His dangerous cross was cleared to Winks but his shot was blocked.

Townsend made another burst down the right and his cross was a good one which Coulthirst perhaps could have done better with – he was caught on his heels a little.

Chelsea won a free-kick just on the stroke of half-time. Colkett whipped it in left-footed and Carter-Vickers met it with a strong header.

The teams went in level at half-time – it was generally a good half from Spurs, who were the better team in open play. Glover made a bad error and then the team let themselves down defending a set piece (again).

The second half began with Kiwomya (nephew of Chris) replacing Ali for Chelsea. He played on the right with Mitchell switching to the left.

Cameron Carter-Vickers made a thundering challenge on Musonda early in he half as the Chelsea man looked to run in behind, before Spurs got into their stride again, Winks heavily involved as he was in the first half.

Chelsea made it 3-1 through a calm finish from Palmer. Abraham rolled Veljkovic too easily from a throw-in, and Carter-Vickers gave Palmer too much space to finish from his cross.

Abraham had another chance when Mitchell got in behind (with three Spurs players left appealing for a free-kick) and his volley at an awkward height was wayward.

Spurs were struggling to get a foothold in the game, but some strong challenges from Winks and then Coulthirst showed that they had not given up just yet.

As the game became a bit more attritional, Ehiogu made his first change, bringing on Emmanuel Sonupe for Lesniak. This saw Winks play at the base of a midfield three (or a 4-1-4-1), flanked by Miller and Walkes.

Twice in quick succession the hard-working but limited Walkes had the ball in good areas on the break but failed to find Coulthirst with through-balls.

Dasilva was defending much better one-on-one agaisnt Townsend in this half, and three times in quick succession he got the better of his man.

Winks lost out to Palmer, who played Abraham through. Glover darted out to pick up the pieces but then tok a touch t get onto his right foot and got a little lucky when toe-poking clear to a teammate.

Townsend whipped in a fantastic right-footed ball after being found by Miller, but Coulthirst, again, couldn’t get on the end of it.

Soon after, Carter-Vickers gave the ball away cheaply, Kiwomya broke down the right but the centre-back threw himself into a challenge and made up for his error. Veljkovic then went to ground in the box to clear the ball.

Townsend got down the right again and played in yet another fine cross but Sonupe got his volley all wrong, possibly put off by Coulthirst’s attempted overhead kick.

Winks showed his quality once more, beating men and carrying the ball forward, but he had few options with Spurs’ final third movement lacking.

Winks then had the ball in midfield and frustratedly raised his hands, asking for movement. At that moment, Veljkovic stepped into midfield and received the ball from Winks. He took his time and played a clever slide-rule pass through to Coulthirst who clipped the ball over the keeper to make it 2-3. A great pass and clever finish.

On 73 minutes Walkes was replaced by Joe Pritchard as Spurs stepped up the pressure.

Abraham got between Georgiou and Veljkovic, brought a ball down and smashed it straight at Glover. Spurs went up the other end and Sonupe played a lovely cross towards Pritchard – it drifted agonisingly beyond him.

Pritchard pinged a lovely ball through to Sonupe who cut inside his man and smashed a wonderful low drive goal-wards. Collins did well to keep it out and Townsend’s corner was cleared well by Abraham.

Sonupe did well to beat Dabo but Collins was equal to his shot again – Sonupe had made a difference though.

Georgiou was booked for tugging back Kiwomya as the Chelsea winger got the better of him on the left – Georgiou being caught up-field as Spurs pressed or a goal.

Colkett’s shot went over as Carter-Vickers and Pritchard battled to stop him scoring.

Winks then played a lovely pass out to Sonupe who ran at Dabo and went down under pressure, but this time Dabo had defended him well.

It was 2-4 when left-back Jay Dasilva scored the goal of the night. He cut in on his weaker right foot as Pritchard committed himself, and curled a wonderful shot over Glover.

Goddard replaced the tiring Will Miller on 82 minutes.

Carter-Vickers got caught on the ball by Abraham, but managed to recover and pushed him wide.

On 85 minutes Cy Goddard had an almost instant impact as he won a penalty with quick feet to beat Tomori in the box. Andros Townsend found the corner with his kick.

Glover took a chance dribbling past Abraham deep in his box but got away with it.

Spurs equalised when Coulthirst got the ball wide early to Townsend, who went on the outside of Dasilva and drove firm, right-footed shot under Collins – a great goal from Townsend, who was carrying the fight.

Veljkovic did really well to make a solid challenge as Musonda strode through to try to nick it in the 92nd minute. Spurs went up the other end through Townsend and Pritchard had the ball nicked away as he went to strike. The action went straight down the other end again and Glover stood firm to stop Abraham, getting a strong left-hand to a fierce effort.

Chelsea took the lead again when a free-kick was floated into the box. Abraham held off Veljkovic, Carter-Vickers didn’t get close enough to Clarke-Salter, and he finished brilliantly across Glover.

It was a breath-taking match to watch and a gruelling match for both teams, with some naive midfield play leaving both defences exposed. Winks and Townsend both had fantastic matches for Spurs, with the talented centre-back pairing struggling against Chelsea’s excellent forward, Tammy Abraham. Of course, the centre-backs were not helped by having a make-shift full-back either side of them and the holding midfielder being withdrawn as Spurs looked for goals.

The win moved Chelsea up to 7th on 14 points and Spurs stayed 3rd on 18 points, one point off second.

Glover 4 – Young Aussie Tom is having a bit of a rough patch at the moment, occasionally inviting pressure onto himself by taking unnecessary risks in trying to play out from the back. His left-handed save at the end was him at his best, though, and he’ll come back stronger from this performance.
Amos 5 – Luke is very much filling in at right-back, and I am getting increasingly concerned about him playing out of position week in, week out. A talented central midfielder, it’s time he got a run of games there.
Carter-Vickers 5 – this was not a good game for the strong centre-back, who struggled with Abraham throughout and found himself giving players too much space in the box. He was constantly having to react to his own mistakes tonight.
Veljkovic 5 – not his best match and, sadly, possibly his last. However, he played a lovely pass through to Coulthirst for the second goal, and looked good pretty much every time he stepped into midfield – perhaps he should be starting in his alternative position of defensive midfield instead.
Georgiou 5 – did an adequate job of filling in, and provided some attacking impetus. Got caught out a few times – that was inevitable as it is not his normal position. The booking he did get could easily have been his second – he was lucky to get away with a cynical foul early on.
Lesniak 6 – didn’t stand out, but we missed him defensively once he came off. He keeps things simple and takes up useful positions, without ever excelling.
Winks 9 – an excellent performance in which his decision-making, close control and temperament stood out. Can be relied upon to do the right thing nine times out of ten.
Andros Townsend 9 – a constant threat, he whipped in some fantastic crosses and could have had three assists for Coulthirst alone. Took his two goals well, particularly the second.
Walkes 4 – a bit of a struggle for the ever-willing Walkes. I just cannot see the logic of him playing as a ten – he’d be better off covering full-back right now.
Miller 6 – started off really positively and helped to set the tempo. Faded a little and needs more games to build up his match fitnes.
Coulthirst 7 – gets a seven for his two excellent finishes, but really he should have scored more, and he still struggles to create a platform. He has been training with Fleetwood Town, presumably ahead of a permanent move.

Sonupe – nice, positive impact for the wide man.
Pritchard – it’s lovely to see him back, having recovered from a broken leg. Added some attacking thrust but did commit himself for Dasilva’s goal.
Goddard – instant impact in winning the penalty. For me, he’d be starting as a ten in place of Walkes. May not cope physically, but we won’t know until he’s tried.

In closing, I feel that Ugo Ehiogu’s not helping us with a pairing of Walkes and Coulthirt at the sharp end. Both are hard-working players with tenacity, but both lack finesse and ability. In addition, Luke Amos — a talented pivot player — is being held back by filling in at full-back. There will be a clear-out at the end of this season that will see a number of these players leaving. With this in mind, I expect a few of the better Under-18 players to be given games before the season is out (the likes of Bennetts, Sterling, Edwards and perhaps even Shashoua).

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January 10, 2016

What happens when a Head Coach coaches

I’ve done some coaching in my time… Not sports coaching, of course, but coaching in the workplace. The idea is to assist someone in unlocking their potential — to help them achieve a goal, an end point. To help an individual to improve an element of his or her self in some identifiable way.

In years gone by, coaches in football have been in the background. They’ve been the ones quietly doing the work on the training pitch whilst a manager identifies signings, picks the team, signs the player, gives the team talk, and talks to the press.

Things have changed and our players have changed — as a result of our Head Coach (and his team – Miguel D’Agostino, Toni Jiménez, Jesús Pérez).

Mauricio Pochettino has created an enabling culture in which he systematically identifies the aspects of his players which hold them back from fitting his philosophy, and goes about fixing them. That he has so dramatically ‘fixed’ so many players in the space of eighteen months is remarkable, and must be attributed, at least partly, to the positive environment that he has delivered at Hotspur Way.

There is a confidence that pervades — not just a confidence in Pochetinno and his staff, but an individual confidence that is pushing each player to improve, and to believe that they will.

The most encouraging element of this coaching is that not all of the improvements have come in terms of technique, although technical enhancements have been apparent (Rose is an obvious example). He has — as I mentioned — found the most relevant weakness of each player, and worked on it. Kyle Walker had everything required of the modern full-back in terms of athleticism and agility. But he lacked tactical nous and a calm head — Pochettino has delivered. Eric Dier was a promising centre-back, but has had a complete overhaul in position — in doing so, his reading of the game has improved ten-fold. Erik Lamela was talented, hard-working, but rudderless — he now works to rule. And the most staggering of all transformations is that of Mousa Dembélé.

Dembélé was an enigma. His ability was obvious to anyone who had watched him, and it was never a surprise when teammates picked him out as one of the most talented players in the squad. Les Ferdinand and Tim Sherwood touting him (at least by way of cajoling him) to Real Madrid was based purely on his technical ability and touch. His close control and dribbling are almost unparalleled, certainly in English football. And yet he was a failing player.

Pochettino has given him direction, responsibility, and a sense of purpose. He can now adequately cover any one of three positions (central midfield, number ten, right of the front three) and has arguably established himself as the first choice partner to Eric Dier in the pivot. He presses, he wins the ball, he does something with it. He takes the ball under pressure, he dribbles, he swivels to create space, and passes. He even sometimes scores; his 1 in 6 rate this season is far, far better than anything he had previously mustered at Spurs.

In the last few weeks we have seen glimpses of what Pochettino has done to Tom Carroll. Another technically able player, the phrase ‘neat and tidy’ has always been used to describe Carroll, damning him with faint praise. He seemed destined to be the modern-day Vinny Samways (affectionately known as ‘Vinny Sideways’). But Pochettino has delivered again; Carroll is already more aggressive and progressive with his passing and, against Everton (where he admittedly faded in the second half), he came away with some impressive passing figures:

He is still a work in progress, but I don’t doubt that Pochettino will to do with him what he has done with so many others. Ben Davies is moving in the right direction, Kieran Trippier has shown signs too. Alex Pritchard, on his return from injury, may be the next to be given the Pochettino treatment.

For someone like me who has always wanted to see the club promote from within and develop what we already have at the club, these are exciting times.

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December 29, 2015

Jingle bells, jingle bells…

Well look at this! Here I am, blogging, so soon after my last post – the joy of the Christmas break! First, an apology for my previous slack levels of blog productivity; a new job and new house have changed things for me slightly over this last year. I intend to maintain a healthier work/life balance in 2016 and so will be back on my blogging game. Shout at me if that doesn’t happen.

Onto the good stuff. Isn’t Christmas going well? A thoroughly professional deconstruction of an adequate Norwich City team filled me with festive joy, but not half as much as Son Heung-min’s last minute winner against Watford. It was cheeky (insert emoji here), offside, and came moments after Lloris had *just* kept Ben Watson’s corner from going over the line. I made a noise in my front room that linguists are yet to classify!

It wasn’t a particularly good performance against Watford; we got dragged into a battle of attrition whereby their strikers attempted to bully our defence over the ninety. But we showed resilience and a bit of quality at the end (albeit via a poor decision from the Assistant Referee) won it for us.

Mauricio Pochettino’s switch to a back three was fascinating for two reasons; firstly because I can’t remember us seeing anything like that in his tenure so far and, secondly, because it showed absolute respect to Quique Sánchez Flores (and Troy Deeney/Odion Ighalo). On the whole it worked; the numerical advantage at the back helped us deal with the toughest physical threat our centre-backs will come up against all season.

Pre-match I was a little concerned about Jan Vertonghen’s one-on-one defending and so Eric Dier dropping in made sense. But it was Dier who struggled with Ighalo for Watford’s goal – although the striker got a somewhat lucky bounce, and Dier had a lack of assistance from Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, when there was ample time for one of them to cover round.

Where the formation worked from a defensive viewpoint, it gave us one less passing option in midfield, and this had an impact on our creativity. Our pass completion rate as a team was down on the season average (78% vs 80%) and it was notable that Danny Rose had his poorest match of the campaign so far, with nobody ahead of him to link up with.

Danny Rose vs Watford

Danny Rose vs Watford

Danny Rose vs West Ham

Danny Rose vs West Ham

Conversely, Keiran Trippier had arguably his best Spurs showing on the opposite flank, setting up the winner with a fantastic ‘straight back in’ cross despite being under pressure. He did finish the match with the lowest pass completion of all starting outfield players, though (65.8%), and only 2 of his 9 crosses (which are counted separately to passes) found a man.

Trippier's passing vs Watford

Trippier’s passing vs Watford

The difference between the two was that Trippier got free on his side more regularly and provided a better delivery. Essentially, though, I don’t think the back three experiment is something we will continue with, although it’s nice to have it in our locker.

The Norwich City match was just pure fun. It was a real ‘tails up’ attacking performance, with Dele Alli, Erik Lamela and Harry Kane clicking, and Alderweireld immaculate at the back too. Kane’s ‘shift and shoot’ finish was wonderfully precise, and the first-time passing move of Davies-Son-Davies followed by Carroll’s drive from range was a fitting end, as we played some beautifully fluid football throughout.

Next up we go to Everton, who have just one win in their last six Premier League matches, and only two wins in their last six at home. They are struggling defensively and have conceded more goals at home than any other team (19 – next highest 16, West Bromwich Albion). Having said that, only Manchester City have scored more home goals (Everton 22, City 29). On paper we should expect goals, and with the amount that Everton ‘faff about’ at the back, I would expect our high pressing to cause them huge problems – how many times have we seen us pounce on an error and punish it this season? Prime examples of this came in the recent wins against Southampton and Watford.

It will be interesting to see whether Pochettino dabbles in more rotation given the number of games over the Christmas period. Son could start and Eriksen may well come back in too. With Mousa Dembélé likely to be missing, Alli and Dier could fill the deep midfield roles, or indeed Tom Carroll could keep his place. With Nacer Chadli, Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb also now fit there are options, and that’s really encouraging. Bentaleb didn’t even make the bench against Watford!

Before I sign-off, I started by talking my productivity so I thought I’d end with Spurs’ – so below are some productivity stats that I tweeted earlier.

See my Twitter timeline for some of my thoughts on these.

Happy New Year to all – thanks for the comments here on my blog, for engaging on Twitter, and for all the questions for and feedback on my weekly Fighting Cock podcast segment. Much love. COYS.

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Terrific interview with Dominic Ball about his time out on loan with Rangers and how Spurs are monitoring him: https://t.co/kpFBxUDN27
60 mins ago