Obstructed View – Reflections on the Spurs (A) Game

It turns out we’re not any good, in fact we’re rubbish. That’s the polite version. But the sentiment is the same if you buy in to what the footballing experts had to say on social media after, at worst, a chastening defeat to one of the best two sides in the Premier League. We’re not rubbish, but bear with me….

If you go to a family 85th Birthday lunch in Birmingham, and you record the match, and switch off your phone to avoid the score and the fan ‘commentary’ so you can watch it ‘as live’ when you get home, here’s a top tip. Plugging your switched off phone in to the car charger, magically switches it back on again, and in my case then greets me with the message “Unlucky”, as a text message from a mate smacks me squarely between the eyes. So don’t do that. Your choices are: a) miss the birthday lunch and incur family wrath, or b) just keep your jeffing phone off the whole time, as after all if you’ve switched it off in the first place, it hardly needs charging does it? You idiot. So it was with a degree of anticipation that I switched on the game when I got home, expecting us to be ‘unlucky’, either by losing to a late late goal; losing to the odd goal in a 7 goal thriller; or remotely possible, being pegged back by a late goal to a draw after leading all match. There was also the possibility, given the ‘humour’ of said friend, that we’d have either won or more likely lost 6-0, and ‘unlucky’ was being ironic.

It turns out we weren’t unlucky at all. If he’d said ‘outplayed’ he’d have been closer to the mark, but even that would be slightly unfair. Before the game, many were saying how this would be a stern test, and would help us to gauge where we are on the journey, in this Koeman Project. It was a stern test, we lost fair and square to the better team on the day, and a team that is now 12 points better off than us, and with a goal difference of a whole 19 better too. In some senses, the form guide won the day, and if we are being honest and unbiased (a difficult task for me having been at school in Barnet where 70% of my mates were Spurs fans and I got stick seemingly every week from them, so they’re not my favourite team let’s say), they played us off the park. We were reasonably tight in the first 20 minutes or so, but then inexplicably let Kane turn, run at our back line, and let him shoot without a semblance of closing him down. After that it was a bit ‘hands on deck’, but then the continual pressing that Spurs did all over the pitch, but especially higher up, led to another cock-up and the otherwise sound Joel put Schneiderlin under pressure, they nicked it and the rest is history as Kane The Wonder Boy scored again. Even their 3rd was a bit of a gift as Baines seemingly nodded off and let Ali run in unchecked. Arguably, three goals conceded where we had as much a part to play as Spurs apparent excellence had, but that would be a bit churlish, and whilst their goals weren’t finely crafted things to win you many prizes, it was the result of 90 minutes of pressing and closing down, and eventually the cracks opened up and they exploited them. All credit to Spurs. Damn them.

But, apparently, I’m wrong. I am not going to defend every player for a fairly limp defeat, but try and get some balance back. We scored twice at Spurs and if you like a meaningless stat, that’s 30% of the goals they’ve conceded at home this whole season; they’ve won 12 at home, drawn 2 and lost precisely none. If you judge Everton by the standards of others rather than the standards we demand of them, we did OK. But we lost, and we all hate losing. Were we rubbish? No. Inadequate on the day maybe, and it did show up where we need to improve to beat a team so far ahead of us, rather than banging 6 past Bournemouth or easing past Sunderland. As a learning experience, it was probably of greater value. I was expecting a defeat but hoping for a draw, but in terms of how this moves us forwards, I think it was invaluable in showing us where things need to get better.

Let’s start in goal.

Do we need a new No.1? At this stage, I’m saying ‘no’. Joel is no Southall (he’s half the size of the current model for a start) and he actually showed again yesterday that his ability to get his huge frame out and down at a striker’s feet is pretty impressive, and as a shot-stopper he’s sound; he’s even claimed crosses better than him in the past and certainly better than Timbo (Happy Birthday Tim); but I hope to God that the six of yesterday was not the sign of the return of the Old Joel, the one cataclysmic mistake a game Joel. I hope not; yesterday was completely avoidable, and we’ve learnt anything about our Over-Toothed Spanish Stopper (try and fit that on your shirt) he’s a learner himself. He learns from his mistakes. So keep him, and focus the attention elsewhere.

Which might just happen to be the defence. A slightly ageing back four with Baines and Williams now the other side of 30, and Coleman chasing them at 28. It’s not quite Dad’s Army (no, don’t panic Mr Mainwaring Sir), and we know that defenders improve with age like fine wine, but I’m not sure if we’ve got the balance right. Funes Mori can play as if he’s been on the aforementioned fine wine, such is his unpredictability. He is an Argentinian International, but he doesn’t always look like it (the International bit I mean). He’s better defending in the air than we give him credit for, but his ground work is inconsistent. I’m not sure he’s the answer to the back 4 malaise, but Holgate does, at some stage, need to be properly tested, and to decide if he’s a RB or a CB. From what little I’ve seen, I’d prefer Jonjoe Kenny as a RB than Holgate, so move Holgate more centrally, but he’s also been found out a couple of times in a back 3 this season, so think he remains ‘back up’ rather than starter. Other young lads like Pennington, even Feeney, Robinson will still be around, but for the 17/18 season, I think we need two new CBs. If that means letting Williams and Mori go as they won’t play bit-part back up roles, then so be it. Defence has to be the priority.

Defensive Midfield is where we have the luxury of choice, which, ironically, was part of our undoing yesterday as RK probably made the wrong choice. Really not sure why Barry got the nod ahead of McCarthy, the Ginger Ninja probably being a more valuable threat if he’d adopted a more up and at ’em approach rather than the recessive sit back and see if they can beat us that he chose instead. But enough of yesterday, looking ahead, we only have the problem of who to pick each week, with surely a rich seam of Schneiderlin, Gueye, McCarthy, Besic and if really needed Barry should provide more than enough options. Even YTD could play there, but Young Tom Davies was thrown further forward yesterday and he didn’t look any more out of place than those blue shirts around him, damning with faint praise there for you. I think we can see that YTD brings out the best in Ross Barkley, who probably was better than most yesterday, but he retreated like many others to leave Lukaku too isolated. We probably need an additional, high quality creative source, to get the ball, and thread it through for the Strikers (not sure why I’ve suddenly made that ‘plural’), as opposed to Barkley who is more of an attacking midfielder in his own right. A Rooney-type, or maybe even a Sigurdsson, although they may not be top drawer enough for the Koeman Project, and at (apparently) 97, Rooney isn’t going to play every game or last 90 minutes in any game he starts. And there’s another issue with Rooney. He doesn’t play for us, and may never do again. I highlight these two as current PL players that are the type we need, but top quality in this vital position is, well, yeh, vital. I’d love Mata or a Fabregas, but doubt either will happen, so we’ll have to see what gems Walsh can find us in the Bulgarian 3rd Division.

Up front Lukaku has to stay. So that’s that sorted, now he needs back up. We need another No9 type, and we all know Kone isn’t the answer, and we probably haven’t got one coming through. And width. Nothing would please us all more than a returning Deulofeu who is the complete footballing article, but doubt that’s going to happen, so Mirallas and he will be set to play second fiddle to Lookman and a who-knows-who winger that can plonk the ball on Lukaku’s bonce from either flank.

We’re not rubbish. Yesterday was poor, but put it in to some kind of perspective. We’ve got the 7th best Goal Difference; we’ve got the 7th best number of wins; the 7th best number of defeats; we’ve got the 6th best goals scored; the 5th fewest goals conceded; and guess what – we’re 7th. If ever there were a truism it is that “you finish where your results take you”.

At the moment, we’re 7th, faint hopes of better, more realistic fears of worse, but still further along on the journey than some give us credit for. I don’t accept mediocrity, and where we are and how we played is not good enough, but the journey towards a Vision takes time, it’s never overnight. Not with FFP in place anyway.

Ross Crombie

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