For anyone searching the dark cloud of last Sunday’s performance in the hope of spotting the silver lining, at least two points from six is an improvement on our 15/16 barcode return of zero and, unlike last season, we survived both games without losing.
If you’d rather just study the dark cloud, though, let’s start with the first goal we conceded: Ever since the law change at the start of the 2019/20 season which meant goal-kicks could be knocked to a defender inside the box, we’ve repeatedly trod the tightrope of encouraging our least skilled footballers to take possession of the ball in the most dangerous area of the pitch. And even before that rule-change, Hugo was seriously in love with knocking goal-kicks short to a full-back.
The only time I can ever remember this tactic working to our advantage was in last season’s 2-2 draw at The Emirates, where Arsenal’s midfield shifted too far forwards ahead of the ball being knocked straight back to Lloris, who uncharacteristically hoofed the ball towards Kane, who characteristically flicked a header to Son, who skillfully fed the ball to Lamela, who couldn’t quite work in a Rabona so side-footed the lamest of shots straight at Leno, who hilariously spooned the ball towards Eriksen, who gleefully tapped the ball into an empty net a mere thirteen seconds after Hugo had reverted to hoof-ball.
Other than that, our short goal-kicks against any side who show even the slightest interest in pressing our defenders usually end up, at best, with us conceding a corner or throw-in simply because, when it comes to distributing the ball under the slightest bit of pressure, Lloris and the majority of our defenders are absolute liabilities. Especially now we no longer have Vertonghen as an option.
So when I saw the usual stupidity of Lloris preparing to knock a goal-kick short towards Sanchez after twenty-seven minutes of Sanchez being generally flaky, I should have known we’d be one-nil down within the next twelve seconds.
What’s so infuriating about this is that Mourinho seemed to understand Pochettino’s/Tottenham’s post White Hart Lane preference for short goal-kicks and general faffing around at the back were playing to our weaknesses not our strengths when he arrived: It was so noticeable across his first few games in charge that this sort of tactic was out, and transitioning the ball forwards at pace was in.
But maybe that was down to the way Gazzaniga preferred to distribute the ball rather than anything Mourinho instructed the team to do? Certainly since Hugo recovered from his Brighton back of the net broken arm we seem to have reverted to this sort of disaster inducing tactic, even though, more often than not, we cause ourselves problems whenever we do.
There were some other silver-linings, I guess, in the fact that we quickly recovered from that self-induced catastrophe with Ndombele playing a key part in both goals and Kane’s finish for the second being utterly sumptuous, then fashioned three great chances in the second half to put the game to bed despite allowing Newcastle 22 shots and an Xg of something like 3.3 when they tend to average slightly less than one.
And we didn’t lose.
Though it felt like a loss.
Just like Newcastle at home, West Ham at home, Palace away, Wolves away and Fulham at home.
In fact, I think the only draw we’ve had this season that hasn’t felt like a loss is Chelsea away. But what’s the point in smuggling a precious point away from Stamford Bridge when you’re happy to toss ten others away? If you consider how close we were to a point up at Anfield and the fact we let these ten points slip away despite leading each game with less than twenty minutes remaining, we might be facing United today with only goal difference separating us, a comfortable six points clear of Chelsea in fifth.
Instead, we’re facing a United who are bound to be out for revenge for the 1-6 scoreline earlier in the season having yet again bottled an opportunity in the race for top four.
I’m not looking forward to this game at all, which probably means we’re going to win it: I certainly wasn’t expecting us to go to Old Trafford and spank United a week after drawing with Newcastle at home.
Come on you Spurs!