Uninhibited Tottenham step out at White Hart Lane 3

The Tottenham fanbase is in a strange limbo.  Beaten back within themselves by the disappointments of last season, the early weeks of Mauricio Pochettino’s time at the club have been characterised by an unusual pragmatism and an apparent acceptance of their position within the English football hierarchy.  The Champions League ambitions have been put away for the time-being, and in their place exists a far simpler desire: entertainment.

The Harry Redknapp era at White Hart Lane will, of course, be remembered for the fourth-placed finish in 2010, but that four-year period will also always be synonymous with some scintillating football and an attacking fearlessness that won admiration even when it failed to deliver points.

Redknapp’s tenure eventually turned sour; a court case, a public flirtation with The FA, some ill-advised politicking over a new contract, and a catastrophic late-season slump in 2010 convinced Daniel Levy that a new direction was needed.  Redknapp left and, although his inability to think his way out of deep tactical waters wasn’t missed, his style of football ultimately was.

Andre Villas-Boas has one of sharpest analytical minds in football and he was, both personally and professional, the polar opposite of Redknapp in every way.  He represented a shift towards something new for the club and an abandonment of many of the values that had been established between 2008 and 2012.  The football was generally successful but, with the exception of the Gareth Bale-sponsored exclamation points, it had a tendency to be joyless.  Tottenham won plenty of games under the Portuguese, but they did so in an uneconomical way and in manner which invited criticism.

Where Redknapp had perhaps sacrificed method in pursuit of aesthetics, Villas-Boas unquestionably prioritised substance over style.

During his chairmanship of Tottenham, Daniel Levy has been chastised for many things.  None more so, perhaps, than for his tendency to change the technical direction of the club on a whim.  From cigarette-packet manager to continental methodology and then back again; not only did those abrupt about-turns come at the cost of continuity, they also whitewashed the club of a true playing identity. Spurs moved one way and then the next, with Levy’s decision-making casting him as an addict of revolution.

Four-nil wins against Queens Park Rangers are a measure of very little, but there were signs this afternoon that - whether intentionally or not - Levy has settled on a middle-ground and appointed a manager who is the halfway point between Harry Redknapp and Andre Villas-Boas.  There must have been times over the past two years during which Tottenham fans pondered what a hybrid of those two managers’ philosophies would have looked like, and today maybe they got their answer.

When Mauricio Pochettino was appointed, a series of tactical assumptions were made.  Under the Argentine, Tottenham would become an immensely hard-working side who did everything at speed.  They would press relentlessly, move the ball quickly and progressively, and they would establish a free-form attacking unit whose fluidity would greatly enhance the side’s level of chance-creation.

Of course, the final judgement on whether that installation is a success won’t be due for months, but today the changes were very apparent and, for the first matchday in a long time, Tottenham fans could actually claim to have enjoyed themselves at White Hart Lane.  There was no nervy eighty-minute wait for a goal and there was no escalating anxiety transmitting onto the pitch.  None of that. Instead, the home side played a beautifully expansive brand of football which baffled QPR’s back-six and exhibited all the qualities that Pochettino was charged with developing.

On a different day against a better opponent, Spurs will not dominate the midfield as completely as they did today.  Asterisking opinions with early season context is sensible, but that shouldn’t detract from what was the near-perfect execution of a game-plan.  Etienne Capoue and Nabil Bentaleb moved the ball with originality and urgency, changing the focus of the play and equipping the forwards with  countless opportunities to attack isolated defenders.  Once the ball arrived in the offensive zones, the interplay between Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Emmanuel Adebayor and Nacer Chadli was as refreshing as it was effective.  Maybe the clearest barometer of this new fluidity was the nature of the goals: Chadli twice found himself moonlighting as a centre-forward to score, where once maybe his instructions would have limited him to the left-hand side.

Erik Lamela will attract a lot of praise for his performance, and rightly so.  It’s important to understand, though, that his sudden form is not purely the product of the player’s rising confidence.  Yes, he’s finally fit and - seemingly - more physically suited to his environment, but Lamela is a beneficiary of this system in the same way that he was a victim of its predecessor.  One of the great advantages of playing with a high temperament is the creation of space, and Lamela was able to play today against single defenders rather than multiple opponents.  How many times last season was he given the ball ten or fifteen yards beyond the halfway line and encouraged to take-on a bank of defenders?  And how different was that situation today?  He was allowed to run onto the ball or given the opportunity to take possession beyond a single marker and into space.

Liverpool are a different prospect entirely and analysis which focuses on the future rather than just today’s game is premature, but this was a wonderfully encouraging start to life under Maurico Pochettino.

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