I dislike the way the FA Cup makes me feel. Or is it the way Tottenham make me feel about it? Perhaps it's thanks to the state of the modern game and its systematic relegation of domestic cup prioritisation.
U wot m8?
Pull up a chair...
During Sunday's 2-0 home win over Aston Villa (a well organised Steve Bruce team lacking adventure and endeavour) I was constantly attempting to validate and rationalise the selection, the tempo of the game and the general desire of everyone involved (the players, the supporters). Here's the problem; FA Cup games are played out like low-pressure league matches. Do just about enough to win them because just about enough - with minimal fuss - is enough.
There is no gung-ho romanticism. Upper tier teams can comfortably afford the luxury of rotation and sacrifice excitement and dominance for a snoozy win. Now here's the discomfort as a fan. I get the impression that the risk (there's always one) of playing a chop and change line-up is that upsets can still happen. Playing a full strength line-up is seen as over-kill. So it comes back to risk, be it calculated and for the most part controlled. Squad management is king in this constantly congested calendar. Football is less free-form these-days and far more methodical and formulated. Hence why even games in this generation that are considered to be 'cup upsets' or 'giant kills' don't come close to capturing the imagination in the same way as being knocked out by a Port Vale or Bradford City.
The positively tingle induced feelings I would experience, nervously waiting and watching Spurs progress in the cup are long gone. Probably because the desperation associated with it (the only thing we had a chance of winning) is also a thing of the past. Massive caveat klaxon sounding out; All I remember (aside from 1991) is despondent losses to lower league teams away from home and countless semi-final calamities. Which is a shame because in an age where we could take it seriously and eradicate all risk because we have the players to do it, we find ourselves in a paradoxical universe where doing so is perceived as an unnecessary strain on our resources. It's the only thing we had a chance of winning. Then surely it's a bloody grand thing we have a chance of winning now? No?
m8, u wot?
If you stumble through to the quarter-finals or draw a rival side, then you get to see more effort but it's still second fiddle to the frenzied tune of the league games. It eats away at my bruised brain because we always bang on about wanting silverware to consolidate this winners mentality we're forging. But there's a voice in my head saying 'it's only the FA Cup'.
It's a contradiction considering our history with the cup and the countless iconic moments it's generated. I guess the resolution to this philosophical headache is to accept that in this day and age, we (at the very least) can shift and change our line-up and thus rest key players because we have the quality to do so. Is this sucking the soul out of football or simply being intelligent in helping us balance multiple challenges*?
*Yet, we've always looked a shadow of ourselves with application in most cup games. I've discounted the League Cup completely. It should only be available for participation to teams outside the Premier League.
As for the game, it wasn't spectacular and was just about a spectacle. At least a second-string team can still produce ample professionalism although it would have been nice for Villa to give it a right proper go. What have they got to lose? Other clubs up and down the country (high and low stature) aren't the only ones that seek to prioritise their league games. Not sure what Villa's game-plan was for the cup. Perhaps to simply survive and frustrate and take a replay.
Spurs had a lull in the first-half and then awoke to puncture the opposition in the second. I won't revisit the game in detail (I'll spare you that pleasure). Nice little cameo from Georges-Kévin N'Koudou with Ben Davies benefiting (finally). Mousa Sissoko with an assist for a Son goal. Not much more to report.
The biggest talking point, post-match, was Vincent Janssen's eternal struggle to claim an identity and goal from open play. Whilst everyone around him glitched for form during the early patches of the season he failed to slot in and spearhead. Mainly thanks to the fact he wasn't given the role to spearhead. His work ethic seemed to exist to complement those around him, which was brain numbing considering the games where Harry Kane was absent.
Much like attempting to rationalise the FA Cup, it's easy to do the same for Janssen. Twenty-two, signed as a back-up and not quite the fit for the team in terms of an alternative fully functioning forward. But then how do you have a like-for-like 'replacement' / second striker that matches up to Kane's quality? The only two viable options (a sharp-shooter host from Westworld and a cloned Kane using a Nikola Tesla machine) are not actually viable outside of my imagination.
He's looked great in terms of application but then this is perilously close to saying Roberto Soldado was on point with the build play and the inter-changing of passing in and around the box. Goals is the commodity everyone is focused on and he's not supplying them. I'm not in the game of picking on a player and using him as a scapegoat to abuse him and then redirect the abuse towards the chairman for 'failing us again'. Especially because we continue to improve season on season and live in a time where winning the title exists in the real world and not as a potential script for the next Nolan inspired TV show or movie.
We paid plenty for the Dutch striker, as great as his application has been in select games, the ball persistently bounces off him like a five year old smacking his face repeatedly on a bouncy castle. Gary Lineker (seeking banter points) called him a poor mans Soldado. What are we going to do to reclaim the punchline and own the stage?
Is it his (Vincent) fault?
We signed him. We've been unable to utilise him. Some players just don't work out. Be it a 22 year old from the Netherlands or an experienced La Liga player that had a fairly decent domestic record before arriving in England.
It's maddening that we can't quite get it right with signing a striker. The balance of it being someone that might well have to accept rotation is one issue. The other is, if you sign someone that is proven quality (but still young), the risk is no different to the one we took with Vince. Michy Batshuayi was the one we looked keen on, he ended up at Chelsea and seems fairly happy (I guess, not being involved often enough for me to know if he's scored any goals this season).
Tottenham's methodology (at least during the Paul Mitchell tenure) involved looking at players that fit a specific set of criteria in terms of mentality and age and the potential to improve. I guess I'll finish on this. Danny Rose was maligned and embarrassingly mocked. Even the most optimistic might have nervously twitched at the prospect of him being a player we would need to rely on. Now look at him and look at us looking at him, all loved up and gleeful. Vincent might not make it, not every player can be saved. But it's still too early to know. Or maybe it isn't, if you want to compare one footballer with another simply because Lineker can crack out a joke based on the likeness of movement and lack of goals. Mauricio Pochettino is our manager by the way, not AVB (just for those that might not be paying any attention). I think we can afford all concerned more patience.
Of course the debate is far more simplistic than any of the above; We shouldn't be signing players that we have to improve and adjust if we're going to consolidate our momentum. Or rather, we should be signing for the future but we also need players for the present. I guess, this is the risk undertaken with transfers. We sign players that want to join Spurs (because we can handle the fee and wages and...well...they want to join) rather than ones that use us to step up to the next bracket of earnings at other richer clubs.
Football is all about accidental heroes and luck. Rose, Kane even to a degree Dele Alli being thrown into the deep end (from our perspective) have all elevated themselves to new levels of high. Mousa Dembele found redemption. Eric Dier excelled beyond everyone's dreams. For every Soldado we have an Erik Lamela. Don't panic, there's only the one Erik. Yet he's still an enigma that polarises the fanbase, with some fans still not rating him as an important and vital member of the squad. He is right? No? Oh. Okay then.
Waiting around for Janssen to find his zone in England is yet another journey we all have to accept but it leaves us once more looking straight into the eyes of the January transfer window and wondering if we once more need yet another striking option to avoid any stress of losing Kane to another injury. It's a seasonal question that refuses to be answered.
Will we sign another one?
Onwards. No other direction is relevant.