Bolton 4 Spurs 2
My initial gut reaction to Saturdays could not be arsed performance in the majesty of the cathedral of football (the Reebok Stadium) was simply this: Harry Redknapp…why?
I appreciate that we shall never defeat the conspiracy (oh look another early Saturday kick-off straight after a Champions League game) but that was no excuse to just shrug at the prospect of perhaps claiming something tangible up at Bolton, were historically we get as much action as Cliff Richard. So no shocker, cometh the final whistle. No celebrations either, just footballing celibacy. Our players displaying the type of effort you'd expect from a walk on a beach mid summer holiday.
Should my knees begin to jerk ever so slightly? Or should I continue to whistle a gleeful tune and dance nervously holding up a sign that reads 'The End is not Nigh, So Stop Fretting'. Am I ignoring the evidence of domestic degradation of consistent form and backbone? Do I rely too much on the varied weaknesses that are displayed by opposing (rival) sides with each passing week as a reason to remain optimistic? Do we - as a supporting collective - add more weight to our results than when we look across at other teams where perhaps we rationalise and exaggerate and gloss over the importance of their results in comparison? Is our squad depth not at depthy as it would suggest? Regardless of the dizzying questions, there are only two that matter at this still early juncture of the season.
What's broken and how do we fix it?
Or perhaps it's better worded as; how have we broken it and why isn't it getting fixed?
Perhaps things are not quite broken, they're just not in full working order.
We are erratic. The side is hardly ever settled in terms of juggling between league and Europe. Injuries confirm that as sublime as our first team can be, when we lose certain key players we lack cohesiveness and this has a knock-on effect with other commonly required footballing essentials (intensity, desire, focus etc). But even with a storming first team (on paper) we've disappointed in the league still. 451 works in Europe. Doesn't quite sex up at home.
Parts of the team - when the team is not at full strength (or as full strength as selection can allow) are at times found out and thus has a detrimental effect on the rest of the side. Our defence guilty as charged. Against Bolton (who were not that good) we gifted them goals (regardless of the first being offside) because we managed to be even worse than them.
I said my initial gut reaction was to blame the gaffer, and I still do, but the players have quite a bit to answer for in terms of ye olde mental strength. But then it all goes back to the erratic selection which births lack of rhythm and style from one game to the next. We play our best football and best players in Europe. It's time we shared the wealth with the mundane task of finishing fourth. Before that ship sails and we're left drowning in shark infested waters. Or something equally grim.
So what went wrong at the Reebok? Easy peasy:
- 451 when there is no van der Vaart to accommodate. So why bother with 451?
- Crouch up top on his own. Why didn't Pav start? We are struggling with goals from our strikers in the league, so you do the math - two is better than one. There is no dynamic movement when pushing forwards and although Crouch and Pav is less Batman and Robin and more Rodney and Del Boy, it's the better and more obvious option to go with the two of them. Pav - for the record - has notched seven goals in all comps this season. That's from six starts and nine substitutions. His league record overall is rubbish (53 apps, 13 goals). So can we just tell him it's a cup game (21 apps, 18 goals) every time we play?'
- No flow and support structure in key areas (i.e. Hutton and Niko hardly a passable execution of 'how to support a team-mate')
- Sandro and Wilson in the starting line-up? Really? One newbie finding his feet and one oldie who has managed to lose his.
- Huddlestone on the bench. Stamps his authority on the game when he eventually comes on. Fails to wrap his boots around a decent pass.
- Kranjcar given a start which he does nothing with. Bentley on the other hand displays 'glimpses' of decency which is a little bit like saying, 'Look ma, he's star-jumping AND winking at the same time'.
- Wait to go three down before showing urgency.
- Complete lack of character, which is either the last dying remnants of the culture of comfort that almost destroyed this club or something isn't quite working in terms of prioritising the importance of climbing the table.
- Play badly to make opponents look good and yet almost get back into it late on. Botheredness, the Spurs way.
- Keep dropping/losing points when it's even more obvious that this season is going to be less of a challenge to finish 4th than last season IF…IF IF IF…we attain the same standard of football we played at last season.
- No insight or astute pre-game analysis or tactical master planning of the opposing side. It's all very 'I'll select eleven players and hope they gel for ninety minutes'.
- Lack of in-game insight/astuteness and tactical re-shaping of the opposing side. It's okay to be reactive. That's 'reactive' to the game and opposition BEFORE we go three down.
Not frigging rocket science is it? And yet the same mistake(s) are made every few weeks.
We are up for the European adventure, and not so up for concentrating on league form. There might be a subconscious shared thought in the club that has everyone thinking we might not get a chance in the CL again for another two or three years so let's enjoy it and let's make our mark. Daniel Levy appreciates this as he's well aware that long term planning is vital and he won't go loopy for the sake of the short term. But considering how obvious our problems are, speculating in early 2011 would make the double challenge of home and away far more achievable than it stands at the minute.
The short term win can make the long term far more comfortable and we can stop looking around and concerning ourselves with the form of others and leave them to concern themselves with our form.
So panic? Don't bother. Not yet. Honestly, we still have some sand left in the hour glass.
We are not playing well but we are in there in terms of points and position. Sure, we are closer to the bottom than the top and the next three games are vital because if we win our home games (Sunderland/Rovers) and get something off the scum then we'll have gone from weeds to blossoming Lily's. If we don't then panic. PANIC PANIC PAAAAAANIC.
There is a point in the season where we (I) can't keep saying - we are still within touching distance. We have to move on and get in amongst the top five and pull away with them and then deal with the fight it will take to remain there and aim for 4th rather than 5th. I think we are at that point now. If we miss it, then we're going to get dragged down further with loss of focus and belief and distraction in the shape of the CL. And the point becomes one of no return.
I don't particularly want to share CL football with the likes of City or Liverpool (yes, Liverpool because they're back baby, they're back!!! Did you not see the game on Sunday?). We might find we don't have a choice and that every other season we challenge and reclaim entry to the elite competition because of the openness of the Prem. On the other hand, we lose out this season and the Prem goes all monopoly again - and it's back to mediocrity as our players get plucked. The latter is less likely, but I'd rather not entertain that risk.
I lost count of the amount of times we got written off during the 2010 journey. I've said it many times this term - we might appear to be going sideways but we are not far off at all from getting this fixed. Just a couple of variables to be added to the formula. Just need to stand tall and proud before the money shot. Our CL hangover record is actually better than Arsenals. Not that it makes it acceptable to lose to Bolton and it's frustrating that we never get anything there - but with two home games and then the scum away (before CL and Liverpool) - this is when we discover if this fantastical learning curve - for the manager as well as players - has sunk in and we are better for it.
Get to Jan even with the same type of difference we have at the moment between us and say 3rd spot - and then it's over to the chairman and the transfer window to consolidate the work and progress achieved last season and eradicate this blip we are experiencing in the Prem. I don't need to tell you what we need. If we get what we need then we'll gonna get a whole heap of what we want.
I'll end with some positives from the game.
Ridiculously great technique and finish for the goal from Roman. Superb effort from Hutton also. That's it.
Also, can I point out that Gareth Bale didn't make his debut at the San Siro. And this fallacy of him being non-existent in the league is exactly that. Although my point would be more poignant if made on another day, rather than after a quiet performance and defeat.
Last time I'm going to say this now. We are not playing well, we dissect every loss because of the standards we have set ourselves and we are showing frailties that are probably not half as bad as some other clubs have in comparison but probably more susceptible to repair. We've got it in us. It's time to prove it.