To paraphrase Steve Winwood and Traffic, sometimes I feel so uninspired watching Tottenham.
Safe to say the honeymoon for manager Tim Sherwood is over. One thing that dogged his predecessor, Andre Villas-Boas, in his one-and-a-half seasons was the club's disappointing home form. Despite taking thirteen points from fifteen in the league, Sherwood's now presided over two bland performances at home -- a 1-1 draw to West Brom on Boxing Day and, on Saturday, a completely unimpressive 2-0 win over Crystal Palace, who woke up this morning at the bottom of the Premier League table -- not to mention an unmentionable exit from the FA Cup.
American fans coming new to the English league on NBC Sports this season might wonder why a 2-0 win is bad, but make no mistake, it was. Tottenham came out for Saturday's match like a team that had expected to play on Sunday but then woke up and looked at the calendar. They were so flat they were round. Roberto Soldado looked like he had cement in his boots. Emmanuel Adebayor looked as if he'd lost interest again. Meanwhile, the central defense of Vlad Chiriches and Michael Dawson was highly vulnerable to Palace attackers Cameron Jerome and Marouane Chamakh, who remind no one of Suarez and Sturridge. Spurs were beyond lucky to not go to halftime down 1-0 after Moussa Dembele, forced to track back to compensate for the back line, fouled Chamakh in the penalty area. Jason Puncheon proceeded to take what's being dubbed the worst penalty kick ever, but even this moment of futility could not hide what was happening: an "attacking" 4-4-2 formation with no attack and a defense made to look soft by a visiting club with a league-worst 13 goals all season. (Just to put that in perspective, Spurs have been mired in a goal drought for much of the season but have scored twice as often.) In some ways, this winning performance was worse than the 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool that sealed Villas-Boas' fate.
Only Nabil Bentaleb, making his first league start today, offered anything inventive before the half. The 19-year-old midfielder clearly fascinates Sherwood, and Bentaleb showed promise on two near misses: a low shot from distance that almost created a rebound chance for Soldado and then a would-be wonder-goal candidate that struck the post and rebounded across the width of the goal. But even with these teases, one wonders why Sherwood doesn't more highly value Etienne Capoue, a much more imposing midfield presence who looked like the strongest player on the pitch at points early this season, albeit briefly before suffering an injury.
The Tottenham manager must have lit the walls on fire in his halftime speech. Spurs came out looking a different team after the restart and took the lead on a pretty goal from Christian Eriksen in the 50th minute. Kyle Naughton, who'd come on for an injured Kyle Walker, lobbed a long ball to Adebayor just outside the box, and the forward delivered a deft header to the Danish midfielder. It was a nice sequence that reminded one of the vintage Ade-van der Vaart connection from 2011-2012 -- the season of "good Ade," back when he was playing for a contract. Eriksen continues his ascent after returning from a recent injury and looks to be the real deal.
But the match remained very much in the balance after his goal. Tottenham was much too permissive, outshot 14-10 and yielding 11 corners, too many of which produced headed attempts from poorly marked men. It was a weak display against an ostensibly weak team.
But let's take a moment to sing of Jermaine Defoe, who's off to Toronto FC of the MLS in a month and a half but remaining with Spurs in the interim. Defoe came on as a sub for the disappointing Soldado in the 58th minute and, in the 72nd, accepted a pass from Aaron Lennon and buried the ball in net for his first league goal of the season. Much like the disappointment in a 2-0 win, the disconnect between Defoe's career benchmarks and his overall perception among supporters will be hard to understand for some newer fans. He departs after spending most of the last decade with the club (interrupted by a brief spell with Portsmouth), its top scorer in Continental competition and its joint-second scorer of the Premier League era. Yet his streakiness and his struggles to fit into contemporary systems prevented him from holding down a consistent place in the starting XI. Going into Saturday's match, the 31-year-old striker found himself third on Sherwood's depth chart, but his instant injection of offensive was in stark contrast to Soldado's season-long struggles. Albeit part sentiment, part by default, let's name Defoe our Man of the Match for giving supporters one of the few storybook moments from this weekend's largely forgettable narrative.