West Ham on the opening day. I've seen prettier sites checking the bottom of my shoe to see if I'd just stepped in dog shit. I wrote a piece detailing how, although pre-season results shouldn't be given an inch of your time (and they shouldn't), the style and system in which we approach these games inherently should. This game seemingly worked try and go out of its' way to contradict literally every word I wrote.
Although, that wasn't quite what was top of my mind when I was watching us play at West Ham. I couldn't help but imagining the dangerously unsettling comparisons between our performance across the 90 minutes and the regular drivel we had to endure under Sherwood. The notable thing that we did manage to avoid was an all too typical collapse at the first sniff of danger. The game almost reminded me of the Cardiff away fixture last season. We flattered to deceive for much of it before a new boy popped up and scored a late winner.
That first sniff of danger was our back four. Hands up at the end of last season who'd have predicted Naughton & Rose would be starting our first Premier League of the new season. Neither did I. Kaboul, sadly, is not the player he was in 2011/2012 & the wildcard that is Eric Dier could be hit or miss.
I must've watched this game with my hands over my eyes because up until Naughton saw red, I've been informed that we were doing admirably up until this point. I remember us being slack in possession and moving the ball at a snail pace. We looked a minor shadow of ourselves system wise that we saw more or less in every pre-season fixture. It wasn't the fact that we even put into practice this fresh approach and West Ham stifled it, it was more that we lacked the confidence to try and put it into practice in the first place.
We'd seen a far more pragmatic side that were more direct in their passing style but we struggled to get out of our final third at times on Saturday. We lacked that extra midfield option when the defence had the ball or lacked that option in the final third when Bentaleb came deep to collect that first pass. Maybe pushing Capoue back into CB affected this but we struggled even at 11 vs. 11.
We've big hopes for Lamela this year but I feel giving him this seemingly free role almost stifles Eriksen's effectiveness in the final third. Lamela consistently picked up the ball but struggled to know his next move when receiving and often tried too hard to impress. He'd miss the more simple-yet-effective ball more often than not and looked a little lost positionally when out of possession. I maintain that giving him a permanent role right would allow him to work on his game as well as a role that would exploit the best of Erik as well as the system we're trying to implement. This would further allow Eriksen to adopt a more permanent role centrally and allow him to flourish where he is arguably his most dangerous.
Maybe the system needs time. In fact, there's no doubt it does. One player that slotted like he'd been at the club for years was Eric Dier. His positioning, no-nonsense attitude and versatility were exceptional. Considering his debut was arguably made all the more difficult as he was forced to shift over to RB when Naughton did see red, he performed admirably in his first outing.
It's always satisfying to pick up three points on the opening day but I think it's understandable to expect the more pragmatic approach we'd seen in pre-season to be adopted more regularly as time proceeds. We've still to welcome back a host of players from the World Cup as well as a couple of weeks left of this window. The signals have definitely been quietly optimistic, but it's clear that time is still the most valuable thing Pochettino needs at his disposal.