That Erik Lamela, seems like a nice boychick. Needs to fill out a bit but a lovely touch, easy on the eye with the ball at his feet and a flowing stride that whets the appetite. More please, but I’m not sure when, not in the League at least.
So how about our Andros then? Our policy of loaning out young players to gain experience has paid dividends, although using England as our feeder club is a little cheeky. Hearty congratulations to him on two fine, eye-catching performances for the national side. Particularly impressive was the way he mixed it up, going outside to cross right-footed as well as cutting in, knocking the ball short to keep possession if he could not make any headway (rather than trying a futile dribble) and his link-up play with Rooney and others up front.
I don’t want to rain on his parade or pee on his bonfire when I add that for us, it’s not worked as well. Against West Ham he ran into brick walls and blind alleys, unwilling or unable to go wide and cross with his right foot, while Chelsea turned the match in their favour by targeting our right-hand side. In the end, Townsend was substituted.
It’s stating the bleedin’ obvious to say that the Premier League is different. Lamela and Townsend have different styles and are at different stages of their development but both face the same issue. They have little to space in which to operate and any defensive shortcomings will be ruthlessly exploited. Also, the Wham game will become a template for how to play against us.
As Villas-Boas struggles to create the best blend from the riches at his disposal, he has to get that balance right, not just for these two young men but for the team as a whole. More bleedin’ obvious: the side needs time to bed in. It takes a while before players can settle. Most of the new signings are young, although Eriksen and Lamela have already played for years outside their home countries. The singular demands of the Premier League are by no means insurmountable but they exert considerable physical and mental pressure. Add to that the fact that Villas-Boas has yet to decide his best side and the question becomes not whether they need time but how much time is reasonable?
Hardly part of the Spurs pantheon but Steve Hodge always sticks in my mind. Signed from Forest, he made an immediate impact when he arrived only to fade into obscurity as his influence dwindled away to nothing. I mention this only because his experience was unusual. The vast majority of players give of their best after many months or typically in their second year. I’m including most of the best here: Ardiles, Mabbutt, Waddle, Sheringham, Bale. Not everyone fits the bill – Gough and Lineker hit the ground running – but although it is an obvious point, it tends to get lost in these days of media hype and inflated expectation. Players need time and fans need to be patient.
So maybe a year is reasonable, not to peak but to significantly raise the level of influence a player has. We probably haven’t got that but our buying policy is based around playing the long game, with developing talent able to take us to the level of contenders but, crucially, with room to improve still further. Holtby, Lamela, Paulinho, Sandro, Chadli, Eriksen, these are the imports who fit the bill, with Townsend and Rose as home-grown talent. Lloris, Dembele and Vertonghen have their best years ahead of them.
Sounds good but there is frustration in store. The media will severely scrutinise any weakness as a sign of failure. Having built us up to title contenders after our good start to the season, anything less than that will be deemed by them as failure. The narrative has been created even though it was false in the first place – I would be amazed if we got near the league title this year.
The issue for supporters is different. For us, we can see the potential and desperately want the success we crave after so many years of loyalty and unfulfilled dreams. It’s the what-might-be that gets us, every time and there is so much to look forward to here.
So what to do? In this next phase of the season, Villas-Boas has to let loose the skill and creativity he has invested in. I follow the tactics discussions a little and like to think I can grasp most of it. Basically however, in the Premier League you need to get enough players back to defend and enough to get forward. Easy, huh? You need quick, flexible and versatile players. Check – we have that in abundance. The formation itself is less significant than players having an awareness what’s going on around them, to know when to get forward and when to hold back. Check – we should be able to do that.
Back to Lamela and Townsend – either they (and Chadli, Siggy or Lennon) learn to work harder and track back or you sort out the rest of the team to give them some cover. We have played most of the season in a 4-2-3-1 with one of the DMs getting forward to support an attack if there is room, the wide players in the three cutting in and width coming from the full-backs. Who would have thought the return of Danny Rose would ever be so anticipated? One of the key elements of our balance disappears without him.
At home I’m inclined to have one DM to enable another in a further advanced position to ensure we dominate that area and support Soldado in the box. Attacking full-backs should be extras – they can join the attack later, the second phase so to speak, or break from deep on the counter with others staying back to cover. With their first thought a defensive one, hanging back gives the midfield more freedom to get forward. Siggy has done well but I would give others a go. Holtby in particular looks raring to go. Townsend will have more freedom and Lennon is waiting in the wings. Soldado needs crosses – I think he tends too far towards the near post and should remain more central in the box. This positioning is even more important if we have left-footers on the right and right-footers on the left. The near post is less profitable for strikers in this set-up as crosses curl to the back post or the centre.
At centre-back, Kaboul’s absence worries me. if fit, he should replace Dawson. In reality, I am worried that he will never recover his pace and strength that was so formidable. Chiriches needs game time, and the upcoming round of the Europa League and League Cup is perfect. We must rotate. So far playing a strong team has put us in a good position and allowed the team to play together. Before Christmas, many need a rest.