CSKA Moscow 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Like a plucky teenager struggling to unstrap his girlfriends bra for the first time, we got there in the end. Next time Spurs, just use your teeth.
Another game another Son Heung-min goal. He's the new poster boy for the unexpected. We knew, well most of us, that there's always the potential for a player that's struggled to come good. When we're all sat around analysing our squad and picking holes in it because we haven't signed X type of player and then complain we don't have enough of Y type of player...WALLOP. Something we do have goes from muddy to box fresh.
Then those holes, they get filled up and suddenly the team has an extra dimension nobody predicted at the start of it. Football, ladies and gentlemen. By design, it's unpredictable and that unpredictability is a joy to behold. Next time someone tells you there's no evidence of how a player can improve, just tell them to open their eyes and wait.
Son's form almost makes you forget about Harry Kane's absence (and the subsequent concerns of the negative impact to the side for a couple of months of more). Kane, interestingly, has had a further scan with Mauricio Pochettino ambiguously teasing as very good news. Son providing zest and product to assist us through some neat adjustment as we wait for others players to explode with equal measures of smiling prowess and for an official time-stamp on Harry's return.
The game, our performance, wasn't perfect. Again, sharpness was more blunt than cutting. Some players occasionally erratic with touch or shot or getting caught in possession (leading to unnecessary counter attacks from the hosts). But the untidy shape can be forgiven when the spine of the first eleven is missing (although thankfully still evident in central defence). We played well in what was an open game and we really should have won by more than the 1-0 scoreline. Considering we haven't claimed victory away too often in Europe recently, it's best to celebrate this (and Monaco's late equaliser). Why wouldn't you? We bossed it with 680 passes (be it with only 9% of 22 shots on target - stats via @SimonBrundish). I have a feeling we're no longer in the Europa League anymore.
In 2011 our Champions League campaign was an adventure, a surprise to everyone. This time round it's part of the continued steep learning curve. We're not here for another cameo. We need to play at this level every season for the development of our players and the teams footballing stature. New stadium and elite football will attract the right calibre and will most importantly make us consistently competitive in the title race. Poch rested players, others were injured - but the test was ultimately passed.
Some observations from the game:
Vincent Janssen is still struggling to impose himself as a striker even though he's supporting the team with hard graft as a forward. With very casually constructed tactical insight I don't see his positioning and movement as one that allows him to lead from the front and act as the centre-point for service. The teams structure should really be doing this when you chin scratch at the players on paper. Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Son - all with tricks that can provide Janssen.
But there's no streamlined strategy here.
It's not a cohesive cog like when Dele plays behind Kane. Janssen seems to persist with the selflessness. An instruction? Maybe I'm knee-jerking, mis-reading it all. I did say it's a casual opinion. I feel at some point the player has to be the main focus (synergy regardless). Of course, the flip side is, Janssen slow started last season at AZ and then exploded with goals. He's not doing much wrong, he's just not finding himself in positions of clear cut certainty. But then if you look at our general final third play, it's hardly smooth like silk. Patience once more a virtue.
Dele had one of those performances where you could condense good and bad highlights and separate them to provide evidence he played poorly / played great. He always manages to get a shot in on goal that is inches away from bursting the net. He's not on form if you consider how productive Son is with his finishing. Poch still needs to look at protecting him, but this being a game of inches - you could argue 'on another day'. Hopefully that day comes soon.
Toby Alderweireld was superb. When isn't he? You want modern day Tottenham summed up? Our central pairing and keeper. That's it. For two generations we could hardly ever defend. Our problem now is we don't score enough goals when we win. I mean, come on now people, life is good if the worst thing we can find is not winning by larger margins.
The rock Victor Wanyama is proving to be a shrewd signing. H doesn't just tidy up and block the ball in midfield. His composure when keeping it at feet and then delivering it to the feet of others is measured and controlled. Sure, the team lacks some of that progressive dynamism we might get with Mousa Dembele in the side, but as discussed many times - it's about being multi-layered. Wanyama, much like Son is providing us with stability in a key area.
I was impressed by the speed demon Georges-Kévin Nkoudou. He doesn't lack confidence and belief. He works hard and for the team and his pace will cause plenty of problems in the games to come. Bench ready if not first team ready. Harry Winks also looks supreme and unfazed by any obstacles carefully placed ahead of him. He's young, it's early days and nothing too testing has been handed to him yet. Which is an example of Poch protecting and managing a player. I'm not about to build statues in my back garden to worship. It's still promising so the garden gnomes and the Steffen Freund scarecrow might have company soon.
The signs are good. Winks is peak comfort and supplies us with calm culture in games that might be lost in frenzied traffic. One undeniable reality is, we're always in transition with these types of players having to be constantly baptised before faith is attained. Nabil Bentelab also looked good (if perhaps not disciplined) early on his Spurs career. Again, time will pave the way to the truth.
Wouldn't be a Spurs blog without a mention of marmite king Erik Lamela.
Lamela is a bit like Mary Poppins. Floats around the pitch like he's blowing in the sky clutching an umbrella. Then suddenly he's standing in a room, looking confused and surprised he's no longer flying, staring menacingly at the mess he's made. He then proceeds to tidy it up with a little bit of magic. There's never any need for the big song and dance because he'll get the job done either way.
When he plays it nice and simple it works. When he over elaborates and takes an extra touch - it doesn't. He's multi-skilled for sure in that he's two types of players meshed together but he should only be focusing on the one personality.
I'll leave you with @JakesSanders92 and his published stats on our last four games which included 104 attempts (28 on target), 9 goals, 1 conceded and average possession of 66.6%.
The number of the beast. An omen I'm quite happy to embrace. Hopefully we'll succeed in bringing end of days for anyone that isn't Spurs.