Tottenham Hotspur’s long term vision means time is on our side

In the week in week out bustle of football, it can sometimes be very difficult to take an objective view of your club. The frustration at the weekend’s result with Chelsea can colour your every view of Tottenham Hotspur, just as the four match winning run in the league that preceded it can create an overly optimistic image of the club. To step back from your club is almost impossible during the season, but putting all results aside, Spurs have begun a project of building up the infrastructure of the club that can make them truly competitive at the highest level.

Flash in the pan successes and failures are part and parcel of the league, but a steady improvement has been present at Spurs over the past few years, and with the plans in place on and off the pitch, the route to further improvement is apparent. Spurs moved into their new training centre recently, a top class facility that puts them on a par with the best in Europe. The more important move will hopefully come in the summer before the 2016/17 season, when it is believed Spurs are due to move into a new 56,000 seater stadium.

 

Without an owner in the style of Roman Abramovich Spurs’ best hope for the kind of income needed to compete is through the new stadium. Arsenal and Manchester United currently bring in more than £1 million each match day, and this kind of sustainable revenue has to be the bedrock of the club’s development.

 

All in all Spurs the future looks good for Spurs off the pitch, but there is also a clear plan in place for our on the pitch activities. The appointment of Andre Villas-Boas was a risk, as were some of the other transfer activities undertaken this summer. But the outcome has been that Spurs entered the season with a young squad and manager in place that, all things being equal, can maintain a decent level of success until the new stadium is complete. It is vital to Spurs’ future that we are still competing for Champions League places when we make the move, and the early signs from the new manager and players are positive in that regard. Andre Villas-Boas looks like a good fit for Spurs, and I would argue Dembele and Vertonghen are the two best signings we’ve made since Luka Modric.

 

Plans have been in place for Spurs’ development for a while, but this summer seems have jolted things forward. We have been a work in progress my whole life as a Spurs fan, now that progress has stepped up a gear. A Spurs’ challenge for the Champions League places is now assumed at the start of the league season, something that certainly wasn’t always true. Maintaining that level whilst investing in a new stadium won’t be easy, but the changes made in the summer give Spurs the best possible chance. We have a young manager with a talented squad and a chairman backing the most substantial development of the club in a generation, and the odd disappointing result in the league won’t change any of that.

Five things for Tottenham Hotspur to take from the Chelsea match

Spurs ended up on the wrong end of a 4-2 defeat, but both the players and the manager can come out of the game with a lot of credit.

1. Andre Villas-Boas “gets” the Premier League

Villas-Boas may have lost to his former club at the weekend, but the work he did to get Spurs back into the game demonstrates the influence he has amongst the players and the understanding he has of the flow of the game. The team’s performance at the start of the second half was superb, and but for individual errors ceding the momentum back to Chelsea, could have carried Spurs to one or three points they looked nowhere near getting in the first 45 minutes. Villas-Boas has spoken about the passion of the league many times, and he instilled it in his team at half-time. The full backing of Bale’s rush to be at the birth of his child also indicates his good relationship with the players.

2. Depth is king

Whilst few teams would be fine when losing arguably their two best players for a key match, from the moment the Spurs’ team sheet was released without Dembele and Bale there was an inevitability about the loss. There could be arguments that Spurs need to sign a striker more than a midfielder in January, but playing the 4-2-3-1 system means that more cover is needed on the wings and in the centre of midfield. Dempsey and Sigurdsson both looked uncomfortable covering for Bale on the left, and Tom Huddlestone looked bereft at times as Mata, Hazard and Oscar ran riot.

3. Spurs will need time to compete

Of the two sides sent out yesterday, in only one position did Spurs have a player who had cost the club more than the Chelsea counterpart in terms of transfer fee. Even then the fee for Ashley Cole was only less than Jan Vertonghen’s because Chelsea added Gallas to the deal to take him from Arsenal. Spurs are looking to build the club up, with a new training complex complete, and a new stadium in the works. This will take time, but is the only way to compete with clubs like Chelsea in the long term.

4. Hugo Lloris

It’s becoming a tired old tune, but the Frenchman has to start in the league. Friedel is still a good keeper, but Lloris is world class. The French captain is faster off his line, comes to claim more crosses and through balls, and communicates better with his defence. Friedel again made no glaring errors yesterday but his lack of an impact at corners and crosses means that the Spurs defence have more pressure placed on them, and leads to errors like Gallas’ clearances. Home goals conceded against Norwich and West Brom have also come from corners inadequately cleared. Whilst AVB’s commitment has been somewhat admirable, it now has to be time for Lloris.

5. Kyle Walker

Walker is an excellent right back who, at 22, is still improving and learning. His mistake yesterday was unfortunate, but moments before he had almost leveled the game with a long range striker reminiscent of the one that beat Arsenal at White Hart Lane last year. The abuse he has received from some Spurs fans is shameful and wholly undeserved.

Should Tottenham Hotspur make Christian Eriksen their primary January target?

A move for Joao Moutinho is still being touted, but looks unlikely with Porto doing well in the Champions League, so Spurs should focus their energies on trying to sign the young Danish midfielder from Ajax.

Spurs reportedly came very close to signing Joao Moutinho on the last day of the summer transfer window, but the disappointment of missing out on the Porto man has been somewhat lessened by the successful partnership that Dembele and Sandro have struck up in the centre of midfield.

If Spurs were to go back in for the Portugal midfielder, it may with the purpose of moving Dembele further up the pitch. But the Belgian’s excellent form there, coupled with the imminent return of Scott Parker to add depth to the deeper central midfield slot, makes me think they should attempt to sign a more attacking midfielder in January.


He is still only 20, and has apparently been receiving rave reviews at Spurs from his former team mate Jan Vertonghen. Eriksen possess many of the skills that are valued in Spurs’ current system, he is quick, comfortable on the ball and has a great range of passing. As such you could see him settling in well playing in front of the midfield pair, or even covering one of the wider forward positions.Christian Eriksen is the man Villas-Boas should look to bring in. The outrageously talented Dane was the youngest player at the World Cup in 2010, and has continued to impress for Ajax since then.

Eriksen has said himself he is not thinking about a move at the moment, but if Ajax are eliminated from Europe early, which could well happen with their very hard group, the club may be open to a move in January for the right price.

If Spurs were to wait until next summer, there’s every chance the competition for Eriksen will be too intense, especially if he continues to impress in the remainder of the season. If Spurs were to go for him, a January move might be the best option, and it could be an well-timed addition to the squad as it enters the second half of the season.

Villas-Boas has so far been very proactive in the transfer market, and Spurs picked up several quality players in the summer. Eriksen would follow the pattern of the other players brought in, and could turn out to be one of the best midfielders in Europe.

This January could be the North London club’s last real shot at bringing him to White Hart Lane, and it might be worth making a real effort to do just that

Defoe must realise what else he offers the team

The England striker has always been obsessed with getting away shots, perhaps worried that a goal-less performance will see him dropped. But his performances this year show that he can make himself undroppable not only by scoring goals, but by working for the team.

The lone striker role has been adapting in the Premiership rapidly of late. Instead of the tall hold up man, there are plenty of smaller players in there as someone who can help move the ball around and build up play. Jermain Defoe does not quite fit in either of those roles, he is not quite strong enough and not quite adept enough at passing. Instead his role at Spurs, particularly in away games, is to stretch back lines through his pace and runs behind the defence, and snaffle any half chance he gets to score. This has been effective so far this season, but there are still frustrations with Defoe that he will need to address if he is to remain first choice ahead of Adebayor, who had such a successful season last year.

At home Defoe’s role is much less effective, especially against teams that are expected to lose at White Hart Lane. Defences sit deeper, midfielders also protect their back four more. Defoe is not given space, in fact the whole Spurs side has less chance to counter attack as teams don’t commit so many people forward. In this situation Defoe can become an albatross around the neck of Spurs’ build up play. Whilst he is stronger than most give him credit for, his passing ability isn’t the best. At times it has appeared like Spurs simply cannot play a pass to the point of their formation, with their attacking midfielders needing to turn and play the ball backwards rather than play it into Defoe, who will struggle to get the ball back to them under pressure.

This was somewhat addressed by moving Dempsey behind Defoe in the second half against QPR, giving the defence another man to think about. Dempsey is also a better link up player, and may be crucial in allowing Defoe to play in his best role when Spurs are at home. Here he has to be to constantly moving defenders around, creating space for Spurs’ array of attacking midfielders, and allowing a more patient build up play, rather than the rapid counter-attacking moves Spurs can utilise away from home.

 

When playing away, Defoe’s role is clearer - get on the end of counter attacks and take a shot. But not always, never looking for a pass can still be detrimental to the team. Strikers have to be selfish, so we are often told, it’s that attribute that gets them the goals that help their team. However sometimes Defoe takes this way too far, ignoring teammates in far better positions to fire a shot into the defender right in front of him. Also, at Old Trafford, when Spurs where clinging onto their lead Defoe wasted possession twice by taking a couple of ambitious pot shots that ceded possession, when his team would have been far better served by him holding on to the ball.

I’m not always Defoe’s biggest fan, but his form this season has made me re-assess him to the point where he should be the preferred choice of starting striker in both home and away matches. I like that Villas-Boas has backed him, rather than dropping him as soon as another striker was available, something that has happened to Defoe too many times in the past at Spurs. This may have made him even more concerned with getting off shots than he was in the past, fearing that only a goal will make him undroppable. This isn’t the case, Defoe has been dropped before as managers believed he can only score goals, and offers nothing else. If he can rein in his selfish streak slightly and realise what else he is capable of offering the team, he can be one of the most important players for Spurs this year, and may even end up with plenty of assists to go with his goals.

Jan Vertonghen impresses both on and off the pitch

The assured defender has been a vital presence in the Spurs’ defence, and his interviews after matches give the impression that Thomas Vermaelen might not be the only Belgian captain in North London next season

Jan Vertonghen came to London with a big reputation, he was Ajax captain and had just been voted the Dutch footballer of the year. Tottenham had been chasing his signature for some time, and a protracted wrangle about fees had delayed what had seemed an inevitable transfer for some weeks.

With that to live up to, Vertonghen also found himself positioned as the replacement to Ledley King, whose knee problems finally ended his outstanding playing career this summer. From the moment he came through the door Vertonghen has come across incredibly well when interviewed, and his performances in the Premier League have also given an indication that Spurs have found a new star to build their defence around.

Whether he stays in that position whilst Assou-Ekotto and Naughton are injured is an interesting question. He starts there for Belgian, where their plethora of excellent centre backs make him more useful on the flank, and clearly has the attacking capability to be real threat.Thrice Vertonghen has been denied clean sheets by late goals, in the matches against Norwich, West Brom and Reading. He had played well in those games, with Friedel’s present day reluctance to stray too far from his line when facing corners and free kicks, Vertonghen has often been called upon to provide aerial clearances. In the match against QPR, his second half performance at left back was a revelation, bursting forward to create a lethal partnership with Gareth Bale, and pulling off a goal-saving tackle on Hoilett when Gallas and Caulker were left stranded by Zamora’s strength and clever touch.

In the long term his place is undoubtedly in the heart of the defence, but a short term switch may be in the best interests of the team, as moving Bale back blunts Spurs’ attack considerably, and Caulker and Dawson can cover in the middle.

With Younes Kaboul unable to play since the Newcastle game, he and Vertonghen have not had a chance to build the partnership that most expect is Villas-Boas’s first choice. Since that match Vertonghen has been the leader in the defence, ably supported by the experienced William Gallas.

He has also come out as a leader off the pitch, frequently called upon for post-match interviews where he has given articulate responses about the games he has played in. Given the uncertainty about Michael Dawson’s future, and the limited amount of long-serving players at Spurs at the moment, it would be no surprise at all to see Vertonghen made captain as soon as next season.

Andre Villas-Boas now has a chance to change the narrative

Football loves a story, when Andre Villas-Boas arrived in England he was Mourinho reborn, a man with success oozing out of him who was ready to transform Chelsea into a dynamic, young attacking unit, prepared to dominate Europe for years. Within months however he cut a deject and confrontational figure in press conferences, fielding a barrage of questions about his future. Having seemingly led Chelsea out of the Champions League after a 3-1 loss to Napoli, the writing was on the wall, and Roman Abramovich sacked the young Portuguese this March following a 1-0 defeat to West Brom.

The narrative was now entirely different, AVB was inexperienced, arrogant. His success at Porto due to a weak league and an exceptional squad including players like Falcao, Hulk and Joao Moutinho, rather than any precocious brilliance on his part. He had attempted to make too many changes too quickly, and senior players had failed to respond to his tactics or man management style. This narrative, however accurate or inaccurate it may be, still dogs Villas-Boas, and any indication of similar problems at Tottenham will be pounced upon by a press that is eager to back up their opinions. Nothing issues like Hugo Lloris starting behind Brad Friedel in the pecking order are blown up into crises of man management, even before the Frenchman had even trained with Tottenham.

Changing this narrative is the first big challenge for AVB. It’s a difficult task, as the situation at Spurs may take some time to settle with new players bedding in and the club adjusting to the loss of Luka Modric. The comprehensive win away at Reading gives a chance to build some momentum, and the next two league games give the perfect chance to capitalise on this. First up Spurs have QPR at home, a game where AVB will have the chance to blend his other new signings into the squad, with Dempsey and Lloris perhaps given a start, though Adebayor will likely remain on the bench behind Defoe after his brace at Reading. It is game Spurs should, and need to win. The following game against Manchester United represents a completely different challenge, Tottenham’s record at Old Trafford is abysmal. If Villas-Boas can mastermind a good result there, he will give a clear indication of the potential of his reign at Spurs, and how it can succeed where others have failed.

As long If he can provide a new narrative, a story that can lead to the problems at Chelsea being laid at someone else’s feet, then the press may start to turn around. He has been backed by Daniel Levy as the man to lead the change at Spurs, who have moved into an excellent new training facility, and have a new stadium on the horizon. Tottenham’s season has begun with the win at Reading, the next two league games are an opportunity to show how AVB will take Spurs forward, winning home games against the supposedly smaller opposition, and challenging the very biggest on their home turf.

Defensive frailties will cost English teams in Europe this season

On the 19th May Chelsea sealed the unlikeliest of European victories
by beating Bayern Munich on penalties. This success was built on a
defensive system so rock solid that, playing against Barcelona, Jose
Bosingwa was made to look like an accomplished centre half. However at
the start of this season the top teams, aside from Arsenal, have all
struggled to keep clean sheets. This was already the case for the top
seven in the league last year, where there was a succession of
incredible results when they played each other. Now with Chelsea
determined to abandon the two banks of five approach that took them to
the Champions League title, there is little to suggest that we won’t
see several more goalfests this year. This may make for another
exciting domestic season, but will likely end in disaster in Europe.
Athletico Madrid have already given a stark warning to English teams
by demolishing Chelsea 4-1 in the Super Cup. As Falcao was sauntering
through the European champions’ exposed back four, their best
defensive midfielder was sealing a loan switch to Real Madrid. Essien
was quickly followed out the door by Raul Meireles, another of the few
Chelsea midfielders able to play in a withdrawn role.

This wilful disregard for defensive midfielders has been mirrored at
other top clubs in the Premier League. Arsenal have let Alex Song go
to Barcelona, relying on the enigmatic and injury-prone Abou Diaby to
fill his boots. Manchester United have ignored the position
altogether. Throughout the summer Yann M’Vila, who has the potential
to become one of the very best defensive midfielders in the world, was
waiting to be signed from Rennes for a fee reportedly as low as €12
million, yet he ended up staying in France despite many reports
linking him with a move to England. There has been a similar lack of
activity amongst the back fours of the top teams. Jan Vertonghen
standing out as the one top class centre back that has been brought to
the Premier League, with Maicon the best full back signed, and the
Brazilian is almost as valuable for his attacking work as his
defensive. There is an argument that Manchester United had Vidic
coming back, almost acting as a new signing, but they also desperately
needed to sign a left back, with Evra’s performances becoming
increasingly erratic. Instead they let the promising Ezekiel Fryers
leave for Standard Liege.

To say that every English team in Europe needed to strengthen their
defences drastically would be an exaggeration, but defensive frailties
have seemingly been ignored in preference of signing attacking
players. Perhaps inspired by Swansea’s 14 premier league clean sheets
last year, and indeed Barcelona’s excellent defensive record in
Europe, there has been a focus on signing technically adept
midfielders who will keep the ball and limit the opposition’s
attacking opportunities that way. There is also the spectre of
Financial Fair Play regulations on the horizon, which may have led to
some teams choosing an attacking player over a defender, where they
would previously have signed both. A possession based defence can be
very successful, but having the correct personnel is an integral part
of it, and when it goes wrong it can be disastrous; West Bromwich
Albion 3 - 0 Liverpool and Athletico 4 - 1 Chelsea are already
testimony to that. Over a season in the premiership these kind of slip
ups will lead to exciting matches, in the Champions League they will
lead to elimination.

Manchester City stand out as the team with the strongest defensive
unit, adding Jack Rodwell and Javi Garcia to their midfield in place
of the departing Nigel de Jong, and Maicon and Nastasic to their
defence. Coupled with their attacking power they can be said to have
the best English chance in Europe despite their lack of experience.
But being grouped with Real Madrid, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund won’t
help, neither will Mancini’s awful record in the continent’s premier
competition. You can easily see Manchester United and Chelsea crashing
out on the back of a defensive shocker if they play with the same
reckless abandon they’ve shown so far this season. With the playing
staff they have available, it’s hard to see how they can change this
without further signings in January. Arsenal have looked strong at the
back under the stern eye of new coach Steve Bould, but are weaker as a
unit than the real elite teams of Europe (and will most likely draw
Barcelona the first chance they get anyway).

Liverpool, Tottenham and Newcastle can be seen to have a better chance
in the Europa League, with all three of them indicating that the
competition will be taken more seriously this year than it has in the
past. But with opponents of the quality of Athletico Madrid and Napoli
already in the draw, and the third place finishers from the Champion’s
League to come, their own defensive problems may be exposed in the
early knockout rounds.

Of course all these teams may settle rapidly and stop conceding the
goals they have in the early weeks of the premiership. There are
plenty of good defensive players at the clubs I’ve spoken about, and
perhaps there really has been enough of a sea change in English
football that these teams can successfully defend through possession.

On the other hand, I’d bet that Falcao’s hat trick will not be the
last scored against England’s elite teams this year.

This blog can also be seen at www.tiktaka.com
AVB, Rodgers, and the long term plan

Long term doesn’t mean what it used to. When AVB signed up for three years at Spurs most people barely even noticed the length of the contract, the focus is so set on the upcoming season. Since the season has started however there has already been plenty of derision of the man when he talks about his “project”, even when the length of this project is a paltry three years. The culture of football has changed so much recently that instant success is not only a requirement, there is an active disregard and abuse of studied long term approaches. The same attitude is shown towards the work Brendan Rodgers is doing at Liverpool. When watching them this season I’ve been struck at how often commentators mention how in the past Stevie G would “have thundered past a couple of players”, or “rifled in a long shot” instead of playing the short passing game they believe is unreasonably demanded of him under Rodgers. After a short love affair with Spain/Barcelona the backlash against coaches with systems or long term plans is well underway in England, fueled (if you’ll pardon the pun) in no small part by the instant success seen at oil-rich clubs like City and Chelsea.

At the same time as many aspects of the media decry the lack of vision in the England set up, or how few managers are given a fair crack of the whip they actively reinforce the short term nature of the game. Coaches like Rodgers and AVB have a very different view of football to the English tabloid press, and so when their team is under pressure, it is rammed home on the back pages far more severely than at other clubs. Wenger also constantly gets slammed, even though he has perhaps overseen the biggest transformation of a club in the premier league era, whilst maintaining a champions league position. Arsenal’s stadium, whilst hilariously quiet on matchdays, brings in an incredible amount of revenue for the club, one reason they can remain competitive even whilst other clubs plough hundreds of millions into new players. Wenger also has a strict playing system in place, one that their young players are moulded into meaning they can come into the team at short notice. Arsenal have sold Henry, Adebayor, RVP, Song, Fabregas, Nasri, Toure….and still stay ahead of 16-17 clubs in the premiership each season.

This is something that hasn’t existed at Spurs for a long time, certainly under Harry Redknapp there was no long term plan further than getting together 11 good players and motivating them. This isn’t enough anymore. To compete with teams like Chelsea and the Manchesters, Spurs either need to find a billionaire willing to waste a lot of money, or build the club up properly. The same applies to Liverpool, and both boards have made the right decision this summer in appointing the managers they have. The two clubs are at a fairly similar juncture, the hope would be that they would both back their decisions, give the managers at least three years to oversee a project that allows them to compete at a higher level not just as a flash in the pan season with a few unexpected results, but consistently and sustainably.

Tottenham knew this season was likely going to be a case of running to stand still. Modric was going, King was reaching the end of the line. But there are huge signs of promise. The new training ground is being moved into, the new stadium is on the horizon. If you look at our team there is a base of excellent players with several years of their peak left to come. I, for one, would love to see where a three year AVB project could take us.

This blog can also be seen at www.tiktaka.com.

Reasons to be cheerful: Transfer Window round up

So, not the start we were hoping for. For once we were given a decent run of fixtures to start the season, and we have clearly failed to capitalise on this. There are likely many reasons for this but I’m going to move past that for now and look at our transfers dealings.

Our progress was slow, late and riddled with frustrations, but we have come out of the transfer market well this summer. In signing Lloris, Vertonghen, Dembele, Dempsey, Sigurdsson and Adebayor we have bought a completely new spine for our team. The players all fit the speedy, technically adept system AVB is looking to implement and, once bedded in, could provide a foundation for our team for the next 5 years. Moutinho would have been the icing on the cake, but playing Dembele as one of the deeper two CMs will give us greater attacking impetus and fluidity than Livermore, perhaps switching out the Belgian or moving him into the front 4 when playing away.

Lloris may well prove to be the pick of the bunch. Friedel was excellent on Saturday, but, as with the WBA equaliser, the Norwich goal came on the back of him not coming to collect a free kick. Friedel is excellent at what he does, but his understandable refusal to budge from his line at corners and free kicks often leads to unnecessary danger, especially as the opposition know they can put the ball in very deep without worrying about the keeper collecting it.

Although we haven’t picked up a 20+ goal striker our attacking mids should be chipping in with 10-15 goals this season. Dempsey is a proven PL hitman, Bale and Sigurdsson should hopefully recapture their form from last year and providing Lennon stays injury free he has shown a welcome knack of picking up winners for us before. Defoe and Adebayor will each get 15+ too meaning we shouldn’t lack firepower.

All in all we are about to move into a new training ground over the international break, have signed some exciting new talent and we have a chairman clearly willing to back one of the best young managers around. Also our rivals for the 4th-6th spots haven’t exactly flown out the blocks either, there’s some reasons to be cheerful…

WBA at home: the lack of Luka

On the 3rd January 2012, Spurs, in the midst of one of their finest runs of the season, beat West Brom 1-0 at home having dominated the match. There are a truckload of caveats that make it stupid to try and compare that match to the draw yesterday, (that each side has a new manager would be top of that list), but I am stupid, and the differences between the two games seems to give a clear indication of how the loss of Luka Modric has cost Spurs.

Without looking at any stats there are several results that could reasonably be expected when replacing Modric with Jake Livermore in a system where the two central midfielders have a far deeper, less creative role: fewer overall passes, fewer passes in the attacking third and less possession. All of this is borne out by the stats for the game yesterday, which are summarised below:

                                                         2011-12 season   2012-2013 season

Passes (Completed/Attempted)         414/487 (85%)       553/632 (87.5%)

Final 1/3 passes (C/A)                      114/149 (76.5%)    160/212 (75.4%)

Possession                                        59%                        68%

The stats back up the expectation that Tottenham can’t play the same passing game, they attempted fewer passes all over the pitch, and completed a lower percentage of them outside the final 1/3. Also, without the mobility and passing of Modric, players like VDV and Bale can end up struggling to have the same effect on matches they did last year. The overall contribution from the front line has dropped off, this can be seen in the player influence match boards below (click to zoom):

2011-2012 season:

2012-2013 season:

Livermore and Sandro not only sit deeper than Modric did, they also remain far more central. However Jake Livermore has clearly not gone in as a like-for-like replacement for Modric, so Spurs have to regain the attacking impetus and control the Croatian gave them in other ways. I’m going to look one way that this was attempted yesterday: an increase in the influence of the full-backs.

Spurs are blessed with two full backs with great attacking ability. Last season they provided an excellent platform for dominating possession and building attacks. With the 4-2-3-1 system now in place, they can be given even more freedom to go forward, safe in the knowledge Sandro and Livermore can cover. In fact the system demands that they play a greater role in linking the play, with the central mids staying infield rather than getting close to Bale and Lennon. Indeed in the match yesterday BAE got the only goal, and the two full backs were ranked 1st and 2nd for Spurs in terms of passes made in the attacking third - BAE 17/19 (C/A) Walker 16/21.

Their overall influence on the team in the final 1/3 has clearly increased, however the amount of passes they attempted actually decreased from the 2011-12 match - BAE 12/20 (C/A) Walker 19/23. This was on top of the contributions from players like Modric (26/32) and VDV (26/31) who made the most passes in the final 1/3 in the match last season. Spurs also attempted fewer crosses (23<36) in the match yesterday, another indication that the Walker and Assou-Ekotto’s attacking influence has increased as result of the drop off from the contribution of the central midfielders, rather than a growth in their roles. 

Replacing Modric with one player was always going to be impossible with Spurs’ resources and Europa league standing, but there needs to be a greater attempt to replace the work he did with the system Spurs play. One of the central midfielders needs to be more mobile in moving play out to the wings. This can be done whilst continuing to employ two defensive mids in the line-up, they just need to move sideways a lot more! This will help progress the play up the flanks and result in the greater attacking returns from the fullbacks that the system requires.

Of course with one week of the transfer window left the whole system may change this Saturday with a new signing introduced. Or if we stick with the 4-2-3-1 one player who would fit the role of defensive midfielder with a greater passing range than Livermore and Sandro is Yann M’Vila, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking…

This blog can also be seen at www.footballspeak.com.