Friday, February 25, 2011

All I Need is a Miracle

photo by .reid.via PhotoRee

In which Columnist James -- like Lazarus, back from the dead -- tells us what he really thinks about Spurs motivation-sapping 3-1 loss to Blackpool on Tuesday night:

To think I wasted two good Sierra Nevada Torpedoes on this game.

Although, really, I should have seen it coming.  The past week has been typical of Spurs’ roller coaster season thus far:  from the high of becoming only the third British team to knock off AC Milan at the San Siro to this putrid performance at Bloomfield Road.  Even though Spurs dominated the game for stretches – long stretches – there still was an inexplicable lack of intensity on their side and a very explicable longstanding lack of production up front.

That they came out flat was apparent from the opening.  How they could allow this to happen with the opportunity in the table before them, and playing against a team that had lost six straight, is mystifying.  Equally mystifying is Harry’s statement the day before that it would "take a miracle” to qualify for Champions League this season.  Odd motivational tactic.  One can only imagine what the players thought after that quote.  Or perhaps it was the statement from someone who is looking to cushion expectations ahead of his eventual ascendency to the English national team.  Either way, not exactly a shot in the arm for this Spurs squad, of whom Harry had said only a few months before should reasonably believe they could challenge for the very top.  Now, because of City and Chelsea’s ever expanding payroll, it will take a “miracle” to finish even fourth.

There are three possible messages here. 

Message to the players: hey, don’t worry about even trying – because Chelski and City have thoroughly outspent and out-maneuvered us in January, we’re not even capable of it - barring a “miracle” that is. 

Message to the summer’s transfer targets:  if you desire to play consistent Champions League, don’t bother coming here – it will take a “miracle.” 

Message to Haringey Council and English Heritage (perhaps, and this is the only possibility to make sense of this puzzling statement):  better get back to the drawing board and help us find a less expensive solution to redevelop WHL. Regardless, from a manager who has done such a wonderful job in building a cohesive, spirited and motivated culture in the squad this was a perplexing message to send.

Based on last night however – and the ongoing lack of production up front – Harry is right.  It will take a miracle.  Spurs have eight goals from strikers in league games this season.  Eight.  And six of those are from Pavlyuchenko, who most of the time looks like he is strolling through a casino in Vegas with a martini and lit cigarette. At least Crouchie (2 goals) works – although it is clear that the more physical premier league teams have a much better idea how to defend him than the Europeans.  Defoe (who has zero goals) appears completely lost – barely able to work himself in position to get a shot on target much less a goal unless he is on Young Boys’ artificial surface.  And none of them, even when open (and with the exception of Pav in rare stretches earlier in the season), are capable of finishing with the authority one would expect from strikers at this level.  And finishing was the real issue last night:  25 shots, 10 on target, one fluke goal in extra time, two point blank headers missed by Pavlyuchenko, a regrettably soft chip from Defoe that was amazingly headed off the goal line by Craig Carthcart, and many more lost chances after one too many passes in the box prior to the aforementioned inability to finish by a striker.

Where is Robbie Keane when you need him?

Actually, for all intents and purposes in League games this year Spurs have no strikers – ZERO.  To Harry’s point, it actually is miraculous that they are where they are in the table with this lack of production.  With their wealth of options in mid-field they would be better off with Kranjcar and VDV up front.

Of course there were other reasons for the loss.  One is hard pressed to ever witness a worse performance from a central defender than that turned in by Bassong.  And then there are the injuries.  With only four fit defenders, Gallas was forced to play on the right, for example.  Obviously, VDV, Bale, even Kaboul, are all sorely missed.  But there are always injuries.  The bottom line however is that if you are going to realistically challenge for top four you do not lose this game, regardless of the squad you put out there.

So this performance really begs a larger question, one implied by Harry’s “miracle” statement and the recent loss of the Olympic Stadium opportunity:  is this as good as it gets for Spurs?  A fluke top 4 finish in 09/10 and an inspiring run in the Champions League, followed by the assumption of Spurs’ rightful place in mid-table hoping for the odd Europa spot?  Arsenal generated €93M last year from their stadium; Spurs €36.8M.  United are a global marketing behemoth with revenue streams everywhere, Chelsea and City have money poured into them by ownership with no thought to profitability.  The revenue/spending gap between these teams and Spurs is huge.  And now Liverpool is suddenly regenerated with stable ownership.

The truly nauseating thought for Spurs fans carried away through this euphoric roller coaster ride of a season is that, without solving the stadium issue, Harry may be right:  this season and beyond.

This is farlieonfootie for February 25.

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