Friday, 2 December 2011

The Season So Far: Are We Ahead Of The Game?

Win tomorrow, go 2nd for at least a few hours. Win tomorrow, move to 31 points from 13 games. 10 wins from last 11. I feel like I'm playing Football Manager.

December is the busiest month of the season, with 6 games, 3 at home, 3 away. Trips to the Britannia, Carrow Road and the Liberty Stadium interspersed with the visits of Bolton, Sunderland and Chelsea to the Lane. Especially considering Chelsea's form and performances under Veesh-Boash, these are all very winnable games. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The point of this post is to examine our progress. Yes we're doing well, but how well?

Let's think of it in terms of the 40 point barrier that everyone loves to mention. It's pretty bloody pointless as teams have survived with fewer than 40 points and a West Ham team laden with talent like Kanoute, Defoe, Carrick and Cole contrived to go down with 42. But nevertheless it's still used as a meter of progress and probable survival of relegation. Relegation is not a relevant topic for us obviously, but I still consider the point in the season at which we hit the 40 point mark as in indicator of how the season is going. Teams that finish in the Top 3 tend to hit 40 points in late December/early January. If we win our next 4, we will reach 40 points before Santa comes down the chimney. Correct me if I'm wrong but I'm not sure this has happened in the Premier League era.

In the 09/10 season, in which we finished 4th, we hit 40 points on the 26th January with a 2-0 home win over Fulham. Last season, when of course we missed out on the Top 4, we hit 40 points on the 2nd February with a 1-0 win at Blackburn. In comparison, in the 08/09 season, with the infamous '2 points 8 games' start under Ramos, we didn't reached 40 points until 21st March. I know we haven't done it yet, but the fact that we could reach 40 points before the year is out represents fantastic progress.

In addition to our overall point tally improvement on past years, we are also improving on last season when individual games are compared. If we replace QPR with say, West Ham (one lower half London rival for another), we have collected 9 points more this season than from the corresponding games last season, with our early season stuffing at the hands of City representing the only worse result than last season.

I've probably been prompted to write this by the feel-good factor surrounding the club at the moment. Failure tomorrow would be a crushing disappointment. But being as good as we are these days brings with it greater pressure. Winning games consistently against teams in the lower half of the table has long been an achilles heel for Spurs. Wins at Wigan, Wolves, Blackburn and West Brom so far this season suggests we may be beyond that. Blow them away at home, grind them down away. Works for me. Seems to be working for Tottenham. Come New Years Eve, people might have to start taking us very seriously.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Rubin Kazan preview

My first post in a few weeks, due to a combination of factors. Post-Arsenal game, I was too busy watching the highlights over and over and sitting with a smug grin as Arsenal-supporting mates explained the result away with a combination of complaints about handballs and wobbly long range shots. Then came a state of catatonic stupor brought on by yet another bloody international break, followed by a disappointing result at St James Park. I didn't feel there was a great amount to say about our trip to Newcastle, Defoe is continuing to show flashes of his old self, we look infinitely more nervous at the back without King and the pros and cons of Van der Vaart is an article in itself.

Rubin Kazan tonight. All previews for the Europa League so far seem to have melded into one. Avoid injury, have a look at the kids etc etc. Sandro, Lennon and Rose should return and feature at some point, Bassong and Kaboul will start at the back because we don't have anyone else. Walker and Rose at full back make it a fairly solid back four. The return of Rose will probably push Townsend further forward on the left, with Lennon on the right and two of Sandro, Livermore and Carroll in the middle. Up front I would expect to see Gio playing in behing Pav.

Rubin will undoubtedly be our biggest test so far after (let's be honest) the Scottish, Greek and Irish pub teams we've faced so far. Best known for beating Barcelona at the Nou Camp a few years ago, Rubin have been crowned Russian champions twice in the last 4 seasons, finished 3rd last season and are currently sitting 6th in the Russian Premier League having won their last 2 games.

Rubin have a handful of players that a few Spurs fans will have heard of, particularly former Newcastle and Birmingham striker Obafemi Martins. I'm sure I wasn't the only one celebrating Martins' goal at Wembley earlier this year, but if we're not careful he is undoubtedly a player who can hurt us. Martins scored 4 goals in 7 appearances against us in his Newcastle days, one of which I'm sure many will remember being a cracker of a strike from distance.

Elsewhere, full back Cristian Ansaldi has been capped for Argentina, defender Salvatore Bocchetti has a handful of caps for Italy and obviously there is a scattering of Russian caps through the squad. Certainly not the strongest of opponents, but a side that demands respect certainly.

Both ourselves and Rubin will have an eye on the weekend and will know that a result tonight is not essential for qualification to the next phase of the Europa League. A nice aside is that is Pav has a decent game tonight it might encourage Rubin to buy him in January. We can hope.


Friday, 30 September 2011

The Curious Case of Giovani dos Santos

Last night’s win over Shamrock Rovers was probably the most encouraging performance so far from young Gio. He seemed to fully believe in his superiority over the opposition from the start, something that a few others should have done, embarking on jinking runs and testing the goalkeeper regularly. His decision-making was not always perfect, but a goal and an assist marks a pretty good nights work and once again raises the question: does Gio have a role to play at Spurs?

Signed in 2008 as a 19-year old from Barcelona, he was tipped for greatness and heralded as a massive coup for Spurs. Perhaps alarm bells should have rung that Barcelona were prepared to sell a 19-year old who had scored a hat-trick on his final Barcelona appearance for just £4 million, but we were too excited to have bought a player who was named ‘Most exciting talent’ in World Soccer Magazine that Summer. After an impressive pre-season, his involvement in the infamous ‘2 points from 8 games’ start to the season under Juande Ramos didn’t help him settle in life at Spurs, while rumours that Gio enjoyed a Shandy more than most began to surface. Having slipped off the first team radar, a picture emerged of a well-lubricated dos Santos being carried out of the Spurs Xmas party in a way that would’ve made Ledley King proud. A few false dawns at Spurs were interspersed by loan spells at Ipswich, Galatasaray and Racing Santander, where reviews were distinctly mixed. Commitment and lifestyle seem to have been the issue with dos Santos, with Harry stating he wished Gio could pass a nightclub as well as he could pass a ball. Gio was apparently frequently late for training on Mondays, often having spent the weekends partying in Barcelona while the rest of the squad prepared for the weekend’s game. Despite interest from Udinese and Sevilla this summer, Gio, to the surprise of most, remains a Spurs player and seems to be getting a final chance to perform.

So where does Gio fit in? Does he fit in? His performance last night was good but Shamrock Rovers were a poor outfit. In his other performances this season he has been frustrating, running straight into people, picking the wrong pass and huffing and puffing in frustration rather than tracking back when losing the ball. Like Van der Vaart, he doesn’t seem to naturally fit into an orthodox system, wandering and not tracking back enough to play on the wing and too much of a luxury to play in the hole behind the strikers. Van der Vaart, despite criticisms over his fitness and pace, has the knack of being in the right place at the right time to score goals and provide crucial links in play. As much as I’d like to say he does, I don’t think Gio has this natural gift. He needs the team to be built to suit him, like Van der Vaart, but unlike Van der Vaart, is neither good nor effective enough to be given this luxury. In a squad where Tom Carroll looks to be developing into a good deep lying playmaker and Andros Townsend impressed with his skilful, quick dribbling and crossing, I’m not sure where Giovani fits into the Tottenham system. He may be thrown on as an impact sub from time to time in the league and will get starts in the Europa League, but I can’t see him becoming a regular starter. This won’t be enough for a player who has made no secret of his desire to return to Spain.

Like Adel Taarabt, he needs to go somewhere where they will build a team around him, where he will be the big fish. I expect him to be moved on, either in January or the Summer. He may become a big success somewhere else, probably back in Spain, but sometimes, even with the best will in the world, certain clubs and players are just a wrong fit. I’d love to be proved wrong and see Giovani become the player we all want him to be, but I just can’t see it.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Shamrock Rovers Preview

Thursday night, Channel 5. It’s Europa League time and Shamrock Rovers, with ex-Spur Rohan Ricketts in tow, come to town. Who needs the Champions League eh?

Instead of trying to prize a £250,000-a-week striker off the bench in Munich, we will have a group of eager, fresh-faced youths champing at the bit for a crack at the Irish. Whilst I would obviously prefer to be playing Champions League football this week, the whole Tevez affair has been a disgrace and shows that while City’s money has bought them Champions League football, they remain a disharmonious group of mercenaries. I’d much rather watch my team’s kids desperate to impress while we have another organically created crack at the big time.

Harry has announced that we will field a slightly stronger side tonight, given the potential return to action of a handful of our walking wounded. Lennon, Rose and Pienaar look set to return, while Defoe has shaken off his mysterious illness.
I’d expect Cudicini to return in goal, with a probable back four of Walker, Corluka, Bassong and Rose. The return of Rose at LB could push Townsend back into his more familiar left wing role, although he may start on the bench if Harry wants to start with Pienaar. Lennon will start on the right, whilst I would like a central midfield of Livermore and Carroll. Both have impressed me this season and Carroll in particular, despite looking like a ball boy, could become a real talent. Up front, Kane, Pav and Defoe will battle for the two starting places. I would be tempted to go for Defoe and Kane given Pav’s general awfulness this season, but dropping him to the bench for a game like this is hardly going to improve his form and I’d give him a go alongside Defoe from the start, maybe hauling him off at half-time if he continues in his terrible vein of form. On the bench, expect the likes of Fredericks, Nicholson and Luongo, maybe with someone like Kranjcar babysitting.

Harry clearly has most of his focus on the NLD on Sunday and tonight’s game will be another case of avoiding injuries, blooding youngsters and easing injured players back into the fold. With all due respect to Shamrock Rovers, we should win this one easily. Let’s get behind the kids and show them what it means to wear Lilywhite on a European night. It doesn’t matter if it’s Shamrock Rovers or Bayern Munich. Let’s enjoy it.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Race for 4th: A comparison

What has shocked me most this season? Arsenal shipping 8 to United? Torres' miss at Old Trafford? Joey Barton's prolific tweeting? Sandro's barnet? No, it was the comment from arch-Gooner Alan Smith, admitting that Spurs are a stronger team than Arsenal now. Is this true? And are we not, following 3 wins on the bounce including the battering of Liverpool, favourites to reclaim 4th? Should anything less than 4th be considered a failure and an underachievement? Here are the Top 4 contenders:

I have no doubt that the Manchester clubs will finish 1st and 2nd this season. Probably by quite a distance unfortunately. United look stronger than last season and, as much as I hate to say it, City have moved on to the next level. Whilst it was inevitable that their unlimited spending would eventually push them towards the summit, it was still enjoyable to watch big names come and fail. Big fees don't automatically make you any good. Step forward Jerome Boateng, Aleksandr Kolarov, Robinho. But the signings of Nasri and Aguero have allowed a step up in quality. I doubt we would have conceded 5 if Parker and Sandro were involved but it was clear that they are no longer on our level.

Chelsea will probably make 3rd. They are catchable and I don't think we will be too far behind them, but I can't see them slipping out of the top 3.

So, who's getting that all important 4th place?

According to the bookies, Liverpool. Just. Liverpool are 6/5 to get it, fractionally ahead of ourselves at 13/10, followed by Arsenal at 9/4.

So, why are Liverpool favourites? They sit a point clear of us in the fledgeling table, albeit having played a game more. Pundits seem to adore Suarez and adore King Kenny and his policy of buying British. Suarez is clearly a very good striker but he seems to be prone to temper tantrums when a top quality defender neutralises him in the way that Ledley King has done in his two games against us. £35 million for Carroll, £7 million for Adam, £20 million for Henderson, £20 million for Downing. It all smacks of buying British for the sake of it. World class prices for not world class players. Yes Liverpool will roll teams over at Anfield more often than not, but I get the feeling that they will struggle on the road this season and get found out by the stronger teams in the league, like they were against us last week. They may be a work in progress but I think they are still behind us in terms of development and should finish behind us in the league.

Arsenal. What a start they've had. It's been great hasn't it? Losing Nasri and Fabregas, arguably their two best players and replacing them with good but inferior players in Arteta and Benayoun indicates how the goalposts have moved for Arsenal this season. Sczesney may be turning into an excellent goalkeeper but the defence looks as hapless as ever. New signing Mertesacker's default facial expression is one of bewilderment, which fits in perfectly with the rest of the Arsenal defence. Walcott's pace remains a threat but Arsenal seem in danger of becoming a one man team. Lose van Persie and they'll be in big(ger) trouble.

Now to us. Many Spurs fans were lamenting a shocking pre-season, what with the Modric saga rumbling on and a failure to bring any outfield players in before the start of the season. With hindsight, it was a pretty good pre-season. Keeping Modric was a crucial statement of intent and Redknapp's desire to bring in '2 or 3 top class players' has been fulfilled. In Big Bad Brad we now have a keeper who may be less lovable, but also is less prone to treating crossed balls like live grenades. Parker and Adebayor are considerable improvements on the players they have replaced.

Who, hand on heart, would you take from the Arsenal and Liverpool squads as first team starters, not just squad members? I would have Reina and a fit and on form Gerrard. I'm sure many people would have Suarez too but I would prefer Adebayor. From Arsenal, I would take Van Persie. That's it.

On paper we have a Top 4 team. Of this I have no doubt. Psychologically we need to accept this position. Prove we are one of the best teams in the country. Treat the lower half with distain and dispatch them. Go to the Emirates, Stamford Bridge and Anfield believing we are the stronger team.

I want to be playing Bayern Munich this week, not Shamrock Rovers. Let's leave that to Arsenal next season.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Wigan Preview: Nothing less than 3 points.

09/10: Season Aggregate Tottenham 12 Wigan 1
10/11: Season Aggregate Tottenham 0 Wigan 1

So last season was a spectacular come-down after our crushing of Wigan home and away (particularly home) from the season before. How we failed to score against them last season after blasting 12 past them in 2 games is unforgivable. The game at White Hart Lane was the classic dominate, fail to score, get hit with sucker punch script that we went by too often last season. From what I remember, the game at the DW was a dull, forgettable bore draw.

Wigan are a team that I've tipped to go down pretty much every season since they came up and they continue to prove me wrong. I quite like them as a club, I like Martinez and their 3-2 win over Arsenal last year gave me great pleasure. Having said that, there's nothing in this Wigan side that should concern us too much. N'Zogbia has moved on, Rodallega remains something of an enigma and even after scoring more goals in the past 2 weeks than he's managed in the previous 3 years, Franco di Santo hopefully shouldn't trouble us too much. Play half as well as we did against Liverpool and we should win.

But therein lies the Tottenham conundrum. How many times in the past have we picked up a great win at home and then rolled over against an average team up north. Shaking off our failure to kill off the weaker teams in the league is essential to our hopes of returning to the Champions League. Our form against the bottom half of the table last season was well documented and unacceptable. Beating the bottom 6 teams in the league home and away is not too great an ask and provides 36 points. Which, based on last season is over half way to finishing in the top 4 and half way to finishing 2nd.

With the additions of Friedel, Parker and Adebayor, we should be more clinical up front, solid in the midfield and less prone to brainfarts in goal. All of which should make us too strong for Wigan. Gallas and Sandro should return, but on the back of 4 consecutive clean sheets, I reckon if it ain't broke don't fix it. Gallas should only come in if Harry wants to ensure Ledders is fit for Arsenal by resting him.

It's games like this that define season intentions. The best teams in the league win at places like Wigan even when they aren't playing particularly well. We are one of the best teams in the league and we should win tomorrow. If we don't, our hard work against Liverpool will be undone and it's back to the drawing board.

Keep focused. 3 points. Nothing less will do.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Lots of Silver Linings to be had.

Once again, one negative result and the optimism created from a terrific win is drowned in a sea of doom and gloom. I wasn't one of the brave and hardy souls who travelled to a cold and wet Stoke on a Tuesday night, the type of occasion that pundits love to imagine would test Barcelona. Those who travelled knew full well, as I think we all did, that it wasn't going to be the swaggering, swashbuckling display we saw on Sunday, but nevertheless were disappointed with what was served up.

There are those that say it's not the Tottenham way. We pride ourselves on our traditional cup success and going out in the third round with a second string team just isn't the done thing. It's disappointing yes, but I'm not too downhearted and here's why. (I'm not even going to use the 'Tin-pot Mickey Mouse Cup excuse').

Penalties. Yes we lost on them again. In my years supporting Spurs I have now seen 6 shootouts and we've lost every single one. Add to that supporting England and my experience of shootouts reads 11 shootouts, 1 win, 10 defeats. But at least 6 out of 8 successful penalties last night was an improvement on our usual success rate. Is it stupid to suggest Corluka as a regular penalty taker when he's on the pitch? He's stepped up and converted in our last two shootouts: last night and the Carling Cup final v United, with great calmness and confidence. Credit must go to the kids who had the minerals to step up, even poor old Massimo Luongo.

Clean Sheet. Again, we tinkered with our team and defence and kept a 4th consecutive clean sheet. Stoke may have made changes to their line-up too but what they put out was still a pretty strong line-up and keeping out 4 decent Premier League strikers in Jerome, Jones, Crouch and Walters for 120 minutes was encouraging.

I'm in the camp that believes it's good and important to see academy players get a go in the first team. Most or maybe all might not make the grade at Spurs, but it's still more positive than seeing a team full of disaffected reserves going through the motions.

If nothing else, last night confirmed that Pavlyuchenko and Gomes do not deserve places in the first team and should be moved on in January. Both still have good reputations in their homelands and if we can get close to £20 million for Crouch and Palacios then we should be able to get something similar for these two. They remain two of the remaining pieces of deadwood in a squad that was pretty well trimmed on deadline day.

Was great to see Sandro back last night, crazy hair and all. Gallas also came through 90 minutes against Brentford last night and slowly but surely we are getting a fully fit squad. With midweek games only every other week now, hopefully the worst of our injury problems are behind us.

Like PAOK, last night's game was just something to get through with a bigger challenge on the horizon. In a weeks time, we'll have forgotten we were ever in the Carling Cup.

Onwards and upwards.