Bale in Boxing Day beat 'em up
"Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way...Oh what fun it is to see Bale score a hat-trick in a superb second half dismantlement on Boxing day against the Villa away..."
I need to work on the above ditty. The only thing Spurs need to work on is the January transfer window to sign that special type of player that can find space to aid with unlocking deep defending sides.
This game was a wonderful illustration of our strengths and one or two teething problems. Although I prefer to see the latter as growing 'pains'. Actually generally speaking it's more of an itch than a pain. And to be fair against Villa there wasn't even a need to scratch.
The first half was completely dominant in terms of Lilywhite (and blue shorts) possession. Lambert's young and still shell-shocked (from visit to Stamford Bridge) side sat back and watched Spurs move forward with the ball time and time again. It was mostly congested play in build up. That lack of space that teams simply refuse to surrender to us. It's sometimes easy to simply bane the blame on Tottenham's lack of ingenuity and creative craft in 'breaking down stubborn teams' but there's more than one way of skinning a cat (well, away from home there is). For all of the abject and nervous shape, Villa held it together whilst we teased them with knock-down ginger...never quite waiting for the door to open to home invade instead.
Another analogy befitting this Boxing Day banter would be a bulldozer ready to demolish with the key's to ignite the engine missing. We battered them with our ball retention. We cut them to shreds with the corners won statistics. What was missing? A goal. Something to change the pattern of the game. A goal usually does that quite well. In this case, one was not forthcoming. There wasn't really any negatives in the first half aside from that. Tempo was a little slow perhaps. Plenty of shots on goal but nothing to have you waving your heart around your head (a dipping Bale shot the only memory my brain chooses to remind me as an 'almost' moment).
Lloris spent most of the first half sitting on his goal-line chatting to Didier Deschamps on his mobile complaining that he's still not getting a game for Spurs.
However, having now seen the game three times (knowing the result for the 2nd and 3rd watch) removing anxious perception during the live coverage, we had plenty of decent efforts on their goal. Half chances, blocked shots. It was more decent than perhaps first perceived.
Still, things aren't perfect with two up front. We still need tweaking. Dempsey could have given us that missing dimension in link-up play. Bale looked hungry. Stomach rumbled. He could almost taste it. He must have seen the dessert menu lined-up for the second half. The first half have ended level and in a strange way the break proved to be the game's defining moment. It's impact as good as a goal. The pattern of play was broken thanks the interval.
Villa a slightly different proposition in the second half. Different in that they attempted to attack with some quantifiable energy. Lloris brilliantly saving a Benteke effort (offside, but intent from the home side). The game had opened up. The space that alluded us in the first half suddenly fluttered her eyelids and seductively purred Come and get me boys.
What resulted was an immaculate second half dismantlement of Aston Villa. Regardless of the difference in class between us and them, we can't take anything for granted and professionalism is paramount along with patience. We retained our focus and resolve. Away from home, on the counter...power and pace with a touch of precision. If you invite us in, we'll trash the place. The home invasion saw to that and the only villainy was our desire to own all the points.
Naughton's pass to Defoe for the first goal, brilliant. So was the finish. Through the legs.
The second a swashbuckle of a counter-attacking sucker-punch knocking the stuffing (Xmas pun done) out of Villa. Bale's flick and composure to round Guzan. Sandro's brilliant interception way back in our penalty area to start it all. Defoe understanding the laws of offside a big plus point.
Parker, Walker and Lennon the trio involved in the build up to Bale's second. Simple, controlled build up play executed perfectly.
The hat-trick complete after another subbed assist from Sigurdsson (tidy awareness) with Bale emphatically smashing the ball in to complete the second half rout.
Clinical cutting edge versus diabolical defending.
No necessity in this game for a midfield play-making / or van der Vaartesque maestro pulling the strings. No excuses required for citation. It might have been a different story had Villa repeated their first forty-five defeatism by camping out in their own half. But the moment the game opened our movement went up a notch and we duly punished them. Once we sign (hopefully) that play-maker, teams of Villa's quality might find themselves dealing with far heavier score-lines when facing men in Lilywhite and blue.
For all of the concern regarding Parker's return (he's not a Villas-Boas type of player some say) his busy passing fights off static play. Kudos to the full-backs, two very easy scapegoats for those that like to lay blame on something, anything in post-match meltdowns. Walker and Naughton involved in the goals, strong and positive in play. Lennon, once he's anchored himself into a game, is effective. He's been that for most of the season, in attack and in defence. Such a vital player for us. Sigurdsson is slowly bedding in. Assured and confident with his cameos, probably worth another starting eleven punt.
Dembele's reoccurring (needs an op) injury is a major concern. Adebayor struggling? Is he better suited as the lone forward? Half way through the season now and his own personal momentum remains erratic. He's trying to involve himself but hasn't found a groove.
As for Gareth Bale. He doesn't just play on the left. I'm going to stick my 'told you so hat' on for this. Always supported the decision to allow him to roam. Much like anything in life, it takes time and Bale's evolution continues. It's now with discipline and intelligence rather than the more superfluous attempts when he was first unleashed through the middle. A player of his undeniable quality shouldn't be held back or more to the point, held to the flank.
As for the Delph tackle on Bale? I guess it doesn't warrant a re-show on any highlights package. Remind yourself of that next time Gareth takes a 'dive'. I guess this is what happens when the player decides to allow the foul to be committed rather than attempt to avoid possible injury with intelligent avoidance.
As for the giddy Bale post-game touchline dance? Bless him. Bless Steffen Freund too for his Spurs fan celebrations.
Another clean-sheet is also worth a mention. Gallas (back in after Dawson lined-up against Stoke) performed with comfort. Regardless of the opposition, Villas-Boas selection was spot-on (oh hindsight, you wonderful thing you). Don't tell Jamie Redknapp that. His pre-match insight questioned the ethics of changing a back four off the back of a clean sheet. That's why you're a pundit Jamie and Villas-Boas is the Spurs coach.
Hope AVB continues to formulate some ilk of solution to our set-pieces (corners and free-kicks). The amount we have should be producing far more goals. Some interesting facts. We've yet to concede a goal in the opening 15 minutes of a game. We're also the only side to score in all of our away matches in the Prem this season. We've yet to be awarded a Prem penalty.
We were dominant. I'm sorry for the opposition. Their youth and their struggles. But today was all about us. I don't care for anyone else's plight. Tottenham we're mature and patient. Different type of test coming up away to Sunderland. They won't sit back. Our defence will be troubled far more than the scraps Villa offered.
This is a team in progress. A team that can still handle the pressures of competing for a top four place even with all the adjustments made since the summer and the ones we hope to see implemented between now and the end of the season. I keep preaching this no matter the result from any given weekend or midweek. We're not doing too badly considering all the negativity that still remains evident in both the press and some parts of our support fan-base. Best thing about AVB's Tottenham? We dig deep. When we drop points/lose and some expect the worst to follow, we go on another run. Onto the next game we march.
Villa were there to be beaten up. We beat them up.
"Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way...Oh what fun it is to see Tottenham win away..."