In my last blog I suggested that travelling to Belgrade would be tough and they would be a tough team to play against, and so it turned out to be.
Not only were we up against a team full of big burly Serbians, we had to contend with a stadium full of raucous and at times hostile supporters and a dreadful pitch which was – the morning after the match – being ripped up as it had already been condemned by many who had played on it recently.
That we escaped with a draw is therefore a positive – that we only did so because their forwards were actually more inept than ours – is less so.
Statistics seem to show that we did not register a single shot on target – I disagree as in the 82nd minute Harry Kane blasted a long range free kick straight into the wall which had to be on target unless the wall was in the wrong place. He also hit the bar in the first minute but apart from those two attempts we were woeful.
At the back we had so little to do that Vorm could easily have made his debut without any alarm bells ringing, something which would have meant us making 11 changes from the team that started against Sunderland.
Fasio made a hesitant debut, committed a couple of needless fouls and then misjudged the flight of a ball which nearly gifted them a goal but for the interventions of Vertonghen and Bentaleb, but grew into his role.
Alongside him Big Jan was back near his imperious best, commanding the area and striding out to join the attack; both full backs endured a torrid time against bigger and bullying opponents but managed to come through unscathed.
Our midfield defensive players – Bentaleb and Stambouli – were mostly anonymous but I have no problem with that. Their role is to quietly destroy, cut off the opposition´s attacks and then quickly and effectively distribute to the flair players. Being anonymous is what their game is all about – we don´t want to see them flying into last ditch tackles, chasing back after opponents who have already beaten them. Basically if they are unsung heroes then so be it.
Being anonymous for our flair players is not, however, an option. Lennon and Townsend did a lot of running on and off the ball but their end product was quite simply awful, but at least they gave a reasonable impression of trying – something Paulinho did not. He was frequently caught on the ball or out of position though I am not sure that many of us could work out what that position was.
He was bought in to be the box to box midfielder alongside the deep lying player – Sandro – and the midfield maestro – Dembele – in AVBs style of a three man midfield, whilst also being able to cover the others as they rotate positions. At the moment he is none of those, so where he currently fits into the scheme is difficult to imagine, especially as Pochettino’s style is, whilst similar, a great deal more demanding physically.
Come the weekend and the likelihood is that we will revert back almost entirely to the team that started at the Stadium of Light with the only change being Vertonghen coming in to replace Chiriches.
No-one else who started in Belgrade – apart of course from Lloris – did enough to warrant inclusion.
We do, however, need to start in a positive frame of mind, as we did last weekend, as we did against QPR four weeks ago and with that put the Baggies on the back foot and secure another three points.