You can't win anything with kids
I've had time to digest the performance and the result. Disappointing, wasn't it? When you're two nil up and relatively comfortable you don't expect to let it slip with such casualness. Yes, that's right, I'm talking about Tottenham here. I don't buy into this 'Spurs doing a Spurs' rhetoric which is mostly played for self-deprecating laughs by our own fanbase and then stolen by mocking rivals and pundits. Anybody would think that no other team in the known universe drops points from a winning position. It's football. It happens. When we won games late on last season did they quantify as 'doing a Spurs'? Or was the opposing side doing a Spurs by letting us steal the points?
Away to Utd last weekend, the hosts countered from a give-away ball and scored. You'll find most goals scored are thanks to mistakes. Ben Davies hardly immaculate with his effort for Stokes second goal. If we stuck away every chance we had, we'd probably never lose. But sure, I get it, it's frustrating that we never quite find that second gear and that killer edge to our game. That undying spirit we had has (for the moment) been lost. Don't fret, it's behind the sofa, we'll find it soon enough.
It was crap to draw the game. It feels like we lost it. It once more illustrated the fact that we're not a compact unit and that as good as we can play in pockets we can't quite muster a more mature and professional execution of the tactics.
Spurs dropped a two goal lead because of the penalty that was rewarded after Alderweireld grabbed Joselu in the box. Lovely bit of skill to out smart our defender and then gravity doing the rest. Schoolboy error from Toby. That was Stoke's helping hand. That slice of fortune that eluded them from open play. If it never happened, blah blah blah. It did and their performance level improved enough to put us under more pressure. To be perfectly fair to them from around the 60th minute our tempo (which was mostly passive aggressive) started to slow down. Stoke created chances thanks to the new found freedom so an equaliser looked far more likely than a third goal for us. Diouf finally getting on the end of a dangerously brilliant ball from the super effective Stephen Ireland (off the bench to torment). We could have defended the whole incident with better conviction. To think it started off so well.
Much like at Old Trafford we looked fairly solid with a decent balance in defence and attack. Good pressing, some neat touches and some final third intent. Ignoring Hugo Lloris and his almost calamitous pass, Stoke were shambolic in comparison during the first 45.
Loved the vision from Christian Eriksen over the top for Nacer Chadli, his touch heavier than an Opus. Harry Kane also with a couple of deliciously sublime passes, including picking out Ryan Mason who was unlucky not to nudge the ball past Butland. Eric Dier stuck us ahead, with the back of his head into the back of the net. Chadli with the second after Ben Davies found his inner Danny Rose, lobbing the ball into the box for the hairless man-dolphin to slot home. 2-0 and just before half-time (another Spurs thing to do would be to concede a goal before the break). Instead it was the perfect time to consolidate our lead.
At this point in the game, there were positives and a few reminders of work that still needs to be completed. We dominated possession yet in amongst it all there wasn't enough shared creativity. There also wasn't any explosiveness. We can carry the ball forward in transitions, sure we can also counter quickly but sometimes you want to see more tenacious movement. More guile. If you're going to act the big man and take the scrawny kids dinner money then don't just bully him, slap him down. Give him a nose bleed. Let him know that getting up isn't an option. Spurs, much like last season, can compete with most opposing sides without having to excel and most of the time will probably come away with all the points. But if we don't quite make sure of it, if we don't seek to own the game convincingly then we invite a collapse and drop points. It doesn't have to be comical or capitulating either. Just soft. Maybe Spurs doing a Spurs is actually a nod towards never seeming to progress to that next level, which remains only a step away.
What transpired in the second half was the perfect illustration of how fragile the team is and emphasised once again that key areas need bolstering. That might be an over-reaction. I have already advocated the reality that sh*t happens. The general negative reaction of the masses over on social media is mainly because we are never settled at the start of the season (but then, who is?) and why should the troubles of others be a constant excuse for us?
Harry Kane was subbed off (post-match, Pochettino confirmed the player isn't quite fully fit and cited tiredness - thus a precautionary change, even though it's ridiculous there's no cover for him from the off). The problem was that Erik Lamela (replacing Harry) wasn't a very good idea in application. The Argentine was so poor when he was subbed on, he looked like Erik Lamela being subbed on. Poch and his decision on the changes a far more relevant target for head-scratching. Pass the buck to the chairman if the options on the bench aren't strong enough. Or just shrug and accept it's early days and the look of the side (with and without strategic swaps) will take a few games to bed in. As for Erik, he has heart, he knows what he wants but he struggles to conceptualise it, a little like me when experiencing sleep paralysis. I want to lift myself up from the bed to break away from the nightmare but remain frozen in fear.
Mason was also subbed for Nabil Bentaleb. We already looked lethargic with momentum and we lost all of it in the space of ten minutes. There isn't anything to bind together the defence and attack when the opposing side lift their game (compared to being far more balance when they couldn't compete). A make-shift midfield and no like-for-like forward on the bench meant there was no longer a spear-head that could lead the front-line. It's vital that players with key responsibilities own that role. Only takes a couple to struggle and equilibrium is lost.
Sure, if the penalty never happened then we wouldn't be talking about the subs with such microscopic critique. Mason for Bentaleb shouldn't impact us detrimentally (although Mason was superb and Nabil failed to ignite). Maybe keeping shape (and avoiding subs) would have kept us steady. Or maybe mentally, we already let the game slip away. The thing is, can we really bemoan the subs? Really? It's our squad and even if we still need players to come in, we must surely accept the options we currently have as long term ones.
Before the penalty and the subs, Lloris produced a fine save. We also carved out the odd chance. A stronger team with a more adjusted and robust plan would have killed the game off - be it with a third goal or simply by staking claim in the middle. The former would be a player with pace to inject a more (ball on the ground) direct approach, the latter an experienced defensive midfielder to lead by example and give our central pairing a more distinguishable presence.
Yes, we're back to the summers most recycled soundbites: We need two more forwards and a fully fledged end product article of a midfielder. The raw and very quick Clinton N'Jie has signed, so that's one out of three. Not having these players, say during the pre-season, means that I don't expect our side to settle for a few more games. Away to Leicester next really does place the pressure of expectation on Poch, the players and the chairman. There shouldn't be this ilk of nervousness this early. There's no argument here that this is very much a Tottenhamesque scenario and embarrassing only because we laugh at them lot down the road for being so melty and fickle from one game to the next.
Spurs might have got rid of the players they no longer want and made outcasts of Adebayor and Lennon but if we're not going to fix the obvious flaws then we'll probably just do what we did last season again. Even if we do sign the players we need we might still end up doing the same thanks to the damning reality that exists to separate us and the 'top four' super rich. But having those players can easily stick us in the mix thanks to the seasonal flux the ones above always seem to suffer.
We already have a better, more refined squad, than we did last season. We still have players to return and break into the side. In the long term it isn't enough to push up to that next level until we add the depth we quite obviously need. Poch citied the necessity to be more consistent. We need to defend crosses far better too. But if we want to bully teams and if we want to be in a position to display ruthless traits, we need our spine to be solidified with aggression - in style and in determination - to hold it all together and not let the away side back into it. The consistency element rings true not just as a team but also as individuals. If Eriksen goes missing (for example) so does our creativity. One outlet isn't enough.
We've regressed, not over this past summer but over the past few seasons. But we at least understand the qualities required if we wish to step up again (our away form being a massive psychological improvement thanks to Redknapp and AVB). It's a shame we're in the midst of an identity crisis but it's hardly breaking news. We could do with a Parker or a Modric. We'll end up looking towards some of our younger players (Carroll, Pritchard, Alli) instead for vision and progressive football but that elusive DM role is key to defining the type of season we'll have. We need that anchor in the middle. We need more than kids even if the kids are the best thing about Spurs. Mentally, physically...we need to be complementary.
Just like away to Utd, regardless of the result, the performance left us with questions that need to be addressed and answered convincingly. 2-0 or 2-2 at home to Stoke, it doesn't matter, the same questions will stare straight back at us. Still, it's only the second game of the season. Right? Two games and for the most part we've played okay but just haven't been tight enough and thus punished for the indiscretions. When I look back at the game we did create some decent opportunities but lacked the sharpness to finish them that will no doubt be there in the coming weeks.
Crisis therefore averted.