Saturday, April 14, 2007

Tottenham Hotspur v Sevilla Aftermath

‘Don’t Talk, Just Play’
(UEFA Cup - not this year Spurs)

Over the past week there have been sound-bites coming from White Hart Lane – very much in line with the thoughts of the ordinary supporter.

Prior to the game in Sevilla, Jermaine Jenas said, ’You get nothing for reaching quarter-finals or semi-finals. You go home, you are out and you have to watch others play in the final and lift the cup. It’s not a nice feeling and it’s not something we want to continue. If you look at the teams we lost to [in the cups], it has been Arsenal and Chelsea, two of the top three or four sides in England. It was devastating to lose those games. But now, it’s up to us to make that step and beat those sides so we are able to break through into finals and so on. We definitely have the talent.’

He repeated these sentiments in interviews on radio this morning.

Martin Jol was quoted in yesterday’s papers from his programme notes for the Sevilla game, ‘Be in no doubt that when we step out tonight we shall do so determined to get the result for you all.’

Unfortunately, neither has been able to get the views across to the team in a meaningful way as once again Spurs fell short at the business end of a Cup competition.

Tottenham is not somewhere you would include in the ‘Top 100 places to visit in London’ but last night on a beautiful early spring evening the supporters of Tottenham and Sevilla mingled outside White Hart Lane in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere that was the complete opposite of the scenes and reports of events inside the stadium in Spain a week ago. Inside the stadium, both sets of supporters built up the atmosphere for a game that would determine which club would be looking forward to the semi-final games in the UEFA Cup – there was a lot at stake on the evening.

Unfortunately, the Tottenham players took this congenial atmosphere onto the pitch, enabling Sevilla to do what Robbie Keane did a week earlier and score an early goal. Not the start that Spurs’ fans had been looking for but nothing had really changed because with Spurs’ defensive difficulties, it was unlikely that they would keep a clean sheet and go through with a 1-0 win and the away goals rule. However, then within seven minutes, Fredi Kanoute did for Sevilla what the previous week’s referee prevented Spurs from doing – building on their good start and increasing their lead. Two goals down – White Hart Lane was stunned – Spurs would need four goals to win.

If ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ and ‘every picture tells a story’ then the photograph on the back page of today’s Daily Express sums up how everyone was feeling – it shows Keane, Jenas and Berbatov waiting to kick off after Sevilla’s second goal, all with a look of total disbelief at what had happened.

The record books will show that Spurs’ earned a draw and lost 3-4 on aggregate and the statisticians will be able to note that Spurs have only lost one home game in all their European matches. Spurs have been given credit for coming back into the game but those facts don’t tell the real story - it was forty one minutes before they made a purposeful and meaningful attack when Didier Zakora burst forward at pace and released Berbatov who shot narrowly wide. Berbatov then hit the post with a shot in the final moments of the half – if only – but in truth Spurs could have been four or five behind by the interval, such was the pace and skill of the Spanish team.

Throughout, the fans kept up a continual chorus of support for the team and they were rewarded with two goals in a minute, half way through the second half. A late rally, an amazing comeback, nobody really expected it and throughout the Sevilla reserve goalkeeper hadn’t a save to make, while in the latter stages it was Paul Robinson who had to pull off one or two saves to prevent Sevilla regaining the lead.

Also in his programme notes, Martin Jol treated us to the views of Ernst Happel, a coach he has admired since his younger days – ‘I understand Happel was a man of few words,……… He had two favourite phrases. ‘Don’t talk, just play’ was what he would instil in his players, whilst his pre-match team-talks consisted of the rather prosaic,’Gentlemen, two points.’

There’s been plenty said over the last week but now the talking is over and we will just play…..’

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen – the concern is not that they failed to get past the team sitting second in the Spanish League and UEFA Cup holders, but the nature of their demise. Within seven minutes the war (qualification for the UEFA Cup semi-finals) was lost, although they later managed to draw the battle (the match). Once again the players had failed to deliver when it mattered most – those big, winner takes all games.

Spurs’ record in the Premiership against the top sides this year, apart from the Chelsea home game, has been appalling – even worse than some recent years when Spurs appeared to be starting to challenge those teams but without actually winning. However, this season they conceded three goals at both Anfield and the Emirates Stadium, lost at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge by a goal, without ever being a real threat to the home side, lost by four at home to United while Liverpool comfortably handled Spurs at White Hart Lane, with Arsenal to come in a week’s time. In both the Carling Cup and FA Cup, Spurs put themselves in a strong position against Arsenal and Chelsea when holding a two goal lead but ultimately failed.

Jenas is quoted as saying he is tired of losing at the late stages of Cup competitions but here again against Sevilla, he along with numerous others failed to make an impression or any meaningful contribution. In last night’s game he was anonymous as he has been in previous games against the top clubs. Steed Malbranque never recovered from the horror of gifting Sevilla the early goal. Aaron Lennon couldn’t escape the clutches of the defenders appointed to mark him throughout and so ineffectual was he as an attacking threat that in the final moments of the game he was consigned to left back while Pascal Chimbonda moved forward as an extra attacker. Robbie Keane had one of those ‘running round in circles games’ which he frequently reserves for the top teams. For an hour of the biggest game of the season the players could not raise themselves from the lethargy that was so restricting their play - their control, their passing, everything let them down. The winning mentality that Martin Jol talks about so often, simply is not there in this squad of players.

What is the answer to Spurs problems? Well to answer in the honest words of Jamie Carragher when questioned after Liverpool’s two Cup defeats to Arsenal in early January – ‘We need better players.’

Once again much will be written and speculated on as the summer transfer window opens and action will be taken in an effort to rectify the wrongs of this current season. However, the actions of last summer may be saying more than words, about the current owners’ view of Tottenham Hotspur’s place in the football hierarchy. They took the money for Michael Carrick and that transfer has certainly strengthened the northern club while Spurs, although they may have shown improvement in their style of play in recent weeks, have done little to suggest they are closing the gap on the top clubs in the Premiership.

Logan Holmes.


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