Tottenham 1 Chelsea 1
Still a work in progress. That's Andre Villas-Boas Tottenham. Worth starting every post-match review with that line, just to gently remind the more cynical amongst us that much like last season, there's a process that we need to go through before everything starts to click into place. To counter point that (for the sake of a non-biased 'I'm right and you're wrong' opinion) that's not to suggest that Spurs might yet falter. There's always a possibility that when everyone is acclimatised to life in the Prem (the new signings) we still pull up short. Perhaps because of stubbornness with tactics. A lack of bravery or an erratic mental toughness.
Cynicisms are there to keep us grounded. Remind us how quick things can change. Point out the wrongs that can sometimes be dismissed thanks to all the rights. Yes, the miserable have a place in all this because some truths hurt and need to be heard.
I'm still going to happy-clap myself through this blog.
I said work in progress. All about adapting the brand new with the relatively new. All about finding that perfect fit.
Left-back. Right and left wing. All three positions might be frequented by different players in the coming months.
Up front, Soldado hasn't quite found a goal scoring rhythm. The midfield hasn't quite found more prominent link to the striker. Not to say he hasn't found himself in plentiful goal scoring positions. He has. That isolation is a consequence of a new player slotting into a role that sees a fairly new midfield trying to deliver service for him.
In midfield, a not quite 100% fit Sandro sat on the bench (or was he being rested for the Europa League away tie?) when perhaps his beastly qualities would have been far suitable in amongst the midfield battles (especially in the second half when our tempo dropped and Chelsea surged forward).
Eriksen, for all his technical inventiveness, had a quiet game. A consequence of life in the Premier League, the requirement to adapt - against all sides, especially the better ones that do not give up space too easily.
Paulinho, never relents when attacking the penalty box, but his impact was less dynamic than I hoped for across the 90 minutes. First half display was more than decent. Second half, was untidy. Sometimes holding onto the ball for too long (something Dembele was also guilty of - although he performed well, if not perfectly - always feel he can improve on his decision making with ball at feet seeking a pass/shot).
was no explosive, out of the ordinary magic (something that Gareth Bale
spoilt us with). Erik Lamela will slowly be introduced. His cameo's so
far are telling, if you choose to take note of his touch and his
breathless elegance on the ball. No cameo on Saturday.
In defence, Michael Dawson failed to react for the set-piece header that saw the visitors equalise. Vlad Chirches, looking on from the bench.
Andre Villas-Boas rarely fields his strongest side, although arguably you'd be hard pressed to agree on that perfect selection if everyone was fit and able. The mechanics of our play are evident. It's instilled. We're not reliant on individuals, we're a unit that work for each other and work hard to preserve the preparation and strategy outlined by our coach.
But it's not quite full pelt. Understandably. And at times there are question marks with substitutions (especially in the Chelsea game). That aforementioned cynicism lends itself to the theory that AVB - in the long term - won't push this side to its limits. Considering this was citied after three games at the start of last season, I think its time to just give him the benefit of the doubt and revisit this at the end of the season. Some might aim similar criticism to Mourinho and his mismatched first half midfield.
And yet there we are, sitting pretty in second place (third on goal difference now). Consistent and confident whilst others around us struggle to attain form.
I'll gladly share the points on this occasion.
We looked superb in the first half, Chelsea hardly in it. Sigurdsson's intelligent running, Eriksen's vision, Soldado with the assist (be it short but enough for Sig to dig the shot past Cech) for the goal. Let's not forget that there was more than one incident where a second goal should have been scored. Should have, could have. The complexion of the game would have been far different had we been blessed with luck and better decisions. The Walker back-heel releasing Townsend, feeding Paulinho, who struck the woodwork. He could have squared it.
Before that particular chance, Townsend was again involved in a brilliant move that saw him dance into the pen area, lay it off for Soldado who crossed it in for Paulinho, a whisker away from a second goal - Ivanovic getting to the ball before the Brazilian with a stunning intervention.
The introduction of Mata in the second half and
Chelsea's continued ascendency (after coming to life late in the first
half) saw us lose the initiative. Torres was causing trouble. With the
football and his fingernails. Ignoring the tangle between him and Jan
Vertonghen (the yellow then the red card - will discuss in a separate blog), we survived a disallowed goal
(Mata) and then conceded from a set-piece (Mata) glanced in by the charming and debonair bastion of grace John
Terry, thanks to that aforementioned slack defending. Although Vertonghen was (not) guilty of the necessary foul to stop Ramires running through initially.
In between all this, Lloris a wall with rocket powered wheels, defending the goal and the penalty box.
Defoe was lively when he came on. 11 versus 10 helped. Sigurdsson with a cracking volley wide could have won it. Chelsea also with opportunities. Felt (in the second half) the main issue we had with combating their resilient 'come back' had a lot to do with our inability to hold onto the ball and use it effectively. There was no shape, not when comparing it to the opening 30 minutes.
Obviously, football is reactive. Chelsea pulled themselves back into it, we failed to react, so found ourselves hassled.
It was a tense and at times lively affair between one club that is accepted to
challenge and another that aspires to challenge. You'd be hard pressed
to work out which is which. Both sides with similar conundrums to resolve, with selection.
Chelsea, when they start to function with that bullish belief are tough. Not quite as easy for them to damage us thanks to the fact that we're no longer a team that surrender with ease, but we allowed them to much space.
Did we lack that mental fortitude to truly boss the game? No. Chelsea (before the season started) were considered favourites by most (including myself) to win the league. They might still do (perspective, right? The season is still fledgling). We took the game to them and could have been two up at half time. In that second half we had to fight our way through plenty of pressure and pressing (most of it high up the pitch) leaving a number of our players lost .
Sandro would have relished the fight, broken up play and aided with bringing the ball out of midfield. The learning curve is, how do we react and take back such scenarios as a unit when key individuals are missing?
No Sandro and no Lamela. Chadli struggled and Defoe gave us something different (although not any more fruitful). Holtby, for me, should have started. Although Sigurdsson persists in proving many wrong with goals (even though he lacks the same pace and mobility as other players in the side).
A fair result, right? Two halves of forty-five that contained positives and negatives for each team but also highlighted the fact that Spurs will contend at the very top if we continue to build on the form achieved so far - and there is untold potential there, as long as AVB works out what best suits our ambitions with the players available.
Every player I cited at the top of this article - Paulinho, Eriksen, Soldado (the one's that played and the one or two that didn't), just consider we're only six games...SIX GAMES...into the league season.
You've only just sat in the seat, you've not even strapped yourself in yet.