Getting WBA off my chest
Our expectations are – or should be – lower this season. But not significantly low as to shrug off a 1-0 home defeat to one of the league’s poorer sides, a side that had not beaten us at White Hart Lane since 1984, the year of my birth. And especially when the performance was also so disappointing.
It is, of course, far too early to pass judgement on Mauricio Pochettino. He is eight matches (and just five in the league) into what will hopefully be a long reign. The style of play that he’s attempting to implement is sufficiently complex to require significant work on the training ground, and he simply has not had enough time yet for it to be fair to expect a lot more than what we have: a set of players not yet fulfilling his instructions. I can absolutely forgive that at this stage.
But what I cannot forgive is a lack of effort. The players should always be sufficiently motivated to go out and try as hard as they can and, certainly for some on the pitch yesterday, it did not feel that they were. And that does concern me – and it will, no doubt, concern Pochettino. His response to this will be fascinating, and his team selections against Nottingham Forest and Arsenal will be telling.
I could spend hours reeling off reasons for yesterday’s poor showing, but I do not have the time or inclination and I’m sure, dear reader, you don’t either. So I’ll stick to three that I consider key.
We made ten changes for the midweek game, and so the players should have been suitably fit for Sunday’s match, right? That argument totally misses the point of the Europa League ‘distraction’ argument. The key for me is not the number of games – we have a deep enough squad to cope with them – but the consequence of preparing for two matches in a week rather than one.
From Monday, West Bromwich Albion will have been working hard on their approach for this game. How to stop us, how to hurt us; analysing our strengths and weaknesses. From Monday, we had to prepare for Partizan Belgrade on Thursday. A number of players then had to spend half a day travelling to Serbia, and another half travelling home. Do we assume, then, that we spent Friday and Saturday preparing for West Brom? That’s two days. And how much can a coach achieve in two days?
I love Spurs participating in European competitions, and I would love us to win the Europa League. Even those coming from the ‘sack it off and focus on top four’ angle now have a slightly different outlook since winning the Europa League is rewarded with a Champions League place. It is no coincidence, though, that eight of Spurs’ last thirteen league defeats have come after a Thursday night Europa League match. It is clearly an issue that we need to learn to overcome if we are to be successful in both domestic and European competitions.
I was full of praise for Mousa Dembélé on last week’s Fighting Cock podcast. He was excellent against Sunderland – he won the ball regularly and used it well, the opening goal being a prime example of his quick and simple distribution having won possession. He found our more creative players with regularity between Sunderland’s defence and midfield, and we created numerous chances as a result.
But he was as bad against West Brom as he was good against Sunderland. He was ponderous on the ball – constantly wanting too many touches – and this led to him losing possession three times in dangerous areas. The below illustrates his passes in the 61 minutes he played yesterday, compared to his passes during the 68 minutes he played in a deep midfield position against Sunderland (before he was pushed further forward to accommodate Stambouli).
In neither game did he make a single pass into the box, but against Sunderland he made plenty of short, incisive passes in dangerous areas. The difference is stark – you would be forgiven for confusing his pass map from yesterday with one of Tom Cleverley’s for Manchester United; plenty of sideways passes and no penetration.
In Pochettino’s teams the role Dembélé is playing is a vital one, which was one reason why Pochettino was so keen to sign Schneiderlin, despite the vast price attributed to him. The player in this role is vital for slick transition from defence to attack – he is required to be involved in ball-winning, but also to move the ball quickly to the creative elements of the team to catch the opposition off-guard having won possession.
In May I wrote a piece for FourFourTwo just after Pochettino’s appointment; I speculated that Dembélé might be a player that would struggle. It’s far too early to say that this is the case, but he will need to adapt his game in order to hold down a regular position, particularly with Bentaleb and Stambouli – two players keen to pass the ball quickly – breathing down his neck.
I have been an advocate for Adebayor in a community where many want him cast aside in order to give Soldado a prolonged run. Yesterday’s performance, though, was unacceptable. Ignoring the missed header – because, on seeing a few replays, the ball *was* just ahead of him – he simply didn’t trouble the West Brom defence. He failed to involve himself in the game, having just 25 touches of the ball. His pass completion was 46% – he completed just six passes.
Some of Adebayor’s below-par performance can be put down to a lack of service – Eriksen and especially Lamela were very wasteful, whilst Chadli was a peripheral figure – but he seemed to submit too easily to Lescott’s dominance.
Equally worrying was that Soldado’s cameo was one where nothing really went right for him and, whilst he managed to involve himself quite well, his final pass and shot were lacking. Harry Kane played poorly in Serbia, but would have been a useful option from the bench yesterday with his ability to link play on the edge of the box.
I could write further about Vlad Chiricheș’ nervous display, and Erik Lamela’s appalling marking for James Morrison’s winner, but I will end on a positive – we have two big matches this week, and two big opportunities. Nottingham Forest top the Championship with young striker, Britt Assombalonga, tormenting defences. Arsenal seem to have regained form just at the right time, with Welbeck opening his account at the weekend. Positive performances in these two games would transform the feeling surrounding the team and give us a huge boost. COYS.
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