The Tottenham Obsession

If I supported Tottenham, I would not be lauding a 2-2 draw against Juventus as a cause for celebration.

Despite this, the BT sport panel were gleefully praising Tottenham’s display like they conquered Juventus.

Sure, a 2-2 draw against Juventus is a good result, especially after being 2-0 down; however, Juventus WILL make things difficult for Spurs in the next leg, which nobody talked about…

Listen. It was an English panel. I understand the bias towards Tottenham. It’s a UK broadcast so there will be a pro-Tottenham outlook on the game.

The fixation on Tottenham’s ‘character’ confused me. The panel were constantly drawing everything back to this subject and I just don’t see it.

Think about it. Juventus storm to a 2-0 lead as fast as they come. Naturally, when the pace of the game settles and Juventus’ style begins to take effect, the Old Lady was always going to sit back and try and maintain their lead and try and hit Tottenham on the counter.

For me, the penalty epitomises a distinct LACK of character. If Higuain scores, Juventus go into the dressing room with a comfortable lead and a clear focus on shutting down Spurs, attempting to maintain a 2-goal cushion and potentially grabbing additional goals.

In this case, Tottenham were incredibly lucky that Higuain completely missed the target.

Tottenham were also lucky to face such a poor goalkeeping display. Despite Szczesny being one of the leading figures in keeping such a magnificent defensive record it was Buffon who made two horrendous mistakes.

Buffon’s decision to come out and challenge Kane for his goal was appalling decision-making. Buffon was nowhere near the ball, which made Kane’s chance as easy as it gets. He couldn’t react in time for Eriksen’s free-kick, a shot you’d expect a ‘world-class’ keeper to save.

Taking this into account, the game ran its course in a relatively usual fashion for a 1st leg. Tottenham capitalised when necessary and the game ended in a 2-2 draw. It is job well done for Spurs… for now.

The reaction to Tottenham’s display sums up everything that is wrong with the media bias to certain English teams/ players and what ‘we’ expect from them. They are too quick to praise Tottenham in this instance. ‘We’ are creating such a low ceiling for success. If Tottenham lose in their second leg, the overall result will probably have positive overtones. It will be branded as a well fought battle with Tottenham showing ‘character’.

Judgement should be reserved until the two legs have been completed.

What SHOULD have been analysised was the next leg. The next challenge. How Juventus are likely to respond. Discuss Tottenham’s form at Wembley in the big moments. And, for me, discuss the display of Hugo Lloris. A man who you CANNOT rely on in the big moments. Off the top of my head, I think of Alonso’s second goal where he let a shot directly at him slip under his body, at Wembley; a huge game in the context of the season. I also think of how easy he made both Salah’s goals when they played Liverpool. He shrinks in the big moments, seemingly making it easier to score. His right hand was feeble for both of Higuain’s strikes. Hoddle somehow praised him for being rooted to the spot for Higuain’s second penalty and Gerrard described his routine save in the second half against Bernardeschi as ‘world class’. Just bizarre.

Furthermore, everyone was so quick to criticize Aurier, with Ferdinand so eloquently telling the studio that ‘I never rated him’. Yes, it was a bad mistake. He failed to register the pace of Douglas Costa. Poor judgement indeed. But Davies’ challenge to give away the 1st penalty was far more concerning. A complete lack of defensive awareness. It was a miserable swipe at the ball. You simply do not see sound or experienced defenders giving away that penalty. Yet, this wasn’t mentioned. Instead, Aurier is to blame. Aurier was the only Tottenham player to face any criticism, most likely because he doesn’t fit the model of a ‘reliable’ defender. Mostly, I imagine, due to his off-field persona. He is so easy to blame – pundits won’t receive any backlash on Twitter… What could have been mentioned was choosing to field a back 4 with two fullbacks more suited as wingbacks. Asking for something that constructive is a clear stretch.

When I look at this team. It hasn’t grown in character. This was a team that had every chance to win their first Premier League title in 2016. Not only did they pass on this golden opportunity, they COMPLETELY lost their heads against Chelsea with players putting in nasty challenges and causing ruckus on and off the pitch. Since then, they crashed out of the CPL and Europa league in 2016-17 and haven’t done anything of merit since.

It’s almost like the media are clinging onto any accomplishment this ‘golden’ Tottenham team can get. They simply haven’t done anywhere near enough to justify ‘character’ or to be praised as highly as they have.

The team doesn’t even come close to: Man United’s 1998-99 Champions League Win, Arsenal’s Invincible season, Liverpool’s epic comeback against Milan in the 2005 final, Chelsea’ 2012 entire CPL campaign; heck, even City’s famous ‘Aguerooooooo’ moment. These examples are actual moments of ‘character’. Not a 1st leg display against Juventus and a strong Group Stage performance.

As a Chelsea fan, I actually have very few issues with Tottenham. I would like to see them beat Juventus in all honesty. My greater concern is with the BT Sport panel and the wider media. ESPECIALLY with the World Cup looming. The way we set the bar so low for our English players is laughable. In a bizarre fashion, we heap pressure on our players in the process. For me, it is cause for concern. The way we hype our English ‘talent’ worries me. The media almost have the power to cement positions in England squad for players like Dele Alli who does not deserve the copious praise he gets.

Despite what I have said. Spurs could go on to beat Juventus and put together a famous CPL win. Then they would deserve the level of praise they are receiving at the moment. For now, let’s not be blinded by the poor and unconstructive analysis that has come from Tottenham’s display. This type of reaction has been brewing for a while now, and any chance the media gets to praise Pochettino’s brave Tottenham they will take and they won’t hold back.

Kante N’golo Distance?

Over the past 20 months or so, N’golo Kante has received praise in abundance, culminating when he won the 2017 PFA Fans’ Premier League Player of the Month award. There is no doubt that his consistency and tenacious performances played an integral part in Chelsea’s title win. He is a fully-fledged destroyer. I find it difficult to draw comparisons. Just looking at Chelsea’s lineage in this position and comparing him to Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel or Claude Makélélé (to name a few), Kante offers a unique engine that is unrivalled. His slight physique enables him to nip into tackles and dispossesses the ball before the defender has had a chance to react. This ability is something you will have heard chimed countless times before, mainly sung by the British media.

What I propose is that his passing ability and vision, coupled with his attacking attributes will always stop Kante from being branded a ‘world class’ asset. More worryingly, I fear these flaws will hinder Chelsea’s efforts to win their second Champions League title in years to come.

When I watch Kante play, I see glaringly apparent flaws in his game ignored by large parts of the footballing community. I feel his defensive skill set, alongside his charm that exudes whenever he makes a tackle or harry the defenders overshadow any criticism that may come his way.

I’m reluctant to base my argument purely on stats. I feel they are often used out of context and can misrepresent a player’s output. As I’m writing this, Kante and Fabregas’ passes are almost identical in the Premier League; 385 and 387 respectively. Kante’s pass success rate is slightly higher than Fabregas’s; 85% beats 84%. On the surface, there is no issue.

When I watch Kante on the ball, he is uncomfortable. He is slow, indecisive, and looks to play a long ball as a last resort. His hesitation on the ball slows Chelsea’s momentum down, allowing the defence time to set up and establish a stronger defensive structure. He relies on Fabregas to create width. Kante often seems incapable of spreading the ball wide. I get the sense that his technical skills haven’t developed fully throughout his career and sadly, it doesn’t look like they will ever be part of his arsenal.

The result – opposition can stand off Kante. They are not afraid of a long pass that will split the defence, or expect him to ghost pass them. He becomes a stagnant player in the midfield. When facing better teams, such as Man City and Arsenal this season, they can sit a lot deeper and mark Chelsea’s attackers a lot tighter. An established defensive line makes it more difficult for Chelsea to unlock their opponents’ defences.

Despite this, Chelsea has beaten Atletico Madrid, away this season; a tie that Kante played very well. While it was an excellent performance from Chelsea, Atleti is a reactive team. Their high tempo defensive suits Kante – it requires a more instinctive form of football. Atletico tends to press high and suffocate their opponents, which plays to Kante’s strengths. Kante seems to cope well with this style of football as Chelsea can use the short pass to move the ball past their opponents. Man City, on the other hand, sat tight and gave Kante time. When this is the case, he seems to struggle. There are fewer gaps in front of him – he is forced to carry the ball or pick out slightly longer passes. During the game, Chelsea created two chances against City, both crosses. While this doesn’t solely result from Kante’s flaws, he is unable to shift the tempo of the game, offensively.

Kante doesn’t have a quick trigger on the ball. During the game, Chelsea needed to get the ball out wide, at faster speeds. Delph was far too comfortable in the game (being played at Left Back). Kante does not have the range on his pass to make the defence feel at danger or uncomfortable. His passing ability and decision making are unbalanced, clearly favouring short passes.

With Fabregas looking a lot less sharp on the ball this season, particularly with his range of passing, this spells danger going forward. Azpilicueta has the most assists of any Chelsea player this season, which doesn’t come as a surprise. There is a distinct lack of creativity in Chelsea’s midfield.

This season will define Kante as a player. Assuming Chelsea will move past the group stages of the Champions League, we will see how he plays in the significant European ties. As a Chelsea fan, I hope I’m wrong about Kante – I’ll be more than happy to hold my hands up and admit that.

This topic will be something I expand on as the season progresses. The Manchester clubs are already looking like a stronger outfit this season. Coping with the pressures of the Premier League and the Champions League will be Kante’s biggest test. I look forward to seeing the results.