Last night it felt like we got back on track a little. The team, the fans, the fans on social media… it all felt a bit more ‘together’. The opposition wasn’t great, of course, but I’m sure there were many Spurs fans who, like me, half expected an upset.
Starting off with the performance: it was a largely positive display. Pochettino made ten changes – whether that was always the plan or whether the poor performance against Newcastle influenced that decision, we’ll never know. Brighton made six changes themselves, including giving England Under-20 goalkeeper, Christian Walton, a debut.
The first half wasn’t exhilarating, but we were solid, with flashes from Townsend and Lennon that kept the crowd encouraged. Although both were playing on their “wrong” sides, it was notable that Townsend in particular kept the full-back guessing by alternating between coming inside and hitting the touchline on the outside. This is something I feel Lamela needs to add to his repertoire – particularly to help stretch defences. I wonder whether this was Townsend carrying out a Pochettino instruction, or whether he just enjoys beating a full-back on the outside. Either way, he frequently moved us yards and yards up the pitch with his useful driving runs, albeit he didn’t always make the right decision at the end of them.
Lennon was withdrawn at half-time – he confirmed post-match that it was a minor hamstring “issue” – and was replaced by Lamela; it took him nine minutes to score. Davies fired in a pass to Soldado, who did well to cushion it back to Lamela. Soldado received a pass back, sent Lamela into space, and his right foot was – for once – trusted to slide the ball home. From then on Spurs looked confident and competent, and when Harry Kane got the second twenty minutes later, it was game over. Kane pulled out to the left – much like we’ve become used to seeing Adebayor do. However, unlike Adebayor, after releasing the ball to Townsend, he was intent on getting into the box and, when the ball came back off the goalkeeper, he was there to steer it into the tightest of gaps.
For me, the best players on the night were Kyle Naughton and Benjamin Stambouli. Naughton seems to have bulked up since his injury, and he had a very good game at both ends. Not only did he provide a defensive solidarity on the right that we’ve been lacking in recent matches (helped by a diligent Townsend), but he provided some excellent crosses; he is amongst the best crossers at the club. The only blot on Naughton’s copybook (as they say) was a potential handball in the first half, his arm flapping away from his body – in a similar way to that which caused him to come unstuck against West Ham.
Stambouli’s unfussy but assured display caught the eye, especially with Capoue’s form taking a dip. He made some timely challenges, intercepted well, and used the ball wisely, quickly, and simply.
Away from the pitch, the atmosphere in the Park Lane end was excellent, helped by a good turnout from Brighton. There were old songs and new, including a Stambouli effort to the tune of ‘Stand By Me’ (not a fan!) and a Chadli song I’d not heard before to Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi: “I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you around the country, Nacer, Nacer Chadli” (big fan!).
The game was targeted by the 1882 movement due to the lower ticket prices – although, what a shame that the club has raised the £20 tickets to £25 for this season; a 25% rise seems unnecessary and is probably what has led to lower attendances in cup games.
For the uninitiated, the movement was started by a group of fans who became dissatisfied with the atmosphere at White Hart Lane. The idea is to encourage 90 minutes of singing, regardless of what’s happening on the pitch; sing for the shirt. The hope is that the name ‘1882’ will eventually become unnecessary as the movement becomes more prevalent but, as it stands, it is used to help advertise the section in which like-minded fans who want to sing should buy tickets, and to spread the word.
Due to block 34 selling out quickly, I’m not convinced that all of those in the block knew about the movement, but most seemed to join in and created an enjoyable atmosphere. Unfortunately there were a few morons who started the type of hackneyed, homophobic songs that Brighton fans must find tedious and cringeworthy – in a large group of people not all of them are going to be sensible.
I left the ground feeling generally positive, which is strange considering the disappointing defeat just days earlier. Pochettino has us going along pretty well in the cups, and there have been signs of a growing understanding of the system. One thing that worries me is that he doesn’t always seem to select his team on merit, and the omission of Kane from the team against Newcastle seems to back this up. My preferred line-up for Villa would be:
Naughton Fazio Vertonghen Rose
Lamela Kane Eriksen
A number of these players pick themselves, but to justify those that perhaps don’t:
Fazio – I don’t think there’s a great deal to choose between Kaboul, Fazio, and Dier at centre-back right now, but Kaboul needs to play like he did against Arsenal more often than not to keep his place, and he’s simply not doing that. Fazio looks very, very good in the air, but not so good on the ground. For the time being, though, he deserves to step in, and against Benteke his height and strength might be useful.
Stambouli – I was impressed, as mentioned above, by Stambouli’s performance, and at a time when Capoue is having a very obvious dip in form, it might be time to give Stambouli a chance in the league. One concern would be whether a Mason/Stambouli combination has enough strength, but the added tenacity and mobility should compensate.
Kane – Whilst Chadli has scored well, Kane’s productivity surely cannot be ignored in the league any longer. Kane has – on average – scored or created a goal every 69.7 minutes so far in all competitions. Chadli has mananaged a goal or assist every 138.4 minutes (Lamela – 101.3, Soldado – 127.8, Mason – 182.5). The key for me, though, is that Kane impacts a game more than Chadli even when he’s *not* scoring.
Soldado – Whilst he still looked uncertain in front of goal, Soldado had a promising game against Brighton and showed good appreciation of his teammates, particularly in linking up with Lamela for the opener. With Adebayor having had more bad games than good so far, it seems to make sense to give Soldado a run.
With a run of winnable games ahead – Villa (A), Asteras Tripolis (A), Stoke (H), Hull (A), Partizan Belgrade (H) – this will hopefully be an opportunity for the team to build confidence and cohesion. COYS!