So, what’s going wrong? Part 1

I started writing this blog post almost immediately after the Newcastle game and, between then and now, I’ve read some fantastic articles on Spurs. So a quick shout-out first to the following, which are all worth your time (but not before you’ve read the rest of this post, eh?!):

18 Lessons Villas-Boas, His Team And The Fans Have To Take On Board by Raj Bains.

Tactics Tuesday: Bad Townsend, Good Townsend by Brett Rainbow.

Statsbomb Mythbusting: Christian Eriksen vs Newcastle by Ted Knutson.

Before I begin getting my teeth into where I think it’s going wrong for us, it’s worth pointing out that it’s not all doom and gloom for Spurs – certainly not results-wise. For example, if you replace the relegated clubs in alphabetical order (i.e. QPR are replaced by Cardiff, Reading by Crystal Palace, and Wigan by Hull City), Spurs are three points better off than they were in the corresponding fixtures in 2012/13 – the season in which we famously achieved our highest Premier League points tally (with thanks to @EdwardPrz for the stats).

However, it would be foolish to pretend that everything is rosy, and the style of football and – more importantly to most – the lack of goals, have led to many Spurs fans starting to grumble about Andre Villas-Boas.

I wrote back in October that AVB needed to find a Plan B, citing the following reasons as to why I had some concerns over the direction we’re going:

– Tactical inflexibility
– No ‘passer’ in midfield
– Set pieces
– Lack of involvement of youth players
– Potential short-termism

Nothing I’ve seen since then has changed my mind on any of the above, although we’ve actually managed to score from a set piece; Vertonghen scored against Sheriff and had a very good chance with a back post header against Newcastle too.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where things are breaking down, except of course for the obvious; we’re not scoring. Is one or a number of the following to blame?

– The high line leading to an overly compressed pitch.
– Inverted wingers failing.
– The number ten struggling to create.
– Soldado not doing enough.
– A lack of passing ability in the midfield ’2′.
– No Plan B / ability to change our approach.

I think it’s simplest to take each in order.

The high line compressing the pitch too much

Our high line – Villas-Boas’ most famous tactic – has been a defensive success overall, although when it goes wrong, it looks very, very bad (see the West Ham game for an obvious example). However, looking at how it impacts on our attacking abilities, many have begun arguing that opposition teams have sussed out the tactic and are using it against us.

If our opponents get bodies behind the ball it means that, given that almost half of the pitch is already ‘out of bounds’ due to our central defender’s positions, the likes of Soldado and Eriksen are incredibly restricted in terms of space to move into, and space to work in.

It’s all well and good controlling possession, but if there’s no space to make a late dart into or to find a killer pass from, the conversion of that possession into genuine chances is highly restricted.

Personally, I think the benefits outweigh the negatives. Aside from West Ham – which we have to see as a blip (the poor marking for the opener, the lack of pressure on the ball for goal two, and Vertonghen, Dembele and Dawson committing themselves for goal three were individual errors, for example) – we’ve looked compact, solid, organised, and 13 clean sheets in 19 games suggests to me that the high line is working from a defensive viewpoint.

At the other end, I think AVB puts a lot of faith in our players (rightly or wrongly) to play in tight spaces, and we mostly have players technically good enough to do that – Paulinho’s perfect first-time assist for Soldado against Villa is a good example of when it can work. Lamela’s lovely cross for Paulinho’s cheeky goal against Cardiff is another.

Also, when you look at how Bale (and Townsend to an extent) played, there’s still space to be had – it just depends on other players helping to create it, and how we use the ball once we have it in the final third.

I don’t think our deep midfield players help us by carrying the ball forward. In doing so, they just encourage the central region to become even more congested as they are pressed in the opponents’ half, and also put pressure on themselves to find an eye of a needle pass – and let’s be honest, neither Dembele or Paulinho have that in their locker. And they certainly don’t have the ability to do it more often than not.

The key is to pass the ball quickly and early – to get it to the front four ideally as soon as we win it back. I think Sandro will be vital in this – he doesn’t dally. He wins the ball high up the pitch with his incredible pressing, and looks to offload it quickly – the others need to learn a thing or two from that. Of course, Capoue’s return will also help; he’s a talented passer, and an excellent reader of the game.

Inverted wingers failing

Many see the inverted wingers that we utilise as our main problem, as they come inside and congest the central region which we want to exploit. I wrote in October that inverted wingers can work well – and indeed are used by Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid – but that overlapping full-backs providing the width, and quick, direct passing from midfield are vital.

A wide player coming inside creates an overload in a vital area, and a technically-gifted team should be able to use this to their advantage. However, we’ve not made the most of this numerical superiority for a number of reasons – one of which is, probably, the personnel selected.

Rather than spend time analysing Andros Townsend specifically, I’ll instead signpost you to Brett Rainbow’s excellent article, which summarises the good and bad aspects of Townsend’s play.

One thing I’d add is that, for me, Townsend needs to play higher up the pitch. Too often he is found dropping deep to collect the ball, and I’ve no doubt that this mostly comes about because our central midfield two are not good enough at taking the ball from the centre-backs, and moving it forward quickly. Townsend’s great at driving forward from deep areas, but it means that by the time he’s required to make an incisive pass or beat the last man, he’s lost the impetus he initially had.

Townsend’s heat map vs Newcastle – I’d like to see him hit the byline more often.

Given that Walker is so good at carrying the ball forward, I would ask Townsend to start 10 or 15 yards higher than he currently does, and to look to link-up in the final third rather than in front of the defence, where he often frustrates by taking on ambitious shots due to lack of other options. I would also suggest that if there is no pass on, then he should turn and play back out – he needs to retain possession nine times out of ten, whereas currently he is more likely to strike at goal from range.

On the other side of the pitch, Sigurdsson is not the most popular player in our squad, but he has managed three Premier League goals this season (33% of our total league goals). He has scored these at a rate of a goal every 191 minutes, whereas Townsend, Lennon, Lamela, Eriksen, Chadli and Holtby have managed a single goal between them in 2161 combined minutes – and that was a cross that flew over everybody and in.

Looking back to last season, Sigurdsson’s current competition for the left-sided berth, Lennon, was our top assister with seven, and also managed four goals. Sigurdsson ended the season with three goals and four assists. However, forgetting appearances and instead focussing on minutes on the pitch, Lennon ended with an assist every 403 minutes played in the league, with Sigurdsson managing one every 309 minutes – a far better rate.

Lennon ended the season averaging a goal or assist every 257 minutes, whilst Sigurdsson had a goal or assist every 176 minutes (Bale 117 for comparison). Sigurdsson may not have the pace and ability to carry the ball a long distance up the pitch, but is, simply put, a much more “productive” player than Lennon.

Many fans seem to want to play Lennon on the right, where they think he’ll beat his man on the outside and produce crosses for Soldado. Personally, I can’t remember Lennon terrorising defenders too much since the 9-1 win over Wigan Athletic four years ago.

Lennon most certainly has his uses, and I like him as a squad player/impact sub, but in my opinion, the fact that he’s renowned mostly for his steady defensive performances – tracking back and providing cover – speak volumes, and I see Sigurdsson as far better suited to our current style; selecting him is a no-brainer whilst others aren’t scoring.

Sigurdsson needs to up his game, and will benefit from Rose being back. However, he’s our most viable option on the left. Townsend has had good and bad games this year, and I think a few subtle changes could lead to him causing far more damage than he currently is. If, however, he doesn’t start to add more goals and assists to his game, Lamela will surely get a chance to play from the right soon.

The number ten struggling to create

Holtby is often referred to as a functional player, and he was rightly praised for his role in stopping Everton playing in our recent 0-0 draw. However, given his creative abilities displayed for both his former club, Schalke 04, as well as the German Under-21 side, it is unfair to tag him as purely a grafter, although it’s fair to say that he puts in a shift. He came back into the starting eleven after strong performances in the Europa League, but has struggled to nail down the starting spot, with Eriksen starting against Newcastle.

On the other hand, there’s little doubt that Eriksen has the ability to spot a pass, although questions remain over whether he is doing it enough. Ted Knutson puts forward a convincing argument for Eriksen’s performance against Newcastle being a productive one in his article Statsbomb Mythbusting: Christian Eriksen vs Newcastle, where he highlights Eriksen’s 9 key passes – a rare feat. The fact that one of these was a nudged tee-up for a free kick, and three were square passes in deep areas leading to long-range efforts mean that, for me, the truth is not quite so clear.

I still feel that Erlksen is struggling a little physically, and drifts in and out of games. It is still very early for him as he attempts to adapt from life in the Eredivisie. Whilst some players have settled tremendously well having made that same move – the likes of Luis Suarez and Jan Vertonghen, for example – there are others that did not impress so much – Mateja Kezman and Afonso Alves spring to mind. Eriksen seems to have many of the required attributes though and, at just 21, time is on his side.

Whilst Eriksen is flitting in and out of form, I think there’s an opportunity to experiment with Erik Lamela as our ten in certain matches. It was a role he played on a number of occasions for Roma and, having excelled against Sheriff, I felt that he deserved to keep his place in the Newcastle game – probably in the centre.

He is a talented dribbler and also has a bit of presence, so might help us to retain the ball better around the edge of the box. However, there is certainly no rush to bring him into the team; he is going to take time to settle to a very different way of life both on and off the pitch.

That’s your lot for today. In part 2, I’ll be covering the following:

Soldado not doing enough.
A lack of passing ability in the midfield ‘2’.
No Plan B / ability to change of approach.

Join the conversation

  1. Tom Carroll should be playing instead of Dembele/Paulinho because he can pass the ball quickly and incisively and he is always looking forwards, whereas Paulinho and Dembele look to go sideways or backwards most of the time.
    1. That kid Carroll will be another big name. Silky smooth intelligent player and, as you say Terry ,he can find that incisive pass which we could do with when we need to change a game.
  2. Thanks Windy, as always some great info.The Townsend heat map shows the reason why Soldado is not getting goals. Townsend for most of the time is pulling up before the 18 yard box and either cutting in or crossing, this is not where Soldado is located. Townsend needs to get to the by-line and cross.
  3. Harry Kane looked good against Hull. In the same game, he had a shot hit the bar, he had one goal ruled out for offside and then he scored a goal. He also scored in the penalty shoot out. His best position is the number 10 spot.
  4. Well said constructive criticism Windy. Just hope AVB sorts this out, as I still want him to do well for us.
  5. Windy, Not sure you made enough of overlapping fullbacks being an imperative of using inverted wingers. With Rose absence through injury (and neither Naughton or Vertonghen being a fast overlapping FB) we've only had Walker on the right as overlapping FB. That means we rarely attack down the left so we are very predicatable, and tend to attack thru' centre. Additionally much better if inverted wingers are told to not only cut in but from time to time overlap and put crosss in or even cut back from the byline making them unpredictable and therefore more potent. Would stop a lot of criticism of Townsend which results from AVB's inflexible instructions on gow to play as an inveted winger.
    1. That's the main problem. No left back overlapping. BAE is needed as there is no back up for the Rose injury. Inverted wingers are great. They give 3 in the middle and allow the full backs to cross but we only attack up the right hand side. Rose and Chadli were dangerous at the beginning of the season. That's our main problem and is causing everything else
    2. Can't disagree with you about predictability since the Rose injury. With Siggy on the left, the opposition knows that 80% of our build ups will be slow and on the right, and they are waiting for us. Rose on the other hand, gets the ball forward so much quicker. Once he has the ball, it becomes a counter-attack. Good post by Windy.
  6. RE Eriksen. I'm not convinced that the number 10 role, or for that matter the fabled 'locksmith' player I so often hear we need is a lack of confidence or skill so much as a target to pass to, currently there's only defoe of soldado ever in the box for that threaded wonderpass and that's if they haven't given up hope and drifted deep or wide. It's easy to cut out a ball when there's only one possible target and two CB's and a DM between them, that's why great passers don't try those passes, unless we start to get people making runs off them into the box we're going to have some great potential dallying around in front of the back line looking for someone or just getting bored and shooting from where they are.
  7. Soldado had his chances against Newcastle. We desperately lack a quick leftfooted leftback. BAE has a recall clause on his loan deal and it should be activated now. It enabled Newcastle to triple mark Townsend. Lloris was only left out because of the press coverage. Same reason Defoe started against West Ham. We only need Sandro playing in front of the Back four not 2 defensive midfielders at home. Our away form is great. We win more away matches than home ones. AVB needs to sharpen up a bit on the tactical front and he needs to hire an assistant with man management skills. I'd give Adebayor a personal sports psychirotrist to bolster his confidence and get him behaving well and playing back at his best.
    1. AVB needs man management skills and help on the tactical front? I totally concur but I feel his sacking would be efficient
  8. AVB put all his eggs in Bale's basket last year. His goals masked some really dreadful displays because AVB disregarded every other attacking outlet for Bale. Now, he's set up exactly the same only Bale isn't there.
  9. try soldado with defoe or adeboyer im shore ade will be stronger at pulling opposition players away from congested areas and allow more of the attacking midfield to find the wingers to start getting the killer pass ade needs a chance , also play lemela next match we need to see this guy play 30 million we cant have sitting on the bench or he will be off to the never lands of our pickpocket neighbours be cool fellow broths we will battle all the way and have a great xmas
  10. I still fail to see what anyone sees in AVB, last year we had our highest points tally which meant we finished lower than two of the last 3 seasons under Reddknapp and equalled Martin Jols highest ever finish. All the highest point tally suggested is that we were playing in a weaker league. We were the 5th best team not the 4th as of the previous season. AVB greatness has been exaggerated by the small minority of fans who thought we were to good for Redknapp who despite our sparkling play disliked him on a personal level. I don't dislike AVB personally but he isn't good enough as shown by our league position last year and our poor performance in the cups. The difference between this season and the last is we don't have the worlds most expensive player ever to get us out of shtuck. We are headed for mid table mediocrity this year and AVB needs to go but at the moment this is attitude is treated like treason. Tell me what has AVB done while in charge at Spurs that has impressed you? Anyone actually thought the success at Porto was the fluke and the continuing excuses at his failure everywhere else was the real truth? He's been at Spurs for over a year and still can't see that Gilfi should be playing behind the striker and not wide. Levys biggest success at Spurs is sacking Redkanpp and making Spurs fans think it was a good idea, ... well Harry haters i hope your glad with what you wished for... Worse football, worse position in the league and shorter cup runs .. well done.
    1. Are you seriouly suggesting that Redknapp is a better manager than AVB? Anyone that thinks think that someone winning the Portuguese League (by 21 points), the Portuguese Cup Double, and Europa League losing just 4 out of nearly 58 games, is a fluke, clearly is living in a fantasy world and is not entitled to have an opinion. The other difference between this season and last, is that this time last year, we had 17 pts. This year we have 20. As for HR, when he came to Spurs, he took over a good team that was playing badly. Look what happens when he took over a bad team that was playing badly.
      1. Yes i am suggesting that Harry is a better manager his league position at Spurs and his cup runs prove this. As do his brand of football which as Spurs fans surely we must encourage. AVB took over a team with Falcao , Hulk and Moutniho to name but a few and did very well winning the UEFA cup, no doubt ,ultimately he took someone else's team and won two trophies in a two team league. He gets all the credit for this and rightly so , yet every time he fails there is someone else to blame. the team isn't as good, Adeybayor, the fans Tim Krul... If we lose to Manchester City ( I hope we don't I hope AVB shoves my words down my throat playing attractive football) will that be a good time to question AVB? or will it go on? When are we allowed to question a man who has done nothing but go backwards as Spurs manager?
      2. Cup-runs? HR? Your having a laugh? I remember us failing to qualify for the EL playing where we won 3 out of six games, and two of these were against Shamrock Rovers. Yes I remember HR's cup runs very well. As I said, with the bollocks you keep spouting, you are not entitled to have an opinion, and you still haven't explained how it is a fluke to win 4 comps in a season including a 21 point margin in the league?
      3. Since the Porto episode, Ramos could have won with that team and in that League,forgotten Chelsea ?I believe QPR are 3rd at the moment,sorry I'm not strong on maths,but isnt that better than 7th,like perhaps 5th is better than the previous seasons 4th we've got some tough opposition coming up,do well before Xmas and I might think again about avb but for the moment I haveserious doubts.
      4. Is there somebody selling stupid pills to members of this forum? Since when has 3rd in the Championship been better than 7th in the PL?
      5. Harry got us to a league cup final , the CL quarters and 2 FA cup Semis.
      6. Oh and he did that playing fantastic football finishing 4th twice which despite a common belief is higher than 5th no matter how many points you have. Look at the team he had at Porto.
      7. Last year was the most competitive PL for the top 5 ever. So hypothetically, you are in a 100 metres race and you win in 10.5 sec. Next week in a better comp, you lose in 10.3 secs. Have you gone backwards? He did that without the benefit of Modric and VDV. I seriously hope you don't gamble because you need to have "Mug" tattooed on your forehead, the way you read a form line. And are you now saying that it wasn't a fluke that he won 4 trophies, but the credit only belongs to the team? And if HR played "fantastic football" it was purely by chance. He had the tactical nous of a brain dead goldfish. When you have players like VDV , Modric, Bale etc, you can only play attacking football. Defensively, he was so crap, that he destroyed the career of Gomes.
      8. Tactically and Ddfensively crap? AC Milan home and away in the CL. I'm saying that at Porto he was only there for a season with world class players that he didn't buy in a league as strong as Scotland , he takes all the glory for this yet everywhere else where he's achieved nothing he has excuses made for him. He succeeded once and failed everywhere else , you ever thought that maybe just maybe the success was the glitch? I'm tired of hearing about not having VDV .... he actually was in charge when we sold him he played against Newcastle and we lost if you will remember. The season before wasn't the glory train for VDV as his first season was, he wasn't fit enough to play in every game and when he did play he could only play 70 minutes. Modric, true we miss him but at the same time Harry never had a keeper of the class of Lloris , who is obviously integral to the way AVB wants to play. You blame the players at AVB's disposal last season and now he's got a all the players he wants they need time to bed in , when is the man gonna be in a position to be criticised? Remember he took over a team that was 4th not a team fighting relegation. Nothing would bring me greater joy than to see him succeed playing attractive football but lets not be deluded any longer he won't. Your point about Gomes is ridiculous.
      9. So he had VDV for a few games. And what about the best part of fifty games that he didn't have him for? If you think that HR was a tactical genius, you are in a very exclusive club. This was the man that was going to sell Bale to Brum for £3 mill! As for Gomes, the last full season he played for us, he had the sixth highest saves in the PL. The five above him, were the GK's from the bottom 5 teams, who had the worst defensive records. Watching us play under HR, it was common to see us with three players in there penalty box against eight of them. At the other end, when they had three, we had three. HR's tactics left the Gomes more exposed than a nudist in a hurricane. Everybody will tell you how easy it is to score in the Eredivise, but guess who holds the records for most clean sheets and least goals conceded in a season? Gomes!
      10. He was in charge when we sold VDV, why did he sell him if we needed him so badly? He nearly sold Bale to Brum for 3 million?, He did make Bale the hottest property in europe thats fact no "nearly" thats what he done . your clutching at straws mate really you are.
      11. You have a very selective memory. GB only got his chance because BAE was injured. HR was "so involved" in developing Bale's career, that he didn't even know that he he had a "long throw". And Bale had his best season ever last year. Please remind me who was manager last season. You talk about AVB flukes, but the reason we qualified for the CL was purely down to BAE being injured, and HR being forced to play Bale. And as you seem to have your doubts about Bale to Brum, see this: HR was going to dump him, but he chose to stay and fight for his place. HR didn't make Bale. Bale made Bale, with AVB producing the finished article. Another stat for you. GB scored 26 goals for HR in 147 games. He also scored 26 times for AVB but in only 44 games.
      12. Gentlemen - lots of interesting points being made, but it's not really relevant to the article...
      13. Agreed except for the fact that you are carrying out a post-mortem into what appears to be wrong, and at least one person thinks the problem is that we have swopped a "successful" manager, for a dud. You have written an interesting article but I am wondering if you are being premature. In spite of the strange results that seem to be hitting every team, after 11 games, we have made our best start to the season since 2002. That season, we had no Euro Games,were knocked out of the Fa cup 4-0 at WHL by Cheatski, and lost the LC final to Blackburn. Total 45 games. This season we are already committed to a minimum of 52 games, because we are a successful team. With the greatest of respect, I think that we have to look at the three losses in context of the whole season so far. My highlight of the season so far was to see the way Arse fans were rushing to abuse Whinger after the Villa match, and already believing their season was over. And look what has happened since? So put it into context. So far we have lost one game more than Arse and Cheatski, the same as Manure, and one less than Shitty. The lack of goals are a worry, but I think we are still some way from needing an Autopsy.
  11. For Iam just see I'm , simple really. Spuds? oh you do cut me so!
  12. I don't get the vitriol directed at Siggy and it's great that you've given him support, Windy. He's a young player and the problem I have with much of the venom coming from the anti-AVB mob is that it may ruin the confidence of many of our young players. It's not that they don't have a right to an opinion, but that they show zero patience.
  13. Siggy should be played behind the striker, he's done more than Holtby and Eriksen and he's been played out of position. I believe that the confidence ha already drained from our team because i don't think that the players believe in our manager or the way he plays as much as some people would like us to believe. However its good to see that someone recognises that people who don't think AVB is the man for the job have a right to an opinion.
    1. That doesn't mean to say that I think that your opinion is worth much. I think all you Redknapp lovers have very selective memories and are a cancer within WHL.
  14. Ive sat all around the ground in the last 4 home games - you would not believe the amount of Spurs imploring our wingers to STOP inverting just for once... JUST FOR ONCE AVB
  15. when looking for faults on a team better to start at the back and move forward; Lloris world class similarly Chiriches,walker, kaboul, rose and vertonghen make very few mistakes no problem. but Michael Dawson, can't see how he fits in a premiership team; a second point is that players need to be played in their natural positions eg Siggy Lennon townsnend; soldado looks world class to me when we get a few things-one-at the back right
  16. The current football climate is such that fans and owners demand instant gratification...especially if money is spent. Patience is a luxury not many managers are lucky enough to have these days. Yes, we are not playing the fast flowing, get to the byline and cross it in, but how far has that taken us? Remember how real madrid nulified our gung ho attack with ease? If we are serious about the club mving forward and actually challenging for major titles, what avb is doing right now is the way forward. We cannot deny all great teams are built with a solid defensive backbone...something we are close to achieving. The front line will click. Just give it time fellow Spurs.
    1. I hope your right i really do , I think Real Madrid nullified us because man for man they had an immensely better team and also because we were playing with 10 men early doors. That free flowing football got us into the CL one season and would've done again except Chelsea sacked AVB which meant they went on to win the CL, we then sack the man that got us 4th and employ the man that was holding Chelsea back. Only Spurs!
      1. Yeah, Chelsea won the CL by playing free-flowing football, didn't they? I seem to remember us only just getting into the CL after a stupendous effort from the much-maligned Pavchenko, who wasn't handled very well by HR.
  17. I am having a great deal of trouble finding any part of HR's record that compares favourably with AVB. For all of you who would have HR over AVB, and especially Lordy who seems to think that you can fluke four trophies in a season, you need to remember that HR getting us into the CL, was purely because of an injury to BAE. Had he not been injured, HR would never have found out what a great player we had in Bale. And let's not forhet that he also managed him at SOTON. And for those of you who have been deluded into thinking there are only 11 games in a season, here are a couple of stats for you: After 11 games last season, we had 17 points and were 10 points behind the leaders. This season we have 20 pts and are 5 points behind the leaders. We have not been this close to the leaders at this stage of the season since 2002. In the past, we have fallen at the final fence because we have lacked "strength in depth". This season, we have the strongest squad in our history. Under HR, we could go months without a "clean sheet", this season we have kept 13 so far, and there are still 33 games to go.
    1. We've played 3 good teams beaten none and lost 0-3 to West Ham at home and 0-1 at home to Newcastle. 4th and an FA cup semi compared with 5th thats how they compare.
      1. Let me educate you, hard though this is going to be. The season runs over 38 games. Cherry-picking stats over 11 games does nothing to diminish the paucity of your argument. But if you want to choose from 11 games, I have already pointed out that at this stage, this is our most successful start to the season since 2002. Was that before or after HR joined us? Look at the big numbers: HR over 1300 games as a manager and one trophy. AVB, 4 trophies in 200 games. HR managing Spurs 49% win rate. AVB managing Spurs, 55% win rate (highest in Spurs History). HR career win rate 40%. AVB career win rate 59% There is only one relevant stat where they are equal, and that is trophies won for Spurs, but then again AVB has only had one season so far with us.
  18. […] Part 1 I […]
  19. […] little desperate, André started to tinker with his methods. Lack of flexibility was cited – by me and others – as being an issue for AVB, but as soon as he showed flexibility, things went […]


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