Sunday’s draw at White Hart Lane essentially confirmed what we already knew about Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.
Tottenham have a midfield that is very good at taking hold of a game and rather less good at creating chances. United, on the other hand, don’t have much of a midfield at all.
The problem for Tottenham is that a couple of slightly unfortunate defeats – at home to West Ham United and Newcastle United – have undermined their confidence and that means that not only are they not getting reward for domination at one end, but the defence is liable to self-destruct at the other.
With pressure building, manager Andre Villas-Boas hinted at his emotions when he criticised two journalists after the 2-2 draw for having “insulted my integrity”, following stories written in the aftermath of the team’s 6-0 thrashing at Manchester City.
Although Villas-Boas’s tone was calm, his words did little to dispel the impression raised on Thursday when he asked for a Tromso fan who had been criticising him during his side’s Europa League tie in Norway to be removed from behind the dug-out. Whether his actions are those of a man losing his cool or of somebody facing down their opponents directly, it’s hard to dispute he is under pressure.
The draw surely enhanced his frustration, as Tottenham twice led but did not make it count. Spurs are 10 points behind the leaders Arsenal. It would not be a complete surprise to see him lose his job sooner rather than later. Tottenham have a history of replacing managers – see Martin Jol in 2007 and Juande Ramos in 2008 – early in seasons of struggle.
It would not be fair to say United got away with the draw, but equally Tottenham were left ruing two sloppy moments that offered United routes back into the game soon after Spurs had taken the lead.
David Moyes, challenged on his midfield, accepted that there is a lack of authority in central areas – the dearth of dynamism has been a weakness for three seasons now – and spoke of how important Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick have been in providing that.
As if recovering himself, he pointed out that both Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley are young and playing for England internationally, describing them as “good players”. Truthfully, they were overpowered by Tottenham’s central trio of Sandro, Mousa Dembele and Paulinho.
The secondary truth, however, is that it does not much matter, such is the lack of creativity about Tottenham at the moment. Their two goals were both long-range strikes and both were cancelled out within minutes by Wayne Rooney.
Villas-Boas admitted his side are in need of a good result when they face Fulham on Wednesday. The lopsided loss to City inevitably raised doubts, but that game aside, his team give the impression of being very close to being very good.
If fluency can be engendered in a side featuring seven new signings and confidence is recaptured, Uefa Champions League qualification is well within Spurs’ capabilities this season. The worry now is Villas-Boas and his seeming paranoia, needlessly picking fights with the media. Of course he is well within his rights to defend himself, and he would not be the first manager to find the generation of a siege mentality of benefit.
And as Villas-Boas, windmilling blows against opponents real and imagined, draws the headlines, Moyes must be relieved that the focus is off his side’s midfield woes.
United are only a point above Tottenham in the table – and they are the champions, and did not undergo major reconstruction in the summer.
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