aerial

09.01.2006

Mido truly living up to the reputation for being good in the air.  The other ten Premiership managers might feel hard done by losing first-teamers to the African Cup of Nations this month, but for Martin Jol the situation grew to farcical proportions.

A decision concerning team selection had to be made at the last minute by the Tottenham head coach because a friendly game between Egypt and Nigeria had been cancelled! Not your typical factor to contend with. Whether the Dutchman chose the right or wrong option in the rainy Midlands can never be measured accurately but the outcome of events at the weekend succeeded only in potentially ruining the club’s season.

Sky’s coverage of the Manchester City game had meant Tottenham’s first game of 2006 had already been put back a couple of days. Mido parted company with the rest of the squad after the outstanding victory at Eastlands, where he personally proved once again how effective he is in the air. The club and Egypt had already negotiated that the striker team up with the international squad for a few days to include the scheduled friendly before returning to face Liverpool at Anfield on January 14. However, one week earlier than expected, Egypt's assistant coach confirmed Mido was being allowed to return to the club. "He said he wanted to return to England and since our match was cancelled we approved his request,” reported the BBC from Cairo.

There’s a good chance the FA Cup tie at the Walkers Stadium would already have been played by the time the postponement was announced had it not been picked for live coverage on the BBC, but Jol had to make his mind up. Should he include Mido, who’s stop over in Egypt lasted about 48 hours (if he ever actually made it back– reports are currently scarce!), or did he stick with Grzegorz Rasiak who had presumably trained for three days in the knowledge he would start as Mido’s replacement.

Whereas Mido had scored two of Tottenham’s last four goals (against Man City and Newcastle) and set up the other two with flick ons, the Pole had made only his third start for Spurs at Christmas, which had coincided with a first defeat from six in the Premiership. Prior to that game at West Brom he had only featured recently on two occasions in December – both full games for the reserves. In one of those he scored twice – the opener after receiving the ball with his back to goal, spinning his man and letting fly into the top corner from fully 30 yards. Clive Allen described the strike – which is evidence of what he is capable of  - as ‘international class’.

Anthony Gardner, returning from a long absence through injury had also featured then, leading to his involvement at the Hawthorns after Ledley King picked up another injury on Boxing Day. The majority of blame fell on the deputy’s shoulders after errors in that game and then again at Leicester on Sunday. Rasiak’s inclusion in both games doesn’t bode well for his popularity among supporters either.

Hopefully Rasiak is just experiencing the same difficulties adjusting that effected Liverpool’s Peter Crouch at the start of the season. Either that or Jol buys a target man as back up and effectively replaces the former Derby County forward. Otherwise he may be gambling everything by offering Rasiak a lifeline at White Hart Lane over the next month or so.

The club’s aim of course remains gaining that coveted place in Europe next season where teams a lot better than Grimsby Town and Leicester City await. But several players will be hoping the remaining 17 first team games of the current campaign, provides them with suitable opportunity to stake their places in the England squad for the World Cup. But anyway for now, do we get behind Egypt or don’t we ?

Alistair Murray

 

 

compare-tition

21.12.2005

As we approach the first anniversary of Pedro Mendes’ disallowed goal at Manchester United, the Champions League winner from two season’s ago must be asking himself if he has a future at Spurs.  Martin Jol regularly enthuses about the influence winners like Tainio, Stalteri, Davids and YP Lee have all brought to the team this season.  A regular in the side up until last Christmas, Mendes has started only three times this season and failed to even make it onto the bench since the end of October.  On Tuesday 4th January 2005 Spurs were unable to field Defoe or Kanoute so a five-man midfield was deployed featuring Mendes alongside youngsters Ricketts, Marney and Ziegler.  Will Arsenal’s kids manage to hold United to a draw at home on the same date in 2006 ?

Spurs were nine points and six places worse off than at this stage last season.  Nine goals have produced a return of close to maximum points from the last three games.  However, Spurs have conceded just the one less goal this year compared to the opening 17 games of last season.  Davids who has been asked to play in a central role for the past four games may return to the left over Christmas with Tainio and Reid both unlikely to feature again this year.  With either Routledge or Lennon coming back from injury to play on the right Jenas would likely move back inside which may or may not be welcomed by all fans - since Davids has played there Spurs games have become goal fests, which make for great spectacles.

Compare the recent run to that of Wigan, also in the top six.  Three points separate 4th from 6th, but had Wigan managed to sneak a point at home to Spurs and not lost 2-1 after Davids scored the winner, his first Tottenham goal, both sides would be equal just short of the 30 point mark heading into Christmas.  Paul Jewell’s side have conceded 13 times in their past six games – have only won once, and suffered five defeats against good quality opponents since mid-November.  Whereas, over the same period Spurs have conceded eight goals, but remain undefeated – three wins and two draws.

However, to concede three goals in one game is very uncharacteristic of Spurs, as Martin Jol pointed out following the 3-3 draw at the Riverside.  Since dropping two points against West Ham, the win at Wigan had been the only time we hadn’t been required to turn around a deficit.  While the sharp increase in goals being conceded is maybe a concern, the team’s newly found desire to win has made the difference.  On Boxing Day, Spurs will be hoping to copy the Latics who have won their last three at home in all competitions, since Davids’ goal forced them to last taste defeat on home soil.  The two club’s well travelled strikers Camara and Mido are in good form at the moment, but both are heading for the African Nations Cup with Senegal and Egypt respectively next month.

Mido has enjoyed a fantastic December so far, and will be missed.  If the degree of passion he had shown in games was under question earlier in the campaign, Jol obviously saw something in training and has kept faith.  Indeed, the only game Mido hasn’t scored in the run of five without defeat was at the JJB.  Prior to that he lobbed a header, that did count against Roy Carroll.  After his tap in against Sunderland, Mido stepped up ahead of Robbie Keane to score from the spot to get our noses in front against Portsmouth, but he saved his best for Sunday – a powerful header from within a crowded penalty area off a Carrick corner.  A goal which was almost better than Jermain Defoe’s long awaited effort, that consigned Portsmouth to defeat in Harry Redknapp’s first game back in charge.

The winning mentality the players have this season whereby no one is fearful of digging in, and fighting for their teammates, while applying pressure on opponents also has a huge positive effect on the one player responsible the most for keeping goals out.  Lately Paul Robinson has prevented games ceasing to be a contest early on, and his contribution won’t have been overlooked by many despite a couple of errors this season which luckily haven’t proved too costly.

Alistair Murray

 

top of ... the world

10.12.2005

The midway point of the football season fast approaches and Martin Jol is refusing to be complacent about the prospect of strolling the immediate fixtures, against sides currently in the bottom half of the table.

He’s determined to instill within his players how important it is to achieve as close to maximum points as possible from the encroaching fortnight of games as he pit his wits against four English managers.

It’s fairly obvious that the outcome of the games leading up to the New Year could have a massive baring on whether or not Spurs can stay in the top four by May and qualify for the Champions League.

If such a prospect seems overbearing to contemplate at this stage then at least there’s the World Cup for football fans to look forward to next summer. Now the draw has been made, England followers might be feeling quietly confident, unless Paraguay, who only managed to finish fourth in the South American qualifiers, but did beat Argentina on the way, can overcome their troublesome habit of being inconsistent.

Manchester United past and present will likely feature when England face Trinidad & Tobago. While Dwight Yorke knows all about winning the coveted club prize England surely pin most hopes on Wayne Rooney. The draw for the 2006 World Cup marked the end of an eventful week - it began with the Paul Gascoigne soap opera on Monday, followed closely by the Harry Redknapp saga on Wednesday, culminating in his re-appointment as Portsmouth manager. Meantime, on the same night United crashed out the Champions League at the group stages for the first time in many years.

Michael Carrick deserved all the praise he received for an individual’s performance last weekend, topped off with his first Tottenham goal, although it may be equally long before anyone witnesses his second! Spurs did have most of the possession against Sunderland early on only to find themselves a goal behind, but Mick McCarthy’s battlers had only mustered five points all season and that fact alone must apprehend supporters not drawing some concern from the afternoon’s proceedings. Only after Aaron Lennon was introduced did the result start to favour the home side. So what is the best way of toppling the likes of Portsmouth and Birmingham, both also currently in the bottom three? Surely maximum attack from the midfield area is imperative against potentially pushover opponents at White Hart Lane. That means including at least one fully fledged winger from the start. And the most sensible way of doing that would be to maintain a four-man midfield in front of Carrick who sits protecting the back line.

Proof that Spurs are capable of possessing a winning mentality without needing to rely on individuals would be the perfect gift for any Spurs fan this Christmas. The team has to prove quickly that potential for success is based on the sum of it’s parts rather than merely being the belief behind a Jol/Davids soundbite.

Alistair Murray

 

 

sitting target - man

03.12.2005

Spurs fans can buy a limited edition book featuring never seen before photographs of Martin Jol with his white board talking tactics.

Meanwhile, there’s a major possibility the Dutchman has just learned his first difficult lesson about working in the Premiership for himself.  Whilst Clive Allen is achieving miraculous rewards working with Lee Barnard in the reserves neither Jermaine Defoe or Robbie Keane are setting the Premiership alight exactly this season under Jol.

Is it time now to switch to a 4-5-1 formation and if so the luxury of who to leave out enters a whole new territory.  No Premiership side can manage without a target man were Jol’s words as he had the unlikely task of having to come to terms with Fredi Kanoute’s absence while Mido served his three game suspension in September.  The Egyptian has set himself a target of 14 or 15 goals this season.  There are six games remaining this year, then he could be missing for anything up to the first six games of 2006 whilst he takes part in the African Nations Cup.  That leaves twelve league games and a FA Cup campaign after his return. With only four goals in 12 starts this season so far, he will be lucky to reach a dozen at this rate assuming he doesn’t get injured or lose his place in the side.

Mido obviously has the talent but does he show the character to be a match-winner often enough ?  Did his sending off against Chelsea make him less committed when going to challenge for balls in the Premiership ?  The only card he has been shown since was against West Ham at home when the visiting supporters were trying to get on his back – although he claimed not to have heard anything.  Maybe he needs some Georgie Best spirit pumped into him.  What a chance to prove it on the day of the great man’s funeral and what an opportunity against a side with minus 18 in it’s goals column.  Any result other than a win against Sunderland is unthinkable.

Had Spurs failed to score at all this season (rather than the 16 times as it stands), remarkably at the very worst we would only be trailing the Black Cats by a point in the league table, possess a better goal difference and have a game in hand over them.  That transgressive statistic owes a lot to the performances of Michael Dawson, Ledley King and less frequently Anthony Gardner at the back.  But how much longer can Spurs go on attacking from the depths and maintain a good points return?

If Jol chooses to stick with a target-man and with Wayne Routledge returning to offer the side some genuine width it might not be a bad idea, then he may need to take a closer look at Grzegorz Rasiak in Premiership action.  Tottenham’s new number 9 popped away 17 goals in 38 games albeit in the Championship last season - the lure that sealed his move from Derby County in August.  The matter of him not scoring in either of his two appearances in September must be put into perspective when you consider the likes of Jonathan Stead at Sunderland and Peter Crouch still featuring week in, week out in the top flight.

It would be very strange indeed to see Defoe and Keane both sitting on the bench, but do they play together or does neither start for Spurs in future - the little and large combination that promised to deliver initially isn’t reaping the rewards it so craves.

 

Alistair Murray

 

 

goals out of nothing

25.11.2005

Spurs have only scored three goals once so far this season (all in the second half at Charlton), As well as only recording three goals in the last four matches.

Goals need to be provided from midfield, so selling Robbie Keane may not be the solution to Tottenham’s scoring problem.

Is the midfield that Martin Jol has settled for creating enough chances for the forwards, or are the four strikers at the club entirely to blame ?  It’s all gone a bit to pot since pre-season and a couple of wins in the opening weeks.  Jermain Defoe’s not scored for ever it seems (although his last goal did secure the important three points against Fulham).  Had it been yet another draw at White Hart Lane on that occasion ninth place in the Premiership would be currently occupied rather than UEFA Cup chasing sixth.

When all four in midfield are fit Jol has plumped for Lennon, Jenas, Carrick and Davids from right to left.  Once Wayne Routledge is ready again to stake a claim in the first team, the right wing position that he started in on the opening day might not be his most viable option.  Spurs have unearthed a gem in young Lennon, who has coped admirably under the guidance of Edgar Davids.

Spurs appeared to miss him during most of the West Ham game before he came on and the Bolton game before that which he missed through injury.

The former Crystal Palace winger meanwhile, can play on either flank, and if he were to play on the left Davids could revert to a more central role in which he began the season.

Paul Stalteri arrived in the summer to offer the side experience in the position that Stephen Kelly had made his own last season – the first to properly do so since Stephen Carr’s exit.

Alternatively, Routledge could play on the right, Reid return on the left wing and Stalteri could team up alongside Davids in the middle, only if Michael Carrick and Jermaine Jenas started to become the scapegoat for disappointing results.  The latter has taken the initial pressure off his own shoulders by scoring a couple of times, but Jol has warned him already about consistency and he is unlikely to become lenient on the youngsters now if the league position really does begin to slide.

Alistair Murray

 

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