Tottenham 2 Villa 0
Still not completely convincing at home. Lacking that ruthless killer instinct. One or two players struggling with their form. Other's still settling. Other's forming new on field relationships. Pre-match I wanted to see:
- More than just 45 minutes of dominance, fluidity from start to finish.
- Boss midfield and tempo with aggression and pace.
- Clinical in front of goal.
- No late goals conceded.
- Comfortable win.
- Noisy happy atmosphere.
We sort of got some of the above, in pockets, more so in second half than in the first – including a moment or two where the opposition might have punished us, but thankfully, they too lacked that killer touch. Yet, even as this team builds momentum and team unity, even with new players still looking to find their groove in Lilywhite, we still find ourselves sitting in 5th spot with four consecutive league wins and unbeaten in nine games. Momentum breeds confidence and confidence breeds style. All in good time. Considering we lost two key players (Luka and Rafa) in the summer along with an injury to another (Parker) and the retirement of Ledley plus an overhaul of coaching and training...if this is a transitional period, it's hardly traumatic. Andre Villas-Boas inherited a side in a state of flux. We are hardly the sitting ducks some expected (prayed for) in the aftermath of the summer.
Sure, okay, no problem...I agree (how can I not?) that the swagger isn’t quite free-flowing at the Lane. Would be naive to expect a new coach to implement new ideas as casually and easily as flicking a switch on. We look better, more fluid, away from home at the moment but the signs are there that improvements will be made which should have a more positive effect on how we set up at the Lane. It’s one thing being a side that attacks attacks attacks but if there is no added dimension to our play, no adaptability – then we’ll get unstuck against more clued up opponents. However, the drawback at the moment is that as we look to progress we might get unstuck by virtue of the problems that exist, the ones we’re trying to iron out.
Say, for example, sitting too deep at 1-0 or not taking our chances early in the game. Then again, as good as we were at full pelt last season at home there were plenty of games where for all our intent we failed to break down teams. Looks like we’re worked through our early season issues (WBA, Norwich) already but the real test will come when a far stronger side visits.
What did we learn with the 2-0 against Villa?
Sandro and Dembele are forming a robust partnership in the centre of midfield. The Belgian completing 77 passes from 79 and was never dispossessed and aided the powerful push forwards in the second half. Such a great mix of abilities and with Parker out, Sandro is able to graft his way towards making the position his own. Dembele is quality and players like that won't struggle to settle if they have the confidence to play thanks to their team mates effort and work rate. Can't wait to see the immensity of their partnership 20 games into the season.
Special extra mention: Sandro and the 720 degree turn. He's a mentalist.
Vertonghen is superb. So vital we have players in key positions that are world class. There, I said it. I'm not ashamed. He's a centre-back that looks equally comfortably at left-back and attacks as well ad he defends. Oozes confidence and leadership. Caulker's eduction by the side of both Jan and Gallas, better spent with us than out on loan. The youth of Spurs are being coached and selected. No favouritism. If you're good enough, you're in. Mature beyond his years but then we caught a glimpse of that when he was at Swansea. Talking of maturity, Gallas, on the quiet, getting the job done and continuing to prove many of us (including me) wrong. Still has it. We look strong at the back, more so when the injured return to full fitness.
Dempsey is still bedding in (much like Siggy is) – when both find their place in the team then both will give us that extra bit of oomph in midfield that we lost when van der Vaart returned to Germany. Dempsey scored a bundle for Fulham. Siggy equally effective for Swansea. Both, thus far, bit part players trying to work into the system. The American currently ahead in selection.
Adebayor’s return is massive for us. Holds up the ball, retains it well, allowing the midfielders to press forward and his link up play is far superior to what Defoe can offer. It’s part of his natural game. Hoping he gets in amongst it with the goals once he starts to play regularly.
Hugo Lloris proved why he’s got so much more than Brad Friedel between the sticks in terms of this being a team game. His distribution and his communication is vital to improving the way we defend, acting as both keeper and sweeper. He did make one mistake that went unpunished. Still, a clean sheet. Ta muchly. Brad, the model professional all smiles on the bench (unless Friedel was not actually at the game and Spurs were using 'tupac' holographic technology to show us a smiling Brad to aid with disguising the turmoil in the dressing room). Another feature of Hugo is the way he sees danger and seeks to throw himself onto the grenade. Love the way he reads the game so well and dashes out to tackle/win the ball. Also – 67% passing rate (Brad has 18% average).
We accepted the slice of luck to go 1-0 up and that was enough of a breakthrough to set us on our way for a far more comfortable second half. Although Villa had a moment or two (one shot straight at Lloris and the other, the aforementioned mistake from the keeper that thankfully saw Benteke’s header go wide). A reminder of those problems that need ironing out.
Walker is still struggling. I don’t get why some are so keen to dismiss him because he's currently detached from solid consistent form. He’s a young lad, he had a fantastic season last time out. I don’t know what the reason is behind his erratic displays but much like the team as a whole struggled, we need to be supportive.
Might be in need of some rotation/rest/competition once Naughton is available for selection again. We all know he needs to work and develop his positioning and defending. He's got all the right qualities for AVB's tactics. We just need to make sure he's focused and disciplined. Maybe he does need that rest. But there's no doubt he needs to understand he's a defender and usually defenders need to defend. Rest aside, the coaches need to nurture the raw talent. I guess some will still slag him off or not open their eyes to the long play much like they were all too eager to see Bale go off on loan to Forest.
Lennon's goal was great. Sandro, Dempsey involved, lovely finish from Azza. As for the first, Defoe cleverly aiming for Caulker to purposely deflect the shot in to beat the keeper. As for Gareth Bale. Solid performance without being outstanding but the 'dive' deserves its own article. Will share soon.
No sitting too deep second half with positive attack minded substitutions.
Villa were not very good. Did well in the first half to nullify us (although we still crafted chances of promise). But our first half misgivings had plenty to do with untidy passing and decision making and lack of tempo and composure. Too anxious perhaps? Trying too hard to force the issue rather than dismantling the opposing side with cool, calculated movement. We still looked solid and we improved and in the end the visitors had very little to show for it. A better striker up front for them and perhaps the game would have played out differently.
We could have made more of it after they went down to 10 men, but failed to find a third goal. Woodwork making sure of it.
Good work going into the international break. We still look like a side playing at around 60% - 70% of our true potential. The trick is that we retain that winning momentum when we’re not firing on all cylinders, whilst aiming for 80% +. Once the spine of the team is settled and we’re more fluid in movement and intensity, then we’ll be standing on that next level of performance. Once on that level, I’d expect us to be far more dominant and bullish at home. It still has that ominoius feeling that its a bit to much of a graft to earn the points. But then that's hardly a bad thing. We're still winning, still finding a way through. The progression of Andre Villas-Boas Tottenham continues.
Special mention again to Brad Friedel and 320 consecutive games played in the Premier League. Phenomenal. Also worth noting (again), seven played with fourteen points. One defeat. Nine games unbeaten all comps.