Here we are again after yet another debacle. West Ham, Man City, Liverpool, Man City again and now Chelsea. Like a punch drunk fighter, we stagger from one knockout to the next, resigned to the beatings.
The first shock yesterday came with the team news. It looked like Sherwood had chosen one too many defenders. Was this a back five? Where were Eriksen, Paulinho, Dembele? Was Lennon really playing as a number 10? Who was this Sigurdsson in the XI? I’d forgotten he even existed.
The formation confusion was cleared up – we were lined up in a 4-2-3-1. The five defenders included Walker who was playing in midfield, presumably to double up on Hazard. A reasonable idea, especially given the poor performances of our wide men this season. The three centre backs were actually two; Vertonghen was being asked to fill in on the left. Eriksen and Dembele were both injured, Paulinho was tired, having flown to South Africa in midweek for international duty.
So it all made sense, well sort of. At least Sherwood was trying to outfox Jose, better this plan than no plan at all.
The match started badly. Twice in the early skirmishes, Chelsea tore open the Spurs defence and twice we got lucky. First a linesman’s flag ruled Eto incorrectly offside. Next Hazard’s shot missed after he’d taken the ball round Lloris. This was the first time the Dawson-Kaboul centre back pairing had been used since our 6-0 reverse at the Etihad, and it showed.
After these early scares Spurs settled and if anything had the better of the game. We had lots of possession as Chelsea sat back, but their compact formation gave us little space to work with. We’ve struggled to break down much lesser sides, so this was a tough ask. Sandro hit a rasping drive, Kaboul had a header from a corner. Chelsea still looked the most likely to score. The second they recovered the ball, they broke like lightning.
The sides went in at half time honours even, 0-0. It gave us some hope, something to build on. That hope was well and truly extinguished in the 15 minutes after the restart.
The first goal came in the 56th minute and it set the tone for the remainder of the game – slapstick comedy. Vertonghen came under pressure with the ball in defence. He slipped and, in his desperation to stop Chelsea picking up the loose ball, scooped it towards the goal, where Eto was waiting. It could not have been a better pass had he meant it and Eto made no mistake, slotting the ball under Dawson’s despairing lunge.
An unfortunate mistake, but there was worse to come. Moments later Eto fell in the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Kaboul was judged to have fouled the Cameroon forward and was sent off. A very harsh penalty (it looked like an Eto dive) compounded by an even harsher red card. Two goals and a man down, and the game was over. All that was left to play for was pride, but we managed to lose that contest too.
Two more comedy goals followed. First Sandro got in on the act, falling over his own feet when attempting to cut out a ball across the six yard box. Ba gratefully accepted the chance. Then, after a clearance from the keeper, Walker bizarrely headed the ball straight back to Lloris. Ba stole in and scored again, probably wondering if it was Christmas.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen four more pathetic goals in one match. It was a total capitulation and a total embarrassment. The looks on the players faces reminded me of the haunted expressions I saw at our loss to Liverpool in December. The following day AVB was out. The manager won’t be fired so promptly this time around, but it is surely now inevitable that Levy will make another change in the summer.
In the interviews after the game, Sherwood looked resigned to his fate. He questioned the character of the players, and rubbished our thoughts of reaching the top four. He was right. I’ve never been his biggest fan but he has been put in an unenviable position (as I discuss in my article about him here). He’s out of his depth but he’s going to carry the can for a lot of other people’s mistakes.
So now we have just the Europa League left. On this showing we’ll get destroyed by Benfica. Maybe with Eriksen and Dembele back, nothing else to play for and a full house of passionate fans at White Hart Lane we can give it a go. Otherwise, here’s to next season.
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