a question of balance


With a double defeat at the start of the new season,  Peter Lis looks
at the possible reasons why Spurs have failed to set the Premiership alight.

‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference…’ - The Serenity Prayer

‘Calm down, calm down…’ - Ancient Scouse mantra

Spurs fans would do well to embrace both these ancient spiritual teachings in the current circumstances. Injuries are a fact of footballing life and always seem to arrive at the most inopportune moment (e.g. at the start of a season where expectations are high and straightforward wins are expected against supposedly inferior opposition). They are not punishments on high sent to try us and nor are we being victimised by an Arsenal supporting deity.

That said the paucity of left footed talent at the club has been ruthlessly exposed in our first two matches with all our problems from open play stemming from that side of the pitch. Once fit Bale will make a significant difference on although his inexperience is still going to give opposing teams chances on that flank.

The limitations of both Gardner and Rocha have been glaringly exposed although spending a further £8-£10m on Curtis Davies is an expensive short term solution unless, as we all secretly fear, King’s days as a durable defender are over. Stationing Zokora and Tainio in front of the back four in the turnaround game v Fulham last spring did the trick and something similar is needed at the moment. Dawson is sorely missed too.

That said our first choice defence still concedes far too many goals : see last season’s goal difference and Everton’s first goal on Wednesday.  Call me a bluff old traditionalist (Ed. - "You're a bluff old traditionalist Peter), but I always think a good way to defend a high ball is to jump up in the air, something our back four signally failed to do leaving Lescott free to score.

As both our opening matches have demonstrated organisation will take lesser teams a long way, particularly when it is allied to determined running and a willingness to keep going until the final whistle.

Playing to a plan also helps. In both games we seem to have had no discernible team pattern, seemingly intent on allowing Chance to take a hand.  Robbo continues to hoof the ball aimlessly up-field whether under pressure or not.  On the one occasion we strung half dozen passes together on Wednesday night Defoe was thwarted only by an excellent reaction save by Howard. If we aspire to be a top four team we have to learn to exercise grace under pressure and keep playing, moving and passing.

Which means having the courage to make changes.

Enter Taarabt. Received footballing wisdom says you should never introduce young talent at a time of crisis. Taarabt does seem to have the temperament to cope, however. Not only that he seems to have the necessary drive and incision to lay on the kind of passes that Bent and Defoe thrive on. With Berbatov out this weekend, I would love to see the ‘new Zidane’ given a chance.

It would take some pressure off the much maligned Jenas (we win as team and lose as a team, remember ?) and hopefully enable us to keep the ball on the deck more often than it is at the moment. Make no mistake, Carrick’s departure has left us without a steadying influence in the middle of the park and until we can address that we will have to make do and mend.

A win against Derby will give us some breathing space and the return of some senior players over the next month will see us begin the climb back towards the top end of the table. By November we’ll all be asking ‘crisis ? – what crisis ?

Peter Lis

... and Theo Wreticle has his ideas too ...

To say Martin Jol is unbalanced might be going too far, but there is a need for the team to be set up better with at least one left footer in the side.  Adel Taarabt can operate effectively on the left wing and although his Premiership experience is limited at the moment, he is a young man with confidence, which not all of our players are playing with at the moment.

Playing players out of position does not give them a real chance to do themselves justice.  We have seen with YP Lee, that his crossing is often less than accurate because he is not a left footed left back.  Right footed players on the left mean they have to check back to cross the ball and be confident about their delivery, thus giving defenders time to work this out and show them the outside route only (knowing the ball will be on their weaker foot) or it means that they will be crossing from a less dangerous position, with the ball being aimed down the middle rather than being played in from a position close to the dead ball line and across the goal (thus making it more difficult for defenders to defend it).

Without an outlet on the left, our play becomes predictable and with the stand-in players having to be fielded, other sides are playing on that.  Stalteri's position on the left makes him an obvious target for the opposition, while Gardner's occasional lapse in concentration can also be a weak point the other side pick up on.  With Malbranque playing out of position in front of Stalteri, it makes it a double whammy on our left aide, which has seen the goal at Sunderland and two of the Everton goals stem from that side.  I am not saying that Taarabt will give a greater defensive ability to the left of midfield, but it could mean that the opposing midfielder is tied up with other things than attacking our team.

Added to that we have some players who are not currently playing to the level that is expected of them.  Among them are Jenas, Berbatov, Chimbonda. 

While Jermaine Jenas has become the new David Howells, his contribution should not be under-estimated as much as everyone thinks he is over-rated.  So far this season he has been lacking the runs into the area which brought him goals last term and his strong running from midfield has also been something that has not stood out in the two games played.  Early days I know, but these trademarks of his game make him a player who can make a difference.  Goals from midfield were what the side had been missing and not only scoring them, but making them for others, Jenas brought that to the table.  However, he is a player who doesn't hide and makes himself available for the ball, while chases back to cover on a large number of occasions.  Sometimes you have to realise it is not just what players do on the ball, but do off it as well which contributes to their overall performance. 
That said, he needs to be more involved and take games by the scruff of the neck.  He is not Steven Gerrard, but he can influence a game if he applied himself to take control of the midfield.  I don't know what it is about Newcastle fans but they seem to be full of themselves at the moment having won one game.  There was one on the radio the other day spouting on about the Toon being delirious when Spurs paid £7 million to take him off their hands as he was the most over-rated player they had ever had at the club.  And that was with Kieron Dyer still there !!  It was interesting that he scored more goals in a season with us than he had while at St. James Park, so perhaps it wasn't that he was playing badly, just being played in the wrong way. 
What we want now is to have him played the right way for us and maybe that isn't happening because of the changes elsewhere in the team ?

Dimitar Berbatov set the Premier League alight last season.  This season he has flickered into life occasionally, but has suffered by tight marking and lack of quality service from the rest of the team.  His frustration has been clear to see and his reaction at being taken off at Sunderland was plain to see, although it was probably the right move by Jol.  Having suffered the groin strain, he is now out for a while making the choice up front more limited for the manager, but if the break means Berba comes back refreshed and fully fit, hopefully, it might coincide with some other returnees and a stronger side all round. 
What he must cut out of his game though, is the petty fouling, which concedes cheap free-kicks when we are attacking.  They are unnecessary and disrupt any flow (should we be so lucky at the moment) to our play.
While there are other choices up front, Berbatov gives us a dimension that the other players don't.  We need him firing on all cylinders and we need to find a partner for him to work with.

Much talk surrounds Paul Robinson, with other keepers as well as the Press taking pot shots at him, which he ahs little chance to react to.  Much like the last minute Sunderland goal where he was unsighted and the deflected free-kick, which wrong-footed him against Everton.  
So far, I don't think there is too much he could have done about any of the goals, but what I would like to see is him dominate his box and give the defence in front of him confidence.
When he comes to punch the ball, he looks less than convincing and crosses that fly over his head put him in a position where he is back-pedalling to get to the ball and suddenly out of position.
We all know that goalkeepers are a protected species and Paul needs to take advantage of that.  He is big enough that if he comes for a cross, he will win it or at least take players out of the game in doing so.  If he gets touched he will get a free-kick given his way and another attack will be extinguished.  For a big man, he does not seem that confident in the air and he can take crosses well and he can make himself pluck the ball out of the air, but too often balls across our penalty area in the air result in goals against us.  Cutting them out in the air will cut them out of our game.
Missing King and Dawson in front of him doesn't help, but Kaboul looks like he enjoys a header and Robinson needs to be more vocal in bossing those in front of him around.  Paul should be the one who is in charge of the penalty area and everyone should know it, then they would know when he is coming for crosses and when he is coming to kick clear, making everyone more secure in that knowledge.

On the subject of centre-halves, I fully understand the buying of young English talent, but I cannot see the point in spending out £10 million on Curtis Davies ... a player who is not worth more than £4 million, which equates to about £7 in today's money.  I am sorry, but if we are spending £10 million, then let's go out and buy a world class centre-half, who can play at the top level straight away ... not one who has just one season's experience in a team that got relegated.  I think he's a good player, but not the one for Tottenham Hotspur at that price at this time.

While it is not that he has not been playing to his potential, Aaron Lennon has just not been playing.  His pace and the attention other teams have to pay him has had an impact on our play.  No lightening breaks from defence to attack, no mazy runs tying defenders in knots and no runs direct at goal through the heart of their side to set up others for shooting opportunities.  It has been obvious by his absence that he is now a very important member of the side.
I am surprised that Jol did not make a like for like replacement with Routledge coming into the team, as he played a fair bit in pre-season and we went to such lengths to get him from Palace in the first place that there must be something which they wanted to use within the first eleven.
He is not the same in style as Lennon, but he could threaten full backs with his runs and we saw against Everton, when he was introduced to the play, that he can cross dangerously and cause panic with his ability.  I fully expect his inclusion against Derby County to make it a more offensive midfield.

So, just a few things which struck me as to why the team might be failing to produce the sort of results and performances we had last year, but with two games gone and two games lost, there is still time to salvage something from this season and a fit first choice eleven might well help things on that front.

Theo Wreticle

Back to homepage