Every now and then we fall apart
I'm sat here in boxers and t-shirt, bloated on a takeaway and heavily quenched on alcoholic refreshments, wondering exactly how I should break down and analyse yet another smackdown layeth by the Manchester City all-stars against a bewildered battered Tottenham.
How do I?
You know the drill; I could either review the match as it played out as a singularity or I can do the exact same thing with the additions of all the long standing conundrums and narratives that appear to influence each performance. A case that there is no single isolated performance and that each set of 90+ minutes builds into a towering block. One that might stand tall or tumble every time it attempts to reach dizzying heights.
The same questions post-match are asked whether we win, lose or draw. I've often remarked that it's unlikely we'll see a completely cohesive unit for a fair while thanks to the problems we have. Some of the problems need the healing touch of time. Can we as a set of supporters and a club afford this often rejected luxury? Of course if you wish to reject the rationalising you might instead conclude the problems can't be fixed.
So what went wrong against City? What went right?
Caveat time. I have no agenda. I don't aim to please any particular train of thought or fragment of the fanbase. Seems that our on-line communities are splintered with people standing either side of a fence regardless of the subject matter. You either have to hate something or love it. You either see the negatives in everything or the positives. Dare to stand on the fence and you've sanitised your opinion.
I'm not sure if this is a consequence of social media and it's unrelenting appetite for those involved to shout against the voices of others or simply that the expectation of what we should be achieving isn't being synced to the reality of our predicament and some prefer to ignore this divisive factor.
We turned up, we played relatively well. At times some of the football was solid. That's up top rather than at the back. It wasn't spectacular, but it consisted of structural purpose and spark. Shape was evident if possession was at times untidy. We attacked with growing evidence of an understanding between the midfield trio (Eriksen, Lamela, Chadli) even if there are still plentiful individual quirks that mean it isn't as sharp and sexy as it could be.
That early exchange involving Soldado, Lamela and Mason was excellent. Deserved a finish. Mason later had another effort saved by Hart. Shame he couldn't stick one in. The quirks seem to have settled with that final killer clinical touch still MIA. The good thing is, we're getting into the positions to lament the miss.
It's hard to know if with each passing game we'll continue to improve. Eriksen was deeply involved but then dwarfed by the majesty of a City midfield that didn't need to power-up a level or two to bully their way though. Capoue was disciplined but not outwardly influential. It's fine having a side selected to do a job but we need to be pro-active rather than reactive. Arguably we might not be able to do so because we simply do not have the personnel for it. That's fairly depressing when you dare to remember the game where Defoe almost toe-poked us to victory before a unpunished stamp and penalty left us with nothing.
I'm trying to retain some balance here. I'm not disputing the attacking intent and effort displayed and the fact that we are beginning to show signs of connectivity is grand but it leaves us with little if we're unable to be aggressive and brutal with our application. The likes of City won't shed a tear at our complacency.
Young Mason displayed tenacious traits, quick to touch and pass allowing little opportunity to be disposed. Here's a prototype, be it one that has been left behind in the factory for a year or two, dusted off as brand new and oiled up. With Pochettino citing the academy we can only hope that other kids develop and break into the team with more pace than our previously slow introductions. With the very best players out of our reach thanks to financial restrictions, I'd love to see us truly - for the first time in generations - succeed with our youth program. Of course, that doesn't help us here and now.
Fazio partnered Kaboul in the centre of defence with Vertonghen benched because of international duty or because Poch doesn't fancy him (depending on what story arc is more fulfilling to you). With Dier on one defensive flank and Rose on the other, for all the transfer captures and the focus on defence we still look like a platoon walking into a booby-trapped village. Kaboul didn't play well. How's that for punchy insight. We might as well have started Ledley King, sat in a remote-controlled Sainsbury's trolley. Kaboul was tormented, turned inside out by Sergio Aguero.
If the attack was good, the defence wasn't.
Football is predominately made up of players making mistakes and opposition players punishing them. Occasional brilliance or just very good football can change games and also force the opposing side to collapse and concede more. With Tottenham we seem to be in this perpetual state of flux. Under Harry Redknapp and at times under AVB we looked the part. We are now missing several parts.
City didn't need to be at their best. We are way off the mystical mythical best that we continue to search and wait for. As we seem incapable of harnessing luck and harmonising our rhythm we are often left singing a bum note.
Don't take your chances? Don't make the most of final third possession? Gifted City with opportunities? Then don't be surprised when the far superior host is able to step up and inflict damage. Equally don't shy away from the fact that if you make it relatively easy for them to do so, then you can't bemoan the result too much.
Yes, Jonathan Moss (the referee) awarded a penalty so soft it could put the Sandman to sleep. And yes he pointed to the spot another three times and could have done so again had he treated every incident in the same manner it deserved to be - as an incident that warranted a decision. Although if he's going to get decisions wrong he's bound to ignore the ones that should have been right. I'm talking generally now, not just with the pens.
1-0 down with Lamela losing the ball and Lampard assisting for Sergio to put the Citizens a goal up with a go-it-alone finish, tucking the ball away in the corner.
1-1. 90 seconds later Eriksen equalises and you think 'hello'. Another mistake, Fernando static and Mason accepting the free challenge to guide the ball to Soldado. The Spaniard then sending the ball through to Christian. He pinged his shot through Hart.
2-1 down. Lamela looked to invade the space around Lampard, disturbing the sub-atomic level, generating particle displacement that threw the ex-Chelsea irritant to the ground. The pen slotted away, easily.
The second penalty witnessed a Hackney Marshes challenge from captain and leader Younes, leading by example...leading us to certain defeat. Aguero's effort was saved by Hugo Lloris and his flying follow-up flew over the bar. Spurs fans flying over the cuckoo's nest if they thought this was somehow a way back into the game.
Behold penalty number three. Perhaps it was a way back in? It was. We just didn't take it. Demichelis with the foul on Soldado. Although in the interest of being fair and unbiased, there was as much of a touch on this as the one on Lampard by Lamela. His placement wasn't powerful enough to beat Hart and where a 2-2 scoreline might have still seen us lose, it could have also galvanised us. That inability to create our own luck continuing to mock us.
3-1. The fourth penalty killed the game. Fazio (on second viewing) doing the stupid thing after what looked like an inexplicably header by Rose out on the wing (in an attempt to defend) gifting the ball to Navas, leading to a cross and a pull-back by Fazio on the annoyingly good Aguero. Goal-scoring opportunity denied? Red card warranted? Probably the right decision when watched a few times over and trigger-happy Moss making sure the game persisted to make his day. No denying the Argentine this time.
4-1. Ten men Tottenham now doomed. Still, our effort to get forward when possible was admirable but alas, we got slapped one final time by 'you know who', when our offside trap failed to snare him. A move starting with a quickly taken free-kick to release Aguero (Christ, how many times must I mention him?), our players pretty much disheartened at this point, displayed with the disparaging application to keep up with him.
Might have been five, but the woodwork was thankfully kind to us.
I've seen this game twice now and it's easier viewing second time round although hardly comforting. The bruising truth is that at this level you can't afford to make mistakes. Be it defensively or wasteful with ball at feet. We took the game to City even if we still resemble a team that has a tendency to misfire in key positions. 19 efforts on goal to their 20 is a stat you can find some solace in. Four goals to our single effort is the only stat that matters.
Soldado looks to be drained of the confidence that he'll ever be able to make a go of it in England if you take into consideration almost every game since his début, discounting the ones he's scored goals in. He is competent with the basics in and around the pen area and when we push forward but as a spear-head, a target or a goal creator or chancer, he's like a town at the bottom of a sink-hole. You know there was life there once but it's gone. The sign post leads to nowhere.
He assisted a goal and assisted another goal scoring opportunity and worked well with Eriksen, Lamela and Chadli - so to be fair, he was as good as any other Spurs player out there. Hart also agonisingly (for him and us) saved what could so easily have been a goal when Soldado connected with a cross. He also won a penalty. But he also missed the penalty. It's becoming an art form, poetically apologetic with his attempts to break through and claim his place as a pure goal-poaching, goal-scoring leading man.
The fact that the games where goals are scored from the foot of Soldado are discounted is because they are isolated incidents. He's never given enough games to claim anything more than afterthoughts of industrious running but without the glorified end product that supporters crave for.
Lamela appears to be easily pushed off the ball and still retains it for too long never looking to be instinctive enough with the pass or shot. Eriksen did however look the part and if you detach yourself from the emotive elements (I know we can't because we're not neutrals) the game was tempo-driven and frantically played out. More composure and intelligence from our defenders and it might have been a different result. Thankfully Hugo was alert enough to save us (and keep the score-line respectable compared to previous thumpings) on the occasions that his duels with Aguero did not involve the ball being placed on the spot. Hart equally strong between his own sticks.
This defeat, as ugly as the scoreline looks on paper, is not comparable to the drubbing dished out when we last visited with Andre Villas-Boas. In that particular encounter we were abject from the start, where one mistake multiplied into several like water touching the back of a Mogwai and populating the pitch with Gremlins, destroying everything they touched.
We did well but we still lost 4-1. The difference between a finished article and a work in progress.
I'm still sat in my boxers. Still drinking. Pretty much over the defeat and ready for the next encounter that will no doubt see us asking the same questions and waiting for the answers to break away from being cameos of momentary enlightenment. Why can't £100M+ worth of players not blend and gel effectively and quickly? Answers to THFC, N17.
Personally my expectations are in stasis. Pochettino has inherited a mess of a squad lacking the spine of that Redknapp side and the spirit of AVB's before that evaporated. He appears to be avoiding any of the back to basics ethics (that Tim Sherwood implemented to momentarily recovery the team when he took over) preferring to start from scratch. The birth of his philosophy remains in labour. There's hardly been enough games to decide if this is going to be a natural conclusion or require further surgery. Someone pass me the gas and air.
Another weekend eclipse for Tottenham. I may as well close my eyes and embrace the darkness. It's easier to dream when there's nothing to distract your imagination.
article was written late saturday evening. in case you're wondering about the boxers