In the 1954 World Cup, West German, then coached by Sepp Herberger faced pre-tournament favourites Hungary in the group stages and got smashed 8-3. Cleverly Herberger had rested most of his key players so that when they met again in the final, the Germans had the element of surprise and as such heroically managed to beat the Hungarians, 3-2 thus cementing their position in the history books. I’m hardly advocating that we’re going to go onto win the league, more that managers often use matches – often expected to against them – to make a statement in return for future gains. Vertonghen, Paulinho, Sandro and Kaboul were all back in training (Paulinho had even been training for two weeks prior in Brazil) and none featured within the squad for our match against Manchester City. Similarly a manager with a team of experienced professionals around him (Including someone who used to play as a holding midfielder) chose not to play a CDM in a game against one of the best attacking sides in Europe all with the end of the transfer window looming wherein we have made no signings. Was this a match Sherwood could afford to lose in order to make a statement?
I’m obviously aware Sherwood isn’t going to now lead us to the Premier League title, he’s got about as much chance of that as Kyle Naughton does winning the Ballon D’or. But, he has been aware that the honeymoon period is dwindling to a halt. The gradual switch from the hardly sustainable 4-4-2 to a lone-striker formation showcase a genuine vision that many feared he would be lacking. Although this formation switch hardly held up against City – nobody expected us to get a result against a team of their form and caliber so why would he risk any of the returning players in a game he could literally afford to lose? The run we’ve been on was near perfect, bar a blip at the Emirates we’ve won five in the Premier League and drawn one.
If there was one game we expected him to lose it was this one. Sherwood knew that he wouldn’t do any worse than AVB did away from home and although we ended up coming close it was pretty extravagant circumstances that took us close to that line, largely a linesman who showed about as much fairness as a North Korean secret police report. If we look at our team from last night the inclusion of Sigurdsson on the left only enhanced the notion that it was a mission of damage limitation than an actual attempt to outplay City. Our main goalthreats stemmed from Danny Rose overlapping Siggy on the left and Eriksen’s lethal deliveries in and around the box – hardly the overtly attacking gameplan Sherwood described in pre-match interviews.
Linesman aside, as much as we all like to make Sherwood out to be one, he’s not an idiot. He’s a Premier-league winner turned manager with some 20 years experience around football at the top flight and an experienced backroom staff to match. His decision not to play a CDM tonight can literally only stem from the fact that he saw Bentaleb as un-droppable. How would you justify dropping a player wherein we’ve won our last run of games and he has been an integral part of that? Whilst Ferdinand’s comments on the diminishing role of a CDM are somewhat disheartening, I think they’ve been largely taken out of context – it’s hardly a view likely to be given much prominence particularly with Steffen Freund, someone who operated in that position for years, a key member of the backroom staff. Tonights performance gave Sherwood reasoning to drop Bentaleb for the upcoming game against Hull and place the returning Paulinho/Sandro in his place, giving them time to return to pace, dependant that is on Dembele’s recovery from injury.
Ultimately most important and influential factors upon that performance was its proximity to the end of the transfer window. Levy failed to back Redknapp two seasons ago, as we all thought he was in line for. The England job and whilst Sherwood maybe similarly short-term he can now build upon this gulf-in-class to perhaps wrangle in a few new signings. We all know there’s money to spend and will be even more if there are any more outgoings as proposed. Whilst talks of Dimitar Berbatov look promising – the loss to City may give Sherwood room to convince Levy of a bigger signing than previously anticipated, in order to push for the Champions League; the likes of Lloris, Vertonghen and Paulinho will be hard to keep should we fail yet again in our pursuit.
Whilst all of this seems a tiny bit far-fetched and somewhat delusional, it’s worth remembering how Sherwood got the job as Spurs manager. Without going into detail it basically involved a lot of back-stabbing and leaking stories to the press. He’s a man who knows what he’s doing as much as he projects this almost beginner outlook to the press. To put it bluntly, Sherwood found himself into a win-win situation. He pulls off a miracle at home, he’s lauded forever. We lose and it’s ‘bounce back next week’ – something likely to be strengthened by the return of our injured players. An ironic sense of ingenuity seeped through that loss, whilst Sherwood would have undoubtedly liked the scoreline to be somewhat less brutal it served a building block for Sherwood to exert further influence, in an interim role somewhat lacking power.