The Spurs Way
Spurs 1 Monaco something something
Disappointed but not disheartened. We got schooled twice, one a classic sucker punch and the other a tidy reminder that the quality of football at this level is menacing and punishing especially if you gift time and space. We could have been 1-0 up (a Son Heung Min shot cleared away from the line) but found ourselves two down instead. We might have had all the possession, but Monaco had the only two relevant stats. Hello Champions League. I've missed you. I think.
Wembley isn't White Hart Lane. It's a bigger pitch. It's a more welcoming ground for a visiting team as they could potentially anchor themselves psychologically to the concept of it being a neutral ground (apart from the tens of thousands of record breaking Lilywhite supporters). The adjustment was always going to be tricky. There was always a chance of a transitional hiccup. This being Spurs, we love to create challenges from our own erratic endeavours.
Erik Lamela lost the ball for the first goal and even though it looked innocuous, the defending that followed solidified it as a sloppy costly team error. Jan Vertonghen also not doing enough in the chase. The second was also uncharacteristically weak. Sleepy from a throw-in and equally inept slack defending (Ben Davies this time) when the cross came in. Christian Eriksen also guilty of lack of effort. You can't make stupid avoidable mistakes, especially when the opposing side is going to sit back and counter with pressure and tenacity when they do find themselves forward. We should know, we're masters at it.
The goal from Toby Alderweireld (a cracking header from a corner) just before the break helped generate momentum in a second half that we dominated without an air of superiority that could have led to an equaliser. We contained Monaco but failed to take advantage. You look back to the end of the first half and wonder how the game might have panned out had we made it 2-2 with Lamela almost finding the studs of Dele Alli.
In the opening exchanges (of the first forty-five) we used the width of Wembley, finding runners and stretching the game with what threatened to be dangerous intent. Then we began attacking centrally and soon found the narrow method congested. Then we struggled to regain any sense of fluidity. It felt reactive and not instinctive. Although there were plenty of great passing movements I never felt we found a tempo that would create fear at the back for the French side. Nothing that would result in momentary capitulation or chaotic backtracking. They had the measure of us. The bullet was loaded but the safety switch was facing the wrong way. The only discharge, in the stands, as fans sat watching anxiously.
Analogy super-powers activated.
Maybe that's an unfair observation (considering the aforementioned second half bossing of the ball) but it felt like a game of knock down ginger. We're facing the door and then we run off after gently tapping it, never quite seeking to kick it in and proceed with the home invasion the near 85k attendance desired. Tottenham have been fragmented thus far this season and the slow brooding awakening is unfortunately still persisting.
Mousa Dembele made an obvious difference when he came on. Even Eric Dier looked more composed and comfortable to have his partner in crime next to him again. Maybe he should have started. It's all good and well to sit here in hindsight and look back on a first half that lacked some proper pushing and marauding into the final third and assume that if Mousa did start we'd have bullied them into submission. We might have though.
Poch always looks to bring back players into the fold slowly. To be fair to the manager, as impossible as it is to ignore or pretend we didn't go 2-0 down, the football we played going forward wasn't dreadful. It just wasn't forceful enough and compared to what we can and should be producing...I guess yes, it was dreadful. The dynamism still didn't save us in the second half but it improved our shape. Mousa looked good, not perfect. It's grand to have him back and it will improve our spine in the games to come.
Dele was lively in moments and had a brilliant effort tipped over but was mostly lost as a consistent outlet. It's a hefty responsibility to own. This particular platform is slightly higher than the bread and butter league games. You can go missing in the Premier League and then pop up to score a winner or assist one. You have to be far stronger in the top tier of European competition, across the entirety of the match and not with a single flash of brilliance. Because sometimes brilliance doesn't result with the ball in the net.
Maybe I'm exaggerating and guilty of the type of microscopic analysing I dislike but look back at our previous CL campaign and note how brutal the opposing teams were when we duly invited them to attack. The onus is on us to be the ones latching onto the errors of others. Don't be bullied, be the bully. Poch has to quickly work out the right balance for the team that allows us to dictate rather than suffer the indignity of reshuffling. Kyle Walker, the only immaculate representative of THFC on the night.
Harry Kane should have been played in on the break more than he was. He isn't the all-conquering player he can be and it hurts us in and around the pen box and when smarting to find a way into it. He had an opportunity late on. It was hardly surprising it wasn't taken. We can only be patient or perhaps brave and bench him and start Vincent Janseen. A little refresh, respite and hopefully redemption will follow.
Moussa Sissoko with a driven cameo towards the end of the night, displaying some electricity and directness that might help add something extra to our game if others are unable to provide a spark. Eriksen's application failed to load and was ultimately everywhere and nowhere, unable to gain any ilk of control in the middle. Bernardo Silva showing our lot how you influence a game; you do so by being in the mix and produce an impact that instantly snatches the narrative away from the home side and plants it into the visitors back pocket.
You can see that we're not quite ready for this standard of opposition this early in the season. Which is perhaps worrying if you believe the required improvement is going to take another month rather than one breakthrough game. Stoke were easy fodder. I expected us to beat Monaco but expectations tend to be based around best hopes and theoretics on players hitting their stride all together. I should have known it wouldn't work out for us considering I've accepted we're still struggling. We regained some sharpness but it's blunt when swapping the domestic league for the Champions League.
There was no clinicality and our concentration lapsed. Players need to get to the ball or the player and not just shadow a runner. The more I think about the opening goal the more sadness consumes my mind. The opposition, resilient and intelligent, able to defend deep and clear for corner after corner. Their game-plan was far more refined for the occasion and all the pre-match anti-hype about how it would suit them more turned out to be the cliched conclusion. It's a shame but there you go.
A quick note regarding the fallacy that this game, in our home game away from home, would have played out any differently at White Hart Lane. Well I guess we'll never know. What we do know is that we scored from a set-piece and didn't from open play. A smaller pitch in N17 with supporters nearer the pitch could have worked as the 12th man but the eleven on the pitch are the same (more or less) regardless of the venue. Tactics won this game, not a postcode. The 'home' support at Wembley was the single biggest positive that can't be criticised. The players failed to match the commitment of the fans.
We weren't outplayed or outclassed but we got caught with our pants down twice and were spanked for it. Deservedly so. As a collective, we're still not pulling our weight. We're out of form and on Wednesday night, out of luck.
Mauricio Pochettino won't allow a repeat. Poch will make sure they never forget it. Or at the very least the players will understand the level of performance has to be permanently soaked with conviction rather than be hung out to dry either side of the field. (My analogy juice is running on empty).
I trust our manager to destroy (the players) for their lacklustre effort which is why I no longer worry when we do lose a game. We always - always - learn from our mistakes and mishaps because we have a leader that is unforgiving with his teachings and training. We come back stronger because it's the only viable option he gives them. I also trust him not to play with such a defensive mindset from the off next time we have a home advantage.
The hard way is the only way is the Spurs way.