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Monday, 30 December 2013

Change is good.

Those of you that actively follow me on Twitter or read my piece for Spurs Stat Man here would understand that I held immediate concerns and strong apprehension amongst Sherwood's full-time appointment. In the short-term he was the only real viable option and Levy had dug himself into a hole without an apparent long-term direction for the football club. I welcomed the introduction of Adebayor alongside Soldado although I strongly felt/still feel that the 4-4-2 previously being employed was not exploiting the talent that we have at our disposal.

The game against West Brom highlighted this. We were far too easy to play against and didn't look organised in midfield as well as being clueless in the final third. Although, against an admittedly poor Stoke side, we looked a fresh outfit. Sherwood's reaction as well as his acknowledgement to change the side and employ a more flexible system against Stoke was a strong positive to see.

 Dembele and Paulinho took turns to sit and advance, closing up any space Stoke had in the middle of the pitch and facilitating our attacks. In truth, this is where we exploit the best of Dembele and it's surprising that we don't see him scoring more goals than he does. Hopefully this license to drive from midfield as he did so well last year will enable us to be more clinical in the final third than we have been in general this season. The attributes are there, we just need him operating in his strongest areas of the pitch.

We're slowly seeing more of Eriksen as the season progresses and it's becoming easier to forget that the Dane is just 21. This side tended to drift away from the 4-4-2 operated against West Brom and Eriksen was given license to tuck in behind Soldado and to operate centrally. With Adebayor dropping in to an advance midfield role as we know he can so well, it was a pleasure to see him and Eriksen on the ball and feeding in others. Two players that fully appreciate the lack of shackles bounded around their ankles. The general consensus was that we were far more organised against Stoke, something we distinctly lacked against West Brom, and hopefully this is another building block to implementing a system and a regular first XI.

What brought about more confidence was the interview Dembele gave regarding Sherwood post-Stoke.

"He's not been with us long, but he's made some adjustments and he's talked with us a lot." - This suggesting Sherwood is still open to the idea of implementing a different system to suit the players who welcome the communication and the open-mindedness.

"He gives us confidence to play our own game and to attack while remaining organised." - In truth, the players seem to struggle with self-belief towards the end of AVB's reign and it's positive to see that the confidence is being restored. It'll be the reaction after a defeat from here on in that will be the biggest test. Also to note that Dembele has mentioned about the organisation whilst attacking, something distinctly missing against West Brom but evident against Stoke.

"We're playing in a very attacking way, but he makes sure we're organised. You can't all attack at once, so he explains it to us and we train that way." - More emphasises on the organisation of the side which will be given a huge test at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

It's frustrating to see us continually in a transition although it's positive to see an open and confident response to an unsettling two or so weeks at the club. Sherwood has sought to lay down the organisation in the side and the next step will be selecting a consistent XI and arguably finding how to best exploit Eric Lamela.

I'd be tempted to label our set-up against Stoke as a 4-2-3-1 with Adebayor dropping in the front three behind Soldado. His free role in the team makes it difficult for him to be picked up by defenders and also supports the midfielders in attack. Soldado's movement still lacks a real cutting edge but he's made notable improvements in the last two weeks under Sherwood and hopefully we'll see the best of him in 2014.

United and Arsenal will be two real tests for Sherwood that have arguably come slightly prematurely. He's stabilised the train and we no longer look to be falling off the rails. Although we've experienced some very poor performances under his brief time in charge and hopefully these have been addressed. Sherwood knows he's little to lose during his time in charge of the club and this was reflected in our last outing against Stoke as we played with far more confidence and conviction as well as looking far more settled and organised than we have done for a few months.

We'll need both discipline and ruthlessness if we're to get a sniff of a point on Wednesday. We've the personnel to over-power their midfield and create the chances although have looked a little suspect at the back at times. Grabbing the chances we do get by the lower regions and smothering United will be key but I predict a very open game.

It's hard to see how this side will approach the tougher fixtures that await us. The arguably reduced expectation can only be seen as a positive.

Regards,
Ben - you can follow me on Twitter here



Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Isolation

It's understandable that a part of us may begin feeling a little isolated and the feeling of disillusionment over the football club we've followed for the best part of our lifetimes is hovering over our heads just waiting to come crashing down, punishing every ounce of optimism that remains from a summer that promised so much.

AVB is gone. A victim of football's short-mindedness and an example of the hollow commitments that plague the modern game. A manager forever working to disprove the doubters, you always gathered he managed football matches with a weight tied to his ankles. A working struggle to communicate his methods, his passion was never thrown into doubt. As fans we're sold a long-term project. We're sold our new Wenger, Ferguson. We invest hope and expectation. Cutting short at the first sign of trouble seems an easy way out. Regardless of ability, dark patches will inevitably face the greatest of managers and their response to these unwelcoming patches could define a season. Our unwelcoming loss and the snatching of defeat from victory at Goodison saw a reactive change in training methods and a 3 month unbeaten run. We ended the season on record points.

Among hiring AVB, Levy stated the following: "He has an outstanding reputation for his technical knowledge of the game for creating well-organised teams capable of playing football in an attractive and attacking style." It was arguably the latter part of this statement that saw AVB's tenure at Spurs cut prematurely short. The league table didn't show a too discomforting position but that depends where the expectations lay. Belief seemed lost in both the players and the management, they began looking incompatible although I personally felt AVB could've provided the required solution.

Our project was cut short after 18 months, as was my belief that we're willing to give a manager time.

The division amongst our next appointment remained split and the appointment of Sherwood has done little to eliminate that division - nor has the choice to 'commit' an entire 18 months with him. Sherwood's already sought to stamp his authority on this Football Club. His evident opinionated and arrogant outlook could work in giving the players the overdue slap in the face that they've needed this year. His frank and honest views with the media almost create a Harry Redknapp 2.0.

It's fair to say we know little of what we'll get from Sherwood but the priority has to be a settled first XI. It's incredible that we don't know our strongest 11 whilst on the fringes of the half way point in the season. We've done little to allow players to settle into a position and we've tarnished the tools required to breed partnerships. 'The Spurs Way' is likely to do more damage than good to a manager. All I'd want is stability, although acknowledge that in the long-run we're still lacking this in regards to the management. At Southampton we seemed to employ little method but our technical players grabbed the game by the lower regions and played some nice football.

We've found positives thus far in a turbulent week. The shackles have been released from Ade and we're seeing the best of a very talented forward. This exponential effect of this was a better performance from Soldado on Sunday. A weight lifted from his shoulders. He had more chances engineered against Southampton than any other notable PL game this season and helped create two goals for Adebayor. A partnership that could blossom. The attributes are there, the belief just needs to remain.

Christian Eriksen also had a very promising game in a deeper role on Sunday. A long-term solution? I'm unsure but he looked tidy playing there. Of course the Dane is technically a very astute player, his ability remarkable for his tender age. He knows the passes to pick but wasn't afraid to stick in a tackle. Lamela showed more flair and fight this year, more building blocks towards the finished article. Nabil Bentaleb showed us that our youth team is something worth remaining optimistic about.

It's anyones guess as to how this season will pan out. We have stability in the short-term although our long-term plan is seemingly non-existent. We have a talented squad and the hope is that Sherwood's personality doesn't isolate them. Our chances of success are about as likely as our chances of failure, but atleast the enjoyment of watching Tottenham Hotspur may just have returned.

Regards,
Ben - You can follow me on Twitter here

Monday, 18 November 2013

Big Issues.

So we're just over a quarter of the way through the season. We've won 10 of our last 14 games and sit just 5 points shy off of the top of the table but yet we're struggling to breathe, let alone smell confidence at the moment. Our performances have reflected much of our thoughts this year in what has started to look like a far greater transitional season than the one we felt we'd be victims of last year. Fake smiles at 1-0 victories, manufactured laughing and joking far more out of relief than delight. We've lost the that touch of flair and dynamism.

We traded £100m worth of talent for another £100m worth of talent and in all honesty we're a left with a mix of hope and anxiety. We finally didn't see ourselves in the envious shoes watching on as squads - not teams - destroyed competitions and lifting silverware. It was hard not to succumb into a dream world where Tottenham Hotspur are up there with the best, it was a struggle to hold back writing endless pieces of satire about how it all ended happily ever after. But this wasn't the pragmatic viewpoint. This was theory. Theory is something that would generate far more success on FM than in real life. Unfortunately.

What we found ourselves left with was a system that generated an initially unbalanced side. The emergence of Andros Townsend on the right and injuries to Nacer Chadli left us short of an immediate option out left and the natural width that we'd grown so used to. We had quality, but it needed time to settle in - they needed to find their feet and their place in the side. We've grown to become a more expectant fan base. Mix that in with a pot of a £100m+ squad in front of you and the results can be deadly. Last years' consistent performers found themselves fighting off the fringes. One has found himself shoulder to shoulder with the youth (or out in Siberia).

Either a lack of pass and move or a sincere lacklustre attempt at pass and move left us almost unsurprisingly leaving with a sense of misdirection. Was it still a settling in period or are we simply not clicking as we felt we would?

Soldado. I'm still a little lost for words. He hasn't had the service we'd have expected him to get but at the same time he's finding himself marked out of games far too easily. He looks far too leightweight up front and almost seems to have underestimated the physicality of the Premier League.

Soldado's average shot accuracy stands at just 55%. His shots have been few and far between, averaging just 2.3 shots per game. This isn't too considerably less than his final season in Valencia in which he averaged 2.9 shots per game. The issue is that Paulinho and Townsend both have 3.3 and 4.5 shots respectively each - but have scored just twice in 81 shots between them. This arguably hinders the opportunities given to our number 9 as our midfielders aren't picking him out.


Is it worrying that Rebrov had 5 goals in his first 11 league games? I don't think we can dive to deep into that.

With just 12 key passes and 2 assists as well as an average of 0.3 dribbles per game so far, it's arguable to say that Soldado isn't the creative forward that can engineer chances for himself or others and so relies on the service around him. One key issue is we took around 50% of our shots from outside the box from last year (albeit due to the mesmerising attributes of Gareth Bale) and it would always take a more pragmatic approach on the training ground to actually adapt and bed in a team of new players and a new system to fit in a £26m poacher. Soldado's final season in Valencia saw him have exactly 100 shots in the league and a conversion rate of 24% - most of which were inside the penalty area. With two inverted wingers, Soldado lacks the natural width he'd thrive off of to pounce on whipped balls into the centre. Our second issue is that with Townsend preferring to cut inside and shoot, Soldado lacks further service coming from central areas.

Soldado's heat map vs. Newcastle is shown left. It's evident that the forward continued to come deep to try and get involved with play as he became more isolated staying on the shoulder of the last defender. Soldado's a poacher but he's having very little in which to poach. A change of system may resolve this. Shifting Townsend out wide and encouraging him to stick more balls into the box - as he did so well away vs. Tbilisi - would increase the likely attempts on goal and the chance of conversion. But shifting Townsend isn't the only answer.We'd have probably expected more of Soldado but the service provided has been exceptionally poor - and this points us to our next man.

Cristian Eriksen. It raises more than one eyebrow to recognise this guy is just 21 years of age, not due to the ever recinding hairline, but because of the expectation and reliability the guy seems to weight himself down with whenever he takes to the field. His lack of starts (just 7 in all competitions) has prohibited him to find his rhythm and forge a partnership with Soldado in the squad. This has to be our man to unleash our number 9. Engage them, marry them, send them away on a training camp to Dubai together - I don't care - just get the two playing in the same side.

Statsbomb highlights brilliantly that Eriksen actually engineered 9 key passes v Newcastle which has notably only happened 15 times across this year and last year out of a whopping 1800 matches across the big 5 leagues in Europe. This is quite significant. A player that was slated for his performance achieved something that has happened in around 0.0083% of games spanning last year and the start of this year. I feel our main issue is that we don't get the ball at Eriksen's feet high enough up the pitch for any real impact. It's evident that for a player operating just off the shoulder of a lone striker, he's evidently having to come deeper to pick up the ball and play a pass as shown. His heat map also shows an honest story with much of his influence being pulled out left or into the centre midfield role. This arguably could've been as a result of Paulinho pressing so high and leaving the midfield a player short. According to FFT Statzone, Eriksen created 4 chances from open play but notably 3 of the 4 chances created were on the fringes on the final third and unsurprisingly lead to little damage.

This guy was brought in to feed our £26m forward. With 41 assists in 113 matches at Ajax and still being at the ripe age of just 21, it's obvious we've an immense talent within our ranks. A quicker transition between the defensive players/midfielders to Eriksen into the final third will only allow for an environment in which he can engineer goal scoring opportunities. Let others do the tracking back and keep him off of the shoulder of Soldado. That partnership has the making for something quite beautiful. Time is also a beautiful thing, so let's keep our heads grounded and give him the patience than a 21 year old attacking midfielder quite probably needs. Let's leave Eriksen and Soldado to be our vocal point in attack.

I do find it a little ironic that one of our most influential players last year in Mousa Dembele has struggled to infultrait his presence amongst the new side and his influence has been noticeably absent. Although I don't pin this on the player losing his ability over a summer, but put it down to the new role he's finding himself locked down in. He's far more restricted this season, I've almost gauged the impression he's been told not to cross half way on a number of occasions and is forced to act as the anchor in our side. If this is the case then we've sacrificed both an efficient and effective use of Dembele. He's not a midfielder that sits, he's one that breaks up play and drives from midfield, easing past players and picking out a pass. His pace and stamina allowed a flurry of counting attacking moves last year and it's quite possible that this slight change in our new system this year has isolated Mousa from his most effective place in the side. Dembele's heat map vs. Sunderland (our final game of last season) is shown on the left and his heat map vs. Newcastle is shown on the right.

Although this represents just two games spanning last season and this one thus far, it's evident that we're restricting ourselves the opportunity to get the best out of Mousa. The question remains that within this system, if the Belgian is proving ineffective then arguably moving Holtby into this role may work more effectively for the team. I do feel a little guilty at the suggestion of dropping Dembele after his fantastic performances last year, although I can't see him jumping straight back into the side in the long run unless if he is given license to drive from midfield as he did so well for us last year.


With Dembele and Paulinho initially offering more bite than creativity in midfield, a lot of our flair was reborn through the unearthing of Andros Townsend, who seemed to pick up where he left off at QPR and showed a lot of confidence starting in the Premier League for Spurs. In all honesty, I'd always been a fan of Townsend. For me if a winger can beat a player and put in a decent cross then they're half way to becoming a substantial figure in the side. The once irreplaceable Aaron Lennon has found his opportunities more limited this season (granted he's suffered injury for much of the season) but his absence from the team is proving the burden that it once was. We may have the real possibility on our hands of having a fully fit Aaron Lennon come the end of the season which would prove invaluable. This is something that I keep in hope.

After Andros' initial impact in the side, he's arguably come under more scrutiny than he likely ever has done in a Spurs shirt. My frustrations are derived from we lose the effectiveness of Roberto Soldado when Townsend cuts inside and favours a shot. His average shot accuracy is at just 52% and his inability to play (not pick) a pass is proving detrimental to the side. I say this because,  interestingly, Andros has created the most chances in the Spurs side with 19. Kyle Walker (17) and Cristian Eriksen (15) are the two behind him. With Townsend being naturally left footed, it's understandable that he prefers to cut in and shoot than try and pick a cross. He's evidently been given license to do this from AVB and as a result his cross accuracy this season has been a rather abysmal 20.4% in the Premier League this season. Shifting Townsend out left would see him receive the ball on his more favoured left foot and grant a stronger possibility of him whipping in a cross instead of cutting inside and shooting.

This would leave a spot open on the right hand side of midfield and this is where Erik Lamela steps in and tries to recreate the fantastic form he showed for Roma last season out there. Although Lamela is left footed as well, he's had a far stronger experience in the past playing out wide right and seems to prefer to pick a pass than to shoot when inside. This would also mean we're playing with two wingers and give us more balance in the side. Lamela's last outing was a far more confident and thorough performance than in the past and it's clear the Argentine is slowly finding his feet in the side.

Although, with Eriksen now set to be out injured for around 4 weeks, this does offer us the possibility to bringing Lamela into that number 10 spot and recalling Aaron Lennon out wide. This would naturally see us play with more flair and give us some good options on the counter-attack, something greatly needed away at City. Lamela needs integrating into this side and seems to grow in confidence the more times he takes to the field. Although City won't be the most ideal team in which to start his first Premier League game against, he will have the benefit of playing without the pressure and expectation he'd arguably have playing at home against a side in which we're favourites to win. Leave the industrial work to the centre midfielders sitting behind him and allow him to flourish in a free role off of the shoulder of Roberto Soldado.

One other name that needs to be starting more or less every Premier League game is Sandro. I think we as fans do well to not underestimate his ability to break up play and start off our counter attacking. He arguably operates in a similar role to Paulinho but does it in deeper positions then sits - he's not a natural box to box midfielder. Paulinho hasn't proven to be as effective as he was at the start of the season and although I think Sandro and Paulinho can play as a partnership (and arguably against City this may be the best option), overall, we need a more naturally creative outlet to sit in and begin moves - just as Luka Modric did so well. This is where Holtby steps up and plays in his favoured role in centre midfield. The German's looked far more effective and efficient this year and channelled his energy into being more intelligent with his passing and movement. We're seeing more of the Holtby that did so well Schalke. Holtby isn't creative enough to be a number 10 but, like Modric, he has an eye for a pass and begin moves.

We're graced with having 4 very good diverse centre midfielders in Dembele, Paulinho, Sandro and Holtby and utilising the best of all four for the sake of the club is key. Our game should naturally adapt with whichever partnership is playing, ie, we shouldn't force Mousa to play the role that Sandro would play if the Brazilian is missing out. We need a consistent 11 in the Premier League and I'd love to take a punt on seeing Sandro and Holtby paired together or reverting back to Sandro and Dembele and giving the Belgian license to break from midfield. If Paulinho is to make an impact in our side, as I felt he did at the start of the season, then he needs to be sharper. I felt he was capable of winning the ball high up the pitch and beginning moves but his performances have been far more lacklustre as the season has worn on and his shooting has been exceptionally poor - especially for a player that thrives in a 'box-to-box' role.

Contrary to what I'd read recently, 4-4-2 is not the answer. This system naturally isolates the most creative players (if they were to both be playing) in Lamela and Eriksen. They'd start too deep and be pressed higher up the field. Although, in saying that, movement between the lines needs to be better. We don't appear to be playing as a unit, we're lacking any real partnerships - albeit the squad is a relatively new one. If the defence have the ball, we should have more options to play it short - start the moves deeper if we have to. We shouldn't be forced to go long. With these numbers we should play to get the ball into the final third as quickly as possible and one of the centre midfielders should be supporting Eriksen in trying to pick a pass - whether out wide or through the centre. Keeping the ball in the final third, being patient and encouraging an emphasis on quick passing and movement will unlock chances for Soldado and the midfield behind him. We need to be more ruthless instead of the barrel of nerves we appear to be when going forward at the moment.

We've more talent in our side than Mila Kunis' thong yet we;re struggling to see it on the pitch. These aren't changes that will happen over night but are changes that need implementing. We need to get our squad playing the same game, on the same wave length and understanding one another. The Newcastle game was a big a wake up call as we needed. Let's see our response.

Regards,
Ben - You can follow me on Twitter here

Monday, 7 October 2013

Bewildered.

No lasagna to blame. No scapegoat to point towards - although I saw some attempt berated towards Michael Dawson. We lost in quite emphatic style. I was slowly adjusting to this gritty-just-about-hanging-on Spurs. It was growing on me, slowly becoming an expectation - a reality - would we battle a whole Premier League season biting nails and pulling hair out? No. The rather bewildering defeat to West Ham may ironically be the defeat we needed to kick us into shape. We'd started to look a little lacklustre in our play, lacking that bite in midfield and that emphasis to get the ball into the final third and find that final pass. We buckled miserably against a disciplined West Ham side. We lacked invention at times it was required the most and couldn't break down an ever growing brick wall.

Was it tactical or was it fan pressure? AVB rarely gives away a lot and his introduction to begin Jermain did fathom an element of surprise. He'd been scoring goals. The opposition understandably questionable but in all fairness you can only score against what's in front of you. The issue I found, for me, was that it wasn't the forward that was the issue but the supply for that forward. Eriksen had yet to fully click with Soldado and only time will build this relationship between the two. Defoe mustard a similar frustration, gaining just one clear cut chance in which he should've punished West Ham. His fault, our midfield's fault or West Ham's impeccable tactics? You tell me. As the game progressed Defoe dropped deeper into the number 10 role, relieving West Ham's defence of a forward to keep an eye on, forcing them higher up and making it easier to break.

With Dembele & Paulinho operating similar roles we looked incredibly exposed. Paulinho initially started further forward and made some intelligent runs without being found too much or blazing some abysmal shots way wide of the target. Dembele has played the majority of the season thus far and we could've possibly utilised more bite in the centre as well as a deeper creative outlet. Hotlby's starting to show more of the disciplined player that experienced an early run of successful form for Schalke and this game seemed to be set up nicely in which to start from.

But do we change a winning formula?

Our system remained constant, the players were there but there was no psychological emphasis to win this game. We didn't look bothered. I still fully believe that a 4-2-3-1 is a system that can bring the best out of our players. It's likely we won't know our best 11 until around Christmas. We've barely seen the tip of the Lamela iceberg and Eriksen is still embedding into our style. The problem falls that with so much money invested there's immediate pressure for success. Time is shortening, we naturally demand more as our expectations heighten with so much expenditure.

I wouldn't pin yesterday's defeat down to one particular person. It was an abysmal team performance. Townsend proving one less terrible performance in a team of terrible performances - to put bluntly. So where do we go from now? Sandro? I'd fight the point that Dembele and Paulinho were more than capable of bossing yesterday's midfield but had a severe off day. We'll want a big reaction, expect even and I can only envisage a change or two from AVB.

The international break has probably fallen about on time. We've time to brush ourselves down and regroup in over a week. A bad defeat, maybe the reaction will help shape our season in the long run.

Onwards.

Ben

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Holtby Dilemma

I still remember the moment. I had alcohol pumping through my veins in the French mountains when I read that Daniel Levy had sanctioned a move to bring Lewis Holtby to Spurs in January. Immediate erection. The fuel of optimism was a feeling I'd rarely felt. It was gold dust. Of course, the reality was that we'd rarely seen much of Holtby in action. A few dazzling Champions League displays can build an unwarranted and inaccurate perception of what to expect. Adaption is critical when young players move between countries. Although Holtby didn't provide too much value initially in the few months that followed January, we were provided with moments of what to expect prior to digging any deeper.

It's easy to forget the age of some players considering the weight of expectation that we, sometimes unintentionally, place upon their shoulders. It's arguably a little naive to expect a player of Holtby's profile to come in and make the White Hart Lane turf his own within 6 months and it's exactly this reason why I continually fought consciously with myself to not jump into brandishing opinion on him last season.  We saw far more industry than end product with Holtby last year. There's an evident passion there. A fight inside him that commands our love and attention. We give a stronger emotional response than a rational one. But there's nothing wrong with that.

It's obvious right now that we're still trying to find a role that suits both him and ourselves. I naturally thought he was the number 10 we'd dropped to our knees and begged for but it's becoming clearer he's a far more rounded central midfielder. He mentioned himself that his preference is sitting in the middle of the pitch and this is where he's proven most effective for us. There's an obvious trait of playing that killer pass from a deeper position and bringing the ball forward. His energy allows him the freedom to press opposition which is something we're doing more and more under AVB.

So where does this leave us? We're lucky enough to be packed to the brim of centre midfielders; Dembele, Paulinho, Sandro, Capoue. Depth is beauty. We couldn't crave it enough last season and now we find ourselves in the fortunate position of having it. Selection dilemmas are under appreciated. Holtby offers far more flair breaking from midfield then distributing the ball. He needs more playing time there and to become more understanding of his role. He has the eye to play that final pass but needs encouragement to try it more often.

Call me crazy but his play is reminding me more and more of Modric. Obviously the skill set is not quite as matching but the way he can take the ball from deep and bring it forward then provide another option in the final third is similar to what the Croat did best for us. It was a role vastly under appreciated to the naked eye at first but a role that allowed us to be far more fluid. There's arguments for every player to have their position in the starting 11. It's incredible that if we rewind 12 months back, Dembele & Sandro were irreplaceable. Yet, now, arguably neither are guaranteed to start.

I'd like to see more of a chance taken on Holtby. Away from home against a top side may leave us needing more strength and stability in the middle but I'd like to see him given more game time at home alongside one of Paulinho or Dembele. He needs consistency to prove to both us and himself that he is worth a place in our first 11. He's proven effective when emerging from the bench but a consistent role should increase this effectiveness.

A start against Chelsea may be too much of a gamble at this moment but that's not to say that I wouldn't knock AVB for testing him. We'll want to avoid defeat more than anything. Let our CM's suffocate the space given to Chelsea and let our attack run at their defence.

Regards,
Ben - You can follow me on Twitter here

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

AVB's New System

It's August 27th 2013. We're beginning to find our position more fortuitous as the this window edges closer to its' conclusion. It has to be one of the few that we've seemed to call for a close prior to its' deadline next Monday. When AVB announced that our summer targets, set before the close of last season, would remain the same despite the lack of Champions League football it was easier to find the pessimism in his words than to dig out the optimism.

We're probably a player short of where we want to be. We've been incredibly pragmatic in our approach this summer and signed off the deals we're usually being stringed out over the summer for in plenty of time. Gareth Bale is still a Tottenham Hotspur player. I'd stuck to my guns for a lot of this summer, remaining in confidence he would stay up until last week when a move seemed imminent. You consciously take the decision, usually, to turn more than a blind eye to the back pages but they have a way of weaselling into your subconscious. Planting a seed of doubt. Levy has Madrid tied around his finger. He has Gareth Bale on the end of a fishing line and is ever so tentatively dipping him into the sea. We've got one of the World's biggest clubs eating out of our hands, whether they can see that or not I don't know.

So with a new season brought a new system. AVB is slowly turning the screw towards his ideal of a 4-3-3. We're certainly more aesthetically pleasing on the eye. Despite only scoring twice in our opening two fixtures of the Premier League, we've been solid. We're 5 points better off now than at this stage last season and look good value for it. Paulinho has been one acquisition that's brought an armoury of traits that we've not so much lacked but haven't been accustom to at Spurs previously. He's fit the bill of a 'complete midfielder'. My initial perception of him was that he was more of a defensively driven player. He'd break-up play and let others do the offensive work. But that was naive. His offensive work is his defensive work. He wins the ball high up the pitch then looks to be very direct. He'll bring the ball forward and isn't afraid to have a shot.

Against Swansea, we seemed to play more of a 4-1-4-1, with Paulinho and Dembele sitting behind Soldado looking to win possession in the opponents third of the pitch. We pressed them, barely allowing them to cross the half way line. The holding player in Capoue, sitting slightly deeper than Dembele & Paulinho, ensured we could crowd out any breaks through the centre. His Sandro-like presence gave Jan and Daws next to nothing to do for the majority of the 90. Swansea looked to sit deep & hit long to Michu, inevitable after pockets of space were rarer than gold dust. This pressing game allowing the infamous high-line imposed by AVB to fend off much of Swansea's attacking threat.

We've so far conceded the fewest shots on goal in the PL this season (at 12). With a seemingly fair understanding and the wealth of strength we have in the middle, teams look to go out wide countering any direct threat. Rose has looked a little suspect defensively and seems to lack patience in a challenge when battling one-vs-one against the opposition winger. I'd be generally satisfied if Rose was first choice this year but not fuelled with overwhelming confidence. I do think Walcott would get the better of him on Sunday. We haven't got out of 2nd gear as yet but have 6 points from 6. Our playing staff looked settled into a slightly amended system from last year that isn't built around Gareth Bale. So, in terms of a mini transition I was expecting us to be a victim of in these early days, I'm delighted.

It's clear we still need that number 10. That magician behind Soldado. I can't see the 4-1-4-1 being the system we base our season around but the beauty of the strength in depth we have at our disposal thus far is that we can be flexible depending on the opposition. I am a fan of Sigurdsson, but think we may need someone who can think that one step ahead & get that one final ball spot on. In Soldado we have a forward renowned for seizing chances. He feeds off of them. If he's given the service, he'll score the goals. I'd be more inclined to sit Holtby there and see if he can recreate the success he had at Schalke. Him & Huntelaar enjoyed a fantastic understanding. Maybe this is Carroll's opportunity to step up and fulfil the faith we have in him.

Bale leaving wouldn't be the hole in our midfield as it would've been 3 months ago. Levy's ensured that either way, Spurs will have emerged stronger. We seem on another levels to where we've been before. Last season seems a mere platform. The difference in quality in the squad this season is evident. We've a leaner squad. Despite bringing in a £26m forward, there doesn't seem to be that aura weighed to his shoulders that we're solely relying on just him to bring us goals. Chadli, Townsend and Paulinho are all goalscorers. Not for the first time, but the future looks pleasing. We've lost the 1st season uncertainty of AVB anchoring us down. That air of uncertainty was diminished as we finished on 72 points. Bale forever seems further out the door by the day yet we find ourselves more optimistic than we probably ever have.

It's a funny old game.

Regards,
Ben - You can follow me on Twitter here

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

It wasn't to be.

The year is 2013. The unthinkable has occurred. Sir Alex has finally stepped down at United. Spurs have broken their transfer record on a forward. Goal-line technology is set to be used in the Premier League as of next season. Tom Huddlestone has left Tottenham Hotspur. 3 years ago this could have easily been written as a piece of satire with the latter statement seemingly the least likely of the 4.

It's hard to find a suitable starting point with Tom. Although heavily flawed as an all-round centre midfielder, his ability to spot and execute a pin-point pass in the final third always left you lingering with that string of hope that he may build on this to become a prominent player for Spurs and England. Alas, it wasn't to be. There's only so many years you can hope a player will fulfil their 'potential' before admitting that this is about as good as it'll get. A couple of key assists from last year couldn't mask the fact that he didn't quite fit in with a squad now built on pace and power. He almost sat as the Woolworths of our midfield. He couldn't quite tackle or run, but had a nice technique about him.

It's clear we're building a leaner (no pun intended) and more competitive squad. The arrival of Paulinho & the expected arrival of Capoue renders Huddlestone and Parker redundant. They become assets that are needed off of the wage bill and the transfer fees to balance the books. We forever seem to be pushing our limits and stand reluctantly on the brink of finally achieving our season's goals. We fall that player or two short at key points in the season and find ourselves asking 'what if'. 'What if we'd brought in a forward, midfielder or extra defender when we could've'.

Pre-planning and anticipation for such events avoids seemingly knee-jerk and over-priced transfers. We're building a powerful squad of quality, not just a first 11. We forever seem anchored down with 'deadwood' players that act as fillers for those that are injured. I was a big fan of AVB's rotation policy last year and hope to see more of it this year. Although it'll be nice regularly rotating quality players ensuring those coming in will be match-fit and hungry to fight for their place. Competition for places will be ever-increasing this year, especially across midfield.

With another season in the Europa League, players will get the game time they'd desire. Real strength in depth is something we've lacked properly across the years but is key to competing effectively in all major competitions. We finally seem to be jumping on the treadmill this summer and look a far leaner outfit. We've bought in key areas and look to sell those that aren't wanted. The squad will take time to gel as one which may bring with it a slightly slower start than we'd hope. But that's football.

Tom will be wished all the best, maybe even missed at times, but with the ambition we've shown this summer. His name was always going to be one sounded out to other clubs.

Regards,
Ben - You can follow me on Twitter here

Sunday, 28 July 2013

What £86m could be spent on.

A couple of dodgy reprints from previous articles, a lack of official word and a few nutters on Twitter have ensured that we're slowly being brainwashed to the fact that Bale won't be in a Spurs shirt come September. It's propaganda I tell ya. It's times like this when I imagine simpler times. Imagine a transfer window without the net. An ITK would spot something on Ceefax who'd then tell their neighbour, who'd tell a friend, who'd tell his cousin and so on. By the time the rumour reached Europe we'd find ourselves mid-way through the season and gleefully singing 'mind the gap'.

But still, should Levy smell an £86m cheque and give in to his basic instincts - here's what he could do with it:

  • Give Baldini a bonus for the great work he's done this window.
  • Enjoy flights to Spain on BA instead of EasyJet (this including return journeys as well)
  • Increase the wages of Tom Huddlestone, Scott Parker and Jake Livermore to warn away potential suitors interested in their signature.
  • Subsidise the bottles of Carlsberg in White Hart Lane to allow a drop in price from £3.30 to £3.20.
  • Bring back David Pleat as club ambassador.
  • Pay off Uefa to let us into the Champions League
  • Save the Antwerp Arms
  • Pay PSV to take Gomes back to Holland
  • Give Ledley King a new set of knees
  • Re-open Rudolph's but only allow those with a fake ID to enter.
  • Invest in our own scouts so we no longer have to use Liverpool's. 
  • Start his own Spurs based paper company
  • Fill the Emirates with thousands of blow up sex dolls for every seat they fail to sell
  • Smother ITK's in their sleep
  • Ban anyone from the internet that has "Full time yummy mummy xx" on their Facebook profile as their full time job.
  • Give Abramovich a Moonpig thank you card for AVB - No Tesco shit.
  • Allocate more stewards at WHL to ensure everyone is seated for 90 minutes during games.
  • Give Chick King the money to expand 
  • Buy back Gareth Bale 

On a serious note, I struggle to see Bale leaving this summer both practically and emotionally. I wouldn't have a breakdown if he would, I'd just feel we'd have contradicted ourselves massively if he does. If Madrid come in with offers over £100m then it's hard to see a bid being rejected. Although, with the publicity surrounding the prospective move, I think Levy will reject any first offer that comes our way to make a point. There's also the fact that brand Bale is worth a lot more than we probably anticipate - apparently Barca have already made back the transfer fee they spent on Neymar in shirt sales worldwide, the player has yet to have a training session with the squad.

Regards,
Ben - You can follow me on Twitter here

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Sandro's beard.


I personally feel that Sandro's beard - seen here nestling quite cosily on our Brazilian in Hong Kong - deserves a special mention. I cannot wait for this man to grace a football pitch once more.

One Step Away.

So while Bale is or isn't etching for an EasyJet flight to the heart of Spain, we've actually brought in two players that add more than considerable depth to the side - before August. Nacer Chadli officially completed his move yesterday and all but confirmed AVB's intentions to shift (or atleast have the option of shifting) to a 4-3-3. Summer highs are few and far between, the last genuine one I got excited about was Ramos' first summer with Spurs. Nothing could go wrong. Nothing.

I do etch back to that 'era' at intervals of loneliness. I'm usually found sitting in an empty room, peering at the white wall in front of me with a small glass of brandy still wondering how it all went wrong. From then on I wished never to see Spurs go an entire pre-season unbeaten. It's misleading, hope-fuelled, and doesn't prepare us for the worst.

It's clear we have our defined targets. These are wrapped around much more financial realism but prove a pedigree of value despite our stance of being in Europe's second division. Paulinho & Chadli could arguably be players that could settle into a Champions League side. Strength in depth has been the key to work on this summer and we're slowly building a squad that instead of a 'first 11' is now built with a 'first 16'. We've grown to the stature of club that players want to play for. Players on the bench will less and less-likely be back-up players but more alternative options - they'd warrant their first team place based on the opposition and system we play.

Chadli offers a more predominant goal threat from a wide position than Lennon does. I do find this a little ironic. I genuinely believe that Aaron has the composure in front of goal to tuck away a chance - possibly more so than either of our two forwards at this present time - his only slight issue is that he doesn't find himself in those positions enough. This is understandable, he's a winger - but if he could find himself in more goal-scoring scenarios, I'd trust him to tuck them away. It comes down to depth again. Both Lennon and Chadli are good enough to start for Spurs, it falls down to the system AVB employs. We may finally see a break in the baron of final fixtures that Aaron misses due to fatigue. The Europa League is a second season in itself. Players will get playing time and will tire.

The thought of having a midfield three of Dembele, Sandro and Paulinho is refreshing one. It certainly beats away the days of Darren Anderton & Michael Brown (with Gary Doherty tucking in behind). When all three are fully fit, this gives license to Dembele to play slightly more advanced. His attributes suit a more offensive role in the side and fit perfectly with the 4-3-3 we're likely to play next season. But what I like most about the Paulinho signing is the versatility it gives us. We could easily transform it to 4-2-3-1 and replace Sandro with Gylfi/Dempsey if we were chasing a game. It's the comfort of knowing the depth is there that gives me itchy feet for the new season.

Spurs don't do perfect transfer windows, but we seem to be building a side with the right signings that will hopefully give us the depth to compete across all competitions. I personally would appreciate another run in the Europa League whilst challenging for a place in the gold mine of the top 4. I'm sure next year we'll find further areas to dig at. If/ WHEN Bale does stay (neck on the line and all that), hopefully we will have a forward that embraces the midfield around him. They'll get the chances, we just have to trust they can convert them.

Regards,
Ben - You can follow me on Twitter here

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Why on earth did we sign Paulinho?

Spurs have jumped upon a popular and vastly appreciated bandwagon in getting a Brazilian. Well, another Brazilian. Initially 'filling' a position that wasn't admittedly top of mind due to the quantity that weighs us down there, Paulinho's prospective-turned-official move does tick a lot of previously un-ticked boxes.

Unfortunately I'm not one to keep my finger on the pulse with Brazilian football, unlike most of my Twitter following. Although, I did take a keen interest in the recent Confederations cup and was admittedly impressed with this newly rejuvenated Brazil side. A rejuvenated side with our new centre midfielder at the heart of it; the pulse to make the others beat. It's easy to get picky amongst where improvements are needed in our side. Before Paulinho's arrival, we did have a fairly strong starting 11. Looking deeper is the key, at times we were a hollow shell or empty quality. Hopefully we've finally seen the back of season's in which Huddlestone will line up in centre midfield alongside Parker or Livermore.

Of course there's no disrespect intended, it's a matter of ensuring we continue to progress and don't find ourselves stagnate. Nevertheless, when Paulinho's name was first mooted I didn't expect a deal. The ITK's of the world forever throw names in your face but I couldn't see Levy breaking our transfer record on a player in a position currently well populated. It's hard to argue the fact that we've got serious backbone in our side with the Brazilian's arrival and an extra bite to our side.

Injuries permitting, Paulinho's arrival offers us more fluency in midfield. Dembele can be pushed further forward in a 4231, a 4312 with Bale in behind 2 strikers is an option a is a 433 with bale and Lennon operating either from the flanks or off of a forward. It also gives us the craved depth we've needed should Sandro or Dembele fall to injuries. With the Europa league likely to continue to split opinions, Paulinho will ease the reliance on both Sandro and Dembele and hopefully leave us fit enough to compete admirably in Europe as well as domestic competitions.

The move also raised a few eyebrows in that we may have seemingly grabbed a player evidently high up on our sacred list of targeted players this summer. Shock. Hopefully we're aiming to become far leaner in midfield. Sandro, Dembele, Paulinho, Sigurdsson, Dempsey, Lennon, Holtby and, of course, Bale offer a reach of both quality and balance - we just need shift on the final saturates of the side. One thing we have certainly improved on is being hard to beat. We're looking far stubborn with Paulinho's arrival. A fully fit Kaboul will act like a new signing next year and having Hugo at number one from August will also be a boost.

With the quality in midfield that we have, a clever target man would be the inevitable step to take regarding our approach for a forward. Although David Villa would represent a short-sighted view as far as his age is concerned, he would be the ideal forward to bring the midfield behind him into play. He'd also provide a fine example of being in the right place at the right time and composure in front of goal. He's the man that the present day Tottenham need and is more than capable of leading the line alone.

I hate that feeling of optimism before the start of the season, it usually leaves you with an empty hollow feeling come next May. But there's just something that can't knock my quiet optimism for next season.

It must be the clever marketing or the special area for members on the Spurs site.

Regards,
Ben - you can follow me on Twitter here

Friday, 21 June 2013

Love the Game, Hate the Business

A first hand look at how Wednesday's protest against modern football descended.

A guest post from:

@liamknight


I descended on London on the train from Norwich not only because I verge into the realms of being so far Left it’s comical, but because I felt like I had to represent the team that I love in what may or may not be an historic landmark in the fight against ‘modern football’. I’d even invited my girlfriend to come with me to make a day of it in case Spirit of Shankly’s march on Premier League HQ became a total washout in terms of attendance. As I made my way to The Globe to meet up with the rest of the fans attending, a huge Arsenal banner denouncing the greed of the modern game that greeted me made me even more apprehensive about the day ahead from a lilywhite perspective.  But as the pub slowly began to fill up (admittedly with a Scouse majority) more and more Spurs boys came. My girlfriend, self-admittedly clueless on all things football, not only remarked on how many people had actually turned up, but how many supporters of different teams, some of them bitter rivals, were happily sharing a pub and displaying their own banners without fear of trouble. What she had seen on TV of fans fighting was nowhere to be seen. Spurs fans were next to Arsenal fans, Liverpool fans were next to United; the pub didn’t have a tense, pre-game atmosphere at all. Instead of fans talking about X player being shite or Y player being a wanker, I overheard debates, most of which cross partisan, on regulation of prices and the mistreatment of the working classes. Was this all some sort of dream? 

Banners warning that “if you tolerate this then your children will be next” and that the ‘fat cats’ have stolen football from the ordinary fan brilliantly summed up the mood of the day; we were fans of teams from Crewe to United, from Everton to Leicester, all here united not by one club but by a sense of duty on behalf of all fans, to stop the violent commercialisation of the sport. Spurs’ main banner put this sentiment into words perfectly; ‘Love the game, hate the business’. We wanted our football back and we were going to march on the Premier League to get answers. There was certainly an aura about the whole event as fans all marched towards Prem HQ. We set off to the backdrop of a smoke bomb, all chanting. But we weren’t chanting about our team being the greatest the world has ever seen, or that we will be in eternal combat with a neighbouring club’s fans purely because of Boxing Day. We were all chanting and singing in unison:

‘They don’t care about football, they don’t care about fans, all they care about is money and brands!”.

As we made our way down the busy London streets, the agreed nature of a ‘pavement only’ protest soon went out the window. We moved our banners into the road and dodged passing busses, taxis and cars as we made our way to our destination unperturbed. My girlfriend, who had been quiet and a bit miffed by what was going on (even though she agreed with the idea of ‘sticking it to the man’) soon fully immersed herself in the occasion; shouting, holding up banners and sticking STAND stickers onto bus drivers! This was a testament to the passion and commitment shown by the protestors, and it was infectious.  As we arrived at Gloucester Place, sympathisers on the streets showed their support even though we held up traffic with our sheer numbers. Tourists on open top busses would cheer and wave, van and taxi drivers tooted their horns in solidarity. The most interesting part was that the Bentleys and Jags with tinted windows always quietly drove past, without even acknowledging we were there. This was rapidly turning from a footballing issue to a class issue.  As we ‘sat down’ because we ‘love football’ in the middle of the road to stop traffic and increase our exposure, fan representatives were meeting with the so-called ‘fat cats’ to air their grievances against the state of pricing and expenses for the ordinary fan, the rest of us waited outside for anyone to come out of the imposing black door and give some sort of statement. Chants eventually stopped after about an hour, and we reverted back to just talking to each other and holding up banners. A police officer even came over to talk to us. He explained that he was a die-hard West Ham fan and then asked whether we would be protesting again, saying tongue in cheek that he would get more work out of it. He repeatedly expressed that he fully sympathized with what we were doing and that he himself was ‘against modern football’. In the current climate of police ‘bubbles’ escorting fans to games and the whole issue of the criminalisation of the ordinary supporter, this was a refreshing image of the police officer and the supporter together.  

The camaraderie was a testament to the ethos of the day because we were all fans united under one cause. Whilst we still had our differences, we were able to put these behind us for one day to protest against something that affected every single one of us. We still didn’t exactly like each other, but we were amicable (even if sticking Spurs stickers on Arsenal fans became the game of the day).  I came to London thinking that we would all conform to our ‘tribal’ stereotypes and remain segregated. But there I was, talking to a man in leopard print flares and a studded jacket with “DULWICH HAMLET” painted on the back. As surreal as this was, it was refreshing to be able to talk to fans from other teams without being seen as weak by fellow supporters. Even the police were friendly and were polite to us (even if they burst our beach balls).  Fans brandishing megaphones (that gave more feedback than the league ever would) encouraged us all to keep on chanting, and although this eventually descended into “OOO BUBBLES” when we got to West Ham, every team that was represented there felt part of the protest as a whole. Everyone was approachable and would be happy to have a conversation ‘I’ve always liked Spurs’ was a recurring statement from fans outside of London. This is the polar opposite to how fans would behave towards each other on a match day, thus showing how pressing an issue this is.


What came out of today in terms of a response from the league was not exactly ideal, but encouraging all the same. The fact that they acknowledged our protest by speaking to representatives is encouraging; as is the stress on ‘stretch pricing’ where corporate fans should really be paying through the teeth for the boxes so normal tickets can be cheaper. But there seems to be no real call for regulation. Regulated or capped prices would fit into the mould of financial fair play. As the organisers kept stressing, the protest was not a one-time thing. This is just the start of increased dialogue between the fan and the executive, hopefully something that will bring about a change for the better in terms of both attendance at games, atmosphere and pricing.  The relaunch of the Tottenham Supporters’ Trust is a blessing; it means we now have a body in which to voice our concerns towards the club in a legitimate manner rather than any attempt at a boycott would [a boycott, in my opinion, would never ever work. You’ll always get football tourists in to fill seats if needs be…].  Joint Chairman of the Trust Darren Alexander was one of the delegates invited into Prem HQ to discuss pricing. This can only be seen as a step forward in making football more affordable for everyone. What struck me most out of the day was how detached we were from what subscription TV channels paint fans. We didn’t fight each other, we didn’t swallow whatever Murdoch-ed information we were given. We stood up for ourselves. The amount of press coverage we had is also a good sign. It means that the press see this as an important enough occasion to give time and space in their rags towards, rather than this just another protest by utopian hooligans demanding the impossible. Whoever couldn’t make the march should just take away the title Spirit of Shankly gave to it; the great Jock Stein quote, “Football Without Fans Is Nothing”. When fans, clubs and the media truly believe this statement, maybe the monster that is ‘calcio moderno’ will be tamed. This is just the beginning.

A guest post by: @liamknight

Monday, 10 June 2013

Why Spurs need a creator and not a finisher.

Guest Post by 

@Harrishotspur 


It’s been a while, and well reported, that Tottenham fans have been crying out for a striker, and they are somewhat wrong in their pleas. During the course of the 12/13 season, Andre VillasBoas’ team was struggling with the strikers, in fact: Jermain Defoe had scored a lot of goals in the first half of the season, but halted this feat in the second half, whilst Emmanuel Adebayor was injured for a long duration of the campaign and returned to fitness with stuttering form, to say the least.

Yes, indeed, our strikers weren’t good enough, but would bringing in a new forward (e.g Damião) actually solve the problem? You’re forgetting that the striker needs someone to put him in front of goal, most times. The Lilywhites also had difficulties creating chances last season for our forwards to convert. With the departure of Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric, AVB had to use the services of Mousa Dembélé, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Clint Dempsey and, later on, Lewis Holtby. Those four midfielders formally mentioned are far from what van der Vaart or Modric were undertaking in a Tottenham’s shirt.

Dembélé had a good start to the season, he practically carried the team with him. Although this somewhat changed slightly after a couple of injuries. Clint Dempsey isn’t a creative player so he ensured he was on hand in the box grabbing a goals for himself, but usually a spectator in matches feeding off of scraps. Sigurdsson was our starting attacking midfielder in the early stages of the campaign, but gradually made his way to the bench after poor displays. Although Gylfi emerged in the second half of the season with some important goals and started to find his feet and create a host of chances for the team, even if it was inconsistently.

Lewis Holtby – I can’t say much, he had very few chances to impress and was on the end of some poor displays, but he’s the youngest out of the midfielders we bought (21 years old) and we're arguably still finding a role that will get the best out of him. But let’s get to the point: If our midfield doesn´t create the chances (and consistently, also) for the strikers, it is obvious that the team will find a hard time to score goals. It was because of this problem that we had to depend on Bale taking on a couple of defenders and scoring a screamer in the last minute to secure the victory sometimes. The truth is that neither Gareth can do that every game nor would I like my team to nearly draw against 10-men Sunderland by a whisker. Tottenham used to play better football than that; but it doesn’t mean we can´t get it back!

What I really think would work for AVB´s men is buying a top class creative midfielder, João Moutinho, for example (but he´s gone to Monaco), and we will have someone to create chances for Bale, Lennon, Defoe and Adebayor, all of these can score goals, they just need to be well set. We all know that Adebayor can do well! Look at a couple of seasons ago: 18 goals and (I think) 12 assists. That is an awesome number. Alas, Defoe can also bang them in – He has scored over 100 goals for Spurs (that speaks for itself).

My suggestion is that Levy and Villas-Boas go after someone like Miralem Pjanic or Bernard, who we are linked with, to strengthen our creation in midfield. With that move happening, we will get the best out of our current strikers.

Guest post by : @Harrishotspur

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Prepared.

The season abruptly ended just under two weeks ago. An anticlimax that I was fully anticipating. Yet, to this day, I don't find myself replaying the 'what if' and 'if only' games. The Fulham home game isn't as imprinted into the deepest of thoughts as I'd have initially expected it to be after Berbatov found his way past Lloris.

Instead, I find myself reminiscing about the games in which we stole victory, escaping back to White Hart Lane singing AVBs name into the bellowing winter air. Every supporter has their own idealist view of where they want Spurs to be. I find many can be lead down a dangerous path dictated by the press, building up hope, then expectation, to only then fall back on their face with disappointment.

I do sympathise, but always think that we must always reflect on the goals we set ourself in the summer and anything more should be treated like a bonus. Everything needs perspective. I'm on record saying I expected a fight for fourth but to see us finish 5th or 6th this year. We always hope for fourth but only the brave go as far as to expect it.

I undertook my first three European away games this season and honestly felt it fulfilled everything I want when I support Spurs. Relatively cheap trips with a fantastic crowd and everyone in great spirits. Would I get this with the Champions League? Probably. But it's have cost a hell of a lot more.

I've come to the realisation that the CL is of course great for the progression of the club. It would've been a fantastic reward for the work AVB has done this year. Although, selfishly, I put my experiences as a supporter probably on par if not a above this. If I'm to find any consolation to our failure to qualify for the CL it is those arguably cheaper trips to the Europa League and a more realistic chance of winning the competition.

If the games about glory then would we rather be in Europe's second tier competition with a higher chance of winning it or in the first tier with a far slimmer chance? Genuine question, and one that I'm sure would invite a variety of answers. Maybe in the longer term, winning the Europa League would provide a pedestal in which to effectively fight for the Champions League crown. Who knows, but its hard to beat a side with a winning mentality.

We've a young side that have just had a year together under AVB and its hard to see us not continue to climb and improve. I take pride in that our achievements will occur within our means. It'll warrant personal pride. Of course a striker is needed, more so than any other position, but we'll stay within a 'sensible' wage criteria and spend what we can actually afford to spend.

I'm always careful when anticipating a season ahead. Although this ones slightly different. AVB is building a bullish side and were arguably just a couple of players short from the quality in both depth and balance in the side that we've craved for so long. With United, City and Chelsea all changing their managers, this offers a potentially minute chance to bite the bullet and fight with these teams. We need to treat the games in August as we do those ones in April and May. I forgive the dropped points in the early parts of the season last year, we were still learning.

Now we've little excuse, let's hope we can kick on and hit the ground running.

Regards,
Ben - you can follow me on Twitter here

Friday, 17 May 2013

"Even failure has an echo of glory in it"

So the end is nigh. Another enthralling season seeks to find its end as we once more find ourselves in an all to typical blindly-hoping-on-another-team-to-do-us-a-favour end of season debacle. Although it's not quite a debacle is it? We're on course to hit our record number of points in the Premier League but the inevitability grows that Europa League football will, once more, be our European path.

That's unfortunate, but barely raises an eyebrow. If you had to label one club this could happen to, it would be Spurs. I'm a fan of broken records, so here's another. For a manager that was hung out to dry by the press, pundits, 'experts' and both a minority of our own and masses of rival fans, AVB's had a remarkably commendable season. You'd have snatched sitting on 69 points after the penultimate game of the season. Has the League become easier or have we become more competitive? Probably a portion of both.

We kicked off pre-season in the USA and AVB sought to lay down the basics foundations of how he wanted us to play. He set out a blue-print for the forthcoming season, that I highlighted here, tinkering subtly based upon the opposition that sat in front of us. We slowly grew into a pressing game, each player learnt their role and soon enough a group of players soon became a team. This is why I refuse to knock our early results. We were still waiting to 'tick'. Despite conceding points early on to West Brom & Norwich we persisted with the system. This season, for me, truly emphasised that patience is a true art. Critiscism seemed far easier to give at the time but I stubbornly felt (even admitting almost 'blind faith') that the right building blocks were being implemented under AVB at Spurs.

Those that know me know that I'm one of the more pessimistic Spurs fan you could come across. Although I feel next season should give reason to fuel that ounce of hope with optimism. Without sounding to Scouse, next year could be one that holds a lot of promise. I emphasise the word could. Injuries can dictate the path a season takes. It's football. We knew losing Kaboul in the early stages would be a bitter pill but then struggled immensely without Sandro in January with Parker playing a shadow of his former self. It's hard to comprehend we've made a fair challenge at 4th, alongside a gruelling Europa League run and yet have two forwards that have struggled to deal with the demands of this season.

So where's the promise?

A young cast-off came in and adopted a side that was largely short of the players that were so key last year; so vital in grabbing us 4th place. A young side.
We'll continue to spend within our means and thus grow organicly, remaining competitive without the need to sell our souls. I'm both proud and tentatively confident of that (confidence is a rare feat with me). Wigan, if anything, should shed some light on that it's not only big wallets that guarantee trophies. We've shown enough heart to punch above our own weight, with individual brilliance pushing us that extra step.

We'll build and learn from this. The players have had a year together, our coach has had a relatively controversial free season and we've looked more of a team after every game we play. I hate feeling optimistic about anything, it usually leaves me with hollow disappointment - an empty shell, but I just can't help but feel that maybe we have the springboard stable enough to jump back up to where we feel we're more than capable of finishing.

This isn't writing off our chances Sunday, this is merely explaining that there's no reason to feel any dismay if we were to finish 5th.

Onwards.

Regards,
Ben - Follow me on Twitter - @InsideN17

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Are we being fooled?

I usually try my best to avoid falling into the ITK tra, but I've admittedly been entangled more often than I care to count. It's borderline inevitability. We snatch at any piece of news that carries with it the chance of hope and excitement yet tell ourselves that we're fools for holding it with such a tight grasp.

The vines on the David Villa story appear to be growing. Slowly wrapping us in and engulfing us. We've seen non-runners appear to have legs on them previously. Sneijder and Hazard both fell through on a grand old scale. In this instance, it's not so much that this deal's too good to happen, but more it's not quite a Levy deal. Villa is 32 this year and represents no sell-on value. Levy seeks a potential return on most purchases he makes, if not all.

Maybe we'll find ourselves in a scenario that sees our Chairman emphasising his faith in AVB with practicalities. Maybe we'll bring in a player for more than financial reasons. Again, I lay my hope carefully and Levy won't be keen to expose his hand just yet. We haven't ended the season yet but maybe talk of a player may somewhat prove a temporary distraction away from the seemingly inevitable scenario of a 5th placed finish.

Maybe we're just all being duped again. Villa would be a good signing. He's the strong, experienced head that's gifted with that winning mentality - that gold dust - that is so hard nurture organically. Injuries have been a big issue for the Spaniard which is why I'd be surprised if the deal was pushed through at over £10m. It's unlike Levy to wrap up a signing so early, it's unlikely our prayers will be answered prematurely.

It's evident I'm a fan of Villa, although I do feel that alongside him we do need a young and hungry forward that is in a similar mould. A forward with intelligence. We've a gifted midfield and having a forward that can play to the same tune as that midfield maybe just the ticket to a host of outcomes next season. A player that can bring others in to the game with the tendency of appearing at the right place and right time would be ideal. We can all dream, can't we?

I dare to hope. The feeling of disappointment isn't an unusual one. The season still has one game left in it, yet so much is riding on it.

Regards,
Ben - you can follow me on Twitter here

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Our key weakness

Admittedly I felt we looked exhausted. We returned from Switzerland in almost a worst case scenario position. We'd fought our way to extra time only to find ourselves, almost inevitably, crashing out on penalties. If there was such a thing as 'an ideal way to go out of a competition' then our rivals would've picked this way.

The finish line is a distant sight. We've teased and toyed with 3rd, flirted with 4th but the reality could be a rejection from both. I had my heart set on the Europa League, it looked as though we did as well. But it is how it is. I worried for our mentality upon the Europa League exit and we had Manchester City to play. The players found little life running through their veins in first half. Although this time around, footballing being a funny old game actually worked in our favour. I couldn't ever pin us knocking one past Hart, let alone three. Huddlestone's passing was something we've missed in patches, it's a shame he can't be a more complete midfielder. It seems an eternity he's had to develop his game into a complete holding midfielder but still lacks the fine art of tackling. He's stereotypically sluggish ways always weighing him down and soon enough his negatives out muscled his positives.

We approach 4 tough fixtures. 4 fixtures that should be approached with the same forward mentality. We just about have the quality in our first 11, the problem is we seem to have this niggling function born into the Spurs approach system that sees us lose our nerve whenever we have to depend on ourselves. Combine this with a side short of competition in key areas and genuine strength in depth and you find a mountain as tall as Everest to climb.

A starting 11 involving a midfield three of Huddlestone, Dembele and Holtby with Defoe leading up top could be the shape needed to limp over the line. This leaves Sigurdsson and Dempsey on the bench - Two very useful players. Two players that can impact games, our bench should have more. We were flat against Wigan. Neither side wanted it enough. You'd have been forgiven for believing that neither of the sides had anything to play for. We closed another door shut on an opportunity to exploit. With Dembele limping off, it almost compounded me to feel this'll be another season in which so much promise had been shown yet nothing to show from it.

Our first 11 is solid. We're one forward away from having a fantastic, balanced and competitive first 11. Lloris in goal. Walker right, Dawson/Kaboul, Vertonghen, Benny. Dembele, Sandro; Bale, Holtby/Sigurdsson, Lennon and a forward. That team needs little tinkering with it. It's our depth and competitiveness out wide that may leave us just too short of 4th this year. We need investment in quality depth. The trouble is most quality players don't want to be involved in a squad rotation role at a club that isn't challenging at the top of the Premier League every year. Chelsea exploited their ability to rotate quality players and have done so very well to balance their number of fixtures across their playing staff.

The obvious issue here is that we won't go out and spend £60m net in one window. I call it an issue but I'm happy our club is run sensibly. So we have to be clever. We need footballers that can alter our shape, change our direction if needed and those to simply replace like-for-like. Townsend's relative success at QPR will be like a new signing and hopefully his hunger and confidence will continue when he's in a Spurs shirt next year. I hope he uses this year as building blocks and steps up to our first 11. It's clear there is something there.

It's good to see stability at Spurs. Only one player has arguably been sold by the papers so far but, unlike the Modric fiasco, it seems far more underplayed and demoralising at this moment. Clever spending is a fine art form. We've done it successfully in the past and, should we find ourselves edged out of the running for 4th, it'll have to be a summer of shrewd purchases. We don't want to cause unrest, we just need to face the reality that we need the depth to compete in almost 2 seasons worth of games in a single football calender year.

Regards,
Ben - You can follow me on Twitter here @InsideN17

Monday, 29 April 2013

Spurs have "already won".

Guest Piece by @jackuzisps 

Coming towards the end of the season, it's a time for reflection. It's been an interesting season for fans, and not necessarily for good reasons. We've had a number of racism occurrences, some horrendous European away stories, and even fans at Wembley fighting themselves. But, for every person that gives this football a culture a bad name, there's thousands that give it a good one, and at this time in the season, it feels like a good time to talk about that.

I am not a spurs fan, which I apologise for in advance. But having heard about the 1882 setup that you've got going (I've even been to one myself), I think a mutual respect is always built between sets of supporters who follow the game in the right way. That is, religiously.

Being a Pompey fan, the stats suggest that this should have been the most depressing season in modern history. However, for reasons I am about to go in to, it has been the most satisfying. It's during these types of seasons that you realise why you really love it, and why all the 4am starts the away schedule can throw at you are all worth it, just for that split second euphoria of a meaningful goal.

So why, with the worst losing streak since the war, and facing back to back relegations, has this season been what has kept my faith in football? Because, in the same way that the 1882 movement has created more excitement for the right type of spurs fans than a number of games at White Hart Lane put together this season, it's about what's done off the pitch that matters. To me, football isn't about the amount of away goals per season, or the average pass percentage of some unknown Spanish midfielder; it's about how many times you sang for 90 minutes, how many times you went away and embarrassed the home fans, and how many times the score didn't matter, because the proper battle was won in the stands. Speaking as someone who has now experienced three relegations in four years, I honestly believe that part of the magic that I fell in love with was lost in the Premiership, by a number of casual fans (and owners, which is another point entirely) getting involved for the wrong reasons.

This is not plea for sympathy, nor is it a 'look how good our fans are' shout. It's more of general rejection of the fair weather supporters that flood the premier league today. Yes they 'pay good money' and yes they have just as much right to boo as they do to watch a good performance. But what does that actually help? The spirit of the 1882 movement is what the Premiership needs. An injection of passion, of escapism. The reason everyone fell in love with the game in the first place. And that reason wasn't because you reached fourth place over Arsenal, it wasn't because you saw a particular bit of skill or a particular finish. It was because you felt part of something, part of something that seemed like it could never be crushed. So take that to every game, and make sure you sing for your shirt, because any true rivalry has never really been about what happens on the pitch.

To me, football is this thing about being part of something that is actually worth remembering in years to come. Because when you look back on it, are you going to be someone who remembers being disgusted at the exact scoreline of a random league game, or are you going to be someone who remembers backing your side the whole way and enjoying every second? I know what I'd rather be. And anyway, we're still singing 'Que sera sera' down at Fratton park. It's just these days, 'We're going to Wembley' is replaced with 'We're going to Accrington Stanley'.

So, from a happy Pompey fan to a load of (hopefully) loyal spurs fans: don't worry about the race for fourth place. Because to anyone that properly understands, you've already won.

Author: @jackuzisps 

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Delighted?

Dreams were soon becoming murmurs of the Dam. Can we honestly forgive ourselves for even daring to think, daring to believe? I felt an Utter fool for doing so. Allowing myself to be sucked in to the belief that Spurs could make a final in Amsterdam. It would've been too perfect. No Spurs train ever arrives at the end of the line as planned. We encounter far too many signal failures, breakdowns and engineering works in our season and we're left reflecting on how we'll cope as fans, how Spurs will cope and whether we can snatch at any positives that fight their way out of the abysmal anticlimax that is the exit of the Europa League quarter finals.

We worked hard for it. The players left blood in their tracks. I genuinely couldn't fault their effort in a competition traditionally snubbed and demeaned by the English; our own past proving little to shy away from this. We've given so much in an intensely demanding season. Our lack of depth almost predictably epitomising perfectly why the season proved as demanding as it has done. Adebayor's penalty didn't knock us out. The complacency in the first leg did, but we always knew we'd be limping through this competition because of a lack of investment in depth in the summer and January. I do trust Levy and hope he'll give AVB the backing that'll match his initial faith in appointing the young Portuguese coach.

I did little to hide my disappointment at Friedel starting ahead of Lloris. Friedel undoubtly gave us a great year last season but the dynamic of our side has changed. Lloris' importance in the Spurs side is second to none. It does force the subconscious feeling of 'what if'. I struggle to find any real benefit of starting the American ahead of the French 'keeper. The Europa League now enters its de-valuing stage. The remaining teams once playing under the Champions League lights now find themselves in Europe's second tier competition. Perspective. Chelsea's arguably initial goals of a good run in Europe and contending the Premier League title now fall to accept a top 4 finish and a Europa League final.

I don't say this accepting second best. I say this as I see it. We've done well to get to the quarter finals of the Europa League and are still heavily involved in the fight for fourth - as were our initial plans. I've been to three Europa league away's this year and I can't express my admiration for the competition so much more-so now. It's an exciting competition that reaps the passion of the fans all across Europe. They love it, and so should we. It's secondary status to the Champions League gives it the edge for me in almost taking away the commercial propaganda that invites half-arsed fans to flick on the TV or buy up space in a ground that could be filled by those that truly wish to sing for the shirt.

Don't have me mistaken, the Champions League is fantastic in terms of growing the club and continuing this exponentially is key. But, from a fan point of view, I've loved every minute and every aspect of following us in the Europa League. It's granted me more opportunity in which to sing my heart out for the only club I'll ever love. Winning games breeds confidence. A minority saw the Europa League as an opportunity cost to a top 4 place. There's little point playing in a competition if you don't want to go out and win the thing. Nothing beats lifting a European trophy, regardless of its' status.

As has been mentioned before, we must return to find our collective. Slating certain individuals does nothing to help the side progress. I don't knock fans having their own negative opinion, I just call for that particular negative opinion to be bottled away from White Hart Lane. Breathing positivism lifts the tension weighing down the players each week. Believe it or not, but we do make a difference at games. We've only a handful of games left in which to play. We're once again underdogs for top flight European competition. Regardless of how other teams perform, let's show both on and off the pitch how much we want that place in the sacred top 4.

Regards,
Ben - Follow me on Twitter here.

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Thursday, 28 March 2013

Holtby Missing

An Erection to out-do any former erections. That was the impression I gauged upon the signing of Lewis Holtby. We were teased, toyed with. Were Levy to grant us one plea and bring in this raw, versatile German midfielder in January or would we brand this lack of signing in January a scapegoat after the inevitable internal collapse come May? The conceivable opportunity cost of falling out kof the top 4 seemed to far outweigh the price that was being flirted around and Levy dug into his pockets to pay the pennies that Schalke demanded.

He came to answer the questions. The key to unlock a pair of forwards that had been stuttering in front of goal of late. A midfield trio of Sandro, Dembele and Holtby providing the perfect balance of solidity, speed and creative flair in attack. In truth, rarely do things avail to the idealist way of seeing things; football isn't played on paper and, arguably, we've felt the full force of how cruel the realism of the sport can be.

Holtby's faced the reality of largely being utilised from the bench throughout the second half of the season. I refuse to use words such as "resigned" and "demoted" to the bench as I feel that this is part of AVB's tact. Each manager has varying ways in which they go about introducing players. We like to bed-in and introduce through our own accordance, when we feel the time is right. Lloris was no different. The pantomime that followed his lack of inclusion in the former part of the season from the French was anything but funny or entertaining.

Players are granted positions on merit, not on reputation. It leaves said player having to work hard the moment they step foot in training. It encourages them to find and grow that inner fighter required to not only make the starting 11 but also ensure they do their best to bring home 3 points. This is AVB's way of eliminating any sniff of ego. It keeps away the complacency in the side. This was my theory as to why we'd started winning games late and rid a Spurs formality of conceding in injury time. Each player has to work in training and on the pitch.

Lewis himself joined when we were on a fine run of form. It was rather premature to write in blood (as some seemed to) that we were to bulldoze into the top 4 again, despite the run of great form we were on. Situations change each week. We were always going to drop points, as were/are the teams around us. Holtby spoke that it would be difficult to break into a team that was starting to find their feet under a manager with fresh ideas and a point to prove.

Since then, we've thrown him into a number of roles and sought to find a solution that can get the best out of him as well as the team he's playing alongside. It's fair to assume that we're still seeking Holtby's role with AVB not giving too much away. The player himself stated that "my best position is as one of the holding players, or maybe in a 4-3-3 formation as one of the central midfielders". I hadn't seen much of Lewis when he was at Schalke, but I was well informed that many saw him snatching the number 10 role in behind a forward. On this basis, his comments brought a little surprise but, simultaneously, possibly emphasises the versatility of the player to slot comfortably into a number of positions. With Sandro typically keeping in high spirits despite being on crutches and Parker struggling to even be in the shadow of his former-self, this could open up the opportunity for Dembele to partner Holtby in centre midfield.

I picture a scenario in which there is little to lose by testing this tact. Parker hasn't hit half the heights we'd expected/hoped when Sandro limped off at QPR and so this should open up possibilities of trying different things. This also leaves room for Bale and Sigurdsson to continue their great form in the first 11 and would represent a fairly strong spine in the side; something I still feel we're close to but haven't quite found yet.

This is very much still a bedding in season for Lewis. It was always going to be. Hopefully we're learning that patience is needed for success. This has certainly been the case for individuals. A real life glimpse of Premier League life and a full pre-season will only help Lewis seek a role that benefits both himself and the club. I love the boy's apparent passion - said tentatively, admittedly - when joining others to celebrate and I look forward to the moment it all just clicks both for him, and us.

Regards,
Ben - You can follow me on Twitter here

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Monday, 18 March 2013

What collapse?

I can't help but seek the horizons after a defeat. I find myself looking in-depth at how and why we were defeated and the fixtures that await us over the next month or so. It soothes me. I blindly suck the positives out and ignore the negatives of a defeat. I'm sure they're standing there, staring at me in the face, trying to gauge a reaction and encourage me to throw myself over the nearest cliff. But I avoid them. I look to the future. That's me.

Of course, we're all different. It's opinions that make us who we are. No one is ever right or wrong. I spoke to a good mate of mine post-Fulham. One of those classic mates we all have that goes home and away every season without fail. Yeah, one of those. I like to consider him a fairly level-headed realist that puts up with my pessimistic ways. He spoke words that slightly startled and surprised me. He mentioned a 'collapse' and spoke of the dark remnants of last season fighting back to haunt us.

I surprisingly remained calm after Sunday. Last season the inevitable grew with each defeat. The script was written before it was played out. We had a run of 'easy' fixtures that we failed to take advantage of and our old mate Fulop ensured that it would be a 4th place for little old Tottenham Hotspur. We'd been written off before the season started this year. To be where we are has to be given some appreciation. I am an ambitious person but I feel we're really punching close to our limits as a squad. Quality strength in depth will always be a factor missing at Spurs. It happens with sides that aren't regularly challenging titles or silverware.

The mentality on the squad did look a far-cry from the China dolls we were last season. We'd coped with injuries to big players with AVB refusing to jump on this scape-goat when things weren't so merry. We've suffered two consecutive defeats. At one point or another we were going to be defeated. I struggled to see us finishing off this year unbeaten. Not every side fighting for the top 4 positions defeats/has defeated every mid-table side. We've tended to up our game in the face of a tough looking fixture. We've played until the final minute. The real test was always going to be how we handled defeat.

The reaction to Liverpool has not been ideal but, when we looked as though we'd snatch defeat from a sure-fired victory in Italy, we pulled through and got there. A mentally poor result or authentic belief to pull through? AVB arguably got his tactics wrong on Sunday but this is something he'll build and learn from. We've shown that we can react instantly from poor defeats. The real test is whether we can cope physically. We've rotated a lot this year, minus a few players that have proved instrumental to a great season thus far, and so I'm confident we can cope with the physical demands. Dembele played a total of 45 games for Fulham last year, he's more than accustomed to dealing with regular football. With Dempsey back in contention, this leaves the option for change with Holtby also there raring to kick on.

We've not gone on a 6 game win-less streak. We've experienced two defeats as most sides do at some point in the season. Let a certain other club get excited at the thought of possibly going a point behind us. AVB won't waste any time in reacting and working to fix the problem. The international break offers a great opportunity for players to take their mind off of it and return with a fresh outlook. We're having a great first season under a fairly unproven manager. We're progressing every year and will continue to do so.

Remember those days when we used to look up at the league table and see our neighbours challenging United for major honours at the top of the table. Yeah, there's a a real collapse there.

Regards,
Ben - Follow me on Twitter here