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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.

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.

Ben - Follow me on Twitter here

Friday, 15 March 2013

We f*cked up.

So we didn't reinvent the wheel. In all too typical Spurs style we managed to redefine the phrase 'limping over the line' in one evening. I still don't think the emotions have fully settled in from last night. I've a pounding headache from the mental stress it caused, not from alcohol consumption - I'm sure. Brain cells marginally picked off by the second as we looked more and more anxious as the game wore on. We knew it, it was destined. We were so heavily favoured to proceed to the quarter-finals that the inevitable lay so casually on the horizon. We fucked up, monumentally.

Complacency was of course going to be an enemy we had to keep well-clear of our system. But we didn't look complacent. We played a sensible game that involved keeping the ball and forcing Inter to do the leg work. The issue was that with Dembele thrown out wide in a 442 that really should've been a far more compact 4312, we had no ball retainer and effective distributor in midfield. Parker was busy forming crop circles. Livermore played with his eyes closed. The gap between defence and midfield was larger than the one Spurs threw away to Arsenal last season and it was almost like we'd decided to un-thread all our hard work this year and return to unhappier times. Uneducated times. Yes, the start of the season. We threw away everything we'd learnt and royally 'Spursed' it up.

What's thankful is that AVB seems to have focused more on acknowledging the abysmal performance rather than attempting to paper over the cracks by revelling in the fact we proceeded.

The few that regularly read my posts will note how forward I am when praising the mental strength and belief that this side has played with this year, especially in 2013. On paper, the defeat at Anfield on Sunday was not too abysmal (although the way in which we grabbed the defeat was) but it always brought interest as to how we'd react to it. I hoped for a victory against Inter to reinstate my belief that we can drown out the negativity of a defeat and learn from mistakes. To have to go into extra time after losing a game 3-0 against a side that was so poor last week has inevitably brought queries as to how quickly we can we deal with defeat. Is it a simple jump up and brush down job or will we need more assistance to find our feet again?

No doubt the physical drain on the players will be the immediate affect. Fulham will take positives from this. We may find ourselves lacking that extra half a yard that could prove the finer margins between picking up three points or one. Our biggest test will be our response from here on. We've a gruelling fixture list papered out but at no point will sides look forward to playing Spurs. Rotation has brought many perks this season. Bar one or two, we seem to have less of a 'fringe side' as the season has worn on. Players have been in and out all season. It's also been promising to see the likes of Tom Carroll playing in the first-team this year. Introductions for him have not been when we're cruising at 4-0 (when does that ever happen anyway?) but in situations that require immediate attention; ie, we're chasing a goal or need to avoid conceding. The experience from playing in these high-pressured, intense environments will only add more steps to a long learning curve for the boy.

Our attack almost needs refreshing. Defoe & Adebayor have looked primative, one dimensional. Saying they've been poor this calendar year is an understatement, they look more and more laboured in each game. I'd love to see Shaq Coulthirst given PL game time. We're severely lacking both energy and fight in the forward position. An 18 year-old eager to rubber-stamp his mark in the Premier League could be just the finish we need to do effectively what we did last night and limp over that finish line for 4th.

Ben - Follow me on Twitter here

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Stat Attack! Liverpool v Spurs

I rarely blog on match-days. Maybe it's the superstitions, maybe it's because the mix of nerves and anticipation gives me a foggy mind. Clear and level thinking is an art at the best of times. Of course, much of today's pre-match reaction from the finest 'experts' in football analysis will jump on to the Suarez v Bale hype. Both have hit mesmerising form of late. A prolonged period of consistency inevitably leads to jumping up the footballing perception of many and into the "best in the league" category. I won't lie, I do feel one of these will win the POTY award. My gut feeling being that of the Uruguayan.

Courtesy of the fantastic @Squawka_Sports (well worth a follow) , here is a statistical look at how Bale and Suarez have faired against one another this season.

  • Suarez has scored every 114 minutes in the EPL this season, Bale has scored every 131 minutes.
  • Suarez has scored with 18% of his efforts on goal, Bale has scored with 17%
  • Suarez has won 32% of his take-ons in the EPL this season, Bale has won 44%
  • Suarez has had more shots on target than any other EPL player (94), Bale is 2nd (76).

Goal Placement

It's difficult to compare two players that, naturally, do not fit into the same category of player. At the start of the season, we'd have classed one as a centre-forward and one as a left-winger. It's almost a reflection of the work AVB has put in to ensure spurs are a far more flexible outlook this season, adapting to the various attributes of players and fitting them into a system depending on the various opposition thrown in front of them. I'd mentioned how fluid Spurs looked vs. Inter here.

Bale only emerged from under the rock he'd been hiding under in November and since then has kicked on to become the heart beat of the side. Harry toyed, briefly, with the idea of giving Bale a free-role but there was little organisation and preparation riding alongside it.

It's evident that AVB has worked on Bale's strengths and slowly moulded him into the number 10 that his attributes on paper would see him best suited to. He looks better suited and more comfortable further up the pitch, a far-cry of the player that attempted a similar role last season.

Both Liverpool and Spurs are hitting form at the right time of the year. Both sides fair very evenly when it falls down to numbers. For a Spurs fan, whether you're looking up or down at the EPL table falls down to your philosophical outlook on life. I'm naturally a glass half empty kind of guy so will hope for 2nd but, naturally, expect it to come to the final day for 4th spot.

A lot of these games can fall down to mental resilience. I've spent much time promoting the concept that the Spurs of this season (especially post-Everton) has looked one of the more resilient sides I've ever had the pleasure to witness. We're building on the belief that we can visit any ground and claim three points. Naturally, I felt the 2-1 win at Anfield a few seasons back was a huge stepping stone. We've broken down the psychological brick wall that had been built so high, attributed to the many defeats away at Anfield. We've yet to experience defeat to Liverpool for a few years now but, this season, it may fall as a surprise to notice that both them and ourselves compare very similarly when it comes down to numbers on paper.

Stats don't tell the whole story. Naivety comes to mind if you think they do. Liverpool are hitting some great form but have only managed one victory over a side in the top 10 - an arguable Swansea reserve side. Therefore, for them, this game will prove a great challenge not only on paper, but psychologically as well. A victory here could see them build the momentum to do the unlikely and push for a genuine top 4/5 spot. The players will be hungry for this, having been starved of it for so long.

This a difficult game to call that could honestly fall either way. We're a far stronger unit than the Spurs side that played Liverpool at White Hart Lane. I'd almost felt astonished as to how poor we were yet delighted we'd ground out 3 points. With Lennon likely to be missing, I'd favour us setting up 4-3-3. Holtby, Dembele & Parker in behind Sigurdsson, Bale & Defoe. Keeping the game tight and compact may help to cut-off the supply from Gerrard & Coutinho to Suarez & Sturridge. We should encourage pressing their midfield and look to break on the counter. Smothering Gerrard will be key. We seem confident in playing a high, yet rigid, line and feel we may approach the game a similar way to the Arsenal fixture.

As mentioned I could see this falling either way. I'd always want the players to set out for a victory but hindsight may tell me that a point wouldn't be the worst result. Those with ambitions for second would see this as another 'must-win'. I don't knock that and I admire the bravery for putting your heart on the line in such a manner. We've 10 fixtures remaining, 10 cup finals, and yet anything can still change in 2 games.

Ben - You can follow me on Twitter here

Thursday, 7 March 2013

We've Found Our Spark!

Fluidity. One word I've barely breathed in the same sentence as Tottenham Hotspur this season. We'd sacrificed the 'swagger' we'd became known for providing and, in place, had brought on a harder-working and more resilient Spurs side. Resilience is a feat that had rarely become accustomed to Spurs. I still find it hard to associate them with it. The pessimist in me as just waiting for the next disaster to happen or for us to fall off of the PL mountain we'd worked so hard to hike up.

But maybe not.

AVB definitely has something about him. I could sit here and write pages upon pages about how not only has he grown to become far more tactically astute, but how he's given the players far more attention and confidence as the season has worn on. We've just beaten Inter Milan 3-0 at White Hart Lane. Granted, I wouldn't even say they were a shadow of the last Inter side to visit White Hart Lane; they're a far-cry from that shadow. But with us expected to oversee a comfortable victory against an Italian side that had only recently come to England on the back of a draw against AC Milan and a 3-2 win over Catania (after being 2 down), it was easy for complacency to creep into the side.

So often has the past presented us a great chance in which to capitalise on sides that have arrived in a poor state to White Hart Lane that we've just ended up bottling it. So often have we played weaker sides and struggled to find the back of the net.

AVB's successfully drilled a sense of unity within the squad and the belief that they can beat any that sit in front of them. We began the season finding ourselves having to grind out many of our results. We left games that could've mentally damaged us but realised that we can use these disappointments as a foundation in which to learn and build from. As the season has steadily progressed we've looked more natural playing in front of our own fans at home. The rotation of players has seen a fairly fresh 11 starting most weeks without the rustiness that could be the consequence of rotating.

Should Lennon's hamstring prove too much of a brick wall to overcome in time for Liverpool it'll be interesting to see how we set up. I'd test a 4-3-3 with Parker, Holtby & Dembele playing behind Bale, Sigurdsson and Defoe. I know, I'm crazy. I think our only option would be to try and keep it compact. Play to the strengths of our players and have them operating in their more natural positions.

Although, I envisage AVB setting up the side depending on the opposition. I like this new adaptable Tottenham. We're not the predictable side that became sussed out in the latter part of the season last year, fielding the same 11 & operating the same way. We're versatile. We adapt. We become hard to play against. We're slowly finding our feet and finding our own style.

Every week is another learning step on a long learning curve. AVB will make mistakes, but it's hard to argue with the work he's undertaken at Spurs so far.

Ben - You can follow me on Twitter here

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A Nightmare Relived?

It doesn't take a positive like jumping 7 points ahead of your neighbours to hear whispers of events that occurred last year. Not even whispers, but more uncomfortable conversations that bring back the repercussions of a season that offered so much promise for it too only drop off the edge of a cliff in spectacular Spurs style. It's still a crime scene in North London. The suspect lost his job and, with him, players fled the area. The Champions League was robbed for the second time and we grabbed disappointment from the jaws of hope and, admittedly from a few, borderline expectation.

An inconceivable disaster? Yes and no.

We're approaching our final 10 games of the season. Whether you're looking above or below us in the league and whether we're being chased or in fact doing the chasing falls to your philosophical outlook on life. Those that regularly read my posts or follow me on Twitter will know that I'm your common pessimist. But that's just me. Running alongside our final 10 games is the question we all beg. Will we cope? Mentally and physically. You tie in a Europa League run and the final flourish looks daunting. The fixtures on paper would keep many up at night, giving nightmares to others.

Last year epitomised the rollercoaster that Spurs fans jump on at birth and remain on every season. Deep down we all love it, despite this not always being immediately obvious in the heat of the moment. It'll carry you with anticipation then fall in free flow, making you feel a little queasy at times on the way.

"We've definitely got more belief this year. We didn't have much of the ball for the first 20 minutes against Arsenal but we showed grit and determination. After we gave them the goal back so early in the second half, we showed fighting spirit and commitment that you need to win matches." This quote came from Michael Dawson post-Arsenal but effectively sums up our season. I've mentioned in the past that, fundamentally, the players are believing that they'll pick up three points in each game. Our mentality isn't the fragile China Dolls we became accustomed to last season. The abysmal sight of seeing Arsenal pull one back so early could only have us thinking the worst. For us to not concede for the rest of the game showed fantastic strength mentally. We stood our ground and were there to be counted.

We finally have fire in the belly of the players. A prolonged fire. We've seen little signs of burnout as of yet but, of course, 2 defeats and suddenly you invite the uncertainty you'd fought off for so much of the year. I'm not expecting Spurs to wrap anything up prior to Sunderland on the final day, it's not the way we do things. But I am under the opinion that AVB's got the matches and the appropriate tools to keep this fire burning. It's been duly noted that Villas-Boas has applied the same system he applied at Porto; this included conditioning the players and preparing them to play 2 games a week. This had always been something we'd struggled to become accustomed to.

Our strongest side has, to the day, remained out of reach. Never have we once had the option to field what many would regard as our 'first 11'. If anything, this season has allowed us to become more adaptable. The rotation - or lack of rotation - that was so desperately missing last year has proved key in keeping the squad fresh and able. Substitutes don't look short of match fitness and uncomfortable when drafted in. Every player seems valued by the staff and each one is proving their importance as the season has worn on. There was a weight of expectation for Holtby to deliver in the Arsenal game yet he didn't play a minute. This underpinning the benefits of sufficient squad rotation.

Sigurdsson is one that has shown further signs of improvement as a demanding season has worn on. There's no doubting the technique on the player but he always struggled to fit into a side that thrives on speed and counter-attacking. I've always felt his positioning was second to none at times, his ability to make space for himself and others is a feat that shouldn't be underrated. He's not got a bad pass on him as well. The continued faith that has been placed in him seems to be paying off as he has proven more influential in the last 2 weeks.

Our season starts now. We're lucky that the season has thrown up a consecutive opportunity to grab a position in the holy grail of Champions League football. It's fair to give the summary that although we did blow (rather spectacularly) the safety of 3rd spot last year, we were still unlucky to have Champions league football robbed from us. It was great, especially for AVB, to smash our unbeaten record but this is where opportunities need to be grasped and remain grasped until the the final whistle in the 38th game.

Ben - You can follow me on Twitter here

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Renewed Hope.

Tomorrow. It's all about mentality. The mental edge of the side that wins tomorrow would be more valuable than the points on the board. Hopefully a fresh breed of players will breath mental resilience. All we ask for is fight from the side. The spirit that we know has been underlying in the foundations of the side all season and brought with it a good season on the league and European front.

It's been great to see a side buy into a philosophy so quickly. This especially after the public negativity that had surrounded it in the past. Focus is fundamental. The past is a reflection of how little taking the lead in these games can mean. Thankfully we seem to be able to play the game for 94 minutes instead of 70 minutes. Of late its been delightful to see a Spurs side actually steal games with almost the last kick and id more than happily grab that with both hands tomorrow.

Bales been hitting great form. But thats what it is, form. He needs this consistency for a prolonged period of time. The past has seen him to inconsistent and subsequently ineffective in many games. When he did get involved, his influence proved almost second to none. It's great to see a player that fits into a side so effectively yet have so much impact individually.

I mentioned in an article for goal before the start of the season that this was a big year for Bale. The expectation grows each year with him and, in all honesty, he's improved every year at Spurs. He's worked on his game to become so much more than a winger for us. He's adapted to fit into a variety of positions. Last year he was given almost a free role behind the forward at times but tended to look a little lost. There was no system in place. This year he understands what's required in a number 10 role or playing left of a 4-2-3-1. He mixes up his game to come deep, hug the touch line or, least favorably, stand on the last man.

For a player that was so quiet up until November, he's a player that now fills others with confidence in their own game.

It's ironic that the defeat at the Emirates has actually had a great effect on our season. We awoke from the shell we were playing in, worked on the weaker areas of our game and became more of a unit on the pitch.

These games can make players. You expect your best players to perform in both the biggest and smallest of games. The players seem to understand the importance of the game both on and off the pitch. I always feel form goes out the window with these games and find them incredibly tough to call. Both sides have the capacity to come out victorious but it depends on who turns up on the day.

We've a tough run of fixtures awaiting us. Hopefully we can ensure that we're on hand to prevent any cracks that maybe in the pipeline on the way.

Ben - follow me on twitter - @InsideN17

*apologies for any mistakes, this has been done on my iPhone.