Sunday, 28 October 2012

Time For a Change

Apologies for the lack of posts in the last couple of months. I won't lie, it's down to a lack of motivation, and in truth, there's so many other blogs that covered the exact points I considered making. But hopefully I'll get in first with this one.

All smiles: Andre Villas Boas and Gareth Bale celebrate the winBefore I get into it, please don't think of this as a 'doom and gloom' article bemoaning Villas-Boas. I'm a huge AVB fan and have loved watching him prove all the 'boo boys' wrong. Today (Sunday) we secured our fourth away win of the season at St. Mary's Stadium, a venue we had previously never earned a single point in five visits. I haven't seen the full game, and won't have the pleasure/torture (delete as appropriate) until 11pm tonight. Gareth Bale returned from his paternity leave and marked his first child's birth with a superb goal.

Those of you that follow me on twitter will know I tweeted my preferred and predicted line-ups before the game;
  • What I'd like to see today; Lloris, Walker Caulker Vertonghen Naughton, Sandro Dembele, Lennon Sigurdsson Bale, Adebayor.
  • What I expect to see; Friedel, Walker Gallas Caulker Vertonghen, Sandro Dembele, Lennon Dempsey Bale, Defoe.
I was pretty close, Huddlestone replacing the injured Dembele. It annoyed me to be nearly right. I was hoping that against a much weaker side, no disrespect to Southampton, that AVB would have taken the chance to take the older heads out of the side and look to the future.

Lloris is the better goalkeeper, I imagine even Brad would agree with that assessment. He's more commanding, incredibly agile and most importantly for a footballing side, he's very good with the ball at his feet. He's looked calm and composed in the games he's appeared in and could go on to be the Tottenham number 1 for the next ten years. I find it strange that Friedel's run of consecutive games was ended for Lloris to appear against Villa (our only Premier League clean sheet) only for the veteran American to be restored to the line up and retained a further week.

I assume Cudicini or Gomes will play against Norwich in the Capital One Cup during the week. Wigan at the Lane next weekend, surely Lloris will reinstated, and go on to start the rest of our Premier League games. I certainly hope so. He has too much talent to be sitting on the bench.

William Gallas was an inspired signing by Harry Redknapp. It raised more than a few eye brows at the time, but his experience, leadership and winning mentality have proved invaluable over the past two seasons. His form is starting to dwindle though, and against old club Chelsea he struggled and his decision making cost us goals. It's not the first time we've seen signs he's starting to struggle with the pace of the PL and against physical opponents he is often second best.

Jan Vertonghen - Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea - Premier League
Steven Caulker has slotted into the Spurs side effortlessly this season, picking up where he left off at Swansea City last season. He has spoken of the help Gallas has given him since he's stepped int the side. Caulker has mentioned how the Frenchman is constantly talking to his young partner, telling him what he wants and expects from the academy graduate.

In Jan Vertonghen Spurs have another potentially world class centre-back in their ranks, but in Benoit Assou-Ekotto's absence, he's been filling in at left-back. With Kyle Naughton now back from his own injury, now looks like the time to return the former Ajax captain to the centre of defence, alongside Caulker.

While I would have enjoyed hearing Jan and Steven were starting on the south coast today, but with a home game looming, a new back three of Lloris, Caulker and Vertonghen will hopefully get a chance to shine against the Latics. That trio could become stalwarts in the Spurs side, though the injured Younes Kaboul might have something to say about that.

With potential stars like that threesome, Kyle Walker, Sandro, Naughton, Mousa Dembele, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon we have a fantastic group of players in their early twenties that could be part of some major success at White Hart Lane.

In my opinion, now is the time to get all these players involved, playing in their best positions, especially Lloris and Vertonghen. Gallas should be used in the way Sir Alex Ferguson uses his experienced players; sparingly, only brought out on certain occasions. Brad Friedel is as good a back up keeper as anyone could want.

Time for a change.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

What Defines a Starter?

Following France captain Hugo Lloris’ arrival at Tottenham on transfer deadline day, as well as the confirmation that Spurs have named 4 goalkeepers in their 25 man Premier League list, I’ve wondered about Lloris’ role in the team and squad as a whole this season.

Spurs’ head coach André Villas-Boas praised current first choice keeper Brad Friedel’s performance against Norwich City at the weekend and claimed that the American would keep his place in the starting line up for the foreseeable future. Following the 1-1 draw, Villas-Boas had this to say:

'Brad is doing extremely well and deserves to be playing and he'll continue to do so.

'He knows about the situation. We had to take this decision bearing in mind that we want to build for the future. So we decided to bring in Hugo now.

'We have to work with that and he will have to adapt to the Premier League.

'There are players who need more time, players who need less time. But when you have a keeper who gives so much confidence to the team and is doing so well, he deserves to be in goal.'

Villas-Boas’ statement is obviously an understandable one, though anyone who has watched Friedel closely since his arrival at White Hart Lane would have seen a mixture of fantastic saves coupled with a refusal to venture off his line to collect crosses. The last two goals we have conceded, against Norwich and West Brom, left me questioning Brad’s bravery, or whether it was down to him wanting to stick to the basics, therefore not making any noticeable ‘mistakes’. Both goals came as a result of a number of crosses failing to be cleared, while Brad could be criticised for being slow to get down to meet the final shots, both goals being placed under the veteran’s body.

A goalkeeper with more command of his area could have been willing to come off his line to attempt to claim one of the several crosses being floated into the Tottenham box, but that risk could just as easily have led to a mistake, resulting in a goal. One does have to wonder if a pairing of Michael Dawson and Younes Kaboul would have had more success clearing the crosses that William Gallas and Jan Vertonghen failed to deal with. Food for thought.

Lloris’ international manager Didier Deschamps has added to fuel to the fire by claiming that Lloris is now having second thoughts following his move to North London, having expected to be an automatic starter. Speaking ahead of their first World Cup qualified, Deschamps said:

'Hugo has not appreciated the statements of his coach.

'I am not going to create a problem that I do not need today.

'But if it were to happen then it would need some consideration. I do not want Hugo to find himself in this situation.'

The second line amuses me, given the reaction his comments have provoked. Deschamps’ comments must surely be taken with a pinch of salt. As manager of the national team, it is in his best interests to have his captain playing first team football, even if he has to use underhand tactics to insure this is the case.

Additional reports that Lloris has been badmouthing his new boss have been unconfirmed, likely to be part of the ongoing media vendetta against our great club. While Lloris, being the fantastic goalkeeper he is, surely expects to be first choice at Spurs, I sincerely doubt he expects to walk straight into the team, especially given Friedel’s record of consecutive Premier League appearances.
Brad Friedel is playing reasonably well; he’s doing what he’s good at, if not what Villas-Boas wants from a goalkeeper. Lloris arrives with a reputation for being good with his feet, having good communication skills, and being able to use his 6’3” frame to good effect. Those three qualities are all key aspects of what Villas-Boas wants patrolling behind his high-lined defence.

It makes me wonder what qualifies a player to be an automatic choice in a first XI. Last season under Harry Redknapp there were far too many, too many players that were considered undroppable, players that were virtually unchallenged for their position. This wasn’t because there was no other player capable of playing in that position, or even players close to the current starters’ ability level.

Brad Friedel, Kyle Walker, Younes Kaboul, Ledley King, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Aaron Lennon, Scott Parker, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor were the players in question. While Sandro became a more valued member of the team towards the end of the season, that was the first choice XI, and if fit, no matter what level of form the player or team was showing, they were likely to start.

Members of our squad, supposed valued members, were left kicking their heels on the bench, playing the occasional cup match. Those cup matches were often followed by wide spread levels of criticism for the players who came into the team, usually following subpar performances. Any criticism of these players was unfair and unjust, as they were expected to step straight into the team with hardly any match fitness built up, and even if they did perform well, they were straight back onto the bench for the next game.

Does a new signing deserve to start straight away? Not in most cases. If they player arrives in a struggling team, or those who are starting in his position are under performing, if they are already in good form upon arrival, then it is understandable.

Wages and transfer fee should not come into the manager’s head when he is selecting his team. It may come into the chairman’s when he selects his privately, but for Villas-Boas it should be down to form alone, and not reputation.

Andros Townsend has been an unused substitute in all three Premier League games this season, when Aaron Lennon is particular has struggled to make an impact. The arrival of Clint Dempsey is likely to further stand in the way of any minutes on the pitch for Townsend. His pace and trickery could have been an effective weapon against tired defenders in the opening few weeks of the season, but he has had to settle for U-21 Premier League ond Spurs XI outings thus far.

My hope is that as the season progresses, Villas-Boas will select players in form, not those that cost the club the most money on a weekly basis.

Sunday, 2 September 2012


It’s been a tough week for Spurs fans; the closing of the transfer window (which will be looked at more in a different blog) and another disappointing draw at home. Following a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane with West Brom last weekend we matched that result against Chris Hughton’s Norwich City.

Once again a new-look Spurs side let a second half lead slip late on, conceding an alarmingly similar equaliser after failure to properly clear a number of balls into the penalty area.

For me, this week has been made even harder due to the number of knee jerk reactions by some supporters, both online and at The Lane yesterday. While everyone has their right to an opinion and should be allowed to express it freely, you have to question what booing and criticising the team is going to achieve. I understand it’s frustrating, West Brom and Norwich are two sides that we should be beating. But we have a new head coach, a new coaching staff, new players, new tactics and new objectives.

Miraculous changes don’t happen overnight, and we shouldn’t expect Villas-Boas to come in and have us winning every game straight away. The team needs time to get used to his system and tactics, and while you may argue they’ve had the whole summer to do so, there has been a mass overhaul of the playing staff since pre-season started. 10 players have left the first team, while we have added 6 new signings.

One of those new signings, Mousa Dembele, looked bright during his 45 minute cameo, capping an impressive display with a well taken goal.

Brad Friedel performed admirably yesterday following the signing of France captain Hugo Lloris, showing he’s not ready to give up his place to his young compatriot just yet. But again he was reluctant to come off his line, possibly a factor leading to us conceding from a series of crosses.

Looking closer at the two goals we have conceded at home in the past two games, I found myself wondering how the team would have coped in that situation with Michael Dawson in the team ahead of William Gallas. We all know that Gallas has years of experience and is a very talented footballer, but he doesn’t have the same attitude as Dawson, the same desire to go and meet every cross and every corner and put his body on the line every single time for the team.

Both goals were scored as a result of failing to properly clear the ball when we were under pressure. We were able to scramble the initial ball clear, but without any sufficient distance to remove the danger and found ourselves having to deal with the second and third phase balls too. Michael Dawson is a lot of things, ‘limited’ seems to be the most common description, but I genuinely feel that with him in the team we wouldn’t have conceded in those two instances.

We unfortunately now face an international break with a record of 0-2-1. Hopefully the new signings will provide a boost to the club and there won’t be a dark cloud hanging over the team. The move to the new training ground should provide a boost in morale, and the first team are due to move in before the domestic season resumes.

Emphasising what the majority of the level headed fans have said since 5pm yesterday, the team and Villa-Boas need your patience. Nothing other than that will help the team at the minute. Bemoaning every decision you don’t agree with or every misplaced pass or off target shot is detrimental to the team and to the cause. Believe it or not, the players want to succeed. Just because things aren’t clicking currently doesn’t give us the right to say the aren’t interested or to question the new Head Coach.

We’ve played 3 competitive games, now is not the time to judge Villas-Boas and his team. Give them some time.

Most importantly, give them your support.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Rome wasn't built in a day, though I'm not sure they had an 11pm deadline.

Two games gone, two fine performances, two lacklustre results. Does that sum it up? It does for me.

Newcastle away, as everyone says, was always going to be tough, We played very well; we were organised, disciplined and hit the post twice. Unlucky.

West Brom at home is one of those games some fans would call 'a banker', but those of us that have watched Spurs beyond the recent years, with our relative success, would say it was one of those games we were always likely to slip up in. That's not to say we've slipped back into those dreary days of the late 90's-early 00's, but it was 'one of those days' for Spurs.

Like a few games last season, we dominated most of the game, had an overwhelming majority of possession and more shots than the opposition. But a disappointing spell led to a late equaliser. Same old Tottenham eh?

Not quite.

Again there were signs that Villas-Boas was slowly putting his stamp on the team, and more so on the squad, as Michael Dawson and Tom Huddlestone were both missing from the squad again.

Following on from Newcastle, it was obvious that the team was working hard during the week on the structure and style of play that the new Head Coach wants to implement but despite some nice approach play, we rarely tested Ben Foster in the West Brom goal.

Jan Vertonghen impressed on his debut, though both he and Gallas struggled to deal with the physicality Roman Lukaku brought to the table when he came off the bench in the second half, possibly showing we missed Younes Kaboul at the back. Vertonghen showed a willingness to get on the ball, and to step out of defence and bring the ball forward, almost culminating in a goal, but his volley blazed over the bar.

It's been said on twitter all weekend that it's far too early to judge the team because there is likely to be numerous transfer deals before our next league game and the closing of the summer transfer window. I've already mentioned Dawson and Huddlestone, the latter of which is most likely to leave, while other fringe players could be sold before Friday's deadline, along with Luka Modric.

Villas-Boas has already said we're looking for another midfielder, while he has led us to believe there will be no further movement in our front line, opting to stick with Emmanuel Adebayor, Jermain Defoe and Harry Kane. While this isn't a popular decision, it could be an attempt by Villas-Boas to take attention away from any possible acquisitions. A creative, deep lying midfielder appears to be top of the list, while the media continues to suggest we are pursuing another goalkeeper.

Tottenham supporters, like fans of every other team, can be prone to the odd knee-jerk reaction, especially when we don't win games we're expected to. I'm hoping that the majority of us, or at least the wonderful few of you that read this, will continue to back the team, the coach and the chairman, knowing that they all want the same things we do.

Rome wasn't built in a day, though I'm not sure they had an 11pm deadline.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Newcastle United - First Up

Spurs travel to the North-East to face Newcastle United for their opening game of the Premier League season on Saturday and I'm sure I'm not the only one that is delighted that football is back.

Last Season

Newcastle defied the odds to finish in fifth position last season, just behind Spurs and ahead of FA Cup and Champions League winners Chelsea. Not many had predicted anything more than another year of mid table obscurity for the Magpies, but Alan Pardew's side went about their work with little fuss and caused more than a few upsets along the way.

Pardew added Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba and Davide Santon to his side during the summer of 2011 and all three grew to become important parts of the side. Cabaye was fresh from a French league title with LOSC Lille but was keen to test his skills in England and didn't disappoint. Ba started the season in outstanding form, making several fans wonder why their own clubs hadn't taken an interest in the former West Ham United man.

When Ba's goals dried up, Pardew had already added Papiss Cisse to his squad and he finished the season with an incredible 13 goals in 14 games.

At home to Spurs last season Newcastle could only manage a 2-2 draw thanks to a late Shola Ameobi goal, but were embarrassed by one of Tottenham's most outstanding performances of 2011/12. At White Hart Lane that day Louis Saha bagged a brace to help Spurs triumph 5-0, just days after the conclusion of Harry Redknapp's court case.

Comings and Goings

This summer has been a bit quieter for Pardew, and the three signings Newcastle have made are unlikely to be automatic first choices this season.

French midfielder Romain Amalfitano joined from French first division side Stade de Reims and youngsters Gael Bigirimana and Curtis Good arrived from Coventry City and Melbourne Heart respectively.

In the past couple of days Ajax holding midfielder Vernun Anita arrived at the Sports Direct Arena. Pardew has described the as "top class" and also said "he's a number one character - right at the top of the tree for that - and hopefully his ability can flourish in what is a good side".

Fraser Forster completed his expected move to Celtic while Leon Best, scorer of four goals last season, dropped down to the Championship to join Blackburn Rovers.


It was a mixed bag for Pardew's men this summer, finishing off their series of friendlies with a record of three wins, three draws and two defeats.

An opening loss at the hands of Chemnitzer was followed by a 1-0 win over AS Monaco and consecutive 1-1 draws with Fernebache and Olympiacos. Following that a 2-1 win over Braga and a 0-0 draw with Den Haag led towards their biggest win and best performance of pre-season; a 5-1 win at Hartlepool United.

The joy from that win was short lived though and they were brought back down to earth with a bump after losing 4-1 at the hands of Championship side Cardiff City.

While pre-season form can't be used as a guide for how a team will start the season, there was encouraging signs for Alan Pardew and they'll be hoping to start the season with a positive result in front of their own fans.

Team News

Newcastle go into Saturday's curtain raiser with doubts still hanging over a number of players. Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Papiss Cisse and captain Fabricio Coloccini are all doubtful, though Pardew is more hopeful on the later two.

It's a similar story for Tottenham, but there are definite absentees in Heurelho Gomes and Scott Parker. Sandro has had just two days of training with the squad all summer following his Olympic exploits while Giovano misses out with the injury that saw him sit out Mexico's Olympic Games final win.


It's still hard to tell how Villas-Boas will start at the Sports Direct Arena tomorrow evening, but his comments in the media suggest he is willing to throw Sandro straight back into the team. Should he start then it will likely be alongside Jake Livermore, Tom Huddlestone or Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Jermain Defoe will start up front and be supported by Rafael van der Vaart, Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale, a combination likely to trouble even the best defence.

If Spurs finally click and the high line adopted by the team can deal with the pace of Cisse and Demba Ba then the front four previously mentioned could be the difference between the two sides.

I'm expecting a high scoring affair, with both teams far from their best. If Spurs control the ball the way they did last season then it will be difficult for Newcastle to hurt them, but Tottenham remain fragile at the back. I'm going for a 3-2 win for Tottenham, with Bale, Sigurdsson and Defoe all scoring.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Season Preview 2012/13

The new season is finally upon us and I for one am delighted. While I enjoyed Euro 2012 and the Olympic games, there’s nothing quite like the buzz you get from the start of the domestic season, especially as a Spurs supporter.

It’s been an intense summer at White Hart Lane, a fine fourth place finish last season was followed by the heartache of watching London rivals Chelsea win the UEFA Champions League, therefore taking our place in this season’s tournament. Harry was shown the door by Mr Levy and André Villas-Boas was hired as the Club’s new Head Coach.

Unusually early signings followed in Gylfi Sigurðsson and Jan Vertonghen, both highly sought after players that seemingly whetted the appetite of the fans as we expected more signings. They haven’t come yet though.
A striker is clearly still the priority and while Jermain Defoe and Harry Kane are by no means surplus to requirements, everyone and their dog can see we need a forward in the mould of Emmanuel Adebayor to lead our line.

Villas-Boas was asked about the Manchester City man during today’s pre-Newcastle press conference and had this to say,
"There are talks (with City). They have been happening for quite some time."We have touched on different players in that position, but we have not been able to conclude a deal.
"Our focus and attention is towards that position, which we will try to sort out next week."
A second summer or speculation surrounding the future of Luka Modric has cast a shadow over the good work being done by the new coaching team, but Villas-Boas is hopeful a solution isn’t too far away,
"I think we will have a conclusion in the next couple of weeks.
"We expect him here to train. He is still a Tottenham player but from what the chairman has told me talks are ongoing, they stalled a little bit two weeks ago, but they have picked up recently."
With his departure imminent, the Club have begun looking for replacements, with Joao Moutinho touted as a possible acquisition. Moutinho fulfils a similar role to Modric’s, and has played under Villas-Boas before at FC Porto.

Throughout pre-season Villas-Boas has sought to bring his own footballing philosophy to the Club, whilst also acknowledging the fine work done by Harry Redknapp and looking to build upon those solid foundations.
Redknapp was quick to dismiss the UEFA Europa League last season, using it to blood youngsters and give fringe players some much needed minutes. Combining those two elements led to unorganised and players performing as individuals rather than as part of a team.
Villas-Boas has already made it clear that Spurs are competing in four competitions in order to win said four and his players have echoed those sentiments.
While we made the semi-finals of the FA Cup last season, poor showings in Europe and an early exit from the Carling Cup saw two chances for silverware thrown to the wayside. Modern football dictates that money, particularly the money won by finishing in a top four place, is the main target, however in 50 years time I can’t imagine myself telling my children about a season we finished fourth. Silverware and Cup Finals go down in history and the majority of fans will tell you that it’s occasions like those that first attracted them to Spurs. It would be a shame to put financial gain over a trophy.
With Villas-Boas seeking to compete on four fronts, squad depth will be essential. While there have been the usual mumbles and grumbles about a lack of out-goings from the Lane, AVB has used pre-season to assess the squad properly, not just going on past opinions.
David Bentley and Jermaine Jenas, while not being every fans cup of tea, have seen substantial playing time and could be seen often this season. Redknapp was criticised for not rotating more last season, many believing it led to the burn out of key players during the final months of the season. But I ask you this; had Harry left out Gareth Bale or Luka Modric from a Premier League game, would some have you not criticised that decision too?
While many assume Villas-Boas will rotate more willingly, a read of his biography suggests he is a believer in playing your strongest team when available. But from watching and looking at his Chelsea teams of last season, he seems willing to chop and change due to the physical nature of the English game, something that Spurs fans will hopefully welcome this season, despite their ‘favourite’ sitting on the bench despite being fully fit.
Tough away trips to Newcastle and a Manchester United side Spurs haven’t beaten since 2001 are the toughest offerings from August and September and with such quality in the side Villas-Boas is likely to be targeting a minimum 14 points from our opening six games. Achievable yes, but supporters must not be quick to forget the huge changes that have happened at the Club this summer, and while it may not be a popular statement, this season could be one of transition for the team.
While Spurs are likely to remain active in the transfer market right up until the window closes at midnight on August 31st, potential additions, or a lack of, will be a vital part of Tottenham’s target setting this season.

With no new striker and no replacement for Modric currently, Spurs visit Newcastle United this weekend for an evening kick-off on Saturday. The Sports Direct Arena, formerly St. James’ Park is where Villas-Boas will make his competitive debut as Tottenham Head Coach against Alan Pardew’s side.
Last season’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation has been retained, but has at times looked closer to the 4-3-3 that Villas-Boas is known to prefer. Two holding midfielders and one further forward central midfielder have interchanged and rotated at will, while full-backs have been handed licence to bomb forward and join in attacks.
A lone striker means there will be added emphasis on scoring goals from all positions, said striker looking to hold up the ball and bring others into play. The wingers in particular will be asked to contribute substantially, while the most attacking of the three central midfielders will look to arrive late in the oppositions box to finish moves off, a role a certain Dutchman has reveled in during his first two seasons in North London.
The high defensive line employed by Villas-Boas has been judged by many already without seeing it in a competitive setting. Each minute played under this new tactic will bring improvements and it is very much a work in progress, rather than the finished article.
It’s hard to know how we will line up come Saturday evening, but I would hope to see something close to this team. Sandro has just come back from the Olympic games with a silver medal and seems to be match fit and ready to slot into the side. Whether his lack of time with the squad this summer stands in his way of starting the game remains to be seen, but if that is the case, then we could see Tom Huddlestone or Jake Livermore in the heart of midfield.

Sigurðsson impressed above all in the friendly games during the summer and it would be a shock if he wasn’t handed a competitive debut from the start. Rafael van der Vaart’s fitness will be checked before he is given a starting berth, but I would like to see him in the team along with our new Icelandic midfielder, and not it being a case of one or the other.
Much has been said about Jermain Defoe and his ability to play as a lone striker this week, and if he does struggle as many expect him to, then having as many players as possible coming from deep with the ability to score a goal is vital. Sigurðsson has shown he can play a deeper role and he works hard when asked to do so, so there should be no hesitation from Villas-Boas to pick him in that role.
Seemingly, the only other decision to be made is which pair starts in the centre of defence on Saturday. Younes Kaboul and Vertonghen seem to be the preferred pairing by general consensus, but Michael Dawson has been touted as possible Club Captain following Ledley King’s retirement. William Gallas and Steven Caulker are both likely to be pushing hard in training for a place in the side, so Villas-Boas is likely to reveal his favoured twosome come Saturday evening.
Tomorrow I will be looking in-depth at our opening day opponents, looking at what they have done during the summer to try and consolidate their impressive showing from last season and also what to expect from the Magpies.
Key Player
Following signing his new contract, I think Gareth Bale will continue to improve and astound this season. The flying Welshman has gone from strength to strength in recent seasons and has shown no signs of slowing just yet.
A pre-season experiment saw Bale play as a lone striker and while he didn't have much joy on the day, his athleticism and skill set make him a seemingly perfect candidate for a role here in the future.
Bale has already shown his goalscoring ability, both the spectacular and the instinctive, and was close to double figures in the Premier League last season.
While a switch to a more roaming central position was a point of frustration for many fans after Christmas, Bale has shown his ability to learn new skills, drift inside and look for space away from his wing where he can be double or even triple marked.
Under Villas-Boas, Bale could play a similar role to the one he takes up on International duty with Wales. Under the late Gary Speed and now under Chris Coleman Bale plays from the right wing, cutting inside onto his favoured left foot and providing a goal scoring threat. Villas-Boas is known to be a fan of inverted wingers, and Bale and fellow wide man Aaron Lennon could see their roles reversed this season.
One thing is for sure, there are likely to be several headlines written about Bale this season, in fact there already has been throughout the summer following his war of words with Liverpool's Charlie Adam and missing out on a place in the Team GB football squad.  Come Saturday though, he'll hopefully be making headlines for all the right reasons.

Monday, 6 August 2012

The US and Watford - What Did We Learn?

Following yesterday's 1-0 win over Championship side Watford, Spurs find themselves less than two weeks away from the start of the Premier League season, with just one pre-season game left to prepare themselves.

A 'behind-closed-doors' friendly with Brentford and a 2-0 win at Stevenage opened the summer for André Villas-Boas' side. Following those games, a trip to the United States was on the cards for Spurs, a second trip in two years.

Spurs opened with a 1-1 draw at LA Galaxy, a second draw with Liverpool in Baltimore (home of new kit manufacturers Under Armour) followed, before we rounded off the tour with a 2-1 win over New York Red Bulls.

The American tour will be viewed as a success for a number of reasons by both coaching and commercial staff alike. While the coaches were able to run their eyes over the squad out of their comfort zones and in blistering heat, the Club was also able to broaden their fan base, with all 3 tour games being well attended.

A partnership with FIFA 13 makers EA Sports was also announced, and the Club made time to hold a FIFA tournament in the famous Grand Central Station in New York, Tom Carroll coming out victorious over Kyle Naughton in the final.

Below is the 4 starting line ups and the substitutions made in the three games in the US and yesterday at Watford.

LA Galaxy
Spurs (4-2-3-1): Cudicini; Walker (Naughton, 65), Kaboul (Dawson, 65), Vertonghen, Bassong (Assou-Ekotto, 46); Livermore (Huddlestone, 74), Sigurdsson (Carroll, 76); Townsend (Lennon, 46), van der Vaart (Jenas, 36), Bale (Bentley, 74); Defoe (Kane, 65).
Spurs (4-2-3-1): Friedel; Naughton (Walker, 46), Gallas (Vertonghen, 75), Kaboul (Dawson, 63), Assou-Ekotto (Bassong, 63); Jenas (Smith, 83), Livermore (Huddlestone, 63); Lennon (Carroll, 71), Sigurdsson (Bentley, 63), Bale (Townsend, 46); Kane.
New York Red Bulls
Spurs (4-2-3-1): Gomes; Walker (Naughton, 60), Dawson, Vertonghen (Gallas, 46), Assou-Ekotto (Bassong, 83); Huddlestone (Jenas, 46), Livermore (Carroll, 61); Lennon (Smith, 83), Sigurdsson (Kaboul, 83), Bentley (Kane, 46); Bale (Townsend, 74).
Spurs (4-2-3-1): Friedel (Cudicini, 46); Naughton (Walker, 46), Gallas (Vertonghen, 46), Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto; Jenas (Sigurdsson, 46), Livermore (Bentley, 79); Carroll (Huddlestone, 66), Lennon, Bale (Townsend, 75); Defoe (Kane, 66).
While the usual suspects saw plenty of game time, those previously discarded by most Spurs fans seem to have been given a chance to impress by Villas-Boas, whether they did enough remains to be seen.

Sebastian Bassong was given the chance to show his versatility by playing at left-back against LA and as a substitute against Liverpool and NY. I saw this as an unusual move by Villas-Boas. While he played there on occasion for Newcastle, I can't remember ever seeing him there for Spurs, while Jan Vertonghen has looked more than comfortable in that position for Ajax and most recently for Belgium against England.

Bassong looked awkward and uncomfortable and was often caught out defensively, while offering little going forward. The new high-line being introduced by Villas-Boas didn't aid his cause, as he surely would have preferred not having to turn and track back when playing in an unfamiliar role.

Adam Smith saw limited playing time, and any game time he did see was further up the field than his usual right-back role. Should we read this as Villas-Boas thinking Smith isn't ready for our first team? Will he therefore be sent out on loan again? A loan to a Premier League side could be a huge opportunity for Smith, and could pay off in the way similar moves for Kyle Walker and Steven Caulker have.

Jermaine Jenas has seen a lot of game time in the heart of the Tottenham midfield, often playing as one of a pair of deeper lying midfielders throughout pre-season. He has often been criticised by the Tottenham faithful, promising plenty but rarely delivering. His engine and ability to get from box to box, as well as playing a simple passing game seems to have made him a part of Villas-Boas' plans for the coming season, though you would expect it to be as little more than a back-up/squad player.

David Bentley has played in a variety of positions this summer, popping up on the both wings as well as through the middle. I've mentioned before that I thought he could do well as the furthest forward of a midfield trio and he had spells of playing in this role, though more often than not he was used on the wing.

Playing just 99 minutes over the four games left him with little chance to show what he can really do, though his dead ball delivery and his crossing did catch the eye. Despite my high opinion of Bentley, I think he could be one of the players to be leaving before the end of August, which could be in the best interests of his career. If he was to remain at White Hart Lane, it would be good to see him get some substantial game time, though that is likely to only happen in the cup competitions.

Jermain Defoe, due to a personal tragedy, missed the second and third games on the tour, but he was back in action against Watford and marked his return with a goal. As our only senior striker at the Club, he is likely to see more action on Thursday against Valencia.

The high-line previously mentioned, was the subject of much debate on twitter and the various forums. Many have made their minds up already, claiming it to be too risky and leaving us too exposed. While it took our defence time to acclimatise to the new strategy, as each game progressed the back four looked more and more confident and looking capable of adapting.

It's important to remember that Spurs didn't play with the same defensive four for more than 45 minutes at a time, and only started with the same back four against Liverpool and Watford, but on both occasions made at least one change at half-time.

The defence will be able to grow more accustomed to the high-line the more training and games they play together. I would expect the line-up to face Valencia to be pretty close to the one Villas-Boas is likely to start at the Sports Direct Arena on August 18th.

Most have the same idea for our 'first choice' defence; Walker, Kaboul, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto. While I would tend to agree, Villas-Boas has hinted that the captaincy could be handed to Michael Dawson before the curtain opener at Newcastle. It would be hard to see how Dawson wouldn't be first choice should this transpire.

One feature I've not noticed anyone else mention from the tour games, was the manner in which we defended when the entire team dropped off. Against Liverpool, at one point I noticed both Kyle Naughton and Benoit Assou-Ekotto tucking right in alongside Gallas and Kaboul, while Lennon and Bale took up the full-back positions, an interesting approach from Villas-Boas, obviously wanting each player to have the ability to both attack and defend.

Brad Friedel looks like continuing his run of consecutive Premier League games once the season kicks off, although it is hard to judge just who is the preferred 'keeper at the Club from what we've seen so far.

Tom Huddlestone still looks to be recovering from the injury that ruined last season for him, and he struggled for consistency during the games. But it was a pleasure to have Tom back, someone I feel we missed a lot last season. His ability to pick a pass, short or long, as well as his superb technique when striking the ball, make him a valuable asset to our team.

Whether he is worthy of a starting place in AVB's eyes remains to be seen. But with Parker still missing through injury, Sandro still competing in the Olympics and Modric keen to leave, Tom could find himself starting against Newcastle in a couple of weeks. Glyfi Sigurdsson has impressed in each appearance so far, and looks a shoe in for a starting berth, possibly even at the expense of Rafael van der Vaart, who is likely to be fit to play against Valencia, if we continue with this 4-2-3-1 system.

Lennon, Bale and Defoe seem to be the obvious choices for the wide positions and the lone striker from what we currently have. Meaning we've only really the three central midfielders to decide on.

While Sandro is likely to rejoin the group before the Newcastle game, it is unlikely he will be thrown straight back into the team following his excursions with the Brazilian u23 team.

Sigurdsson seems to be the only definite starter currently. He has shown he can play as part of the deeper pair alongside a holding midfielder, which would accomodate Rafa', meaning Livermore or Huddlestone would likely start as the deepest of the trio.

A starting team therefore of
Friedel; Walker, Kaboul, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto; Huddlestone, Sigurdsson, Lennon, van der Vaart, Bale; Defoe.
Does that inspire you?

I would certainly hope we have added a striker to our ranks by then, Adebayor ideally. Then the team would look a bit more balanced; his hold up play and work rate have seemingly been incredibly undervalued from last season.

I find myself more excited this season than I was when we entered the Champions League for the first time. While I know it could all blow up in our faces, frankly I don't care. I've seen and read enough to know that no stone is being left unturned in preparation for the new season and that fills me with confidence.

Villas-Boas has been  labeled a huge gamble by the media and fans of other clubs alike, one that won't pay off allegedly. While I know this to be true, nothing would be sweeter than watch a Villas-Boas inspired Tottenham take all four competitions by storm this season, and prove all our doubters wrong.