It wasn’t a performance to remember. We didn’t really deserve to win, but we did anyways.
Following a surprisingly early start this morning, I decided to head to midtown to watch the game at O’Casey’s, home of the NY Spurs supporters club. A good crowd from all walks of life had assembled to cheer on the club at a convenient twelve noon here on the easy coast. The food was decent enough, the coffee hot, the beer cold, and it was fun to chat with some of the nearby spurs fans. Lots of frustration was voiced in a game basically completely lacking in quality end product, from either side. Of course, there was great excitement at the penalty, the goal, and the win. Still, I and others seemed uneasy, rather unconvinced. I don’t think anyone is really willing to get too upset at a win in public though, in stark contrast to the grim and oft needlessly fatalistic underbelly of knee-jerking social media beings.
Townsend’s performance was as inspired as ever, but lacking the appeal of tangible end product. I really love his ability to beat his man- some unbelievable somethings-out-of-nothings were happened by young Andros- but his end product was not as good as in past weeks. He didn’t get on target very much when he shot; he didn’t often find his man when he crossed. His injury was worrying to me almost simply because of how much he was willing to get hurt to put in what ended up being a poorly hit cross. We’re going to need to him to eventually learn to play with a bit cooler of a head.
Sandro starting was too much as he had featured a lot in the past few games. He looked off the pace today in his limited minutes and his yellow sealed the deal. His replacement Dembele did well- and we surely could have used his footwork in the first half. Paulinho offered his typically solid defense, but seemed to lack his usual forward threat . His passing was elementary and probably even uninspired. I’d like to see him get a game off so we can explore other combinations like Eriksen-Holtby-Dembele. Most of the time, we look predictable and static on the ball.
As for Holtby I thought he did well but was subdued by his role, often being forced to come deep to receive the ball. Too often I think he is forced to start attacks deep rather than be the second, third or even final receiver of a sequence, where he is of greater value to us. All the more so since he appears to have the best outside shot in our midfield.
Speaking of sequences, has anyone else noticed how much pronounced standing walker does over the ball before making a decision to pass? In that time he is waiting to make a decision, standing idly on the ball, opposing markers have reacted and changed their tack to counter runs by our own attackers. Andros is occasionally guilty of this, too, the net result being that our men are then faced with a more well-positioned defense, one focused not on reacting to our moves, but instead anticipating the likely next one.
Furthermore, I feel we had difficulty switching play quickly enough across field to take advantage of unguarded, or too narrow flanks. Rarely these days will our players attempt a 30 yard cross-field, aerial pass anymore. In theory, we instead prefer to pass it quickly along the ground across the middle some 5-10 yards in front of the half-line. In practice, we are not quite elegant enough on the ball and precise enough with our passing to hand-it off to the next man in such a way that they can first-touch it on with reliability, the point being that most of our moves start and progress in awkward or predictable fashion.
This might be ok had we a more brute physical target man like Christian Benteke or Romelu Lukaku, but we don’t. If we are really being honest, we’re basically counting on playing in Soldado on the deck, supplemented with late surges into the box from Paulinho for a cross attempt and whatever we can get from outside the box (not a whole lot). I’m arguing here that the vast majority of our setup play for such kinds of chances is awkward and predictable, and plays perfectly into bus-parker tactics. We’re winning though, but not because we are playing a finely tuned offense. We’re winning because we play a very physical and effective full court press that severely restricts opposition chances and creates many more opportunities for us. We’re bludgeoning our way forward on offense at a low percentage clip right now, and winning almost by mathematical default.
Also what was with our wings? We basically played inverted wingers again- Townsend out right and Lennon out left. At the end of the first half, we saw them switch finally with Townsend and Lennon on their natural outside feet. Why did it take us so long to try Townsend out left? I have every reason to believe that he would be incredible in a natural wide left-role- with the bonus that we already know he can come in and hit em on his right. I also think Lennon has grown comfortably into the wide right role at this point in his career, and is most effective there. Why do we persist with playing them in this manner? Is Andre trying to “grow” certain attributes into these players by putting them in positions where they need to utilize their less developed attributes, as with Wenger and Thierry Henry out wide back in the day? After seeing the well calculated shuffling of the defensive situation this season, I have no doubts that the subtle machinations of Andre extend to these and other similar domains of “player management”.
How could we talk about this game without discussing the substitutions though? Dembele for Sandro at the half was a good and needed one. It seemed to evidence, though, a miscalculation by Andre regarding the fitness of Sandro, whom has played a lot of high-energy minutes for spurs in the past week. Eriksen for Holtby was almost a part for part exchange though, when it seem like a tactical reshuffle was really what was required. Perhaps a move to replace Paulinho, or Walker, in exchange for another attacker like Lamela or Chadli, might have yielded the mix of creative talent and technical ability required to break the deadlock.
The small experiment was short-lived however as Defoe replaced Lennon a mere nine minutes later, necessitating a tactical change from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2, and moving Eriksen into a slightly unfamiliar left winger role. Besides interrupting the ongoing integration of Eriksen in a central attacking role, it seemed somewhat impulsive and unimaginative, possibly even motivated by some kind of club/locker-room politics. Defoe came on, and ran about somewhat, but didn’t seem to get involved much beyond that. I do wonder- how often do Defoe and Soldado train together as an attacking pair during training sessions? And how seriously do they take that training? It seems as natural a partnership as oil and water at this point.
In the end though, leading club luminary Jan Vertonghen received the ball in the an advanced left position, where, with his left foot, he attempted a hitherto unprecedented left-footed cross in behind the left side of the defense. Shortly into it’s flight, the ball struck a defending El Mohamady in the arm. Super Jan immediately alerted the ref and the ref
did holy justice agreed, pointing to the penalty spot. Soldado took the pen with aplomb, and Spurs somewhat incredibly, were in the lead.
What did we learn, however, why did we win, and what does it all mean? In the end, I think we re-learned how important playing wide players out wide on their natural foot is. I think we learned that we have a weakness in our buildup play, and that we need to really improve our fluency through the middle, looking to move the ball quickly and with ideal weight so as to catch opponent defenses off guard and get in behind them for easy finishes, exactly the kind of opportunities Soldado should be feasting on.
Perhaps though in the end we should just count ourselves fortunate to pick up the three points on a day that we could easily have gotten just one. Hull played a very effective defensive game, and sent a few shivers up our spine, mostly with missed and poor clearances. They made us make mistakes more than they beat us with quality. On another day against higher quality opposition, we might have been made to suffer. On this one, however, we generated just enough intent to steal a goal and the win.