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What the EPL?!: Pundits bash 'crazy', 'naive' Ange, as coach sticks to his guns amid 9-man VAR chaos

6th November, 2023
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6th November, 2023
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Tottenham’s evolution under Ange has been nothing short of spectacular, with a new style bedded in and winning matches well before anyone thought that would be possible.

Chelsea, under Mauricio Pochettino, have been almost the anti-Spurs: while their style has been pretty well adopted, they have had no luck with injuries or finishing and, allied to their lack of a consistent centre forward, can’t score from the chances that they create.

It’s not a long bow to suggest that, if Son Heung-Min played in West London rather than North, things might be very different indeed.

Their meeting to round out the weekend was a bit like that. 

Spurs iced one chance early with a bit of finishing and a bit of luck, but on the balance of play, were second best. Chelsea pressed superbly to stop them playing from the back and thus dominated the game, while challenging the high line constantly.

The luck that Ange has had ran out: Micky van der Ven pulled his hamstring, Cesar Romero was sent off with a penalty given and scored for the same incident, then Destiny Udogie was sent off.

A two man deficit was never going to end well, but Spurs, as has been their wont, responded in a way quite unlike any other team.

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That high line, which had looked positively kamikaze at 11 v 11, suddenly kept all of Tottenham’s players essentially in one line, forcing Chelsea to try and play over them and take their chances. 

It seemed counterintuitive, but encouraged the sort of daring, devil-may-care football that has been Spurs’ calling card, while also challenging their opponents to overcome their biggest issue this season, actually putting the ball in the net.

Nicolas Jackson did eventually score – only after missing several – and got another two late as Chelsea duly became the first team to defeat Postecoglou in the Premier League.

On the Optus Sporti coverage, Spurs great Glenn Hoddle stuck the boot in.

“I said at half-time if they continue to play the high-line with 10 men, Chelsea will pick them off. I don’t understand it,” said former

“That was too easy for Chelsea to play against. Playing with nine is hard, sure, but playing with a high line like that where you can’t put pressure on them, Chelsea have pace about them, it played into their hands.

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“I could not believe what I saw there. This is so naive. I don’t get it.”

Also on Optus, Joe Cole agreed.

“It was crazy to play that way,” said the former Chelsea playmaker.

“If we got 20 of the world’s top coaches in a room and asked for a thought process when you’re down to nine men, you’re still in the game, give me tactics of how to play it. None of them would’ve done what Ange has done.

“We’ve praised Ange and rightly so, he’s been amazing, but tonight I think he got it wrong.”

But here’s the thing: did the Ange myth actually grow as a result of this? 

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Tottenham were the worse team when at level pegging but the way they responded to adversity, kept punching back and didn’t abandon their style only advanced the cause that the new manager has been pushing.

Fans appreciate rearguard actions in the face of adversity, and this was certainly that. By the end, they were still singing Ange’s name.

Punters also know that they can’t win every game, so the manner of defeats matters. It’s strange to think of Spurs supporters being happy after a 4-1 loss at home to one of their biggest rivals, but here were are. Angeball is bizarro world. Enjoy it.

Of course, the man himself wasn’t having any of it.

“It’s just who we are mate. It’s just who we are. It’s who we’re going to be until as long as I’m here,” he said post-match. “We go down to five men mate, we’ll have a crack.”

VAR remains nonsense

Look, we can’t avoid it: it’s time to talk about VAR again. The first half of Spurs v Chelsea took an hour to complete and featured a host of long, drawn out decisions. Most were correct, but nothing was added to the experience for them being so.

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Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta had a tantrum about it after his side’s 1-0 loss to Newcastle, and he was right to do so: Anthony Gordon’s winning goal was variously a foul, offside and potentially a ball out of play. 

There were also two clear send offs in the game that weren’t called – Arteta, curiously, did not mention Kai Havertz’s tackle – when anyone watching outside of Stockley Park could see that they should have been.

The whole point of the VAR official is to overturn egregiously bad decisions and they failed to do so spectacularly.

These incidents weren’t, for example, like the one that Liverpool got wiped off a few weeks back, where the process was flawed, or the countless dumb handball decisions that we just accept as a fact of life now despite being patently, obviously not handball.

It was never a stated aim of VAR to remove debate about refereeing – though many people presented it as such – because, really, arguing about refereeing is as part and parcel of the game as the ball and the grass.

But, and this is the big point, blaming the VAR is by far and away the best way for a coach to now deflect from their own failings.

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https://twitter.com/OptusSport/status/1720939228492685475https://twitter.com/OptusSport/status/1720939228492685475

As a result of Arteta’s comments, we’re not talking about how his side managed to turn nearly 60% of the ball into 0.57 xG, one shot on target and no chances. They didn’t lay a glove on Newcastle despite overwhelming opportunity to do so.

We’re also not talking about how the ball ended up in their end for the goal/non goal too, in which a straight hoik up the park to a team playing without a recognised striker was so badly defended that the ball ended up in the net. 

Arsenal were really bad and deserved absolutely nothing from the game. Newcastle were by far the better team and nobody could really begrudge that they got all three points. 

Everyone else

This week’s round the grounds acknowledges Manchester United, who are still rubbish but have enough good players to periodically win, and Manchester City, who are really quite a lot better than Bournemouth.

Luis Diaz scored an emotional equaliser to salvage a draw for a wasteful Liverpool at Luton, revealing a t-shirt in support of his father, who has been kidnapped in Colombia. In a rare display of common sense from the officiating ranks, he was not booked.

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The irony was to be found at the City Ground, where Emi Martinez celebrated being named the world’s best goalkeeper by punching the ball into his own net in Villa’s 2-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest, and at Brentford, where West Ham, the masters of the headed goal, were undone by three headers from the hosts – well, two from the hosts and one own goal.

Sheffield United got off the mark with a win thanks to a 90+9th minute penalty, drawing them level Burnley who got, to use the technical term, Hodgsoned by Crystal Palace. Roy the Boy’s men had four shots, three on target, two goals and none of the ball. Textbook.

And, just for Arsenal fans, remember that you weren’t the worst possession wasters of the weekend: Brighton had 80% of the ball at Everton but created literally nothing and escaped with a point thanks to Kaoru Mitoma’s cross deflecting in off Ashley Young’s arse. Best. League. In. The. World.

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