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.

I love Pochettino’s Tottenham

I love Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham. I’m putting that out there, unapologetically.

I love his ‘straight down the line’ take with the media. No sound-bytes, no misleading quotes,  no digging out players. He’s honest, but he keeps his cards close to his chest. Politically switched on, but appearing straightforward. He toes the party line but comes across as a pleasant guy, who backs his players.

I love that he’s created a coherent unit. I can’t remember a Spurs team ever being so tactically ‘as one’ in my lifetime. We’ve had good teams through having great individuals. We’ve played some great football through those great individuals. But most of our players are – roughly – around the same level (with a couple of exceptions) but it is the team playing as a unit that is so, so vital. We are greater than the sum of our parts, and when else could we have said that in recent memory?

I love that he has improved individuals beyond recognition. Last season Danny Rose went from one of my least favourite Spurs players to one of my very favourites. I had previously always liked his attitude but did not think he had the ability or intelligence to be a regular; yet he was in our top three performers. In the summer I wanted Mousa Dembélé gone. Now, he’s utterly pivotal. He has clearly always had ability, so I won’t pretend that Pochettino has dramatically improved him technically. But he has identified his key weakness and made him a more complete player. And that weakness? A lack of aggression. There was never a cutting edge with Dembélé. Now, he’s bossing games, taking responsibility, and we miss him when he’s not there.

I love his judgement and the way he backs himself. Daniel Levy said of him: “He said to me [in the summer]: ‘I don’t want a defensive midfielder. I am very comfortable that I can make Eric Dier into a top defensive midfielder.’ “I think if we asked most people [before the season started], they would have said he was wrong. We have to give credit to Mauricio for his skill, and you have to trust his judgement.” (via the official site). That is remarkable. Dier is a talented boy – I think we all saw that last season. I actually predicted that he’d be an England player this season. But as a midfielder? Absolutely remarkable! I would never have thought that he would have the mobility (he’s quick, but he never seemed that nimble) or the speed of thought. Yet he has slotted in like an absolute natural.

I love his ‘management’. Andros Townsend messed up. He was silly, he made a mistake. Pochettino called him out on it:

“Discipline for me is very important. I can understand the player – we have a young squad and a player can make a mistake – but when you cross the limit it is important to stop that. As a manager I am very fair but the discipline is very important. The staff need to show respect to the player and the player needs to show respect to the staff.” (via The Guardian).

Now, Townsend’s volunteering to play Under-21 football to keep his fitness up, putting in a proper shift at that level, and becoming a role model for our young players. He will probably leave in January, but the handling of the whole event was perfect.

Last season was imperfect, and there were a few gentle concerns. But now it’s clear that it was about building foundations, planning for the future. Cutting loose the deadwood and building a team of like-minded players who will fight for the shirt and their leader.

I can’t wait for 2016’s Tottenham Hotspur. Happy New Year and COYS.