Belated Europa League philosophical soul search blog.
Did we learn anything from the two games against Dortmund in the Europa League? I'd say a fair bit. We got chunks bitten out of us, akin to Jaws pulling down an unsuspecting victim before feasting on flesh and blood. Easy prey. Pray for Spurs. We need to swim harder and faster and know when to go deep and when to just dip our toes in.
Dortmund didn't need to change gear in either clash to exert damage. In the first leg they swarmed all over us, much like we would do to most of our Premier League opposition. In the second leg they just sat back with comfort and countered with clinical execution. They are basically what we want to become. A team functioning on a higher level, fluid and machine like with superior strength where it matters. We still have minor glitches to work out. Bossing possession then going 0-1 down is our current ball-ache. They have their problems too. Playing in the Europa is possibly one of them, but they won't complain too much being so close to a final.
We got outclassed twice. Still the only time(s) this season we've suffered a lesson and had our deficiencies displayed for all to see. Luckily most clubs that could dish out this ilk of punishment play their football abroad.
You can't be harsh on Mauricio Pochettino and his team. I can't. We're fledgling, this is the beginning. You can sit around and bemoan the lack of transfer activity to consolidate the squad if you want. Blame him or Daniel Levy. It's petulant when you stop and think about the seasons before the Argentines arrival. The lack of a blueprint. The charm of the chaos that we fall in love with before it brutally murders and kills all hope.
We're not rushing this time because it's the first time in generations we actually know where we need to get to. It's easy to say sacrifice this cup and sacrifice that cup. We (Poch) made a mistake with the League Cup NLD selection. The team against Palace in the FA Cup was good enough to beat them. As for the Europa, financially/brand wise and the fact that it offered a route into the Champions League possibly prioritised our ambitions at the start of the season but the more involved we got in the league, those priorities slowly shifted to bigger and bolder things.
Football games are there to be won. You've got to look to win every game you play in. We know reality isn't quite that romanticised unfortunately. We did as much as we could with what we have. No major conspiracy or criminality at play. And yes, it's not lost on me, I did want a second striker in January. It will always be easy to default to something with hindsight and point the finger of blame without any evidence to suggest another player upfront would have fixed things enough to make a telling difference. We need to just deal with it and be thankful that in a year Poch has completely rebooted the footballing club and our mentality*.
*Yes, echoes of glory, 'football game are there to be won', speculate to accumulate. In the past, i.e. 2006, consolidation should have happened along with one or two other instances before the downward spirals kicked in. I think we were in a far more desperate situation then, like it was a last chance that had to be taken because we'd never have it again. We talked up a power shift but it was more of an illusion than prestige fact. We failed to take that chance. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe this season is no different or perhaps there is no wrong or right here. It's just not possible to find equilibrium with how we do our business on and off the pitch with the present and future in mind at the same time. Thank God I'm a supporter and not a chairman or coach.
We simply need more in our squad and that will come (it has to) as it's the bread and butter of any club to persistently seek to improve. We got rid of the dead wood, those that could not fit into the new ethos and now we have to bolster our options across the midfield and attack. And still, there is work to be done tactically and with home form. You work to step up a level, you don't just stay there you look to move up another. We are good at playing the way Poch wants us to play but we're going to have to be so much better to retain our ascendency.
In the past we attempted to do this every season by throwing a ton of money at anything that moved. At least this time I truly think that every signing has a purpose. Don't agree? Look at how the likes of Davies and Trippier (much maligned when signed) have slotted into our rotating full-back system. We have purpose and end product. The coaching and preparation counts for something. Soundbites are no longer superficial social media hashtags. You actually believe in the words of the players. It's far better than marquee signings and the hijacking of famous quotes that leaves nothing but a trail of broken promises.
Dortmund are a team of world class players. Our league in terms of its physicality and competitiveness is far more difficult to master across the congested fixture calender than the Bundesliga. The Germans can play full strength domestically and in Europe because it's easier to do. Not to belittle German football or for that matter any league on the continent but the nature of how it works for them is far more conducive to breeding a monster that has no trouble knocking down the occasional skyscraper. The top (two) teams over there share the pool of the very best players available to them. The quality in the Premier League is spread plentiful across several teams and even the ones that don't compete for the title are capable of producing upsets.
A comfortable league and the benchmark of the Champions League allows the standard of their football to retain an edge that is a little beyond us currently. Although, let's be honest, if we sat 4th or 5th in the league we'd have probably gone full strength for both games and not been slapped senseless in the first encounter.
The next phase for Tottenham is the one which matters far more than the month of January. I know, let's mention it again. Consolidating might have given us something extra this term. It's the best opportunity we've ever had but it's an outside chance today because of early season disappointments (aka learning curves and transitions from training field to match-day) and one or two recent weeks of being stretched a little too far.
Getting the right players in and being patient far out weighs short termism when longevity is key to sustaining something that needs to be more than a cameo, a one-off adventure. Even if the cameo this season could have produced a league title. But alas, once more, it's easy to say that now when at the start of the season many of our fans belittled our midfield capacity and suggested Crystal Palace had more depth and we'd be lucky to finish mid-table.
Qualification for Champions League will mean we have two major fronts to focus on next season. That doesn't allow for Tottenham to sit back and attempt to challenge with what we already have. Pochettino and his team know this. The chairman won't be able to ignore it. We're going to demand it. The teams evolution depends on it.
The league. The domestic cups. Europe.
We're going to need a bigger boat.