Tottenham downed 2-1 by Anderlecht in the Europa League leaves me considering an antithesis to the usual positive spin I might write post-game.
If I wanted to knee-jerk I could start citing stats like '4 wins in 13 games' and apply further pressure on Harry Kane (be it the ilk he's unlikely to ever read unless I'm tweeting it to him in capital letters) suggesting he's 'broken' or 'destroyed'. Which is utterly ridiculous. You'd think some amongst us have never watched football before or suffer from repetitive brain reboots which involves quiet time when we win and loud and depressive noises when we don't.
If you want to draw a line through the phrase knee-jerk and replace it with brutal honesty and suggest that the high points of this season were a fluke, then even if that was true, you're not quite grasping the point of supporting Spurs. Fight me if you disagree.
In amongst all the good I've never pretended the bad was invisible. Ask any supporter and the depth issues we faced during the summer transfer window remain ever present as we look ahead to the winter months. Any additional fragility exists because of the strain placed on the squad we had when deadline day passed. We shrugged despondently and thought we'd do a lot worse.
We started off shaky however 'individually' we've progressed and that's played a part in solidifying the teams shape (not completely) and helped to generate spirit and momentum (how many of the 13 games have we lost?).
It's also elevated the likes of Eric Dier and others to the forefront. But we still find ourselves anchored to the harsh reality we witnessed in Brussels. Individuals playing well, sometimes on the same day, isn't going to get you through all games, especially if others under-perform. Working that balance to get it right is also not achievable over night. Ask Pochettino. Doesn't sound too happy with the result.
Kane is going through a patch of form he's not experienced before because of the patch of form (last season) he's having to follow up on. Concluding that this is somehow down to our coach or the way we're playing is stupendously idiotic. Creating chances (even with limited outlets) isn't the problem. Not having a second striker is. Sure, if we had more visionary moves in the final third, we'd create even more and you'd hope that would mean a better assist to goal ratio. Kane was phenomenal last year meaning that it was almost an impossible target to reach second time round. His football isn't the issue, his confidence in front of goal is. Another step in the ladder of development. At some point very soon, he's going to need another patch, one that involves a goal or two every other game.
We know what's good about this Spurs team.
There's a bond that is evident with the first team players, a togetherness. Yes, sure, every team requires this. There's nothing special to see here right? Wrong. Considering the mess we had before Mauricio Pochettino arrived and how much we struggled to see style and identity, at least in the games played this season we have a far better grasp of how we wish to play. The affinity I have for the group of players is far stronger than it's been in recent seasons. Rather than possessing the apologetic 'he'll come good' mantra that kept me hanging on week after agonising week, I believe in the ones we have. Well, most of them (including Harry).
They respond positively to Pochettino. Take Mousa Dembele against Liverpool, asked to take an uncharacteristic role in midfield and delivered a disciplined performance. You wonder why he can't when pushed further forward. You wonder why we keep asking him to push further forward. He'll come good, right? Probably not. He'll frustrate further unless he's told specifically what to do and not deviate. The point is, we lacked options and he came in and played the perfect part.
Our fitness levels are also a trademark of the coaching Poch instils (although we looked tired towards the end on Thursday). Dier has proven himself to be a combative midfielder after we questioned his central selection earlier in the season. These are solid traits, bullish characteristics. Building blocks. Regardless of the politics of transfer and Daniel Levy, we are getting on with it and players are proving their worth.
We lost Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb, both did their fair share of grafting but always looked to get the ball forward quickly. Dele Alli slotted in with relative comfort, be it still rough around the edges. Son Heung-min is that extra dimension we needed with the injection of pace we've lacked. He's also sidelined and our other new boy Clinton N'jie is raw and much like so many signings, has been pushed into the team because there isn't anyone ahead of him. It grates, but we did all the shrugging in the summer and had WBA not been so stubborn we'd have someone else in front of him on the team sheet.
Christian Eriksen was also momentarily missing and Harry Kane is doing everything right except bury the chances he's given. Inches, fine margins. Please do go ahead and quote how well West Ham and Palace and blah blah blah are doing currently as some deranged benchmark to colour us worse off than we actually are. They are playing to a standard they probably won't surpass. If that's your benchmark, you've got problems son. We've got 99 problems but Championship team comparisons aint one.
We are flawed but we're never floored. We're not even on the ropes. Just sluggish with a flurry of jabs when an uppercut is needed. We lined up strong against Anderlecht but our footwork Trippier us up. Kieran suffered, much like he has every time he's played. Much like Ben Davies did too last season. At least Kyle Walker is playing well. Or we gonna focus on the occasional lapse to make sure we have scapegoats in reserve and in the first team?
Special mention to Erik Lamela that seems destined to channel the rage of Jonathan Butcher Blondel with his constant hacking. He turned a corner a few weeks back but appears to be driving up a one way street again.
We are still in a position of positivity. No? Are we not? Four wins in thirteen games you say? Serious relegation fears then. Some might also say it can go either way, especially if you glance at our November fixture list. We know what our deficiencies are, we signed players to assist in giving us a stronger spine and missed out on doing more to bolster it. We are left with a reoccurring headache until the January window opens. We can rotate but it's tentative and not tenacious. If our first team, our full strength side can't produce creativity and clinicality then a rotated side is unlikely to succeed facing the same challenges.
That's my antithesis. Amazingly I can state it every week along with praising the team or being critical of them (like the Capital Cup game). Guess I'm multi-layered. I support Spurs I don't support a stance on how to support Spurs. Or maybe I do because I'm promoting balance. Okay, I do support a stance and mine is better than yours.
If the negative fans can be arrogant about their opinion then so can I.
We make hard work of it but I prefer to focus on fine tuning this team rather than how easy it might all fall apart. Still, the learning curve can only be stretched to a certain point before it snaps. I admit that much. Not going to collapse crying in fear of it.
- The first team defence is a unit but we're going to need to tighten up when we rest players. Goals conceded were cheap. Still believe we prioritise league over anything else (mentally)
- The engine of the midfield is adapting from game to game but the creative spark is often lacking, meaning we can be disjointed with how our play transitions (especially how limp we can be when width is concerned)
- The engine changing because of injuries/suspensions also leans towards the necessity to get a more polished DM in to really give us quality in depth and more assurity when at full strength (we need to be able to dictate tempo, pull games back from opposing teams and control them more to ease pressure - easy to do when you have a Parker and Modric)
- That injection of pace is a direct, forceful option but without it and that spark, we are too obvious in approach. Eriksen doesn't play well, we don't tend to create. Can't rely on one midfielder (much like we can't rely on one striker - Levy needing more than a single window to sign players never helps)
- Even with all the above, we still get into positions of attacking opportunity. We create regardless of all this. Pint Half Full Mode enabled: Upgrade in departments citied either by acquiring new players or letting others evolve into their roles (like Dier did even though no one predicted he would) and we'll improve to a higher standard. That's the point of all this, right? Back a coach and let him work with a group of players to get the best out of them
Very simple observations but complex to resolve when we have players bedding in, players missing, players asked to deputise and players misfiring. But yes, scoff at it being a transition because Franco Baldini never actually happened and is a figment of our collective imagination.
The Anderlecht result serves its purpose to remind us that there's more to end product than just spirit. We didn't play badly we just didn't boss it enough when it mattered and we didn't take our chances. It was untidy and naive. It's a story arc which has yet to provide a definitive narrative twist.
I'm glad the players don't give up after a disappointing result. Glad they don't have such low self-esteem. Glad they're not scared of what might fester under the bed when the lights go out.