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