Tottenham Hotspur’s season opener against Everton is now just a week away and I’m filled with the excitement, anticipation, anxiety and apprehension that Spurs’ supporters have come to know all too well in recent campaigns.
Here’s a live feed of sorts for the final pre-season match at home against Athletic Bilbao.
Starting line-up: Gomes, Assou-Ekotto, Corluka, Dawson, Bassong, Pienaar, Lennon, Huddlestone, Jenas, Kranjcar, Pavlyuchenko
Tommy Huddlestone has committed 3 dumb fouls in the first 20 minutes of the match.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto has been looking good, playing solid defensively. Last year he was always second guessed by pundits, but he was the most consistent defender for me last year and so far today.
Bassong is just lost and doesn’t look like his head is in it or that he really wants to be there. He got his chance to prove himself last year paired with Dawson away to Blackpool and was absolutely terrible. I think we overpaid for him when we bought him from Newcastle after a lucky season.
Dawson is playing decent, not inspirationally solid but then again he doesn’t really look good unless he’s coupled with King (or Gallas to a lesser extent).
During the first half of the opening 45 minutes, Bilbao has outplayed us in midfield and out-possessed us to an embarrassing degree considering we’re playing 5 across the midfield. But what else do you expect when Jenas is playing in Modric’s place? The injury to Pienaar is a worrying sight since his transfer in was to bolster the depth in our ranks.
The goal against is one of those things that just happens, and Gomes has looked, like, well, Gomes. He hasn’t been outstanding, but strong enough. His shot-stopping has been fine but he still finds the chance to do some floundering in the air.
Niko Kranjcar has been the highlight of the first 28th minutes so far, his dribbling with the ball at his foot and the cross he played out wide to Lennon have been the two moments of hope for Spurs. I wasn’t sure how well Niko would slot into the vdv-role, but he’s been playing naturally there. It’s just a shame that Harry is playing that midfield-off-the-striker role with Pavlyuchenko who is a great deep-lying forward.
In the 34th minute, Lennon’s attempt at a run down the flank was predictable and frustrating. His one trick, kick and run, utterly failed to impress and a promising attack broke down before it even had time to grow.
Through the first half, Spurs look like they’re still in pre-season, while our lack of midfield presence makes Bilbao appear in great form.
Charlie hasn’t been exposed with pace in the first half and overlapped a few times. The one time in the 42 minute, Lennon was able to make up the ground and collect the ball easily.
Jenas is just trademark Jenas. Half hearted tracking backs, a few ankle hacks, making the wrong runs and spraying terrible passes around the park. Elsewhere in the midfield, Huddlestone is showing his pinpoint passing skills, but rarely going forward, opting instead to find Dawson’s feet for the safe drop pass. That was a wonderful silky pass in-stride to Lennon’s foot by Modric in the 44th minute, but then Lennon and Corluka were far too predictable.
Spurs have not looked good in the first half, they’ve been outplayed all over the pitch. If not for Bilbao’s lack of quality in the final third, Tottenham could easily find themselves three down.
Substitutions at the half:
Friedel in for Gomes, Bale in Jenas, Crouch in Pav, Defoe in Huddlestone, Kaboul in Bassong, Walker in for Corluka
I’m excited to see Kyle Walker on the main stage for Spurs. He thoroughly impressed during his loan spells last year, especially in the Premier League with Aston Villa (the goals he scored in the cup and the league were fantastic).
I liked what I saw when Kaboul played last season, even when he got that weak red card against Newcastle for not taking “garbage” from Cheik Tiote. It’s a real shame he was hurt for long stretches last year.
Like we heard so many times last year: Modric plays it out to Bale, and Welsh Jesus does not disappoint with a run and cross for Crouch to do more awkward break-dancing to get the shot off. “Spurs looking better already,” the commentator sums it up best. And all the worries that arose in the first half are washed away with that play.
For the first time, Lennon gets by his man in the 52th minute but got fouled without a call. Walker looked good to book it down the wing on the next play. Obviously Harry put the fire under their asses at halftime, and the turn-around is on. Odd deflection that Lennon runs onto, onside, cuts in and plays the simple ball to Defoe. Defoe promptly blasts his shot into the roof of the net and the celebration is on.
Look a much different side through 12 minutes in the second half. The team is looking very comfortable in a 4-4-2, with the “full court press” working very well on the rotation to pressure Bilbao’s back line. Positioning has been very good, with everybody shifting to plug gaps.
Friedel’s confidence has got to be shaky. He’s coming off a decidedly poor performance in Paul Scholes testimonial, looked helpless on the shot deflected off Dawson’s foot, on the shot that hit the crossbar and the ensuing rebound that trickled past the far post. He is really going to want to get his hands around something soon. And right on cue, in the 65th minute he smothers an attempted low cross.
Four minutes later, another familiar sight; Gareth Bale gets flattened by a hack of a right back. No signs of injury, though. After a terrible penalty attempt from Kranjcar, Crouch heads a cross down to Gareth Bale to take first time on the volley; just wide. In the 74th minute, Kyle Walker makes a lung busting run into the box from deep, always promising. And now Bale and Lennon are back to swapping wings, something I also love to see. Gives them the option to come in the their stronger foot to take shots.
Kranjcar’s been largely absent during the second half, but that’s understandable considering he’s playing a more conservative central midfield role. 81st minute: Lennon makes way for Jake Livermore who is an intimidating figure on the pitch for a youngster and Kranjcar goes out wide left. I thought Livermore won the ball cleanly from Inigo to start a two on one break for Spurs, but the official disagrees. Much better performance from Spurs all-around.
Like so many friendlies, this match was a game of two halves. And like so many times last season, when one of the cogs is missing, the whole team falters. In case we needed more proof that we can’t trust Jenas to do anything in the midfield. At least Hutton didn’t see the field.
Fernando Llorente did enough to convince me that we should actively pursue him. He was always threatening and with the service from our starting midfield he could be the lone striker in Harry’s 4-5-1 or could also slot in next to any of our current strikers (though one of them is probably going to go). Here’s hoping Mr. Levy opens the checkbook to the tune of 23 million pounds.
The second half does a lot to inspire hope for the upcoming season. I would have liked to see Gio get a run-out today because I refuse to believe there is no place for him in this team. The match should boost both Crouch and Defoe’s confidence ahead of the clash against Everton at the Lane. Bale was absolutely dominate out there for his 45 minutes, Modric showed way Abramovich and Levy are both throwing tantrums over him, and Kyle Walker showed that we can be the physical wing-back style defender we need partnered with Lennon down the right flank. Everything could be coming together nicely. Excellent.