Doppelgangers

 

Tottenham 1 Burnley 1

Two seasons ago. Written off in the opening five league games. 'Crystal Palace and Stoke have left us behind'. Poch is clueless. Contenders. 
Last season, written off before the season started. 'Other clubs will wake up and brush us off'. Contenders.
No wing-backs? No pace? Written off again? There's a pattern developing here. I can't quite put my finger on it.

Spurs, slow brooding, then gradually improving their momentum into a swaggering rhythm before losing control by the end. Like me in bed. 

Of course the issue is contenders sounds a lot like pretenders. Non-productive periods (with the magic of hindsight) are arguably where we lost the chance to be title holders on both occasions. This is a form of over-analysing that can corrupt and distort. Fine margins exist through-out the course of the season and some disappointing results and the lessons learnt become the fuel that drives us towards better performances and successive wins. If you don't win the title it's because someone else made less errors than you did.

Two seasons ago, it was slow. Last season, we slumped after a good start and then picked up again and ended magnificently. It wasn't enough again. What defines a teams season is that all important momentum at peak times during the course of the campaign when the pressure is felt and the challenge is on.

Three games in, it's all about adjustment.

Some teams start in great form then dip, others look shambolic from the off. As for Spurs? In our three outings, we've arguably done enough to win in all three but only done so once. Margins. Playing at home away from home is also an unavoidable transition for players and supporters that is becoming the knee-jerk rationalising for what's all gone wrong.

Before I preach a sermon of positivity, a caveat; Had we beaten Burnley, nobody would be cutting DIE SPURS DIE into their arms with a blunt razor. I have always loved that when something doesn't go according to plan, the first and most convincing anchor supporters reach for sits in the dark depths of the ocean of blame. It's no wing backs, no pace, no Walker and Rose, Poch's tactics have regressed, Dembele doesn't release the ball quick enough, there's little inventiveness, Dele looks p*ssed off, what's the point of Dier, everything we do is in slow motion...and so on. Best thing I've seen is how our bench is embarrassing (it does need beefing up) because we have an academy kid on it. It's like Kane, Winks and others never happened. Love how perspective is abused to suit whatever angst is occurring on a particular day.

Yet an inch difference here and there and we'd have scored two or more. That's not to say the other hot-takes plucked out of the Tottenham ether aren't relevant. Urgency and potency are missing from our side, both as a collective and more so with certain individuals. It's an observation and it's one that is magnified because of a 92nd minute conceded goal. End of days? Get a grip son. 

Slightly bloated caveat there. Let's push on.

We should have buried Burnley. We didn't. Harry Kane looks so sharp and mobile, attacking the space he thrives in, getting into positions to score. The ball is finding his feet, it's just not finding the net. It would be worrying if we weren't creating the chances. On another day some of them go in and regardless of not having pelting pace down the flanks or quick moving transitional play from midfield into the final third (caveat reminder klaxon) - we'd be drowning in plaudits of our ruthless side punishing the plucky opposition. However, it's important to note that we're not destroying opposing sides currently. It's not free flowing. It's stop start. It leaves them with a chance to bite back.

It's still nothing to worry about.

Sorry if you think this is more happy-clappy propaganda. I can't help you if your default disposition is to foam at the mouth or fear-monger with the usual finality that is better served by that other club down the road. We're playing alright. What we're not doing is changing gear and looking beastly and rampant with our delivery and execution. It's a little laboured. I do wonder why we have this ever so slightly underwhelming start to our season. Is it because of Kyle Walkers departure and Danny Rose's indiscretion? The rumours of one or two others considering similar departures in the future? Daniel Levy leaving it late (no surprise) in the transfer market? Are these overblown excuses? Are we really in a position to entertain a reality where we can't evolve further? 

Is this what hitting a brick wall looks like? Should we actually be worried?

This is quite possibly the third season running where I've had to ask this question in the early stages of a new season because of how a fair chunk of our fan-base reacts to drop points. I'll tell you what hasn't evolved; our mindset. Still fragile and incapable of trust. Like I always state at this stage, don't take note of the table and form until we hit the tenth game and then some. This particular pattern is well developed and proven.

Our strongest starting eleven is still one of the best in the country. Beyond that, the lack of depth is the persistent stigma that will always be an excuse as to why we can't break down certain teams and find that something out of nothing on days where we are second best (or not at our best) but need to win to propel ourselves.

Slack static play was evident at the death on Sunday and it was the responsibility of the players and not Wembley. We gifted the opposition fortune. This isn't very Tottenhamesque based on just how tight and compact our back-line has been for a year or so. I prefer to dismiss there's a touch of psychology at play with us not being at White Hart Lane. We got done by a brilliantly simplistic ball that cut us open (not unlike the type of pass we often produce). 

Such is our standard that a lapse in defence that was a given a couple of times in most games we participated in once upon a time feels like a dagger to the heart rather than another patronising pat on the head. I don't blame the anger and truly hope it was shared in the dressing room post-match. Errors like this need to be digested then regurgitated. Especially when it happens twice in two games. The less mistakes made the less likely the opposition score. Football is a game based on taking advantages of such errs. The away side gladly did. What we didn't do is find a more creative outlet to the back of the net.

Had we held onto the 1-0 then we'd move onto the next league encounter with a spring in our step and the myth of a curse gone. At 1-1 we have the frustration of having to wait for the next one to exercise our demons. On the pitch and in the stands. It isn't just about scoring that all important second goal. It's also about protecting a lead, knowing when to hold onto the ball and when to launch an attack. To do so with composure and shape. This is really basic football 101 here. It's not like we're not accustomed to organisation and strategy. Best defence in the land last season, yeah? The Burnley equaliser was slack and unacceptable. In isolation it's disappointing, make a habit of it and then it's a problem.

Spurs need to work towards completing the alleged deals we keep hearing about (work permit egg on face incoming, ho hum) before the deadline. We need to be adaptable in how we play, be it three or four at the back. That injection of pace either from full-back roles or midfield is imperative. Take Mane's goal and Liverpool's swift movement against Arsenal as a comparison. Contrary to popular belief, we are capable of this with our current personnel. If you produce end product then the entire dynamic of the game is owned by you. White Hart Lane games last season (aside from the rare off day) perfectly illustrated how we contained and dismantled teams.

Much like Poch worked out a system for how we travel away, we have to find a fit for Wembley. Treat it like an away day to start off with in order to find a groove with the place. Is the pitch too expansive for a high energy swarming style? Perhaps a touch. Here's where that adaptability kicks in but we need the right players in the right positions to allow us the options. I still don't think there's deep rooted psychology at play. By the looks of it, we'd have dropped points to Burnley at the Lane too.

We know what our players can do and how bloody fantastic we've looked for nigh two seasons. There is no doubt that competition for places is an imperative tool for motivation and bench-marking but we can not for a second believe these very same players will drop off with their effort based on a culture of sudden comfort (or one pertaining to the lure of money elsewhere). Did everyone drink the same kool-aid over the summer?

Three games, one win. Even though I'm not having a breakdown and predicting the collapse of all that's been built by Poch. Even though I appreciate and understand the difficulty of playing away from N17. Even though I have complete faith in the coach and his players. I do think we have to rid ourselves of this apologetic tempo. I've already admitted that one or two players seem to have started the season in stasis. Perhaps one or two have dropped off (kool-aid drinking w*nkers), which is criminal negligence within the boundaries of a side that is heavily reliant on synergy.

We are moving around like doppelgangers. We look like Tottenham, we display familiar traits and characteristics. But we are within ourselves. Ever so slightly fractured and out of time. Not quite present, not quite there. Not belonging to expectation thanks to imperfections that are obvious to those that take a second look.

Maurico Pochettino has shifted players around too in selection, which hasn't aided fluidity with familiarity. Our players know what's expected of them. It's not like he decides to change things minutes before the kick-off. They train, they prepare. Conspiracy theorists will tell you it's because the coach wants to remind the chairman that we need to sign more players. A theory that wouldn't exist had we held for the 1-0. Tin foil hats all over the place. 

The international break doesn't help much either. We're forced to wait a little longer for Everton away and then Dortmund in the Champions League. We're back to focusing on deadline day and hoping (praying) we add to the growing list of defensive players joining the club with perhaps one attack minded galvaniser at the very least. Another one has left, this time bit-part part-timer Kevin Wimmer has gone to Stoke. Good luck Kev. 

It's a big ask based on history but there is possibly three players we've been involved with during the course of this summer that are likely to end up wearing the Lilywhite. Much like Oliver we're left wanting more. Will there be a twist to the tale? Aurier, at the time of writing, is subject to the suggestion that the Home Office will say no. 

Stagnation and blind spots, for now, are not what I want to spend my hours contemplating. Although Daniel Levy's transfer policy remains ambiguous and appears from the outside to be constantly tainted with indecisiveness. I'll panic when there's reason to. Like if Harry Kane doesn't score a goal for the whole of next month. Or God forbid the day Poch walks.

 

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