Tottenham 2 Leicester 2
When we took the lead I thought we'd win easily. Something about the tempo in those opening minutes that I really fancied. Moved the ball well, worked it into the box with purpose. Nice early goal, shift on from there. Right? Wrong. They equalised ten minutes later thanks to some poor defending, Toby losing his marker and then getting lost in amongst Lilywhite shirts. Ominous when they took the lead through an 'inspired' substitution at the start of the second half. Everything in-between and after leading up to the last gasp penalty can be simplified with the following statements:
We need another striker
Striker, another is needed
Harry Kane scored his 50th goal for us (that's 50 in 104, that's staggeringly good) to send our double encounter with City to a triple threat. The league game is up next on Wednesday. The penalty wasn't controversial, just perfectly timed. Yes, you'd be gutted if it happened against you but watch the replay and don't get too hung up over whether there was intention or not. His arm and hand move in the direction of the ball, sending it away. Hard luck for them. Considering the blatant decisions we've had to face in our recent history with non-goals and the like, I can easily accept this fortuitous incident and gratefully take the away trip as penance.
I said it before this encounter and in practically all recent cup ties that it isn't about you or me prioritising what we'd like to win or achieve. It's about how our team and most clubs approach these competitions. Once more (as predicated) rotation played a massive part for both. Leicester improved on their performance in the second forty-five where as we struggled to connect the dots. It's not so much a case of it being a mish-mash of players that don't quite shape up well together. It's a repeat of the long standing issue of not having an alternative striker to lead the front-line from the start.
Regardless of some of the less than sharp final third play if you re-watch the game (or visit OptaJoe) you'll note we had plenty of the possession and a shed load of attempts at goal. Some well wide of the mark but the point here is there wasn't definable quality where it mattered and it matters aplenty that the spine of any team is strong from top to bottom. Spurs can just about get away with playing a second string if the balance is there in all key areas. It wasn't on this occasion. City were organised and improved. We didn't shake it up enough to craft something from nothing. Maybe we did get away with it playing a second string.
Son was out of position. Chadli is ghosting. Onomah displayed good awareness and skills but isn't going to fill the void from the wing or centrally when Kane is benched. Add to it the poor defending for both goals and some frustrating set-pieces (the corners especially are brain numbing when we fail to beat the first man) and you've got a poor imitation of what we usually deliver. I'm not being harsh here and not even critical, I'm not angry or particularity irritated. We always run the risk of deficiency in these types of games (and selections) because we're a very finely tuned team that needs all key players lined-up to fire on all cylinders. Change some parts and you impact gear change and steering. It's not a smooth experience when you're riding along with the kit car version of the real thing.
The result and performance might have been better if we started with Alli and Kane but the reality is, the Cup - even this one - is second fiddle to the league. Amazing to think this. You have to wonder why it's supposedly so difficult to try and finish as high as possible (Champions League scream the masses) and win a cup. It's not impossible. We know that thanks to disparaging results elsewhere. But perhaps this is down to quality and depth of squad and maybe Poch and his team know we're not as robust as we think we can be across two competitions.
I'm really stretching here...I really am. I don't actually believe the above but I'm attempting to understand some of the logic and pragmatism at play.
Pochettino made changes. It's a given. We want silverware but it seems to be routine to 'rest players' for these games rather than it being 'five' games from a final. Maybe the mentality is that we (or anyone) can look to win it regardless of rotating. Everyone rotates so we're all sort of on equal pegging when it comes to the pool of quality we select from. I don't believe that either. I think it's a calculated risk and a sacrifice that they'll accept.
I do wonder though, even with the Wednesday game ahead and the irony that rotating means we now get an extra match when we visit Leicester for the replay, just how demanding on the body it is to play two (near enough) full strength sides for two important games? Perhaps the game of inches theorem kicks in here. That the total kilometres run and that extra bit of lung busting energy can be so very telling late in games. Which basically means a strong Spurs team beating them in the cup and then the same team lagging in the league game and losing it isn't a viable option or risk to take.
We (our club rather than the supporters, or at least most supporters) would rather draw the first game (or lose it) and win/draw the second in place of winning the first and losing the second. Got to have that lung bursting energy in the locker, that's the priority. But hold on, surely if you play a stronger side first time round you can then sub players late in the game and rest them making them a touch fresher for the second? But then they wouldn't be completely fresh,would they?
I'm splitting hairs. I'm stretching like Armstrong.
Fact is, there isn't that old fashion singularity with fans and clubs where something like the FA Cup is as prestigious and important as the League title. Gone are the days when the entirety of cup final build up starts from 9am and works itself up into a glorious frenzy for kick-off. Remember, we live in an age where 4th spot is perceived as a goal and success because of the prize it offers. It's sad but it's reality. It's one I've advocated (if you're finishing top four season in and season our then you'll likely be tenfold more competitive in cup competitions). That gap might not be as substantial as it once was but the ideology still persists.
So we're left in the usual position. Cup games don't matter as much.
Players talk about the magic of it and how much they love it but it's not quite applied by one and all. As for us, the faithful, this ilk of discussion usually has the fan-base attempting to validate what is important and what should be a priority. It lends itself heavily towards the issue that everything is so deliberate these days.
We're about to play a knock-out game of football but our minds are preparing for the next game.
This shouldn't be about priority. It should be about wanting to claim something that you can stick ribbons on.
What happened to history making and playing for silverware, for the occasion, like it's the last game we'll ever play? Oh hold on...I've already answered this. We're not breaking free of this cycle any time soon.
So brace yourselves and watch the difference on Wednesday. I'm willing to bet that game is a far more intense ninety minutes. You might remark that it's important for reasons that concern that almost impossible to entertain title push. That the club and players are being ambitious on a level that goes beyond a single game of cup football. That three points might not seem like a lot but within the context of thirty eight of them it could make or break us at the end of it all. I understand this. But still, I look at momentum as a fuel that can drive you forward. Winning a cup that was once synonymous with us appears to be as far fetched as aiming for a lofty position that's alluded us for generations.
I'm greedy. I want us to win every game. I'll be more forgiving if we get all three points next time at White Hart Lane. If we win the replay then all this philosophical searching will be for nothing and the risk management at play turns out to be ballsy coaching. Poch knows best, right? He trusts these players to do a job for him, first team or not. A fair few need more game time which means from his perspective a good competitive game is the exact type they need to be involved in. As we might not be purchasing too many players in the next month, these games are vital for the returning players and those on the fringe and for resting others to avoid burn out later on in the season. Still, get knocked out, and there's only the Europa left for the experiments.
In the end, we're still in the cup. I'll have taken that gladly before kick-off.