It’s right there in front of you. Big and red and your hand is hovering over it. It’s tempting, I know. Everyone in the Facebook comments gave in on Tuesday, punching it the moment James Rodríguez put Real Madrid ahead. Half of the Twitter fan base threw in the towel after full time at Old Trafford; they slammed down on it before publishing their #PochOut tweets from their drafts. It’s up to us now, we must stay calm. Don’t you dare press the panic button.
At the start of every season, football fans feel that their team is invincible. It doesn’t matter how bad pre-season is or how poor the transfer window has been, the new season brings out an unrelenting optimism, fans try and justify every decision made. “Okay, we still need to buy a striker, but we’ve finally formed a solid defence; we can nick the three points and kick on from there.”
Yet, when that goes wrong and your team lose for the first time in the season, in Tottenham’s case on the first day, the invincibility drains away and suddenly you remember just how bad it feels to lose. That moment of silent disbelief after the opponent scores; you feel sick to your stomach and can’t foresee any way back. The building frustration as chances go begging and as the referee gives stupid, ridiculous decisions that actually turn out to be fair and correct on the replay. But that’s beside the point because your team is losing. Then comes the second wave of disbelief, the final whistle blows and it’s actually happened. You knew it would come eventually, you knew that the team wasn’t prepared, but you didn’t expect it to feel this bad.
Then the post-match thoughts. How did we miss those chances? Why didn't he make that sub earlier? Why haven’t we signed him, him and him? Of course, this is how it feels again for Tottenham. What if Christian Eriksen’s brilliant early attempt dropped under the bar? Should Mauricio Pochettino had made earlier changes? Why have we been left short on opening day, yet again, with Harry Kane as our only available striker and Eric Dier playing in midfield?
Everything about Spurs’ first loss of the season is just so frustrating. Of course though, it’s depressingly predictable. The first warning signs came when the early stream of signings dried up. It was essential to address the shambles of the defence Pochettino had at his disposal last season. This was done quickly and efficiently and no one can complain about that. The days drifted then by, with the deadwood being cleared, and yet no more incomings. No striker, no midfield partner for Nabil Bentaleb, no winger. Hugo Lloris’ broken wrist only added more complication. Then we had to play two games in the Audi Cup days before our trip to Old Trafford. Alarm bells were well and truly ringing.
If the build up was frustrating, the match itself was a level above. We were treated to a very encouraging start, the pressing was fierce and Manchester United’s threat was blunted. In fact, Michel Vorm had very little to do throughout the ninety minutes. Eriksen could, and possibly should, have put Spurs ahead inside ten minutes with what would have been a gorgeous goal. Kane’s delightful scoop was topped by the Danish playmaker’s delicate kiss of the ball with his forehead. Alas, he then lifted it just too high with his left boot. Soon after, further high pressing led to a turnover of possession deep in United’s half and had Kane shown the same perception he did for Eriksen’s chance, he may have found Nacer Chadli unmarked in the penalty area for a simple finish.
Just as we started to believe our own pre-season optimism, Spurs did what they do better than most. The harsh reality had to come from an own goal, didn’t it? Kyle Walker has already received plenty of abuse for turning the ball past Vorm, but it was the sloppiness of the uncharacteristically off-key Nabil Bentaleb that led to the goal. Spurs didn’t really recover until the last moments of the game and so now we have a week to mull over another frustrating, avoidable loss.
Now, calm down. Breathe. Let’s take a step back. This is Old Trafford we’re talking about. Yes, we’re Tottenham Hotspur, we dare to do and we want to win every game, but this is a ground that we hadn’t won at for 23 years before 2012. With that in mind, think about the performance. It was far from stellar from Spurs, but United were turgid too, the match was dire. If not for it being the opening day, we’d probably look at it even more harshly. We were slow and ponderous for the majority of the game, if we want to open up teams, we must move with much more purpose once we turn over possession.
However, on the whole, we were solid. The home side were limited to very few clear cut chances. Of course, Rooney’s chance that led to the goal was a glaring one, but this only resulted from an individual mistake. Toby Alderweireld was calm and assured on his debut, there were no lapses from Jan Vertonghen either. Dier looked much better in midfield than in pre-season, though he is still not the solution. Walker was defensively superb, a very disciplined and mature performance that was sadly tarnished by the own goal. It’s encouraging to see that we may have finally built solid foundations at the back that will not sabotage the brilliance further forward, as has happened many times in the last two decades for Tottenham.
If Pochettino is happy with his defence, he needs to quickly move up the pitch, as the swashbuckling forward play is in a worryingly short supply. Kane and Eriksen can only conjure up so much without support around them. It’s hugely annoying to start the season lacking; having one available striker is a cruel joke only Spurs would make. We desperately need investment before the window shuts and if we don’t make the necessary moves that every fan can clearly see, Daniel Levy will deserve all the anger he will receive.
Let’s take some more deep breaths though, we haven’t thrown away our season after one game. Certainly when that game was at Old Trafford. There’s still three weeks of the transfer window left, no one should be kicking and screaming about the squad being left short just yet.
There’s a lot of work to do and that sickness that comes from a loss will continue to wear you down for a couple more days at least. We have to keep the patience now and let those at the club do their jobs. For now, we have to continue the admirable support that was on view in the away end at Old Trafford. At least allow Pochettino and his team a chance to prove themselves before we write the season off. It’s much too early to panic just yet.