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In defence of the defence

5 min read
by Dan Rattigan

With the dust having settled from last Saturday’s game, Dan Rattigan takes a look at the tactics deployed by Pochettino and discusses whether this is the way forward for Spurs, especially away to the Sky four.

The dust has settled from Saturday’s game at the Emirates and, football being the wonderfully subjective game it is, as always there are a ‘gillion’ opinions (thanks to Paul Merson for that). With the exceptions of five or six players (the back four, Lloris and Mason), almost everything is up for debate.

article-0-1F69313900000578-84_634x484Does Lamela flatter to deceive? Is Eriksen involved enough? What does Chadli offer apart from goals (as if they don’t count)? What’s eating Adebayor? Is Capoue mobile enough? Were we set up like a small team?

What remains is we came away with a point, having taken the lead, at the end of a week where, well, we hadn’t played well. We played them three different times last year, three different ways and to the same end.

First up, we tried to bore them into submission with our seemingly interchangeable 6 foot midfielders showing all the upper body strength of a poorly toddler. Then there was the 442-induced madness of the FA Cup and Danny Rose’s Cruyff turn. Lastly the soul-sapping 0-1 at home where the ominous sense of doom kicked in within 60 seconds although managed to never quite materialise in the same way it did against Liverpool and Man City.

Looking back, what did those games have in common aside from the result?

Well we had more of the ball in each of them without ever really looking threatening and were still, to differing degrees, cut to ribbons.

Pochettino had clearly learnt from his own failings against Liverpool and also those of his predecessors

After the West Brom game, a 0-1 loss at home to relegation fodder, it’s hard to shake the feelings of new manager, same problems – coming back from a European tie, regardless of the personnel involved, to a disappointing defeat at the Lane.

I’ve read theories that it’s not so much the travel involved, more the lack of preparation time in the week. Looking at Liverpool’s form last season, where their players could spend their evenings like the rest of us (maybe doing a bit of light exercise, channel surfing and thinking ‘10pm feels really late to be going to the cinema when I’ve got work tomorrow’), and their struggles so far this season it’s a compelling argument.

But here we were, 2 days after playing a midweek game (against two-time European champions no less), with no training, turning in a performance at a ground that has been largely miserable for us since that 3-2.

Given those performances last year (added to City, Liverpool, even West Ham) it was refreshing to see a manager who had clearly learnt from his own failings against Liverpool and also those of his predecessors. We had a game plan.That’s something I can’t remember against a ‘big’ side since we beat Arsenal 2-1 at home 2 seasons back. We were compact and didn’t allow a suicidal amount of space for their pacey players to break into – I can’t remember too many one-on-one opportunities which, given our previous in these kind of games, is significant.

Historically it’s not been that we concede loads of chances, it’s been that the ones we do concede tend to be put on a plate. To stretch that further, we tend to set the table, seat them and tell them not to worry about their wallet as it’s on the house.

In attack, the plan on Saturday wasn’t a million miles away from that 2-1 in 2013 (although we had more of the ball then) – hit them quickly on the break with diagonals, exploiting the space in behind their fullbacks and where a defensive midfielder should be.

I saw a manager getting more out of Rose and Naughton than I thought possible

Mason had a fantastic league debut, always looking for the forward pass and robust enough in the tackle (maybe too robust for any game apart from a derby). Compare that to last season’s possession-fests. A significant difference is where we previously had Bale and an in-form Aaron Lennon to despatch them with a minimum of fuss and stretch the play, we now have three attacking players finding their feet and working each other’s games out. And Aaron Lennon to come on and do whatever it is he does (sorry Azza).

But it was reactive, or negative to some, which doesn’t always chime with some people’s views on how football should be played or the mythical ‘Tottenham way’. Certainly I’ve heard and read pundits and journalists decrying it as such, with Arsenal supposedly the better side.

But I saw a manager getting more out of Rose (even if I thought he had a nightmare first half) and Naughton than I thought possible, squeezing more out of Kaboul than I thought was left and who successfully dropped a player into central midfield with as much top flight experience as you or I into one of the most meaningful fixtures of our season. All the while playing what looked, suspiciously, like 442. And we came away with a point. We could have won it.

Obviously City in a few weeks is a much bigger test, but maybe this is the way we’re going to play against better teams. The way we have to play against better teams. Let’s shut the door first and rely on what looks like the strongest part of our side (Lloris, Vertonghen, Kaboul and Capoue) while the lads in front of them work each other out.

not everyone is going to be as generous as QPR, and we’ll have to get smarter to take advantage

Transition is a word that’s used endlessly about Spurs, but this really is back to basics – a manager having to teach a squad how to play again, purging the memories of what felt to me as one of the worst seasons I’ve witnessed (despite the league finish). It must have demoralised the squad. Off the top of my head, I think Pochettino’s record against bigger sides at Southampton was outstanding.

Next let’s see if he can work out what we do at home against teams we should be beating – an awful hangover that’s lingered since teams worked us out under Harry. Unfortunately not everyone is going to be as generous as QPR, and we’ll have to get smarter to take advantage, but for the first time in 13 months I’m excited about what the manager can do.

I feel like I’ve defended and rationalised a lot in that period but, unlike the start of last season, this doesn’t seem entirely built on sand (or Soldado penalties). There will be ups and (guaranteed) downs but I believe. Not in the top four, not in the owners or whichever investment company buys us off this investment company; I believe in Pochettino.

All views and opinions expressed in this article are the views and opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of The Fighting Cock. We offer a platform for fans to commit their views to text and voice their thoughts. Football is a passionate game and as long as the views stay within the parameters of what is acceptable, we encourage people to write, get involved and share their thoughts on the mighty Tottenham Hotspur.

Dan Rattigan


    02/10/2014 @ 12:45 pm

    as long as levy is running our club NO manager will fulfil his potential

    • FatherJack
      02/10/2014 @ 2:00 pm

      Just take your plastic, I must have instant results ways to another team, maybe as the author called them ‘The Sky Four’ and let the rest of us support Tottenham. We moved forward from where we were ten years ago and now finding it hard just to get that extra push into regular top 4 finishes and title challenges. You are one of an increasing number of Tottenham fans swayed by the hype that Sky ram down our throats, must be top 4 , must have Champions league. I want it all but I’m not going to look stupid when it doesn’t happen or just comment with the troll (like you) one sentence comments, Levy out, We’re going backwards etc. You want it instantly, no transition periods and when it isn’t happening and your crying from another laugh and mock from Woolwich Wanderers fans or the other plastic big teams fans you need to blame someone or something. The best place the board, oh yeah mistakes have happened but we doing now what we’ve benn doing over the years since I’ve been a supporter since the 80s. Bad managers, sacking managers, selling good players buying bad players. I am going to lower my expectations, I too have been disappointed not getting top 4 football and that’s what all fans should try. Let poch settle in, get his ideas across, getc rid of players, get players in. Let’s give him years not months, lets be happy just supporting our team, enjoy it, be happy being in as many cups as we can and if we fail for the next couple of years so be it.

      • Dave
        03/10/2014 @ 1:04 pm


  2. FatherJack
    02/10/2014 @ 2:02 pm

    That comment was aimed at tOTTENHAM lEE and the many so called fans who agree with him not the author

  3. Steven
    03/10/2014 @ 10:10 am

    A fans opinion of the NLD really depends on the style versus substance debate. Substance, we got an away point against one of the stronger teams in the league. Style, we ground out a bore draw.

    I am passionate for the Tottenham Way; it’s no myth. If fans want rigourously patterned play, defense first tactics and win first, win well second mentality then support any team managed by Mouriniho or Benitez.

    As I Spurs fan I want to be entertained, to be part of thrilling football. OK this doesn’t mean we adopt ridiculous tactics and run the risk of being murdered each week but let’s play with some swagger. Arsenal have stolen our ethos and we should demand it back. Where’s the players to get you standing in anticipation when they receive the ball? We shouldn’t be satisfied with the security of our approach it’s our big derby it should have been energy, power, pace and moments of magic.

  4. Nanty
    03/10/2014 @ 2:15 pm

    Our defence is and will continue to be weak and vulnerable until we settle on a solid back four that starts most matches, including EL.

    Mine would be …
    Naughton (until Walker’s fit)

    Kaboul, Dier and Rose as back-up.

    Chiriches as absolute last resort.

    Having a settled back four will instil confidence in the rest of the team.

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