Blade runners blunt Spurs
I can't say I expected us to just about beat Sheffield United. I expected more spark. Instead of electricity we got by with candles. The fact it took a single goal from the penalty box sums it up perfectly.
This was a semi-final yet for the most part it felt like a mundane fixture had gate-crashed the evening and replaced that rocking vibe with a flat monotone beat. One that United controlled and had us shifting uncomfortably. Not too dissimilar to being in Fabric at 4am, zombified on ketamine, struggling to find a cohesive rhythm.
Nigel Clough, son of astute tactician, got his team to contain and counter whilst we failed to make any impact on the tempo of the game. I don't want to take away United's achievement here. It could so easily have been 0-0 and that would have been a brilliant result for them. 1-0 gives us the advantage (especially as an away goal for us next week could kill the game). However, we made their performance look even better with our failure to adapt to their organisation. Even after half time there wasn't that much going on. The substitutions helped but the difference was a puddle rather than a canyon.
I don't want to sound like I'm focusing on the negatives here. Especially as there's a massive con I want to discuss later. On the night, we failed to turn up. Kick off was delayed by 15 minutes after United got stuck on the North Circular and yet we ended up the ones that couldn't navigate our way through Yorkshire traffic.
There was no width. Nacer Chadli is on compassionate leave and Danny Rose was sat on the bench. The game was narrow and was never stretched enough. There wasn't enough flank action and we suffered for it because there was little to no action through the centre either. Again, credit to Clough's side for their shape but this was them surviving and doing it admirably. Their plan was to stop us from scoring and perhaps stealing a precious away goal. They couldn't dare to attack with more freedom as that would have given us the space to move the ball into positions of note. So what ends up happening is nothing much because we couldn't work out how to break them down. A common annoyance of recent seasons.
Ten efforts on goal and you have to shrug at the lack of creativity. Christian Eriksen with an off-night leaving us pretty much empty of ideas. Our passing was hardly sharp. Which leads me onto that aforementioned negative. The forward conundrum.
Emmanuel Adebayor was given the captaincy. No shocker here, he's vice-captain after-all. It was probably a gesture of support from Pochettino, backing the player and giving him a platform to lead the team after the booing he was subjected to last time out. He picked up a yellow card for 'hand to face' challenge which wasn't worthy of a red. Untidy rather than malicious.
Roberto Soldado remains damaged beyond repair so with Harry Kane our only performing player, we've had to accommodate Adebayor. This meant Kane was dropped into the number 10 role again. He got more involved the longer the game aged but wasn't as instrumental as he can be when pushed right up top.
Okay, so we all might question why take this risk of accommodation in an important cup semi-final? Why not? If he's impressed in training he has to start games and if we're concerned about his ability to perform against Sheffield United then that in its self is worrying. Yes, he's been away for a while but the other perspective is that we can't keep relying on Kane to carry us through. We have to be adaptable and we'll have to rotate to keep things fresh otherwise key on-form players will burn out and we'll be left with zero potency.
Soldado. A player that just can't find his groove or confidence. Adebayor. A player that remains the easiest of scapegoats for a multitude of reasons, mostly relating to inconsistency and his ability for off the field distractions. Where Soldado still has the backing of most within the stadium that sing his name and encourage him, Adebayor for some has exhausted countless opportunities to impress for longer than a patch of form. However, can't help but think this is only a minority and if he starts banging them in...forgive and forget will once more consume the necessity to abuse our own players, wearing our Lilywhite shirts.
This is the crux of our problem. We have a single working forward and two broken ones.
I think Poch was better off starting Kane up front and then slotting in Eriksen behind him and Mousa Dembele, another body in the middle. There has to be a more evident structure to the link our play. Easy for me to say this with hindsight.
As for the booing? Stupid. We've got three strikers. If no players are sold/bought then these three will need our backing no matter what because there are no other options. In the long term I can't see either of the two mentioned that are not Harry Kane remaining at the club beyond the summer. Until then, we have to make do.
As for the game, Soldado was involved with getting a touch to the ball that hit a defenders arm for the penalty that Andros Townsend fired in. The desperate among us will claim that as an indirect assist. We have slender lead for the second game. If you do happen to ignore all the average performances and focus on Sheffield United, considering our lacklustre turn out, 1-0 wasn't a bad result in the end. If you concentrate on the fact we failed to turn up, then we've made our lives tricky for the second leg. This being Spurs, are you really that surprised we've Spursed it up?
Thought Eric Dier and Jan Vertonghen played well, defended with composure and communication. That's about it.
Another cup game this weekend in the 4th Round of the FA Cup. We'll probably get treated to more depthy rotation. Here's hoping for something more progressive. I'm thinking 2am in one of the alternative rooms in Fabric where the beats per minute are more forgiving and we don't end up slumped in the corner licking the walls.