Spurs Week 6 Action

Second in the table!

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Welcome back everyone! Just to reiterate, the Spurs are a really fun club to follow. Aesthetically pleasing hi-tempo style; young, likable and slightly villainous players; smart and passionate coach; and a shrewd team president who is half way through implementing a 10 year plan to make them one of the big money clubs in England. They’re quite a bit below Arsenal and Liverpool in spending but way above the next tier of teams like Everton, Leicester, and West Ham who have no real shot at securing consistent European qualification. And Spurs are in the Champions League!

On to the game review. 2-1 away win to Middlesbrough. Our third win in a row and an easy result. The English media is trying to spin a narrative that the Spurs were given a run for their money late in the game, but this game was over after 20 minutes. What they should have been talking about was that Middlesbrough’s uniforms are from the early 2000s–baggy, long shorts, 1990s shoulder stripes, Italian-esque body stripes, and just shitty looking. I don’t know if this was some sort of secret throwback alternative kit or if the team is just afraid that their disgustingly fat fans might buy a form-fitting kit and try to wear it in public but it might have made anyone cry if he watched the game.
Anyway, we opened up with a half-strength lineup and played a variation on our typical 4-2-3-1 with Alli and Wanyama at the CM pivot instead of Dembele and Dier; Son, Erikson, and Sissoko playing left to right in AM; Janssen in the striker slot; and Davies at left back. It looked something like this:
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Possibly due to stylistic differences, we played quite differently than normal. Sissoko stayed way out wide forcing Walker to pinch in from right back. Wanyama sat very deep while Alli and Erikson rotated playing the pivot. Janssen made almost no Harry Kane-type steep runs and operated almost exclusively like a center in basketball acting as a distributor from the high post. It was a forward-pushing, but very flat formation that almost looked like a 4-1-1-4 with Walker and the pivot keeping control of the midfield. I’ve diagrammed it thusly:
Inline image 10
As you can guess by my doodles, I did not rate Sissoko or Davies highly this game. That’s because they were garbage. Here’s a map of Sissoko’s contributions. Blue are good, red are bad, a prize to the person who can figure out which goal he was trying to score on:
Inline image 3
Sissoko went out injured in the 70th minute–a knock to the head–and was replaced by Lamela. Here’s what Lamela contributed in 1/5th the time from the same position. Almost every single ball is in the attacking direction.
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I don’t know what Sissoko is trying to do on the pitch but he’s nowhere near the same page as the rest of the team. His positioning was detrimental to Walker, Alli and Erikson, and when he would get the ball it was rarely given back in a more advanced position. Sometimes he takes on defenders but they always drive him to the corner flag where the best case scenario is never more than hopeful cross getting deflected out for a corner kick. Maybe it’s because he’s only been with the club for 4 weeks, but he does not fit what we’re doing.
Davies, on the other hand, has no excuses. He’s been on the team for years so he knows the tactics but his passing was terrible, the timing on his forward runs were confusing and left gaping holes in the D, and he was consistently beat by his man to crosses at the far post. Middlesbrough had exactly 4 crosses from their left to right and all four found Davies’ man or went over Davies’ head to the man he should have been marking. Danny Rose is weak against aerial crosses but he makes up for it by staying goal-side and not letting his man find space behind him. Here are all 6 of Middlesbrough’s shots. The two gray ones were blocked in plays that I can’t remember. The other four are headed balls following crosses by the man running at the far post. That’s it. That’s the entirety of Middlesbrough’s attack. Davies misplaying all 4 of his opportunities to defend crosses:
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So here’s what was good. Our offensive rotation was fluid and potent. Our attackers were coordinated and creative and looked to set each other up. We consistently created scoring chances and harried the ‘brough defense into turning the ball back over in their own half. We had long stretches of possession that strangled the life out of them while not slowing the game down. When the ball does get sent out, Alderweirald is our Belgian falcon swooping around the field picking off passes and through balls with the foresight of a clairvoyant.
Games like today prove that we can roll out a diminished line up against the lesser teams and not really miss out on much. Our fatal flaw last season was that any lineup that didn’t include our top 11 was significantly worse. Late season fatigue ended our chances to really push for the title. Last week against shitty Sunderland with a top line up this was our expected goals (xG) map:
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And this week we took our foot off the pedal at halftime and still put up 1.7xG:
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Son will get the plaudits for this game and that’s reasonable. He came into the match having put 2 screamers past Stoke and looking to take advantage of another starting spot. In August, he requested a transfer back to the Bundesliga following his underwhelming first year in the BPL. Pochettino talked him out of it and looks like the genius that he is. Here are the match highlights, including Son’s two goals:
The first goal is remarkable for two reasons. First, Janssen’s hold up play is par excellence. He could have held onto that for 30 more seconds if he wanted. Second, note that Son is coming from the right and Sissoko is manning the far post on the left. Erikson provides the starter pass to Janssen. All 3 AMs are out of “position” which shows the flexibility and fluidity in Poche’s system. Pep Guardiola of Man City literally drew a chalk mark on the pitch for Raheem Sterling to stand on like a fucking robot. Poche just gets guys who can play, outlines a strategy, and unleashes them.
The second goal is laudable for the hustle that Son shows winning the ball back. Not exactly quality D by ‘brough but the shot was inch perfect. Valdez the GK didn’t even try to save it.
In the ‘brough chances on goal, look for Ben Davies (33) not defending anyone or getting goal-side of his man. Terrible.
With our comfortable 23rd minute 2-0 lead the ref put the whistle in his pocket and we played a gentleman’s game. Not a lot of fouls and Dele Alli actually checked on an injured Smoggie instead of just giving them the hairy eyeball. Not shown on that xG map is the two very reasonable penalty calls that were waved off for no discernible reason in the first half. Alli got inside his man twice and was tripped from behind on the first one (no ball contact at all) and the defender knocked the ball out of the air with his arm on the second one. In the second half, Son was denied a penalty after getting tripped in the box (no ball contact on that one either) so at least the ref was consistent.
‘Brough seemed happy with the 2-0 loss too. The only players in red who took exception were the GK Valdez who nearly attacked his own defender for not tracking back and had to be restrained by another defender, and the left winger who pushed the ball into dangerous areas only to find that there were zero teammates following or making runs.
As the second half opened up, we relaxed. Erikson and Alli were completely in control of the midfield in what was probably the most complete game by the two of them all season. They should have had an assist-goal combo after Erikson stole the ball from a dawdling ‘brough defender and slipped it to Alli who lifted it over the keeper and bar from 8 yards out. It was a silly miss but didn’t feel like anything at the time given our total control of the game.
Around the 65th minute ‘brough made a double switch and one of the new guys made a mazey run up the middle of the pitch. It was an exciting play that didn’t really turn into anything but the announcers got excited and decided that Middlesbrough was back in the game and that was going to be the narrative. They scored off a silly Wanyama foul free kicktwo minutes later when our man Davies whiffed on the header and Wanyama’s man climbed over his back to finish it. Poor defending by both men, but very much against the run of play.
This wasn’t Spurs best game of the season but the guys who played well, Janssen, Alli, Erikson, Son, Walker, Alderweirald, and Vertonghen were very good and might have won the game by more if the other guys weren’t on the pitch. Bill Simmons jokes about the Milton Berle game (pulling out just enough to win) and this was very much an example of that. It was easy even if the score line doesn’t reflect it.
Player ratings (-5 to +5)
Janssen (2) – strong in his hold up play, got the assist on Son’s first, and could have gotten more assists with better finishing.
Son (3) – aggressive, 2 smartly taken goals, hustled all game
Alli (3) – would have scored higher had he converted the easy chance that he put over the bar
Erikson (3) – Man of the match. Controlled the middle of the pitch
Sissoko (-2) – I’m sure he’ll score a goal or three this season but given the way he’s playing it’ll be a fluke play not by intention
Wanyama (-1) – Knows how to do the dirty work in the CM spot to slow down an attack but switches off too easily and was beat for Middlesbrough’s goal
Davies (-4) – Awful. Was lucky that we weren’t facing an actual offense that could have really exploited him
Vertonghen (1) – Tough to rate. I think most of his action was trying to cover for Davies.
Alderweirald (3) – Never a wrong step. Is a great source of pin-point forward crosses when our O is having trouble stretching their D.
Walker (3) – Adapted well to Sissoko being shitty and taking advantage of the space available to him
Lloris (-1) – Not a very good game for our keeper. Not responsible for the goal, but was poor in distribution in his few chances. No real saves to speak of.
Lamela (2) – creative and aggressive in his 15 minutes of sub time.
Winks (0) – I want to rate him higher. Only had a few minutes of sub time but looked smooth and comfortable in the midfield. Hope we see more of him in blow out games or against weaker competition.
N’Koudou (0) – pacy and youthful. Only had a few minutes of sub time but was really aggressive in his defensive press and pushed hard to create a shot in his only opportunity. Good effort at the least.
Our next match is Tuesday against CSKA Moscow in our second Champions League match. We travel there. English soccer teams traveling to Moscow–a 3.5 hour flight–complain like people in the LA’s South Bay going East of the 405. It’s not that big a deal and at least the team is doing it in September and not December. I’ll do some research on CKSA tomorrow. The game is being shown on Fox Sports 2 at 11:30am PST Tuesday.

Preseason Analysis

It’s almost time!

Aight fools, it’s nearly EPL time. Since I’m still on couch for another week before work starts, I’m trying to use that time wisely: to upload all of the random info I’ve learned in the last 11 months for my friends to ignore.

Tottenham!
To the tune of Achy-Breaky Heart:
We’ve got Al-li, 
De-li Al-li,
I just don’t think you understand,
He only cost 5 Mill,
He’s better than Ozil,
We’ve got Deli Alliiiiiiiiiii
Last season was a crazy aberration. Man City, Man U, Chelsea, and Liverpool were awful considering the money they spent and all four changed managers. Arsenal hung around and pipped an unmotivated and exhausted Tottenham for 2nd place on the last day of the season. Leicester shocked the world with their aged and unproven players and strung together roughly 25 1-0 wins. It was chaos. We ended the season in 3rd place but with the best offense, the best defense, the best GK, the best striker, the young player of the year, a spot in Champions League, one of the best coaches, wealth, and stability.
Our biggest weakness last season was depth. We played an exciting, fast-tempo, pressing attack, and trusted Vertonghen, Alderverald, and Dier to shut down any counter-attacks. It worked fantastically. But when we played the B-squad in the FA Cup or Europa League, our offense fizzled and the team was way more pedestrian. When opposing teams fielded a pressing 4-3-3, our offense was less fluid and we didn’t have the personnel to change our tactics. Here was our standard 4-2-3-1 line-up (with subs):
This season we’re expecting roughly 10 more Champions/Europa matches than last season (if you come in 3rd place in your Champions League group of 4 you get placed into the Europa League round of 32). So we picked up some more players. Pochettino only pursued young, athletic players and at price tags considerably less than the other 5 big money clubs.
  1. Vincent Janssen is our new young striker. He dominated the Dutch league, is quiet and humble, and the advanced metrics people love him.
  2. Victor Waynama is our new defensive midfielder. He has been at staple in Southampton’s squad for a couple of seasons where he’s a big-bodied, athletic DM anchor. He used to play for the awesomely named Beerschot AC in the Belgian league.
  3. Georges-Kevin N’Koudou is our new fleet-footed attacking midfielder.
  4. We also got Yedlin back from his loan to Sunderland. They survived relegation but are in chaos, and their coach, Sam Allardyce, just bailed on them to be the England coach so it looks like we’re going to hang onto Yedlin. In the pre-season friendlies he played a bit of left back instead of his preferred right side. He fits Pochettino’s style of outside-back-plays-like-a-winger and it looks like he’ll get some games.
At first look our new players won’t displace any of last season’s preferred starting 11, but it gives us depth and flexibility. Here’s the updated 4-2-3-1 line-up:
First, our weakest subs have been eliminated or pushed down in the pecking order; Mason, Onomah, and Chadli in particular were no where near good enough to justify the playing time they got last season when we needed fresh legs. Fuck, I can’t express how much I hated seeing Mason and Onomah on the field. Janssen, N’Koudou, and Waynama will definitely keep those guys off the pitch (Reportedly, Chadli was told to find a new club and Mason is being pursued by Hull and Crystal Palace).
The best thing about the new guys is that it gives us tactical flexibility. With a second striker we can now look to play 4-3-1-2 (Eriksen or Alli in the pivot) or 4-3-3 (Alli up front). With midfield reinforcements we can play 4-4-2, 3-5-2, or something crazy with 3 defenders and an ass-load of midfielders in a diamond. The team has only gotten stronger and that was from a base of being the best D and best O.
What about our competition? I’m glad I asked myself that question. In the order they finished last season (minus teams that don’t matter):
  1. Leicester – kept Vardy, lost Kante, might lose Mahrez and Drinkwater. They were fluky lucky last season. They were an old team that was successful by having a stifling D and a lightning quick counter-attack. Now they’re a year older, their defensive keystone left for Chelsea, and they might lose their best offensive player and 3rd best midfielder. Plus they’re in the Champions League but haven’t added any bodies. Predicted finish: CL blowout and 10th in the EPL.
  2. Arsenal – lost out on Vardy, picked up a flashy AM in Xhaka, and is pursuing Mahrez. They lack a true forward, as usual, and they already have a bunch of injuries, as usual. Oh, and Arsene Wenger is refusing to buy players because they’re too expensive, as usual. But Arsenal always hangs around. Predicted finish: 3rd.
  3. Man City – last season’s 4th place finisher is moving on from the Vincent Kompany Elder Statesman Era. They are now coached by Pep Guardiola and are still the richest, deepest team in the league. I can’t see them having a second down year in a row. Predicted finish: 1st.
  4. Man U – last season’s 5th place team is about to add $133M midfielder Paul Pogba. That’s in addition to Ibrahimovic and super hairy Armenian midfielder Mkhitaryan. I’m sure they’ve bought other players as well. I think their spending this offseason will exceed $300M which is insane. They also have Mourhino as their new coach. The team is in transition though. Rooney is on his way out, their midfield of the future hasn’t panned out, and their defense is blah. I have no idea what to think of this team. Predicted finish: 5th because it looks so close to $th.
  5. Southampton – last year’s 6th place team did their usual selling off of hot young commodities. The only new guy who’s name I recognize is Charlie Adam who looks like this and was too old for Liverpool’s terrible squad. Southampton has a good system and coach but it’s only going to keep them from being terrible. Predicted finish: 9th.
  6. West Ham – last year’s 7th place team almost finished 4th. They’re good, they’re young, they have a great coach and are awful to play at home. But they haven’t been players in the transfer market and they will need a deeper squad for Europa league this year. Predicted finish: 7th.
  7. Liverpool – Jurgen Klopp (who has a whiff of Klinsmann) is starting his second season at Liverpool and first with a real transfer market window. They’ve picked up a few players but they’re doing the usual Liverpool thing of buying a $40M striker to replace their $30M striker. Diminishing returns. Maybe Klopp makes them better? Who knows? Predicted finish: 6th.
  8. Chelsea – holy shit they finished 10th last season! They hired Alberto Conte as their new manager, there’s no way Eden Hazard is actually as bad as he was last season, they’ve brought in some upgrades, and they don’t have to deal with Champions League or Europa matches. Predicted finish: 2nd.
That slots Tottenham in 4th place which will give us a second consecutive year in Champions League. Our best case scenario is to win the EPL. That’s possible, but it is unlikely given the talent in some of the other squads. Our worst case scenario is crashing out of CL, not qualifying for it next season and finishing 7th. That would require a bunch of injuries and even then we’re better than the likes of West Ham, Southampton, Everton, Stoke, Crystal Palace and Leicester. One of them might finish above us but not all of them.
So let’s get hyped this season. I get the EPL channels so I think I’ll be able to watch at least 30 of the 38 matches. Not sure where/when the CL matches are aired but I’ll keep an eye on that too. First EPL game is August 13th away at Everton. First CL match will be a month later. You can follow along with the CL draw here:  https://kassiesa.home.xs4all.nl/bert/uefa/seedcl2016.html
Come on you Spurs (COYS)