Champions League

CKSA

Just watched the CSKA match.

The CKSA crowd was really loud. I was imagining 30,000 very drunk Russians working themselves into a near-anarchic lather. I can see why it might be unnerving to play there. Well, not so much play, as leave safely after the game. Check your tea for Polonium.
I watched the game looking for to see if we have a striker problem and I agree that we may have a blind spot there. Janssen worked hard, but he frequently backs into one of the CBs and tries to box them out in an attempt to hold and dish,or turn and strike. So far he’s better at the hold up but other than that one dish off to Son against Middlesbrough he hasn’t created much. And he hasn’t been good enough at turning opportunities into shots on target. Time will tell if he figures out our system, or the BPL, or just finds a hot streak. Perhaps he’ll just be the guy who gets minutes when we need a front line defender to spell Kane when we’re holding onto a 2 goal lead in the 75th minute.
I was looking at our pass trackers over the past few games and there’s a pattern.
4-0 win over Stoke:
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1-0 win over Sunderland:
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2-1 win over Middlesbrough:
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1-0 win over CSKA:
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In all four of those matches we’re controlling the whole field except hit a wall about 22 yards from goal. It makes sense in that’s where the center backs stand, but it also aligns with our playing style of lateral/outside-in runs. With all of our attacking midfielders pushing so far up the field, we need vertical runs from deeper to break the defensive line.¬† The other options are passes from the wing backs into the near post or over the top passes. All three of those are in our repertoire. We haven’t had an awesome shred-them-to-ribbons game yet where those dinky Alli-Lamela-Erikson 1-2 passes turn into open shots, but it happened a bunch when we peaked Feb-March last year so we have it in us.
For comparison, here are the pass trackers for Man City’s 2-1 win over Swansea and 4-0 win over Bournemouth:
Inline image 5
Inline image 6
They’ve scored 80% more goals than us with about the same number of passes and shots. I think they’re getting a little closer to goal than we are with their passes. I checked their shot locations and they look pretty similar to ours. Perhaps they’re 2-4 yards closer and that makes a big conversion rate difference. I’m not sure. On the other hand, it’s only been 6 games. If you strip out the 3 PKs they’ve scored (compared to our 0) they’re getting a free 0.5 goals per game awarded to them that we’re not. Or, maybe they’re just better at finishing? You’d hope so given the value of their players is double ours.
Back to the game. I thought we were pretty blah in the first half. In particular, Alli was mediocre. His passes were sloppy, his shots were wasteful, he couldn’t dribble and his timing was weird. Hitting the crossbar early made him look more productive than he was. And his first half giveaway after he dribbled back deep into our half should have put us behind 1-0. Lamela and Son weren’t very impactful either. CSKA was also very well organized in defense and played their offsides trap really well. They nailed Janssen and Son several times and Son’s goal could have been called either way (although I think he was onsides and it was legit). Traore up top was a handful. It’s not often Vertonghen and Alderweirald are at a loss for size, strength, and speed. And he worked hard. There’s your striker target man, E.
In the second half we picked it up. Son was much better, and Davies, Vertonghen, and Alderweirald were excellent, but my man of the match was Erikson. He was the conductor, moving the pieces, linking passes, and opening up opportunities. He was too eager to shoot from distance early in the game, but after the first half hour he was really good. His 50 yard knee high laser to a streaking Alli at the far post was brilliant and would have been a tournament highlight had Alli turned it goalward. Janssen didn’t quite make it happen, but I like that he beat the keeper with a flick during one of his offsides calls. They were both going for it and Janssen won even if it doesn’t make it onto the scoresheet. NKoudou looked dangerous as a sub. I’m liking this guy and he’s very different from the other guys he’d be replacing. Poche likes having utilitarian cogs to swap out across his positions but having another speed merchant/dribbler is pretty exciting (besides Son). We definitely lacked that last season. Now we need to see NKoudou shoot.
Player Ratings (-5 to +5)
Janssen (+0) Decent hold up play, hustle as usual, couldn’t find enough good shots or passes from that lead role.
Son (+2) Better second half than first. Can’t fault the lone goal scorer though.
Lamela (+1) Better second half than first. Thought he was going to get booked for petulance in the first half. Good to see that he still owns the gloves. And the guyliner.
Erikson (+3) My man of the match
Alli (-1) Wasteful. Bad giveaways. Goes to ground looking for a foul too easily. Everyone and their mother is looking for his soft penalty dives.
Wanyama (+1) A few poor giveaways but owned the central defensive midfield. Was always available for an outlet/restart pass
Davies (+3) Good bounce back game following that shitshow against ‘brough. Was quick going forward, made smart passes, didn’t leave a gaping hole in defense, and stuck some good tackles
Vertonghen (+2) Was getting pushed around by Traore but never let it turn into a card-worthy foul. Did his job.
Alderweirald. (+3) I always rate him higher than Vertonghen because I suspect Vertonghen is a dick. Also, Toby offers a lot more going forward. Sometime soon I’m going to write about his awesome long ball game. He’s like a sniper for over the top passes. And he gets his head on the ball a lot on corner kicks.
Trippier (+1) Got down the field well to create width in the attacking third. Tracked back well most of the time, but got beat around the corner at least twice.
Lloris (0) I want to rate him higher because I like him but he didn’t look very good claiming crosses. Toby and Jan made his job a lot easier today.
NKoudou (+3) That was fun.  Hope to see more of that soon.
Winks (+1) Not a lot of time on the ball, but looked good when he was in the play.
Here’s the Korean commentary during the Son goal. Tight pass by Toby to get it started. Nice assist for Lamela.

League Cup

Victory!

5-0 win. Starting lineup was:

Janssen
Erikson, Lamela, Onomah
Carroll, Winks
Davies, Carter-Vickers, Wimmer, Trippier
Vorm
That’s a pretty green defensive 6. I was in boring training seminar all day and did a lot of play-by-play refreshing. Nearly every play was a shot by Spurs. Our first goal was just before the half, a sweet laser by Erikson. Second goal was another Lamela to Erikson.¬†Trippier was tripped in the box and Janssen slotted home the PK for the third. Fourth was Lamela to Onomah. And fifth was Lamela. Total bloodbath as it should have been. Follow these links to see the goals. Erikson’s first was a beaut. Lamela ended with 1G and 3A.
After today’s matches they drew the next round. We play away at Liverpool in a few weeks.
BONUS:
Thought this was a really good article about Poche and his development of our youth players.

League Cup

Gillingham

Tomorrow is our League Cup match against Gillingham. I haven’t even bothered to see if this is on TV. With Kane injured, a thick schedule going forward, and an offseason of clearing out non-future starters, I expect our youth team to get a lot of run.

I don’t know anything about Gillingham so almost everything below is from this article:
The author is proposing a lineup that looks like this:

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alderweirald in the back line for the first half just as an token of stability. Poche doesn’t tend to swap out his entire starting lineup. Whether that’s to keep a cohesive playing style or because he doesn’t trust his youngsters, I’m not sure. But as we’ve discussed before, League Cup matters to no one. I guess it would be good to win it but I think the payout is less than a week’s wages for the club so in the face of a $40-50M payout from Champions League, this is not the place to put our resources.
Gillingham, again from the above article, is pretty blah this season. They’re mid-table in the third division (League 1) and feature mostly over the hill players and one central playmaker, Bradley Dack. Dack will be playing his heart out hoping to get noticed by a big club, but we should be able to shut down their attack. Carroll, Erikson, and Onomah are all very creative players, and it will be good to see what N’Koudou can do (that’s satisfying to say out loud).
Hopefully out youth proves themselves worthy, we score early, and run the game out. This is a good chance for them to make their case for first team minutes. Given the cramping of Walker, Dier, and Dembele, the injury to Kane, and the possible shittiness of Sissoko, there will be minutes available in all bands of the pitch. Last year 4th choice defender Kevin Vimmer got an extended spell in relief of the injured Vertonghen and played like a boss. It’s really important for our depth and club finances to keep developing useful players that can step in and bang, or be sold for a profit. It’s an aspect of club Chairman, Daniel Levy’s financial strategy; buying young so they can either develop or be sold when their wages are cheap and their value on the rise.

Transfer Deadline

The window closes…for now!

The transfer window just closed and there was some last minute craziness.
  1. Son is staying despite Wolfsburg offering big money.
  2. Isco turned us down to go back to his previous club Malaga.
  3. The N’Koudou/N’Jie swap is done.
  4. Out of nowhere we bought Moussa Sissoko, of Newcastle and the French national team, for 30M pounds.
Sissoko is a “box-to-box” midfielder in the same vein as Dembele. Plus they have the same first name, Moussa, so we have to come up with a new nickname other than Moose. This gives us 2 incoming defensive players and 2 incoming offensive players, in lieu of a bunch of replacement-level talent that was shipped out. I don’t know how to justify his price tag of 30M pounds as TransferMarkt.com has him rated about 75% as high as Dembele.
That gives us the following quality players at each position band:
  • Striker – Kane, Janssen, Onomah
  • AM – Lamela, Alli, Eriksen, Son, N’Koudou
  • Pivot – Dembele, Sissoko
  • CM – Dier, Wanyama
  • FB – Rose, Walker, Davies, Trippier
  • CB – Alderweirald, Vertonghen, Wimmer
If we consider positional flexibility (Kane playing AM, Dier playing fullback, etc) we actually have a lot of depth out of not that many players. That gives us 6 strikers, 8 AM, 5 CM, 5 FB, 5 CB out of 19 possible players. Hopefully this means we get to play a lineup of 11 good players regardless of who’s getting the day off, instead of a team full of scrubs for early round League Cup and FA Cup matches–more critically, it should mean we can play our best line up in either the BPL matches or the Champions League matches and not experience a huge drop off in the other as we did last season.
As you can tell, I drank the Kool-Aid.

The Preseason

Warming Up

I didn’t watch either of the first two preseason friendlies but the reports were that we played mostly U-21 guys since all of our starting lineup played in the Euros or Copa. I just finished watching the final preseason match against Inter Milan. It was good.

First, a couple of regulars were missing. Wanyama couldn’t get a visa in time. Vertonghen is recovering from an ankle issue and may miss the first game of two of the season. Wimmer didn’t play for Vertonghen and I’m not sure why since he was really good covering for him last season. Son is playing for South Korea at the Olympics. Dembele has 4 games left on his suspension so I think they’re leaving him out of the squad to ready for the start of the season. Chadli and Bentaleb were told to find new clubs. Pritchard was sent on load to Norwich earlier this week. Yedlin is rumored to be loaned or bought by new coach David Moyes at Sunderland and didn’t travel with the team. Otherwise, we played a strong starting lineup in a standard 4-5-1 configuration:
Kane
Eriksen, Alli, Lamela
Dier, Mason
Rose, Alderverald, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Walker
The first half was up and down. Inter looked strong in attack and our defense looked unorganized and easy to counter. Most frequently this was on the Walker/Carter-Vickers side. Cameron Carter-Vickers (CCV) is one of our U-21 guys who looked out of his depth in the other two preseason matches. I guess Poche is giving him a run when there’s no consequence. Our offense looked good, though. Fast on the counter, crisp and clever passing, and lots of driving runs (mostly on the left with Rose/Eriksen/Alli). We took an early lead with a Kane PK. Inter leveled with a counter-attack that split Walker and CCV. Then some slick passing between Walker/Alli/Kane set up Lamela at the top of the 18 with a clear shot and he sniped it into the top corner like a boss. 2-1 Tottenham at half.
In the second half we made some subs and lined up 4-4-2 but played like a narrower 4-2-2-2 formation:
Kane, Janssen
Alli, Lamela
Winks, Dier
Davies, Aldervierald, CCV, Trippier
We quickly unlocked the Inter D, creating and finishing opportunities. Alli put in our third. Kane our fourth. More subs came on. Janssen poached our fifth. More subs came on. And a young striker deeeeeeeeep in the academy scored our sixth. 6-1 final score. And we played like it, certainly in the second half. Inter is Italy’s 4th best team and we destroyed them. Clinical passing and overlaps created lots of opportunities. We could have scored a seventh but Kane hit the crossbar on a header and Lamela’s half-scorpion kick (!) off the rebound from 4 yards out went over the bar.
Our default is to run up the wings but we created most of our scoring chances through the middle. It’s a very complete attack. Janssen looks awesome. He communicated well with Alli and Kane, creating lots of 1-2 passes and opening up slicing runs. Our defense tightened up in the second half. Alderverald was somehow everywhere all the time. Trippier is less athletic than Walker and doesn’t rely on his speed to help him recover on D. Perhaps that left CCV less exposed. Lamela was ferocious in his effort on and off the ball, and could have had a second goal had he not laid it on a platter for Harrison to score the 6th.
I’m so wet for this team. 8 days to kickoff!