It was only a couple of weeks ago I made myself look a right tit by saying that we are at such level beyond our opposition in these final games that we need not worry about their game but merely concentrate on our own.
Cut forward to Wednesday night and I’m celebrating a Sunderland win that means Sunday’s opponents are already relegated.
Tim Sherwood claimed that AVB was fired because ‘Winning isn’t enough.’ at Spurs ‘You have to win pretty.’ And that certainly rings true with me. Without beauty, results are joyless.
This Sunday, however, I’ll take the most boring, insipid, backwards joke of a game. Anything. As long as we don’t lose. As long as we get a point. As long as we finish above Woolwich.
Newcastle might be relegated but they were also the first club to show the league that without Dembele our playstyle leaves us too physically weak in midfield and easily pressed.
Ryan Mason has been his stand in and while I’ve defended him, and while I maintain that he is a good player he’s not suited to playing in midfield for this Spurs side right now. No-one is going to compare to Dembele for physical presence but Mason is especially lightweight and I suspect a little more fearful of contact since his injury.
Without a miraculous return to fitness and form from Nabil Bentaleb replacing Mason in midfield to beef it up is a tricky one. There’s a handful of possibilities and none really stand out.
We could bring in Wimmer and have either him or Vertonghen play in midfield alongside Dier.
Starting all four centre-backs is a bit Tony Pulis and certainly leaves us short of creativity from deep but I’ll refer you to my intro: I’d play 10 defenders if it meant we came away with a point this weekend.
We could introduce Chadli and drop Eriksen alongside Dier.
Eriksen is no less lightweight than Mason but he has the touch, vision, creativity and skill that may mean he is able to avoid those battles without losing the ball.
There’s Tom Carroll but he’s even worse for that and now we’re running out of options. We could bring in Onomah.
Bringing in a 5’11 19 year old to add strength to your midfield isn’t standard procedure and Onomah certainly isn’t a powerhouse. But he does have the control and on-the-ball confidence that could just be enough to help us out.
Nacer Chadli is a big lad with a good touch and Sherwood once played in in central midfield. But no.
Son or N’jie could move up top to let Kane come deep and do a job in midfield, I actually quite like that idea, but there’s no way Poch would go for that.
In fact I feel there’s a strong possibility that Pochettino won’t do any of these or think up one of his own. I think he’ll do as he has before, show faith in a decision he’s previously made and play Mason again.
There’s something to be said for two existing media narratives about relegated teams. One is that they can sometimes improve once they are free from pressure and I think that’s been shown to be true. The other is that relegated teams can become even worse than they were because relegation can suck the life out of you and I think that’s shown to be true too.
Relegation means freedom. You’re free to make mistakes. You’re free to take risks in the final third which means that you can start making plays and converting chances that you previously hadn’t. And that freedom also means you don’t really care if you slip up defensively.
The one worry from Newcastle coming into this game is that they would play a physical, pressing game against a demoralised Tottenham side with Mason in midfield which would see us get overturned. But I don’t think that’s how you play after you’ve been relegated. I certainly hope it isn’t…