Let’s get straight into it. I love the fact that we got ourselves a point from a game where few do. Second game in, to go up to the home of the extravagantly assembled mega-team and come away with a moral victory…it’s not something I have trouble accepting as a good day at the office. Even if that day was spent locked in the disabled toilet hiding away from having to do any work. Considering the amount of times we’ve attempted to go toe-to-toe with them and failed it was a curious spectacle to do the complete opposite and somehow get away with it.
From a purely Tottenham perspective, sure, I’m disappointed we didn’t attempt to press a little and try to make strides in the final third. Instead we stuck to a rigid, narrow, deep formation and soaked up the pressure. It was all too passive and we rode our luck. Sterling flanking and flogging us whilst we struggled to contain him. Perhaps with no Dele Alli and Son (Jan also missing, but promoted from the stands to the bench) and Lo Celso yet to bed into the side, it was far too early in the season for us to unzip and wave our willy about. Christian Eriksen’s was defo tucked in, Buffalo Bill style, on this occasion. But then nobody in our team really rose to the occasion. It was a game of sacrifices and not one that will often be repeated and endured.
Our survival mechanic was to constantly play the ball out from our penalty area with one/two touch passing. I guess it worked? A weird adjustment but then this is Eastlands. We could play superb attacking football and still lose. We could go toe to toe and get smashed to bits. Both of these scenarios have played out in recent years. And sure, waiting for City to die from boredom is the least Spursy thing ever - but sometimes you just have to minimise the risk. Tactical hedging led by the industrious Harry Winks and the improving Ndombele, making sure that when possession was at our feet, we kept it tidy and safe and protected.
City were dominant but not clinical. We scored twice from three efforts. They had thirty shots but Hugo Lloris was only tested a couple of times. Spurs, with no real momentum or drive, grabbed two goals that perhaps were soft in presentation comparison to the home sides perfect precision with delivery. Kevin de Bruyne with a stunning ball to Sterling for their opener. Two players you simply can not hate or dislike. He (KdB) did similar sexy stuff for their second, with accompanying support from our defence (Kyle Walker-Peters keeping Sergio Aguero onside). KWP has some work to do in terms of positional discipline, but improvement will only work if he continues to gain experience.
Erik Lamela’s equaliser was fairly decent. If there was one chaotic slice of aggression in our side it was the Argentine. Lovely placement for the goal. Our second equaliser was equally satisfying. Lucas Moura running onto the pitch and with his first touch, off his bold bald head, was to nod in a corner from Lamela. Scenes. Limbs. Plenty of salt. More was to follow.
We can talk about the lack of invention and desire to take the game to City (again, why go for glory when glory might not gain you a strategic point). We dug deep and avoided a mauling. We stopped City from winning for the first time in 16 (domestic) games. We avoided what would have been a record breaking (ouch) seventh consecutive away defeat. In terms of mental strength, the point was a vital one.
To illustrate how anti-Poch this performance was, Harry Kane’s average position was on the half-way line. I think it’s safe to say this is the only game in our domestic fixture list where we play like this. But the stats don’t lie. Eight goals conceded by City in their last fifteen home games and five have come from the feet, head and hips of Spurs players. It ain’t shabby this.
Now for the match incidents. Lamela doing a Lamela and pulling Rodri down inside the penalty area. Michael Oliver twisting his head and waving away the calls to point to the spot. No VAR intervention here. Or rather no human intervention. The ref witnessed the incident but didn’t appear to care much for it.
Then lightning struck. Again. City scoring what looked like a late winner. I was utterly dejected, walked out of the room, only to run back in when I could sense another face saving decision. The home fans giving it some to the away section. Then enter the VAR intervention. The goal is disallowed. The Spurs fans now giving it some back. I’m doing a jig. Jesus Christ was the look of confusion from City’s cancelled goal scorer. It’s happened again.
So there’s a few things to cover here. Firstly, the technology is there to serve the letter of the law and if there is anything messy about the stop-start culture of this brave new world, it’s the law itself. Handball? Then it’s illegal. Does it favour the defending team? Yes. What happened to accidental handball? Well I guess the very fact there is controversy over what constitutes ‘accidental’ is the very reason they’ve opted to eradicate the ambiguity. What happens at this point is interesting but also pretty much redundant.
The whole point of VAR is to make sure perfectly legal goals stand and that incidents are replayed so that justice plays out accordingly. It’s obviously not perfect in terms of execution. What with humans being at the centre point of the processing. It’s also jarring that everything is potentially under scrutiny, constantly. This is the part that plays into the psyche of the football supporter. The argument against VAR is that it dilutes the very essence of the moment we all live for. The scoring of a goal. But let’s break this down with a hefty wallop of pragmatism. Let’s pretend the official never misses a thing. That without technology, the ref sees everything. Then he’d have seen the handball and before Jesus could score, blow his whistle and point in the opposite direction. Goals that shouldn’t stand, wouldn’t stand.
What we now have is that very technology that means the ref does see everything, just a touch later with a pause in play. This pause happens after fans and players have already lost themselves in celebration. This is a hit we’re going to have to accept. It’s not like every single goal scored is under review. I mean, I guess technically, it is. But then it would be through the eyes of the ref without VAR. The tech and the people running it, in communication with the officials are the safety net to ‘right a wrong’.
I don’t disagree that the flow of the game is impacted. Is it bad or is it simply new? Something we’ll have to get use to over time. We all know we’re going to be on the end of a VAR decision at some point. But should we take it personally? How many times in recent decades have we lost games or conceded or had perfectly legitimate goals ignored because of human error?
I guess the more philosophical question is whether the art of human error is part of what makes football so glorious in the first place. That the memory of the Mendes goal that never was up at Old Trafford has passed into folklore all these years later. But to suggest it wouldn’t have had it stood thanks to the benefit of VAR is a bit daft. We’d be talking about that time the ref waved play on before the bleep in his ear-piece tells him the ball crossed the line. Obviously goal-line technology is more clear cut but I can remember similar ‘the game has gone’ tears being shed with its introduction for reasons already given.
I’m also not sure about the whole ‘we don’t celebrate goals proper anymore’ because of the VAR caveat. You celebrated a goal that was then disallowed for offside so at least with this tech, you can celebrate a second time when VAR confirms it wasn’t offside.
I think we need to roll with the punches on this and accept that it might take a bit of time for them to become more fluid with the execution. We’ll adapt as supporters much like we’ve had to adapt to all-seater stadiums. The rivalry between us and City fans has also got a bit lively. You love to see it.
I won’t dwell too much on Sky Sports either, but their hypocrisy is worth a mention because it’s hilarious. Oh God, I’m about to dwell.
They had not an ounce of respect for resolute Spurs (not that I crave validation from their contradictory punditry). It seems the narrative is the same as per usual. In this case, VAR is fair if it works for the elite and it’s flawed if it doesn’t. Injustice! I wonder if Spurs had scored to make it 3-2 and then subsequently had the goal dismissed, what would be the main talking point post-match? Let’s not pretend there isn’t a script that football TV coverage doesn’t strictly follow at all times.
Wish VAR was used twenty odd seconds into the Champions League final. It was never a penalty. I was half and half about it at the time but IT WAS NEVER A PENALTY. But it’s all okay cause Liverpool. The biggest domestic final in football and it was ruined thanks to arrogance and that human error thing I’ve cited a few times.
We move on.
Newcastle at the Lane next. Hopefully we get to see more of Lo Celso in slightly more comfortable and expressive/expansive circumstances. Hopefully Lucas gets to start too, what with his decent output with goals and a single assist (in his last give appearances). Spurs have options and home advantage. Spurs have competition for places. The return of Son will also no doubt have us smiling on and off the pitch again whilst Eriksen continues to divide opinions and the continental transfer windows keeps us scratching our heads in fear (?) for another couple of weeks.