Spurs’ first home game of the season didn’t go exactly according to plan yesterday, despite a game in which, again, we dominated possession for long periods of play. The blame can mostly be laid at the foot of not taking our chances in the first half, when West Brom rarely managed to escape from their own half – wasteful shooting from Defoe and Bale being largely at fault. Despite the disappointment of the result, there were certainly still plus points to the performance, as well as some pointers towards the signings the club still need to make before the end of the month. However, if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’d like to kick off this week’s match reaction with something of a rant.
Last year, when Arsenal were in the deepest pits of their poor form in the first half of the season, Spurs fans gleefully mocked Arsenal supporters calling for Arsene Wenger’s head. They also guffawed as Chelsea fans harangued and bemoaned Andre Villas-Boas’s tenure at the club, insisting that the public displays of a lack of faith in the manager was an embarrassment for both clubs. Bearing this in mind, perhaps the Spurs fans should set their own house in order before being so quick to lambast others in the future. For what’s been on display in many quarters since the draw with West Brom is perhaps even more embarrassing for Tottenham than the aforementioned incidents were for their clubs.
Yes, the result at West Brom was a disappointment. However, it was not a loss. Sure, it followed on the heels of another disappointing result against Newcastle on the opening day, but in both of these cases we dominated the game for long periods. The team is still, by AVB’s own admission, a work in progress. Much like last season, the starting eleven that began the first two games is highly unlikely to be that which becomes our regular first team choice. Harry Redknapp lost both of the first two games last season – it might have been against better opposition, but not even a tone of derision against his managerial reign was raised when Manchester City put five goals past us at White Hart Lane. Five goals. And here we sit now, with people openly stating they expect AVB to be sacked sooner rather than later. It’s enough to make you despair at the fickle nature of football supporters – many of the Spurs faithful are swallowing the media’s ‘AVB must be an instant success or he is a failure’ narrative hook, line and sinker.
If there’s one area in which I can identify with the criticisms, it’s those which point out that most of the clubs we’re competing with for top four status have already more or less tied up their summer business. Yes, the transfer window closing two weeks after the season commences isn’t ideal, but other teams seem to ensure they’re prepared for the new season a lot better than Spurs have in recent years. If anything, we should be feeling sorry for AVB – Daniel Levy’s brinksmanship when it comes to transfer negotiations might save the club some loose change here and there, but it’s left our manager without a full squad for the first two games of this season. Regardless of any new signings eventually brought in, Spurs really need to re-think their transfer window business model – is saving a spare million here or there by frantically concluding deals on deadline day really worth leaving the first six points of every season down to chance?
At any rate, more signings will almost certainly arrive before the close of the transfer window, and yes, on yesterday’s evidence they’ll be needed. If there’s one good thing about a poor result like this, it will impress upon Daniel Levy the need for continued investment in the squad – what we currently have at our disposal will not see us finish in the top four this season, especially with Chelsea looking as if they have considerably upped their game (and expensively employed personnel) over the summer.
Back to the game, and in defence, Gallas might have put in a good performance against Newcastle, but by the end of the 90 minutes he looked spent, and our defensive cohesion suffered as a result. This might not require a new signing to fix – rather, it points towards Kaboul and Vertonghen definitely needing to be our first choice centre back combination. Vertonghen himself was one of the few who came out of the game with great credit, putting in what was, for the most part, a storming debut performance. He was perhaps a little ruffled by the physicality of Lukaku after his second-half introduction, but the Belgian otherwise showed composure and precision in the tackle, as well as showcasing his attacking qualities with a couple of rampaging runs. On the evidence so far, he looks like becoming a staple of the first team over the course of the season.
In midfield, the team still seems to be suffering from the lack of resolution to the Modric saga, and the lack of re-investment that that entails. Parker’s absence is also being keenly felt – Livermore is still not of a high enough ability to be an automatic Premier League starter, and he again endured a largely anonymous performance before being substituted. More anonymous was Jermaine Jenas’s substitute appearance – despite this, there was no excuse for the sections of the crowd that booed his introduction to the pitch. We might all think that Jenas is a bit toilet even on his better days, but for better or worse, he’s a Spurs player, and it’s thoroughly reprehensible to be booing one of our own players (and by association, the team), especially when we were 1-0 up at the time. Still, the fact we need to resort to his services at all shows we’re still light in the centre of the park.
Aaron Lennon, meanwhile, turned in what was essentially a carbon copy of his performance against Newcastle. On the ball he was assured, and made all the right runs, misplacing few of his passes. The gripe is that, once again, there was a discernible lack of the fabled ‘end product’ – time after time he’d run into a cul-de-sac, then ping over a cross that magically managed to evade every Spurs player in the box. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch, and I certainly wouldn’t be adverse to seeing someone else brought in to provide Lennon with a bit of competition on the wing. One of our prospective targets, Willian, is capable of playing on the right wing, though with Shaktar supposedly holding out for a £20 million fee, it seems likely that Daniel Levy will baulk at the suggestion.
Up front, it was hard to judge – Adebayor looked rusty after his introduction as a substitute, but a complete lack of pre-season would do that to most players, and he’s likely to improve once he’s up to full match fitness. Meanwhile, Defoe posed almost as much of a dilemma as Lennon. His performance in the first half was full of industry, but almost always capped with tame or wayward shots; in the second half, he had the ball in the net, only to see it disallowed for what was, in fairness, a clear cut offside. Overall, his performance has to go down as failing to capitalise on the starting opportunity he was handed by AVB; once Adebayor is at full fitness, it seems likely that Defoe will be the one relegated to the role on the bench. Above all, the performance emphasised that we’re probably still one striker short heading into the last few days of the transfer window, a problem that can hopefully be addressed.
In short, there’s plenty of room for improvement. But the real judging of AVB’s tenancy shouldn’t begin in earnest until he has the squad in place that he wants. Currently, he’s working with the ragged pieces of Harry Redknapp’s team, with Modric, its heart, torn out, Parker, its backbone, out injured, and minus one striker. His Spurs side have conceded less than half the number of goals that Redknapp’s Modric-less side managed at the start of last season in their opening two games. So, let’s get behind the manager, and get behind the team, and try and grab all three points against Norwich next weekend.
On Twitter: @AEFSpurs.