what's in store with mark sainsbury
a new columnist takes a trip around the block from Paxton road to park lane to give his own view on the spurs of today ...
I originally planned this to go out just after transfer deadline day, anticipating (as did most of us) that business for this summer was already done and dusted. Sandro (finally) arriving and Gallas being signed to shore up the back line (a canny move which already pays off after the injury to Michael Dawson on England duty) looked to be our lot. With that in mind I was going to concentrate on analysing our tactics so far, particularly where I felt we went wrong against Wigan just prior to the international break.
However then came Transfer Deadline Day. Confirmation of the protracted loan of Stipe Pletikosa was announced in the morning, which, while welcome, was hardly earth shattering. Then just before the window closed: “Bloody hell we’ve signed Van der Vaart !!!!” Or had we ? Thankfully it’s now all been confirmed and we have added a player to the team who fulfils my criteria of being as good, if not better than what we had already. A proven International player and recent World Cup finalist, and someone we can all look forward to watching in the weeks ahead. The only real problem I can see is where will he fit in and who will miss out from our current first-eleven ? I’ll come back to that in a bit …
Anyway how about that Wigan game ? I’m sure that most self-respecting Spurs fans would have taken the defeat on the chin, considering that we accomplished the more immediate goal of qualifying for the Champion’s League Group Stages earlier that week. Indeed we won’t know how vital dropping those three points will be, not till the end of the season anyway. Regardless though, these ARE the games we need to be winning to match or surpass our league finish last season. If we are not duplicating last year’s 9-1 demolition then at least we should do enough to scrape the three points. The ‘Glory Game’ is important and deeply ingrained in the club’s DNA, but even the best teams have to ‘win ugly’ from time to time.
So where did we go wrong against Wigan ? While most people think that the 4-4-2 formation is outmoded, with most teams choosing to adopt 4-5-1/4-3-3 hybrids, I think that to ditch it outright is like throwing the baby out with the dirty bath water ! There is a need to be more flexible with our tactics but I think there are plenty of gains to be had playing with two strikers from an offensive viewpoint. Even defensively there are many occasions where the traditional ‘two banks of four’ in front of the goal have been hard for teams to break down. I don’t have an issue with the formation we employed against Wigan (especially for a home game) but the way the team was set up within that 4-4-2 framework meant we couldn’t play to our potential. In my opinion this made it easier for Wigan to do their job (try to frustrate us and bag a goal on the break if they were lucky).
Our back line nearly picked itself with Cudicini coming in for the injured Gomes. It was pleasing to see King play for his second game inside a week, though obviously with the international break he has been afforded more time to recover than usual and we shouldn’t count on him being able to do so all the time ! Swapping Kaboul in for Corluka was a positive move in my opinion; Kaboul gets forward more readily than Corluka, and against Wigan we should have been intending to push our full backs up and be ambitious in attacking from the back. That said against Man United or Arsenal I’d clearly prefer Corluka in that role, both defenders still have a part to play though !
The midfield for me is where I feel the team selection went awry, in particular the selection of Palacios. He is a fantastic ball-winner, and not too shabby when he is given the opportunity to bomb forward, with a thumping shot, even if it does lack somewhat in accuracy ! He is though, primarily, a defensively-minded player, as is Huddlestone; who tends to also hang back and play a deep midfield-role spraying long-passes around (in the annoyingly dubbed ‘Quarterback’ role !). Unfortunately against Wigan this left us with little thrust through the middle, against a side that was going to defend deep and frustrate us. This would not have been a problem if Big Tom had played a more advanced role (where I think he could excel in fact, his physicality and powerful, accurate shooting from range would cause opposition teams a few headaches in my opinion), but as things stood we lacked ambition in the centre of the park. I would have left out Palacios if it was my choice, placed Huddlestone in the deeper anchorman/playmaker role and paired him with Jenas (who while much-maligned, had a decent game against Stoke, and is more willing to break forward with or without the ball). The signing of Van der Vaart means that in future games, he is also an option here; in a central attacking-midfielder/advanced-playmaker role. Palacios could have come on later in the game, if we needed to close it out and shore up the midfield in the dying minutes.
Moving on to the flanks I feel there were problems there as well. I’d play Aaron Lennon on the right wing as often as I could this season if I was Harry, although there will probably be times when the games might be coming too thick and fast for that. In these cases, Bentley is a more-than-able deputy, and may offer a different approach to unlocking the opposition anyway, if Lennon’s still-frightening pace is negated by an athletic full-back or him being marked out-of the game. It is the opposite flank where I think we need a more cerebral approach to team selection.
Gareth Bale has shown in the early stages of this season why he is such a prodigious talent, with two vital goals against Stoke, numerous rampages down the flank against Man City and also against Young Boys at White Hart Lane. It is the other two games this season (away to Young Boys and against Wigan), where his impact has been negated by the attention of at least two opposing players. While I usually argue that ‘doubling-up’ on any player ideally leaves space for his team-mates to exploit, Gareth is too good a talent to be wasted in this fashion and Harry needs to consider where he will be more effective from in each-and-every game we play.
Against Wigan (and indeed most of the ‘smaller’ teams who come to The Lane to sit deep and frustrate), I feel that Bale is best started at left-back. He can’t really be marked effectively from there, and against a defensive team will be able to push on and attack in any case, particularly with Kranjcar (or Modric) playing in front of him, cutting inside and hopefully drawing off a marker.
With Bale further back, the left-midfield berth should have gone to Kranjcar from the start. He scored a clutch of goals from that position last year, is effective cutting inside and would have provided more impact driving at the heart of the Wigan defence, with the happy side-effect of allowing Bale some freedom to attack the flanks.
Defence: Kaboul, Dawson, King, Bale
Midfield: Lennon, Jenas, Huddlestone, Kranjcar
Forwards: Defoe, Crouch
Finally for my forward line I don’t think anyone can argue that Defoe and Crouch were the in-form players, and they compliment each other quite well. Defoe has his pace and eye for goal, Crouch; his almost-unique stature for a centre-forward as well as having a very cultured first touch. Neither player is the all-round ‘complete forward’ that some fans have been crying out for to lead-the-line in a 4-5-1 for us. As a partnership though they have traits that tend to worry opposition defences though, sometimes leading to one in particular being singled out, but leaving the other free to have a greater impact on the game. There is of course an argument to be made for Keane/Pav or Pav/Defoe tandems in future as well as now playing a lone striker in partnership with Van Der Vaart.
I think that even with sticking to the 4-4-2 there is plenty of room for flexibility, and to tailor our tactical approach to different opponents, certainly at home against the Wigan’s and Wolves of the league. A lot depends on our mentality as well when playing at home and faced with a team playing deep. Two instances where I remember us looking dangerous at home this season have involved the unlikely candidate of Ledley King, against City and Wigan. I can remember him taking possession on both occasions, running the ball forward, laying it off to a team-mate and continuing his run forward to join the attack. Nothing came of it on both occasions, but this bold approach to such games is to be encouraged if we are to get anything out of what may be some difficult home games this season. Our strong finish to last season has painted a target on us in some ways, with even City adopting a defensive approach to stifle us on their most recent visit, whereas before they might have taken a bolder, confident and open approach.
It will be interesting to see what option Harry goes with once the season resumes after the internationals. I hope he will take a holistic view of the squad, and be pragmatic with his selections and approach to the difficult games that we will face, in the varied competitions we are contesting this season. In the future I’ll look to try and provide some further thoughts on our tactics, in particular the option of the 4-5-1 and whether it would work for us. Until then lets all hope for a good result against West Brom, to carry us into our Champion’s League Group Stage debut !
the first foray into the champions league knocked tottenham back for a while, but what does the second leg hold ? ...
The more things change?
“And twenty years later the doubts about Gornik still linger. How good were they? I still can’t make up my mind”
OK, so the quote from Danny Blanchflower about “The Glory Game” is more well-known but it’s the above quote, taken from his writing about the 1961/62 season, that immediately comes to mind after watching Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Young Boys Bern in the Champion’s League Qualifying round First leg. A loss that had the potential to be so much worse before Bassong and Pavlyuchenko clawed us back into the tie.
I vividly remember sitting at my computer the morning of the Champion’s League draw, idly flicking through various sports websites, anxiously awaiting any live news regarding who we would be matched with. Several sites were reporting that this was our first appearance in ‘Europe’s Premier club-competition’, which somewhat offended the historian in me! For while this is our first appearance in the ‘Champion’s League’ we have of course entered the ‘European Champion Clubs’ Cup’ (as it was then known) as reigning First Division Champions in the 1961/62 season (our previous League Championship in 1950/51 predated the inaugural European Cup competition).
I remember reading about the exploits of the Double Winners in this competition when I was younger. Poring through dusty books proffered by my Granddad, in-between the almost mythical tales he told about ‘Blanchflower, Greavsie and Mackay’ which seemed a world removed from the cosmopolitan coalition of Klinsmann, Rosenthal and Thorsvedt who turned out for us at the time.
Back then Tottenham had been drawn against Górnik Zabrze, a Polish team, in the early rounds (back then the competition was a straight knock-out format, played over home and away legs). These legends travelled to Poland (then very much still behind the ‘Iron Curtain’) and were confronted with poor accommodation, poor facilities and a team with “…thick legs and old-fashioned boots. They could have been a team of farmers”. Despite this the Polish team positively romped to a 4-0 lead over a sluggish Spurs side, before the English Champions rallied late to pull back 2 goals through Clifford Jones and Terry Dyson.
Any of this starting to sound familiar ? An away tie, against a little known European side (lets face it, no-one knew much about them before they were drawn against us, they always sounded like some sort of college team to me !) and having to play the game on an unfamiliar surface (although undoubtedly still miles better than that which their predecessors coped with in Poland some 50-years earlier !).
In the post match interviews (on Tuesday, I’m not sure that the European Cup was televised back in 1961 !) all the Spurs players were playing down the effects of the pitch, but I think it was crucial to the result that Young Boys orchestrated. You could say that the pitch affects both teams equally, and while that might be true of a ‘dull away day in Wigan’ I think that it definitely was to the Swiss-side’s advantage here. They are certainly used to playing on it and at the very least the Spurs players looked like they lacked their usual zip and drive. Bale looked like he was running through sand over the first 5-10 yards in particular and Gomes looked like he lacked his usual spring and reflexes, for the first goal at least, it was almost as if the surface was soaking up the force they were exerting.
Of course there was more to it than just the pitch, I think our starting formation played into their hands by allowing Bern to double-up on Gareth Bale, he enjoyed much more freedom after his switch to full-back. Once Huddlestone slotted into midfield we also seemed to retain more of the ball, and if we are to stick with 4-4-2 away from home I would suggest that it is this iteration of it that we retain, with Modric or Kranjcar cutting in from the left and allowing Bale to overlap from left-back. I also think there were encouraging signs up front; once Keane entered the fray it allowed Pavlyuchenko to play a more attacking game, he was freed up from needing to hold the ball up, or drop deep to pick up possession. The pass that led to his much-needed away-goal was a beauty from Keane; reminiscent of the interplay he used to enjoy with Berbatov. I’m not suggesting that they have that sort of understanding yet but it is an encouraging sign and I have always felt they complimented one another more than Pav/Defoe or Keano/Crouch. Hopefully Harry will stick with these two against Stoke because I am convinced there are goals there, they just need time on the pitch with one another.
So overall it was a disappointing result, but not as bad as it could be; we take them back to The Lane knowing that any sort of win (except a 3-2 or 4-3 !) will take us through, and the tie is still winnable. Besides, back in ’61 Spurs took Górnik back to the Lane and beat them 8-1 (10-5 on aggregate !). While Bern scoring first at The Lane (as Górnik did that night) would be everyone’s worst nightmare I am convinced that we can beat them if we play to our strengths.
I predict that King will likely be rested at the weekend, meaning he can return to the side for what is now a vital game the following Wednesday and I think the defence will look much more assured for it. A few other players looked to pick up knocks on Tuesday but we should still be able to field a strong side at home, though even our strongest might struggle to knock 8 past the Swiss-side ! But you never know : A captain with a dodgy knee ? The final at Wembley ? The year ? Ending in a ‘1’ ? My ‘almost mythical’ Double Winners of ’61 made it to the Semi-finals of the European Cup … if we can get past the Swiss at The Lane maybe we can finally have a fitting sequel to that grand adventure ?
a new season always raises many questions and reader mark sainsbury
looks at our needs before the transfer window is shut ...
No Signings? No Problem!
Like many Spurs fans I’ve been glued to various forums and rumour sites waiting for transfers to start rolling in after our most successful league finish in recent memory. Especially with such a renowned ‘wheeler-dealer’ of a manager as Harry, I figured that he’d be splashing the cash in the close-season, maybe on some choice signings or tasty bargains that he’d seen while working for the Beeb out at the World Cup.
However, here we are and no signings have been made, although Stipe Pletikosa might be joining, reportedly on loan, sometime this week. I have noticed some commentators decry this lack of action in the transfer market as a wasted opportunity and even write off our chances of even matching, let alone bettering, our placing last season.
I don’t see this as such a cause for panic however. I’ve always felt that the squad we have now, in general, is very strong, and this is a team that had pundits veritably drooling over the quality we had on the bench last season, even compared to the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal. In my mind it is only worth shipping someone out if they are being replaced with players of better quality. While Forlan, Suarez, Dzeko, Joe Cole or Fabiano might meet that lofty standard the likes of Craig Bellamy and Scott Parker, while solid players, are simply not on that level, and we will likely be forced to pay over-the-odds prices for their services too.
There will be a lot of games this season, a big squad is essential but we do have enough players, mixing and matching depending on our opponents, to effectively have two “first eleven’s”. Indeed I think only Manchester City have a squad similarly staffed with such depth.
I don’t know why we are looking to sign another striker, if all are staying (which looks likely). I think we have an enviable forward line; Keano looks to be back on form (albeit only in pre-season), Pavlyuchenko has similarly looked sharp. I also think some people forget, in their haste for a ‘30-goal man’, that Defoe spent a chunk of the season out injured (not to mention his three-game suspension) and if not for that he might have added to his tally of goals. Lastly Crouch…well he might be the latest ‘Footballer sex-scandal’ at the moment, but he’s still worth keeping, he gives us a weapon that few other clubs can match and he isn’t a selfish player. I will always remember him being deployed to defend the Rory Delap long throw-ins at Stoke last season! We just need to tell everyone else in the side not to hoof the ball up to him all the time just because he’s 6 foot 7 !
Added to this we have the seemingly mercurial talent of young Gio dos Santos. Harry looks like he will keep him around this season, he’s showed good attitude and work-rate in the matches I’ve seen him play lately, not to mention a good eye for goal. He will give us another option, another way of playing and can be a real asset I think, in Europe especially. He also might be that ‘special player’ who gives the likes of Wigan and Wolves fits when he gets the ball, maybe in the same fashion that Ronaldo used to for United almost single-handedly (though that will really be a test for his new-found attitude if he can motivate himself against those teams).
Not much to say here. I think this is our strongest area of the team, especially if Bale and Lennon are both playing. All I will mention is that a lot of the lower to mid-table sides would love a midfield of Kranjcar, O’Hara, Jenas and Bentley! Again there is no point shipping any of these players out. Jenas in particular has been much maligned; some fans have short memories and seem to not take into account the fact that he spent a lot of last season injured. I think he is the ideal player to rotate into the team for the Carling Cup and early rounds of the FA Cup. We will likely rotate the squad and we don’t want it to be full of inexperienced youngsters (albeit talented ones). More importantly he wants to stay, and that sort of commitment says a lot in today’s game where players would rather move on to get a game instead of fight for their place.
The only area of our side that looks in any way weak in my mind. Lots has been written about Kingy and I won’t go over it here, we all know the score. Woodgate is looking like he might not even make our Premier League squad, although hopefully it isn’t ‘curtains’ for him, I’d love to see him slowly be brought back into the fold, maybe in some Carling Cup games, and included in the January squad registration. Regardless we are in a position where our only dedicated Centre-backs are Dawson and Bassong (Kaboul was good at full-back last season, I just haven’t seen enough of him in the heart of defence since his return to rate him there). If anything this is where the money needs to be spent, I’d love another ‘Bassong’ style transfer, someone coming in who is maybe not highly rated, but flourishes for us. Failing that maybe an older, more experienced defender, maybe in the mould or Noureddine Naybet from a few seasons back.
Even if we do not strengthen the squad here though, all is not lost. Corluka has deputised there ably before, if Kaboul has cured his tendency to do step-overs on the edge of his own box then he can do a job there. Even Kyle Walker has played there in pre-season (though I would prefer it if we did not have to resort to this against Chelsea or Man United!).
Gomes was class last season, and has really grown into being one of the best keepers in the League. While it would have been nice for him to have been the ‘finished article’ when he signed for us 2 seasons ago there is a certain satisfaction to having seen him grow in the role to where he is today. Cudicini has also looked good in pre-season since his return from injury. He’s one of my favourite players, I was made-up when he signed for us and having him there immediately took the pressure off of Gomes and led to him being much more assured when he returned to the side after Carlo deputised for him. I can see Carlo playing in the domestic cups for us this season, and it is comforting to know that we won't have to resort to Ben Alnwick again! If the Pletikosa deal is ever confirmed we will have three keepers who are all safe hands, with Carlo and Stipe providing able backup to Gomes, who no-one can deny is our first-choice and rightly so.
Looking through the team like this really led me to appreciate just how deep and talented it really is, certainly Blackburn, Villa and even Liverpool would love to have some of the players mentioned, even those who start the season as second or maybe third choice for us. I’m confident that even if there are no signings made (other than Sandro, who I’m sure we will see soon!) we can look forward to an exciting season. Indeed the lack of signings may even be a benefit and keep the squad feeling settled, sometimes new signings take a while to ‘bed in’ and if nothing else this team knows success and has earned it with one another.
Here’s to a good season, see you down The Lane!
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