Title challenge activated

 

A good solid 1-0 victory to kick off our season and perhaps avoid the possibility of a slow start (similar to last term). We all good with that? 

Was it sexy? Hardly. Was it a carnival of creativity? No, not exactly.

In fact on the face of it, you'd argue that Tottenham were disjointed. Switched on in parts, not working in others. If you entertain the reality that Crystal Palace are a robust and annoying side that suffocate space and make you work hard, then it was a more than decent graft from our lot. Although best not to linger on their recent league 'run' as you'd probably have wanted us to win 5-0.

Let's be honest, count up the amount of chances we created (and missed) and just add to it the polish of more than a singles games worth of match sharpness and the score would have been far more dominant in our favour.

Perhaps we keep expecting teams to crumble in our presence whilst we demolish them with fanciful footwork and ninety minutes of swagger. The competitiveness in the Premier League shouldn't be so easily diminished. Once again, it's very difficult to start over analysing and searching for finality in selection and tactics (the pros and the cons) this early. But there's some worthy discussion points that I'd gladly point towards whilst scratching my chin with thoughtful poise.

We lined up with both Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama in central midfield. Mousa Dembele is still suspended and is sorely missed. We need a more refined presence in the middle, a true central midfielder rather than sitting with two enforcers. This obviously limits our offensive flirtations, however perhaps with Palace in mind (and their style) this was a strategy - be it one that would be ultimately more bruising and ugly than expressive and exciting.

Yes, I can hear the cries now "But we have the quality to beat them man for man" and "We don't need two DM's at home". Well sure, I guess if we lined up to attack attack attack, but I'll cite the aforementioned quality of the Prem and remind everyone the days of Redknapp swashbuckle are not common opportunities to be had at the Lane, thanks to the reputation we made for ourselves. 

Having no Mousa in the middle meant there was congestion with less outlets for escaping the traffic. Christian Eriksen (Pochettino's go-to-man for screaming at in the first half) was lost in his inactivity, unable to get any type of foothold in the game. No space, no time to create it. On this occasion the Danish ninja (he can kill it with subtle stealthy movement, but you might not see it) misplaced his nunchucks and got the chop in the second half. 

Two DM's at home still seems a strange choice but I think it's unavoidable in some ways when limiting risk and taking into account all of the above.

There was also an erratic balance to the team with Eriksen and Erik Lamela (once again creating chances regardless of any awkwardness in our transitions) dwelling in the channels. Harry Kane played off Vincent Janssen (as part of a three man attack with Lamela). No room for Dele Alli (apparently unwell during the week and didn't train for a couple of days, which might explain those two pesky DM's as our starter pack for the day) until he was subbed on for the subdued Eriksen. 

Yet in amongst the grind there was still shape. It wasn't overly sharp or fluid. Palace made it difficult for us to find momentum. The lack of something different, say the influence of an on-point Erikse, meant we had to work hard to get the ball into the final third. If there was one huge positive, it was Janssen and his excellent display of strength and movement. A proper number nine in terms of style and mannerisms, very assured on and off the ball and knows how to play with his back to the goal.

The less said about his chance to lift the ball over when he was facing the right way, but he did enough to prove he has all the right qualities to shine as a classic centre-forward. He's not just a foil for Kane but quite possibly competition. 

I know we can do with more options (when you look over to the bench) and with Georges-Kevin N'Koudou finally looking like he might sign, we won't look too shabby. Add Mousa back into the mix and Poch has alternatives in central midfield. It's the same with the front three and Alli starting (playing behind either Kane or Janssen or starting ahead of Lamela). There are several workable selections. I don't expect us to be at full pelt yet but welcome tight wins in place of dropped points. Kane does look like a player that is in need of a refresh when you focus solely on him sticking the ball away but much like last season's 'drought', one or two goals and perspective is flipped.

His role in this game showcased his versatility in being able to adapt - essential for our teams dynamic now that we have two forwards. He can play alone upfront, behind a leading striker or with a midfielder feeding balls in. No doubt he's at his best when he's spearheading. Again, we've often complained about being one dimensional in key positions. You'd struggle with that argument now.

Having that crafty creativeness is something we do need to focus on. Poch is aware of the Euros and aware of fitness and if we can rotate intelligently whilst the likes of Janssen and Wanyama slot in - then that's perfect. Victor scored our winner after several chances went begging. Toby Alderweireld (header) and Kane (shot and header) both agonisingly close. Also, not forgetting the Vinny miss and Dele's shot from outside the box. Wanyama (interestingly) was productive with his passing further up the field, dispelling any myths about him being nothing more than a brick wall in the middle of the pitch. Loved the celebrations and particularity enjoyed all the tension that was weighing me down before the 1-0. Even though I trust in this team to keep on going until they find a way through, you'll always consider the ominous and the potential of a sucker punch. It's not just a Spurs trait, every fan experiences it.

Other highlights?

We won. First time since the away day at Stoke last season. Add to it the lovely little stat that tells us that we've only had three defeats in twenty one league games at WHL. 

Kyle Walker. Powerful with his consistency. Week in, week out - just produces top drawer performances. 

Dele Alli's first touch, setting up Janssen for his golden chance. We missed this ilk of quick thinking during the course of the game. Dele provided us with some of that missing inventiveness.

Lamela's nutmeg on Andros Townsend and Danny Rose's 'OH NO, YOU DIDN'T JUST DO THAT' gobsmacked reaction. Andros looked like he was going to walk off the pitch and out of the stadium, forever to walk the earth and never look back.

Poch once more (I think during pre-match) saying Nabil Bentaleb isn't in his plans. Disappoint him and you're ruthlessly cut. Perhaps it's a mistake, it might prove to be one. but the sacrifice sends out a message to everyone else at the club. Perhaps it isn't a mistake and Nabil's attitude (like so many other players in the past) has stagnated his progress. Either way, the message is clear.

Non-highlights? Chirpy has a 'girlfriend' called Lily. If Chick King ever runs out of drumsticks and breasts, they don't need to look too far for a hefty supply.

Conclusion?

We always start with a slow brood. It's about how we finish come May that bothers me more. If you re-watch the game, you'll appreciate the graft and some of the smart football more than you did first time round, in what was a nervous experience because of how long it took to make the breakthrough. 

We do need to find our groove and make sure we get into the habit of delivering killer balls more often - from width or simply from a visionary pass or cross. It's easier to do in games that are more open and not as closed and contained as this one.

I like the fact Poch has decisions to make before the Liverpool game next weekend. I'm hoping for a single DM in this one.