Perhaps this was the tale of two managers, one who got it right, and one who perhaps didn’t?
Much has been talked about Europa League hangovers, but here was the meeting of two clubs who both played last Thursday, and the side playing away that day only had a quick hop, skip and a jump over to Western Germany, so all things should really have been equal. For our part, of the side that started in Wolfsburg, seven started at WHL, and the usually high energy players like Baines, Coleman, Barkley and Barry had no excuse for their largely lethargic performances against Spurs. There was no such lethargy in the Spurs team. Pochettino set his side up well, and their tactical pressing game and crisp passing made us look second best from the moment Distin gifted them a clearance and a first goal. Thereafter, we always looked tired and sometimes, inexplicably, disinterested.
Misplaced passes, even from the usually reliable Eto’o, were a feature of our performance, and frankly it was all something of a mystery as to why we couldn’t ‘snap out of it’ even after half time. I actually don’t think Spurs are a better team, man for man I’d have every one of our players over theirs, possibly except Lloris and Eriksen, but the manager did his bit, and their tireless display paid dividends and an impressive win for them.
Martinez, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have an answer. Despite my warning post the Wolfsburg game, (https://stdomingos.com/2014/11/28/wolfsburg-win-cant-hide-frailties/) that the hype justifiably surrounding a great win should not hide frailties in our set up (as observed by Jenas on MOTD2, so I could almost do that job….), well, Bobby clearly hadn’t read that, or if he did, he didn’t have an alternative. Or certainly not one that worked. Coleman seemed constantly reluctant to go outside his man, for fear perhaps of being caught even further upfield without cover, and yet in Besic (probably our best player of a pretty shoddy bunch) and Barry we had the kind of cover he should have been able to rely on. Baines worked a few good moves up the left, but as soon as anything breaks down, our opposition yesterday and in previous games, just flood the areas vacated by our full backs, and usually vacated by the wide midfield players, and it’s too much for the DMs to cover. We need to find an answer, and quick, because first Hull and then City will look to exploit that, and certainly in the case of the latter, they’ll be even more ruthless than Spurs were.
We do have a few crumbs of comfort from yesterday. A goal of the highest class from Mirallas; signs that Barkley is moving through the gears with his driving game, although yet to use his wing mirrors to pass to a colleague at the end of it; Besic, as I said, was reasonably solid, some great tackles, and he not only avoided a booking, he stayed on the pitch for the whole 90 minutes which I think will one day be his demise – he’s no McCarthy, but he’s not a bad deputy. But that’s about it. Lukaku was starved of service, Eto’o was far from inspirational, Distin and Jagielka were solid enough for most of the time but still prone to error, and they both showed that one thing we REALLY miss with Stones being out, is a CD that can actually play the ball and pass to a player with the same colour shirt on. Howard was not at fault for the second goal, but I think he could have done loads better with the first, and the murmurings about a new keeper for next year are starting to build once more. Cech anyone?
So back to L4 on Wednesday and if we get all 3 points as we should, and Spurs lose to Chelsea as they should, we’ll be paired together again in the League. One defeat on the road has not de-railed our entire season, we are lucky in that sense that the League is so tight this year, but the manner of the defeat is hard to swallow, so it’s not just a win we need, it’s a win with a performance that builds confidence and momentum. The performances last year against the likes of Arsenal and Newcastle seem a distant dream and yet the same personnel are largely still in place.
Martinez needs to find where he left the magic formula.