Spurs 2 Villa 1
At this rate I'm going to soon run out of superlatives for Rafael van der Vaart. Perhaps someone can spike his pre-match drink with horse tranquilliser so he can spend at least one weekend sitting by the corner flag with the only dribbling coming out of his mouth, rather than covering every blade of grass in that look at me I'm so frigging great way we're becoming accustomed too. Would give me a welcomed break from having to draft up love letter after love letter, the attention seeking show-off. If he isn't hogging the headlines he's hugging the grannies.
This never-ending tenacity he possesses to constantly impress and make things happen. Love sigh. He's got that special mix of technical ability, vision, urgency and the belief and desire to make the difference.
There are plenty of footballers who give it the one hundred per cent, week in week out. But if you take someone with genuine (world) class and that someone goes above and beyond what many would expect as the passable norm, well, it's enough to make you go all weak at the knees. It would be easy for him to play like a luxury player because that's what Tottenham are use to seeing or at least have been in the past. You have to admire the impact he wishes to bestow us in every game.
I don't really care at this precise moment in time about why he cost so little and whether Levy has one eye on future profit or possibly the gift of first refusal for Madrid on one of our players. I don't really care about the potentiality of failing to reclaim fourth and the expected but uninvited guest who would sniff around White Hart Lane with that unmistakable fat red nose. I don't care if he's doing a Berbatov. I don't care if the player himself simply took the chance because it was better than spending his time sitting on a bench in Madrid. If you are of this pessimistic ilk, what brilliant irony would it be if vdV dragged us into a fourth place finish? The fact is, the future hasn't happened yet, we're laying its foundations in the present.
He's ours. He plays in Lilywhite. And he makes that difference. Spurs now have their very own Gerrard/Lampard/Fabregas/do Utd have one at the minute? Rooney I guess. We have ourselves a game-changer. We have a catalyst.
The hacks might want us to believe he's a ticking time-bomb, what with their tiny brains struggling to comprehend why he's even playing for us (Sunday Supplement on Sky Sports strikes again) because it's just not right there has to be something amiss for him to be playing in our colours. Because if he's that good, he shouldn't be. Because what right do we have? Yeah, well, whatever. He's a time-bomb, the type that will blow up in their patronising miserable faces.
It should take another 3-6 games, but this team will have to start gearing up towards that higher level, that better standard that we need to be playing at if we're going to start to pull away which is what we need to do. I think the word 'hope' / 'hopefully' needs to be added to the above.
He sets the precedence for what a proper performance should be. It's the type of all action, plenty of plot that will have some questioning this paradox. And as Harry has stated, he needs to work out how best to work the mechanics of the side with vdV in it. On the right. On the right but free to roam into the middle. In the middle. Just behind the the front man. It's a headache, but not the type you can complain about.
However, the reality is, we are still not bossing games, we are still making it tricky for ourselves. Still having to dig deep and pull the win out of the grasp of two points lost or worse. But gaffer and team are doing what needs to be done to try and come through this patch with damage limitation mode switched on, what with our injuries and that tactical evolution that's keeping everyone on their toes.
In terms of CB's, its unnerving. Hudd having to deputise at the back against Villa. He didn't do too badly considering the risk of playing him there. Uncomfortable but got better as the game progressed. It's not exactly an upheaval of Biblical proportions, but we're adapting and learning from week to week in terms of what is best for us to attempt to gain some of that stability in play and momentum. It does have to settle soon. And in addition Harry is having to also manage the various sub-plots including the form of Lennon and Palacios.
We've also go Hutton, re-born. Still needs to be tweaked defensively and offensively in terms of positioning and when to go marauding. And if vdV is going to continue to drift away from the right, we need to help out Alan on that flank.
Bale can never be imprisoned at left-back again. He put in a hard working shift. Didn't take centre-stage for once. What with Villa sticking 15 players on him at any given time.
Jenas, well, he still splits opinion, but if someone was to ask you what he does exactly, you'd be harsh to ignore that he's doing just fine, fulfilling the role in midfield that has allowed for a more (potentially) dynamic middle four/five. There were glitches against the Villa (not so much his fault, but what with no Hudd in midfield there was no clean-up sweep up for when JJ went forwards and the play broke down) and people are bound to latch onto the obvious frailties but compared to Wilson, he's proving far less of a risk to start with. It's not perfect. But the boy is getting forward with a sense of directional awareness and industry that has me not gleeful (let's not go overboard) but definitely pleased.
Modric struggled with his possession on Saturday, which is a rarity. He's on the same wave length as Rafa, but he's not Luka at full pelt at the moment. An off day. So the midfield was not the most balanced (hence the potentially dynamic middle four/five comment), but we got going in the second half far more efficiently than the first thanks to Harry changing it.
So, what of the game?
It was yet another dramatic end to end entertainment piece, presented at the Lane, in full Tecnicolor. Because we don't do boring black and white.
Not a great first half of football, although it ended well with vdV getting the first of his brace, heading the ball in thanks to Crouch nodding it across the goal. Heskey mugging Bassong to set up Villa's goal, bundles in by Albrighton who didn't look decent. All a bit too easy.
We were not coping with the battle against Villa's midfielders which saw the second half switch of Azza on for Pav to give us that extra man centrally and vdV pushing up behind Crouch (even though that's where he drifted to from the right hand side during the first half). Lennon, improved performance off the bench. Probably would have scored had he not been hacked down. Well done Harry for the quick and much needed shift of formation.
So, in that second forty-five we played far better, more controlled football. Villa, still wasteful at times, and far less effective with Heskey off (on the 35 minute mark) which meant more emphasis and concentration on attack than defence for us.
Crouch and his knock-downs worked a treat. Might not always score, but he gets the assists. Pav played a part in the first goal but otherwise, just doesn't do enough for me (white Darren Bent). Appeared to play with a touch more conviction that usual, but that's not saying much. Sacrificed, so it's unfair to be too critical as he attacked the penalty area and run the flanks prior to going off at HT. So on another day, he probably would have been in the right place at the right time at some point.
vdV's second was representative of that extra oomph we now have. His movement into the box, into that position, not once did he not look like someone who wasn't going to score. He practically willed the ball to his feet, the deft touch and dummy and blistering finish processed at lighting speed in his brain but executed in a split second for all to see. It was an Ali shuffle, knock-out punch. Have some of that.
We battled. We came from behind. We had six defenders unavailable. Two players in the side that at the start of the season were on everyone's list to be sold, given away, stuck in a cardboard box and thrown in the river. But the siege mentality of vdV was nothing short of absolute inspiration. We got lucky at times, but I guess it's not really luck. We have van der Vaart. Villa had Carew. You can only ever be as good as the players you've got.
The rest of our players need to match Rafa. Because at some point that higher level needs to be attained. On days like this you can be thankful for that much maligned squad depth. We're going to need everyone in the up and coming weeks to be completely focused. Daunting fixture list, will only be so if we lack faith.
As for the love letters. I guess I don't really mind writing them. Could be a lot worse, I could have been blowing kisses to Joe Cole or Scott Parker.