Bournemouth 0 Tottenham 0
Not a great away day. We lacked ye olde Poch press and swarm. No zest. Once more blunt up front, a little fatigued thanks to the trip to Germany earlier in the week. Rotation wasn't embraced and it showed. You only had to look at Danny Rose and his lack of sharpness to know it was going to be one of those slack afternoons. Am I searching for an excuse? Well, yes. I guess so. However, ignoring the European hangover wobble and even the selection, Spurs still appeared fragmented with shape. We're meant to have depth in strength. So why did we fail to dive into the deep end?
Fluidity was MIA. The players as a collective were not at the races in the first forty-five and then pretty dominant in the second without really doing that much in front of goal. Not enough guile and precision. They pushed into us with success and then when we pressed back, there was no space to roam effectively in. Eddie Howe nowhere near as naive as he was last season when we thumped them 5-1. Then at the death the home side actually looked the most likely to steal all three points. A couple of last ditch tackles saving our blushes.
Hugo Lloris, much earlier in the game, saved onto the bar from a Charlie Daniels 'he should have scored' effort. He reacted superbly to deflect the ball upwards and over. Erik Lamela also had a shot tease the outside of the framework (was always going wide of the net). It was all very polite. Aside from the tackles.
There was plenty of yellow cards dished out to our lot. Clumsy, awkward and unnecessary fouls. Lamela practically begging to be substituted. Another ref might have sent him off. He's not quite wired right. He plays football like I play Pro Evolution Soccer...drunk, smashing my controller with my thumbs in a frenzy when I forget the correct button combinations. He had a quintessential Coco performance. Covered plenty of ground and attempted to get involved but then with ball at feet didn't quite distinguish the difference between being in possession and doing something productive with said possession.
He also doesn't pull the trigger when he should. It's like he pauses his instincts and then releases them seconds too late. Here's the problem with our Argentine enigma;
He can be a vital cog in our teams game-play mechanics. It's usually in games where the team is on form (allowing him to also excel and provide that extra something special) or when he's able to provide missing tricks when coming off the bench. But it's usually in big occasions. He can also hit the sweet spot with instructions given to him, pressing like a maniac to good effect and thus dictating the type of tempo his team mates must then match. Hardly the glamorous stuff but to quote Marcelo Bielsa - 'running is everything'. However, it doesn't happen often enough, the tricks. So if you're thinking this description is a little messy and erratic with explanation than I've done my job in illustrating the maddening contradictions of Erik Lamela to you. He's a bit of everything without actually being something.
Purely with the Bournemouth game in mind, his end product wasn't evident. A killer touch most definitely not present. The same can be said for Christian Eriksen. He's degraded in recent weeks. Okay, yes, he covers a stupendous amount of yards. He gets in touches and plays passes in positions that we (as supporters that seek entertainment and creativity) probably ignore and dismiss as not being that interesting or important. He also grafts. But he also pulls out of challenges and his application can at times be lightweight. He should be doing so much more with his movement and positioning. I referred to him a ninja earlier in the season. A silent assassin. There's been no murders recently. He's ghosted in and out of games. More Casper than Freddy Krueger.
Players like Lamela and Eriksen are imperative to the way we transition from midfield to attack and if both are out of sorts then we're going to struggle in the final third. We need them on point for the intricacies of our play to flourish. Spurs have been guilty of creating chances with direct football but it's been akin to a boxer throwing the same punch time and time again until one of them lands. There's been no switch from orthodox to southpaw. No fancy footwork to dazzle and dizzy up the opponent.
Some of our best football is with Erik and Christian in the team alongside Harry Kane. We might still be unbeaten but unfortunately we've lost the magic in the wait for Kane's return (which is soon thankfully, very soon). At the moment both might be a better option from the bench. Players that are key need to be far more influential when the teams synergy levels hit a lull, otherwise the backbone of the side is having to carry dead weight.
But we have alternatives right? We can swap and change?
Well, yes and no.
Son struggled. He struggled because he's been given the forward position as his starting role. He does however drop back and Dele Alli is sometimes the one pushing forward to give us that extra impetus. It's not quite connecting in the same way Alli and Kane work. It's not slick. Mainly because Kane is a striker and Son isn't. Now if Son was coming in from the flank, it could allow him to reignite some of that pace driven directness from earlier games.
It goes back to the question of shape. We've gone from hourglass to a sack potatoes. Guess that makes us spuds after-all. Although potatoes are versatile. We are currently guilty of under cooking all our ingredients. Too many cooks spoil the broth leaving Son and Alli starved.
It's not a disaster or a crisis. It's just frustrating. A minor slump. Where we are these-days and where we want to be (title challenging), it means we have to be better. Or rather we have less time than we did in the past in attempting to correct mistakes, improve and move forward.
Mauricio Pochettino brought on the luckless Vincent Janssen and he once more got himself into positions, just not the ones you'd associate with a goalscorer. I'm not criticising the player and his work ethic. I think he's had a tough start to his Spurs career but he's still been competitive and has looked the part (in terms of ability and team contribution). Yet we've somehow managed to suck away his instinctive traits with smacking the ball towards goal. It's all disjointed and he's got no consistency to anchor himself to try and create an identity with his new club. He's a young lad and I hate to bring this up in late October...but we might need a more settled, experience striker to join the squad (or one of already polished world class skills*). To bolster us further and make sure we are completely covered for any given scenario.
*A catalyst, a van der Vaart (okay, he's not a striker but you get my thinking on this). Someone that breaks conformity but can still be disciplined enough not to go full rouge (as he has to fit the Poch template). As supporters, we know a bit about mavericks. It would be in-keep with tradition to have one provide us with the occasional escape plan.
Son and Alli being subbed (both players the most likely to score based on recent form) might have had more to do with fitness/tiredness. Regardless, any edge we aspired to attain was lost with those two going off. Elsewhere, Mousa Dembele completed ninety minutes as he works towards reclaiming his throne in centre-mid. Victor Wanyama was outstanding again. To repeat another popular and repeated (weekly) insight, here's a player we all thought would be an addition to the squad rather than one that would improve the first team. We do love being wrong with our pre-season predictions. We're more Mayan than we are Nostradamus.
Moussa Sissoko's elbow was more impressive than his football. It's another one of those ongoing conundrums. It shouldn't be a puzzle the manager needs to solve. We paid £30M for his talents, we should know what to do with him. We can't define those talents until he starts to play in a position that provides him with an opportunity to solidify them. I don't care about Newcastle, it's how he settles and performs at Spurs that matters. The elbow might have been an accident. Only Moussa knows. It's his feet I'm more concerned with.
Sky Sports were very pro-punish Sissoko in the aftermath of the elbow although they did at least repeat Harry Arter's statement that he felt it was accidental. Not too much said about Arter's tackle on Wanyama. The narrative algorithm always set to cater for the perceived underdog.
(edit: Sissoko charged by the FA)
Eric Dier was composed alongside Jan Vertonghen. The latter doing well to remind everyone that Toby Alderweireld is only as great as he is because he's lined up alongside him. Both are excellent footballers and this defence (even with Toby sidelined) is the best in (my) living memory. We've had great individual defenders down the years (Perryman, Roberts, Gough, Mabbutt, King - I only go as far back as remembering the 80s) but never a great unit. It's surreal we've managed to become such a solid side at the back and now struggle (for a few games every so often) to spark up front.
I'm sure we'll ruin teams when Kane returns. Our shape and dynamism will remould to something a little more familiar. It will have an impact on other players too. We've seen it before, reaching higher levels of football then everything and everyone begin to click. We just don't have that creative baller, that visionary, to win us games when everyone else is below par. Not at the moment.
So, three draws on the trot. WBA and Bournemouth not the best offering of modern day Tottenham. It's testament to our present day stature that expectancy is high. It's a good place to be regardless of how gutting it was to fail to find a way through. But I'm not going to get too immersive with the blame game. I'm sat here, once more in the middle, trying to retain a sense of balance. I'm patient and reflective but also confident. Poch has work to do. He has to find the only type of balance that matters. The one on the pitch and not the one I seek to comfort myself with here, scribbling down feel good words on a blog.
With Liverpool in the cup this Tuesday and then Leicester City at the Lane, this month persists with its challenges and more draws are not the answer the questions being posed demand. Although I'm not sure how much I care about the League Cup when considering the league fixtures. I would still hate to lose at Anfield and fancy us to make mass changes. So not sure what to expect.
For all the media and supporter hype around Poch, he's still finding his way. Or rather, he's still designing and building. He finds himself in a new position as a coach. Do we need to win these types of games to win the league? Yes. Well, obviously. We have to find a way, regardless of style ethics. They'll be games we don't deserve to win that we'll win. Games we'll dominate and lose. I can do these cliches all night long. You've seen plenty of examples of them in recent seasons. We don't own the copyright to them either - it's football, it happens to every single club. Win as many as you can, avoid defeat even if it means drawing. A winning mentality has its caveats.
Last season was great in terms of bouncing back from upsets. In order to control the pressure that's applied to our ambitions and not fall behind - we'll have to be far sharper in presentation and execution. Chasing others proved too much last term. We can't repeat that if we're serious about contending again. We can't repeat it if we want to control our own destiny. That's the next step up and it shouldn't be disparaged and we shouldn't be fearful either. How else are we going to get there without understanding how to navigate the obstacles set in our way? Most of the obstacles are ones within, characteristics that belong to us that we need to transform from coal to diamond.
And if we win the next three league games? Then what? Does it change how you feel about the past two results? And if we just about win one or two of the three? Maybe we play poorly and get lucky? Do we remain critical of how we got the points or tag it with that other cliche, the one about 'prospective champions always find a way, no matter what'.
The table means nothing to me until the 20th game. I'd worry in another five if we're still making hard work of our penalty box endeavour. Every week it's the same thing, results/performances taken in isolation and dissected to pieces and then ignored the following week when a new result grabs all the attention and makes the previous one redundant. Hence why I continue to preach about context and games across weeks and not just on a single weekend.
Draws aren't great and winning one and losing the other will provide more points - as so many highlighted post-match (I guess mathematics is the science of football). Just the single point more, mind. Hardly game changing although 'they all add up at the end of the season' (cliche overload). Let's not pretend supporters wouldn't be moody about losing one of those games, in this parallel universe they lust after. You'd hear fans argue '...winning the first game has been wiped out cause we lost the second'. Hindsight just doesn't cut it in this single existence we all share. We can't change what's happened but we can prepare more effectively for the next one.
Remaining unbeaten isn't the goal but it's a pretty tidy platform to build on. We're not losing games. Improve just a little and the platform turns into a springboard. Spurs are robust, resilient and don't give much away in the spaces bossed by defensive midfielders. Regardless of the system played there isn't a need for a mass overhaul of tactics and formation. Fine tuning and perhaps a touch of wax so we can rediscover our shine.
I could see Spurs improving last season, I called it and we got close but not close enough. I see it again this season. We are not the finished article. Neither is Poch. If the 0-0 was proof as to why we wont win the league, well...we won't win it. Every supporter of a club that is expected to challenge is going to claim to know exactly how their coach can manage them towards the title. I'm sure most don't really think it's that easy. It isn't. It shouldn't be when we are compared pound for pound with the other clubs. We are turning into persistent home invaders. We just have to do enough to claim the ransom and avoid the panic room.
Last season proved just how monumental the effort required has to be. It's a massive undertaking. It's not something we have experience in. Last season and hopefully this season is the first truly realistic push for top spot we've had. Perspective isn't there to facilitate pretence and avoidance of harsh realities. We have many imperfections. Yet we are still stunning to look at. Remember at the height of the chase, we got called the best team in the country. Everything fell into place. Even the fan-base was united as one. Our team empowered us to believe. It was scintillating and equally so tormenting. Football at the top is altogether a different type of experience and one we continue to adjust to as followers of THFC. I love the taste of it. I want more of that kool-aid.
We need more swagger mixed with aggression. It's not just about what you've got, it's about how you use it. Style, substance and a bit of whatever it is that gives you the edge over the teams that think they have the edge.
I'll end it with the gaffer's words:
"It is true to be a contender we should be winning games like today."
I said that. You said it too, I'm certain of it.
So onwards together because who else we got?
Epilogue (Sunday night)
We've started as well as any other side at the top. It's just nine games. Nine. We've got nineteen points from a possible twenty-seven, surrendering eight. Too many draws? Sure, but I'd rather be closer to winning those games than actually losing them and getting nothing. And we are closer to winning them than losing them? You have to be ridiculously fragile to think we're on the verge of some type of physical and mental collapse.
You can shout from the rooftops about 'going for it' because three points will make all the difference but as much as the swashbuckling ethic is the essence of Tottenham Hotspur, if we're serious about winning the league we also need to be tight and hard to beat. It's the sacrifice we all know we have to make. We didn't bottle going top on Saturday afternoon, we just didn't do enough to craft a golden opportunity to win the game. Swagger is still important but so is safe guarding your possessions.
Last season and this season...every season since Pochettino's arrival is about momentum that grows from one year to the next. Short term, long term...it becomes one and the same thing. Spurs will lose games but the philosophy itself has to retain an air of invincibility in the players mindset. Regardless of how testing the journey is, we arrive at our destination by never losing focus. We learn and mature by pushing the f**k on with it. Does the last campaign count for nothing?
We are still in the midst of the journey.
With so many fixtures there's perhaps a pace to our approach that once more won't be appreciated until later in the season. Gears of war.
Regardless of expectancy and the standard we need to aim for, do we truly have reason to complain with such unnerving finality? It's hardly end of days. Thinking we're gonna win the league after three points? Nobody really does that. Not after a handful of games. Demonising the manager after a couple of draws? It's behaviour befitting them lot down the road.
Only Tottenham fans would use an unbeaten record as a whip to self-flagellate.
So which is the real Spurs? The 2-0 versus City or the 0-0 against Bournemouth?
If you say the 0-0, we cant be friends.