The dust still hasn’t settled

by SingleMaltSuds

SingleMaltSuds looks back at Saturday's painful result and tries to find the logic. It wasn't a good day.

As if a foreboding of the nuclear winter that is surely soon upon us all, the radioactive dust kicked up from Saturday afternoon still swirls around me. Despite having supposedly steeled myself against the crushing emotional aspect of football, I still can’t shake the bitter disappointment from Saturday.

In the lead up to the game, I kept telling myself that I would enjoy the day – if only in part – despite the football match itself. Occasions like this don’t come along that often, especially not for Spurs fans. Yes it was Wembley, yes we’ve by and large had a torrid time there (both on the field and trying to leave the sodding ground), but if anything it was an opportunity under different circumstances to get used to our new temporary home, to lift the curse. That was the positive spin, anyway.

It was all going to plan in the weeks leading up to it: Chelsea were rocking, Spurs were on a roll. Spurs had nothing to lose and in the ascendancy and Chelsea on the skids. Soundbites trickled in over the preceding days, with Conté preaching caution, and shifting the initiative to Spurs. I wasn’t falling for this, particularly, and therefore didn’t expect Spurs too. It seems as though we did.

In the lead up to the game, word came that team selections would raise eyebrows.

Son at left wing back?

Surely nonsense, but regardless certainly not from the start.

Walker dropped to the bench?

Not in our ‘biggest game in 25 years’.

Cup specialist Trippier – for all his first time cross quality -couldn’t be trusted when pushed back to defend, something Chelsea were surely going to do as they had for majority of the season. Information: disregarded.

Chelsea were also misleading those in the know. Hazard and Costa on the bench?

Pochettino wouldn’t fall for such on the nose mind games.

As the team news was announced, true enough, the fabled was in fact reality. On balance, it didn’t dissuade most Spurs fans pre-match. Overlooking a glaring problem that Son had never played left wing back, Hazard and Costa ‘rested’ was surely a sign the Conté had one thing on his mind: winning the Premier League.

The much maligned Davies, for all his ‘no-being-Danny-Rose-ness’ has grown in the last few weeks

He wouldn’t jeopardise that, and therefore his job, for a tin pot competition bizarrely overvalued by English journalists and BBC pundits (his words). Tripper wouldn’t be troubled, and with a midfield of Wanyama and Dembele, Chelsea wouldn’t see the ball to damage us.

Spurs would therefore marshal this game easy enough, probably dispatching the waning champions elect 2-0, without too much trouble.

Nope.

From the first whistle, it became clear that Pochettino got it wrong. Spurs might have been able to handle a bold choice on one flank, but deploying both Son and Trippier needlessly unsettled Spurs. The much maligned Davies, for all his ‘no-being-Danny-Rose-ness’ has grown in the last few weeks. He might not be the most versatile, nor might he be the most dynamic either in attack or defence, but those around him are used to playing with him. Son in his place caused problems from the off.

He looked completely at sea when Spurs were in possession and without. His presence disrupted Vertonghen’s usual solid distribution, pushing the Belgian to pass in field given the Korean’s early ropey showing. With Walker on the opposite flank, normal service would have resumed. However he wasn’t. Spurs’ slick passing ground to a halt in the opening stages. A loss of possession forced the imperious Alderweireld into a rare foul, and resulted in an even rarer booking. The free kick resulted in a conceded goal. Hugo Lloris channelling Paul Robinson in being wrong footed.

The outlook was suddenly bleak. The tactical surgery needed to rebalance Spurs after the misjudged line-up looked beyond us. It is telling that despite his good form, most would have accepted the best place for Son was from the bench for this game. Shore things up with midfield solidity, and bring on Son for the final stages of the game. This was suddenly no longer an option.

Spurs initially seemed to stem any impact Hazard might have, and began again to push Chelsea back. A perfect time to bring on a dangerous attacking player, to stay high and exert pressure. A player like Son

Chelsea sat back, and Spurs found an unexpected opening through a quite sublime header from Kane. The decision to start Son at left wing back then saw its most profound effect. Victor Moses showed more willingness whilst Son dawdled, forcing the latter into a reckless tackle in the box. Contact was non-existent on reflection, but the referee was given a decision to make. The penalty was dispatched, and Son’s immaturity in that position was starkly uncovered.

Spurs battled back to 2-2, with another sublime ball from the mostly brilliant Eriksen. Spurs were in the ascendancy in terms of possession, although the shadow of Hazard and Costa loomed.

Sure enough, Conté played his hand. It is telling that he brought both players on at once, as if it was premeditated regardless of score line. He had Pochettino where he wanted him. Spurs initially seemed to stem any impact Hazard might have, and began again to push Chelsea back. A perfect time to bring on a dangerous attacking player, to stay high and exert pressure. A player like Son.

Conversely, it was the woeful Son who came off, for rightful starter Kyle Walker. With Trippier now having to move to the unfamiliar left wing back position, Spurs were again unbalanced. Hazard struck first, then Matic with an unstoppable strike. Spurs had no options left, apart from Georges-Kevin Nkoudou who, limited to only a bit part role this season, proved no option at all.

The frustration of this result doesn’t really stem from losing a semifinal against a rival, nor does it stem from the fact that a loss potentially hands momentum to the team we are chasing in the league. It stems from the fact that an unnecessary gamble was made, and was therefore avoidable. Had a rampant Chelsea played Spurs off the park, then that can be accepted – sometimes you get beaten by the better team. It is certainly much easier to accept than needlessly handing a dangerous team the initiative. It’s been suggested that Davies was carrying a knock. Even if that was the case, Jan Vertonghen is a more than adequate deputy left back.

The decision making might point to the fact that Pochettino simply knows what his criteria for personal success is, and seeing the Cup as a staging area for his league campaigns. Finishing in the top four is king.

In terms of financial benefit, on merit, Spurs would earn £38million from finishing second, compared to £36million finishing 3rd in the league. Spurs earned £450k as a losing semifinalist, with a potential £2.3million gone begging from not winning the semi and subsequent final. This is in no ways making excuses for Pochettino marginalising the Cup, which he apparently did with his whimsical team selection. It is just trying to understand the thinking behind the squad management. Had Vorm been fit, I think he would have started (and arguably been a better option, given Lloris’ less than glittering performance).

Talk since Spurs’ collapse last season has been about the teams’ winning mentality, or lack of it – and that this is somehow gained from experiencing near misses and painful losses. This is overcomplicating a simple equation – you learn how to win by winning, not by losing.

The reality is, a tactical misstep against Chelsea could have far wider ramifications both for the remainder of this season and beyond

It is understandable, somewhat, that Pochettino would aim to achieve what his paymasters want: Champions League qualification, with the higher the finishing position the better. It is undeniable that Spurs need to solidify their financial foundations, in order to properly compete over the next five years. The new stadium is part of that, but the club’s brand needs to match those lofty ambitions for marketability. It sounds grubby, but that is football. Despite all of this bigger picture musing, it doesn’t excuse the fact that Spurs just passed up a golden opportunity to make that step up on the field, which would only further benefit the club off it.

Spurs have suddenly, from a position of strength and command, remembered how to lose games at the beginning of a period which has little to no margin of error. Sam Allardyce has virtually saved Crystal Palace from the drop with Sunday’s win over Liverpool, and has remarked that the pressures of three games in a week would be too much for his players.

The midweek game against Spurs will likely therefore see wholesale changes to their starting XI. Allardyce is either resting on his laurels, or taking a shot at the footballing powers that be at the scheduling decisions. Either way: don’t be fooled. Telling Spurs exactly what they want to hear is nothing short of vicious, especially as all it will likely to is prompt complacency when the opposite is very much needed.

The reality is, a tactical misstep against Chelsea could have far wider ramifications both for the remainder of this season and beyond. A season of home games at Wembley next year is currently wholly unappetising for fans. Surely the players will be feeling the pressure too. We wait with baited breath as to what effect it will have.

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