Depressing. After the excitement of the win at Newcastle, which really felt like a turning point – this. Our most depressing performance since AVB’s final game against Liverpool, there were fewer goals but the defeat was almost as dispiriting.
Until now, the highlight of our season has been our away form. Only two defeats prior to this game, at title chasing Manchester City and Arsenal – Norwich, with respect, are a rather different beast.
The first talking point was the team sheet. No Eriksen in the starting XI for the third straight game. The one bright spot of our Bale funded, summer transfer spree, seemingly surplus to requirements. There was some logic in the decision, why change the formula that had worked so well at St. James’ Park? But when Capoue limped off after barely 10 minutes it wasn’t the Dane’s number that was called. Sherwood chose to bring on Chadli to cries of disbelief.
Another notable omission was Kaboul. The sad news is he’s injured again. I had given up on him after his many injury layoffs, then he raised everyone’s hopes with a fine comeback performance at Newcastle. His partnership with Vertonghen, one that many Spurs fans had longed to see, had looked very promising. When he was left out of the Dnipro game, it appeared this was just a precaution, but no. Let’s hope he can make it back to full fitness but the signs don’t look good.
We had rested several of our key squad members for the trip to Ukraine in midweek, including Lloris and Adebayor. Treating the Europa League as a clear second priority is understandable when you have Daniel Levy as your boss (although I don’t subscribe to this view myself) but you have to make the sacrifice count. Here we looked tired and off the pace.
As picked out in our preview, Robert Snodgrass was a thorn in Spurs’ side, scoring the only goal directly after half time. It had been a poor first 45 minutes for Tottenham, who had been outplayed by a Norwich side hovering precariously above the relegation zone. One of the canaries’ problems this year has been an inability to put the ball in the back of the net, and this was in evidence again as Tottenham held on, to go in scoreless at the break.
Whatever was in Sherwood’s team talk, it didn’t work. Virtually straight after the restart, Bentaleb lost the ball in midfield. Norwich moved it quickly to Bradley Johnson, who’s performance maybe even topped Snodgrass. He played a perfect pass through our retreating defence, still trying to reorganise after the turnover of possession. Snodgrass cut in from the right and finished with aplomb.
The goal demonstrates the danger of losing the ball in such a situation. Rose was out of position up field and could not get back in time. Bentaleb showed his inexperience, first giving the ball away, then chasing after it to try to make amends rather than slotting in to cover for his left back. Paulinho must shoulder some of the blame, sauntering back when he too could have covered. A more experienced, holding player may have plugged the gap, and in this sense the early loss of Capoue (and continuing absence of Sandro), was a stroke of bad luck for Tottenham.
As for much of this season, Spurs were lacking in ideas going forward; which makes the lack of a substitute appearance for Eriksen even more baffling. Though he perhaps lacks consistency, he is one of the few player in our squad who can do the unexpected, one moment of quality to unlock a tight defence.
Maybe he is carrying a niggling injury, otherwise it makes little sense. It can’t be tiredness as he has only played 26 minutes in the last three games, while the likes of Paulinho and Bentaleb have played far more. The two central midfielders look tired – they both played in Ukraine – and this may have played a part in below par performances. Bentaleb especially seems in need of a rest.
In recent games where we have struggled, Adebayor and Lloris have saved the day, the game against Everton being a particularly strong example. Here the French goalkeeper was in excellent form, however Adebayor had a quiet game. To be fair to him, he didn’t get much service or support. Frequently the ball was knocked long to him where he fought a losing battle on his own against the Norwich centre backs, He did have a couple of notable opportunities, both times a heavy touch gave Ruddy a chance to come and claim the ball.
When Soldado came on we did look slightly more likely to score. Almost immediately he found himself through on goal but blazed over. He did at least get himself in scoring positions but with every missed chance his confidence seems to visibly diminish. If he could have just got on the scoresheet in midweek, it would have done him the world of good. I still haven’t given up on him.
The biggest problem for me is our lack of movement. When going forward everyone is static, making picking out a defence splitting pass impossible. Snodgrass, Redmond, Johnson and Fir were much more mobile, and frequently dangerous balls were played behind our defence, the goal being just one example. Dawson put in a typical performance, all diving headers and desperate blocks but not much subtlety or guile. One moment he came flying from defence to head the ball in midfield, only for it to sail over his head and present Norwich with another opportunity – how we could do with a fit Kaboul.
Of course this is just one game. The problem for Sherwood is, with our rivals picking up wins, this could signal the end of our challenge for the top four. With this in mind, the return leg against Dnipro becomes all the more important. Our manager was basking in the plaudits for the win at St. James’, now just over a week later he looks down and out. The fickle nature of football.
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