Straight Back In
You’ll know that I… was not fond of last season. I was glad when it ended and then I was hopeful about a quick manager search but it didn’t happen and it felt like we were flip-flopping our way through a list of inconsistent targets. But, despite initially being pretty underwhelmed, I have felt pretty good about Nuno Espírito Santo ever since his first interview, and I have also been pretty happy with Fabio Paratici’s work to date (caveat that that may change over the next two weeks if we’re still lumbered with deadwood!). But I didn’t expect to be emotionally all in again so soon.
Honestly, it was like my candle had gone out and rather than striking a match to light it, Nuno’s Spurs grabbed a lighter and a deodorant can. Whoosh!
The last minute of the match had a real sense of early Mauricio Pochettino Spurs about it. It was imperfect, i.e. we tried to keep the ball in the corner and failed to do so, but the players fully committed to seeing the match out. What that looked like was a dead-on-his-feet Dele tracking back and attempting a desperate lunge to foul a breaking player, Davinson Sánchez making a huge tackle and then the aforementioned Dele collapsing from the weight of his insane 10.97km covered.
Throughout the 90 minutes there was an impressive game plan in place that seemed to utilise each players’ talents to their maximum. I am happy to be proven wrong on Dele, who I couldn’t really see as a central midfielder in a three, particularly as the last time he played that role was when his form started to take a dip. I’ve long wanted to see him used further forward again, like he was in his first couple of seasons. But Nuno’s post-match comments – “Dele is a runner. He has this ability to go box to box and as a team we should take advantage of it.” – were absolutely underlined by the performance he put in. He’s always been a genuinely elite presser but this was next level, particularly considering it was the first game of the season when fitness levels are notoriously not at their peak.
We played a narrow front three that was focussed on stopping City finding the feet of their midfielders through the middle, instead channeling them to the wings where our full-backs were alert and tenacious. Both had excellent games, but especially Japhet Tanganga, who rightly took home the Man of the Match award for his remarkable individual performance, in which he stopped Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish making progress down his side of the pitch.
The benefit of the narrow attacking three was that when we did pounce on a loose ball and were able to find one of them, they had their partners in crime to play off. Typically one ran away from the ball to drag defenders away and that was true of Son Heung-min’s goal, where Steven Bergwijn casually dragged three players out of the way to create a space for Son to step into. In the final match of pre-season against Arsenal, Son had a couple of chances to cut in onto his left foot and chose not to, instead switch back out onto his right, shooting across goal. He is so good at cutting in and curling the ball into the far post, from either side, and he should always look to do that where he can.
The icing on the cake was the crowd — incredible. ‘Are you watching, Harry Kane?’ was perfection, and it certainly sounded from the tele like this was the best atmosphere at the new stadium to date. Really, properly electric.
The incredible start for the first team was neatly backed up by an excellent performance by the Under-23s against Chelsea on Monday night. It finished 2-2, but Spurs were utterly dominant, and Chelsea’s goals came from a penalty and their forward pouncing on a loose back pass, whilst we kept their goalkeeper busy all night and missed a penalty at the end. A number of players really shone — there wasn’t a poor performer — but Harvey White, Alfie Devine, Dilan Markanday and Jneil Bennett stood out for me. Just a great watch.
And I mentioned transfers at the start of this post. I’ve been pretty impressed with the transfer business so far — happy with the ins, happy with the outs — but I would be disappointed to end the window with Serge Aurier and Moussa Sissoko still on the books. It’s pretty clear that neither is in Nuno’s plans and so taking a price and getting rid seems the best option for all parties, else we end up risking the Danny Rose situation all over again, with players that can command fairly significant fees running down their contracts. I would put Harry Winks in a similar category, though I’m happier with him being in the squad (partly because he’s younger and so will hold value) and, of course, we still have the perennial task of doing something with Cameron Carter-Vickers.
There’s another bit of business to do too but it’s had more than enough attention by now and the last thing I need to do is waste any more time on a, frankly, highly tedious situation.
Honestly, it feels soooo good to be back in the game. I’ve been chugging Spurs content throughout pre-season and I’ve got a week off work this week so that’s gone up a level. I’d listened to all of my favourite Spurs podcasts by midday today! More! Give me more! Thursday can’t come soon enough.
Some other bits I’ve written recently:
A bit on Dennis Cirkin for Sunderland Fanzine ‘A Love Supreme’: https://www.a-love-supreme.com/single-post/dennis-cirkin-a-view-from-tottenham
A season preview for BT Sport: https://www.bt.com/sport/football/premier-league/tottenham-2021-22-season-preview
Exclusive Interview with Degefors’ Sporting Director on Alfie Whiteman: https://www.patreon.com/posts/exclusive-with-54960969
I am the host of The Extra Inch; a Spurs podcast that delves into the analytical side of Tottenham games. Check us out! If you already follow the podcast, consider becoming an xSub for additional content, including videos, and extra podcasts.