This weekend Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham played games in which the opening goals were the results of stupid errors. Southampton were more than matching the Goons at the Emirates until their goalkeeper attempted a series of Cruyff turns in his area and Chelsea were struggling to get anywhere at West Ham when Demel attempted a volleyed backpass off his thigh resulting in a converted penalty for Frank Lampard. For Spurs the luck went the other way when Loris’s poor clearance gifted City a goal on 15 seconds. The tone of each game - like so many in the Premier League - was set by the opening strike.
Yet you look at the stats from the Etihad and you wonder how Tottenham lost at all let alone 6-0. They had more possession, more corners, more passes in the opposing half and almost as many shots as City. All of which made this game a kind of grotesque caricature of the team’s season so far - plenty of possession, precious few goals and, increasingly, a poor return in terms of points. The team now has just one from the last three games and the next league opponents are Manchester United. It’s not as if any comfort can be taken from the fact that the game is at home because it is in N17 that Spurs have been at their most impotent.
It happens. Big clubs get thrashed by other big clubs in Premier League games. The season before last Manchester United lost 6-1 to City at Old Trafford and only missed out on the title on goal difference on the last day. Weeks earlier, Arsenal had lost 8-2 on the same pitch but went on to qualify for the Champions League. There were no terminal declines, nobody lost their job.
Nevertheless, the invective is flying and most of it, inevitably, at Andre Villas Boas. First on the charge sheet is his increasingly erratic team selection - why give Lamela his first start now in a tough away fixture when he could have played him in front of his own fans against Newcastle days after he’d finally wowed them in a Europa game? Why suddenly drop Townshend when he’d been England’s best player against Germany on Tuesday? Why were the team so sloppy? What happened to the great bedrock defence that Spurs’ steady-ish progress was being built on? And why, yet again, was there so much build up with no pay off?
Villas Boas will doubtless be asking himself these questions and many others this week. The problems of knowing the best eleven and converting possession into goals are not new ones. But the jolt to the team’s confidence both in itself and in its boss is the new worry. AVB’s qualities as a leader - a shrewd utiliser of an encouraging word and a kick up the ar*e - will now be tested as never before. The next two or three games will be among the most important in the young Portuguese’s career. By Christmas he’ll either have put this episode behind him or he’ll be fearing for his job. I for one hope it’s the former.