it could be fun.
After avoiding defeat in their 18th straight Europa League group game by beating Partizan Belgrade, Spurs qualified for the knockout stages, in a bizarre game.
A couple of points off fourth spot, in Europe in the New Year, quarter finals of the League Cup, all while being not that very good. Though of course it was a similar situation last season – but maybe with a bit better form – when Levy decided to Sherwood the team.
The season so far somewhat matched the latest Europa League group game. Hit and miss. Stop and start. Frustrating.
It started to look like Pochettino might be getting close to picking his best side but then he goes and puts Naughton back into the team. And as if that wasn’t frustrating enough after initially starting out on the correct wings he soon changed Lennon and Lamela about where they stayed for the rest of the game, coming inside and joining the rest of the outfield players in that cramped little area.
All while the spectre of Bentaleb loomed on the bench.
It was the standard Spurs in Europa League game, could have lost, could have lost quite heavily but didn’t. Again time after time the visitors passed up good chances, as most of the teams Spurs have played in this competition. Grbic would bang a brilliant cross in from Partizan’s right and someone wide open in the middle would balloon it over the bar.
This usually occurred after a quick break down field by Belgrade from a Spurs attack. Attack, well more of a Spurs dither about in the Belgrade half. After Soldado skewed an early chance wide there wasn’t much real attacking in the first half. Just mincing and dithering. And plenty of back passes from Naughton.
Speaking of Naughton – Were we? Do we have to? – if you’re going to invade the pitch, get dragged off, nicked, probably end up with a banning order and a hefty fine why pick Naughton to take a selfie with? Naughton of all players.
Yeah so that first half was halted by three numbnuts on a mission. Held up by some inept stewarding who when they appeared fell over before reaching the culprits that had been stopped by either Soldado or Dembele. Before the ref stopped the whole thing just before the half.
When they came back after a short break the only interesting thing that went on was trying to figure the UEFA clock which had found some 10 minutes it was ticking away from somewhere. We do not know where.
The second half started a little brighter and for a few moments promised to shine. That soon went.
Stambouli’s goal four minutes after the break started things. Nice link up play between him and Soldado saw the Spaniard’s shot hit the post and surprisingly the Spurs’ midfielder carrying on his run to knock in the rebound. It was typical of Soldado, a lovely finish that didn’t score and someone picking up the easy pieces of his good work. It never goes the other way for him.
Spurs were on the up then but it didn’t last. Grbic hadn’t been seen for a while but he was back putting crosses in. Lloris again was required to save the day. Things slowed down when Bentaleb came on and god knows why Paulinho was kept on when Soldado exited for Kane.
Kane’s contribution was one very slow free-kick and heading a ball onto the charging Stambouli who free through the middle bizarrely chose to pass the ball off to Lamela with the net at his mercy. Yes there was still the ‘keeper to beat but this was wasteful, especially as the pass was so poor that Lamela had little or no chance. But then most of the night the passing was just that bit off, back heels considerably.
Kane was of course praised from the highest for running around a bit. Bentaleb passed it sideways and Winks came on the reaction to which most people being annoyed that his squad number isn’t 40.
Could have cruised it, could have been stuffed, didn’t convince, while still winning, apart from that latter bit it’s the season all over. On the off chance Pochettino picks the right team and they play the right way, who knows what could happen…