April 13, 2014
Tottenham Hotspur’s slow starts are less of a ‘common theme’ under Tim Sherwood than a ‘worrying pattern’. The phenomenon is illustrated perfectly by a stat that was doing the rounds yesterday: that Spurs have now conceded the first goal in each of their last six games. Being 2-0 down to West Bromwich Albion with just four minutes gone on Saturday was an extreme example of what we have almost come to expect.
It is certainly an encouraging sign that our players have shown the spirit and desire to come back from losing positions so often, but giving the opposition such a head start is asking for trouble. It means that games like yesterday become draws when they are games that we should win – and deserve to win, on balance.
Whether the team are unmotivated, unprepared, unfocused, or all of the aforementioned, it certainly feels like there is something missing. And, frustratingly, there are many actions that can be taken to mitigate against such starts.
André Villas-Boas employed Daniel Sousa as Head of Opposition Scouting – a role that he undertook himself at Chelsea. There are many ‘modern football’ jobs that could be seen as ‘nice to haves’, but this seems ancillary. Even if there is a not a dedicated role to carry out such activities, surely someone on the coaching staff must do the bare minimum research.
Even just showing the players the thought process – that we are preparing for the opposition team in detail – would surely better focus their minds. The laid back behaviour visible in the tunnel against Liverpool might have been replaced by some much-needed intensity.
Tim Sherwood’s comments prior to the match against Liverpool – “To be honest, I’ve not watched them that closely.” – seemed to suggest that this isn’t something he believes in; that he is more concerned with what his team can do, and how they can make the opposition react to them. But given that he also seems to feel that games are decided by who has the best technical players (and his later reality check that we are punching our weight), this is like admitting defeat before a ball is kicked against the top teams.
Likewise, it would imply that we should be rolling over teams like West Brom, because we are technically superior in most areas of the field. There has to be a balance, though. In the Premier League the cliché that ‘anyone can beat anyone’ is oft-repeated for good reason; respect must be given to every opposition team, and research must be carried out.
Had I been asked to provide a dossier on ‘West Brom under Pepe Mel’ it would have contained a cover sheet with key points, such as:
– High tempo; quick start.
– Wingers pressing high.
– Sessegnon in the hole.
– Rejuvenated Dorrans.
It is fair to say that all of these had some impact; although there were individual errors (again), the goals were preventable had there been some planning.
Both full backs had a disaster. Within twenty seconds, Danny Rose – who had his worst game in a Spurs shirt – committed himself in the corner, and missed the ball and the man. Morgan Amalfitano wriggled clear and sent in a cross which Spurs half-cleared, and Matěj Vydra finished well.
Just a few minutes later, Brunt pressed high and decisively on Kyle Naughton, won the ball and was instantly joined by a swarm of teammates. As the ball was switched to the right, Christian Eriksen missed an opportunity to clear. Then, he and Rose could not prevent a cross coming in, and the defence was utterly disorganised in the centre.
With Naughton coming into the centre to pick up danger men, Aaron Lennon simply has to come back to cover…
…but instead he is not even in shot when the unmarked Chris Brunt slams home a lovely volley at the back post.
How do you play against teams that start games like this? Stay compact. Get bodies behind the ball. Use your wide men to protect your full backs. Do not dive into challenges. Feel your way into the game. Did we do any of these? No. In fact, we went one step further for the third goal as we left Stéphane Sessègnon one-on-one with Vlad Chiricheș – a suicidal move even when chasing a game.
We played well for long periods, dominated and probably created enough chances to win two games, but we ended up taking just a point. So I say to you, Tim: make me your Opposition Scout – make anyone your opposition scout – and make sure the team are prepared for the remaining games.