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.
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.
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.
Minutes per #THFC goal or assist (PL-only, 200 mins+): 1. Kane, 138.8 2. Eriksen, 142.3 3. Son, 155.6 4. Lamela, 192.6 5. Alli, 205.7.
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) December 29, 2015
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.