Fulham 0 Spurs 3
We're in the quarter-final's and suddenly hype for the FA Cup is real. I've perked up plenty thanks to the team doing the same. We needed a confidence booster and we got just that at Craven Cottage. A walk in the park, men against boys, Premier League versus Championship.
The hosts had little astuteness tactically to contain us and nowhere near the class to dictate. Our football was effective and direct. It had that all important urgency and desire that was missing out in Belgium. Nothing in the way of bundles of it, but more than enough to give us a comfortable 3-0 win.
Christian Eriksen was at the centre of all good things, prodding and instigating. Bagged a couple of assists and aside from the usual erratic set pieces, looked sharp and should have scored himself. Tottenham are reliant on the Dane's ingenuity, if he plays well we tend to produce end product. We're a simplistic beast.
Dele Alli was pushed further forward in that more traditional role just behind Harry Kane. Loved it when Kieran Trippier lost his sh*t when Dele failed to score what looked like a certainty. He was subbed late on and looked disgruntled, probably thanks to his failure to find the net. It's a great trait, to be that hungry even in a match that plays out completely in our favour.
Regarding Dele's positioning, it's something I've always classed as a no-brainer. Kane needs the support and together they connect the dots when he tucks in just behind him. With Eriksen pulling the strings, the movement of the front three/four becomes organically more expansive. Add a bit of the width that the wing-backs bring (when both are available) and Spurs can impact centrally thanks to space generated off the flanks. We need more like for like alternatives. Not necessarily players as good as the leading men but still good enough to fill the gap when someone is missing. Players with similar build characteristics. It helps with momentum and it makes the whole debate about 'rotation' a moot point.
Harry Winks was at times sublime. Statistically, excellent and when he dropped his shoulder and turned to pass a diagonal (leading to the second goal) you realise how effortless he makes it look. With Fulham players on him, no panic, no attempt to just get rid of the ball. Oozes intelligence and makes it count.
He's industrious but always composed. Assured and disciplined, the type of player that Mauricio Pochettino loves because he will follow instructions and apply them perfectly. A sure sign of quality. Has he ever had a bad game? Okay, so he's more of a cameo player and hasn't been consistently tested week in week out. There's no need for him to be rushed or for us to get too overly excited (and perhaps apply pressure where it's not warranted). He does look a perfect fit though.
James Maw (442 magazine, Spurs nut and friend of The Fighting Cock) compared him to Luka Modric in a Tweet that was resoundingly misunderstood. Not a pound for pound comparison, but in terms of Winks football style. The way he takes possession, turns and sees the pass that produces a counter/attack. Modric is world class, obviously. If you look back to when he owned the Tottenham midfield, he would playmake from deep positions. He was the centre-point, the nucleus. It's obviously reliant on players running into space, giving him the options. It's still an art-form to constantly find them every time. It's a lot to aspire to but they're the levels all talented footballers should aim for. Winks is way off being that important to the dynamic of the team but it's lovely we have someone that could offer us the potential.
There's plenty of midfield variants in the side. Victor Wanyama will break down the opposition, win the ball back and release. Mousa Dembele marauding forward, glides past players to allow our shape to adjust. Winks is the ye older 'assister of the assist' type. A calmness that sees the next move play out before he's found a teammate with an inch perfect pass. Kudos to the kids development. Hotspur Way delivering again. Feet still on the ground. I promise this is all just reserved excitement.
The return of Jan Vertonghen was also a pleasure. I almost forgot the despondency that engulfed me when he was initially injured and the suggestion he'd be out for months. Having him return to our backline lowers the stress of our defence being stretched, what with Danny Rose still being absent. Ben Davies looked decent. Yes, 'It was only Fulham' but what we wishing for here? For our players to under-perform and struggle?
As for captain Kane. Just off twenty-goals for the season. His 5th hat-trick of his Spurs career and nine goals in his last nine games. Imagine not rating this guy. Imagine criticising him for wanting to 'work hard' and take responsibility. Only twenty-three years of age. I'm a grown man that gets hairs stand on the back of my neck when he smacks one in. If this team sticks around together for another couple of years (silverware is important to consolidate their desire to remain) and we retain season long momentum, Kane is the first player we've had for generations that could flirt with the dream of notching 40 goals in a season.
On the other end of the spectrum, Vincent Janssen is sat on the bench and doesn't even get game time when we're three nil up. If Poch was involved in the scouting, unless there's been a spectacular disconnectivity with the player in training, you have to hope that there's still a chance for him. We are notoriously bad (as a fanbase) for writing off players. The logic is to write everyone off (that way you'll always be able to claim you're right with the ones that do fail). Sometimes it's obvious (Soldado) and sometimes it's not (Rose). The crux of the issue here is that he's not been strong enough to lead the frontline when Kane hasn't been available. We need a player that can do this. He doesn't have to be as good as Harry, he just needs to fit into the system and score without making it look like a miracle.
The criticisms about Spurs not spending is a touch delusional. We spend a lot. We don't have the money to acquire the services of the players we tend to go for as first choice thanks to the likes of City and Chelsea plucking our targets for their bench. That might not be the case in the near future. For now, we still need to work with what we have. It would be wonderful if we did bag a player that could hit the ground running. It's almost tradition how we manage to struggle with this concept when it comes to strikers.
The selection on the day was fairly strong. No argument there. The in-joke was how we failed to disrespect the FA Cup by turning up for it. Still, this was more about our reaction to the last two games/defeats. No complacency here and our reward a curse for the Met Police.
Millwall at the Lane.
I guess we could have had it easy, like say two non-league clubs on the trot. Then again, we've hardly had a gruelling journey so far ourselves. It's the business end of the cup and it's when you naturally consider the possibility of Wembley (a curse of our own including our recent Champs League slump). We love the prospect of a semi but always end up completely limp on the day. It's currently five* successive heartaches on the trot since the success of 1991. Once we (hopefully) see off Millwall (on and off the pitch...AMIRITE?) then we can hopefully seek the redemption we are so desperate for.
*edit: Correction. It's six. Twice against the Scum + Everton, Newcastle, Chelsea, Portsmouth.
The debate will continue. Should top tier sides always play their strongest (or thereabouts) first eleven and avoid the potential for slip-ups? Is rotation something we should be able to cope with when required or do we still lack that extra bit of depth? Or rather, does a rotated side lack the spine the first eleven offer? Obviously it does, which is why we always get a shadow performance when we mix and match. All about hindsight. Still, when we kick off our QF, I don't want to see anything other than a powerful XI eager to get the job done ASAP on the night. We're too close now to look upon this competition like a congestion chore.
Let's be having you Tottenham.