Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham: Lunchtime kick-offs spoil the football
Noon kickoffs are always turgid.
Sky and BT Sports have created a duopoly on Premier League broadcasts and, handed this power, seek to maximise their profits. The 12 pm slot is a perfect example of putting audience above quality. Lunch is the optimal time to catch the footballing population. Dreary-eyed from the night before, coffee in hand, wearing an expression that says, "leave-me-alone-on-the-couch", the opportunity to do nothing but indulge in football on the telly is one few fans can resist.
While it may be good for you and me, lunchtime kick-offs often steep into lethargic, uneventful affairs. Nutrition has become vital to the industry. Disrupting the natural pattern of food consumption, designed by expert nutritionists to engender maximum output, manifests into sub-par performances. It's as though the viewer's sluggishness travels back up the broadcast feed to infect the players.
There are a few crackers among noontime games. Most are so sedate one expects safari hunters to land helicopters on the pitch and tag the seemingly tranquilised players for tracking purposes. Entering the Crystal Palace/Tottenham sleep study, three of the last four lunchtime kick-offs prior played out as stale 1-0 or 1-1 affairs.
The game at Selhurst Park was no different, especially in the first-half. Here and there, play reluctantly sparked into life in the second half, as though a housecat, itself bored, had dug its claws into its dozing, couch-potato master, completely unwilling to wait until full time to be fed. On the whole, a discernible sloppiness clung to the play, loose passing the chief protagonist.
It could be worse. The Premier League isn't La Liga, which insists on broadcasting one match at a time from sunrise to sunset. The Premier League powers that be won't change anything. They're making far too much profit. It's simply another example of revenue trumping football's intended purpose: to entertain. Viewers might as well just roll over and go back to sleep. But do feed the cat first.
Heroics from Hennessey
Although Spurs were not their usual fast, slick, potent selves, they still carved out a number of gilt-edged chances. Much to the attacking four and Mauricio Pochettino's frustration, Wayne Hennessey was in inspired form.
First, the Crystal Palace goalkeeper denied Harry Kane. The ball fell to the marksman within the six-yard box, where a goal is typically a formality given Kane's ruthless streak. Hennessey stretched himself out wide, erected a barrier, and quashed any hope of a Spurs lead.
Then came Serge Aurier, who fired a shot through the traffic of bodies into the area. Again the Welshman more was than equal to it.
Reflex saves continued to define Hennessey's game. Ben Davies swivelled and dispatched a low-shot bound for the bottom corner. For a moment, travelling Spurs faithful held out hope it takes one Welshman to beat another. Hennessey remarkably got his entire 6"6" frame to the ground, stretched out a palm, and pushed the shot out for a corner.
Could he have done better for Kane's winner? Perhaps, but it would be hypercritical to complain considering his finger-tip save was inches away from being enough. Without the keeper, the match very well could have been 3-0.
It sounds paradoxical. Do the laws of science allow for a meek Mousa Dembele? Surely not. Only, rewire your conditioning, because the Belgian failed to replicate the domineering performances he has put in over the last few weeks.
Dembele had been crucial in Spurs' victories over Manchester United and Arsenal, integral in their draws against Juventus and Liverpool. Perhaps it was too much game time for the 30-year-old. Maybe the drugged dart in his buttock hadn't worn off. Either way, the central midfielder failed to command the midfield in the fashion we have come to expect. It was not that he had a particularly poor game, just that he did not live up to the standards he has set for himself.
This will be a worry for Pochettino. He should monitor Dembele's recovery time to coax the best out of him with the season's business end approaching. And, of course, make sure he eats properly.