Tottenham Hotspur Season Preview 2011-12 Part 2 How Do We Fit Everyone In?

It’s started. Prematurely ecstatic over Diarra’s arrival, a couple of days ago a messageboard poster was positively drooling over his midfield selection. ‘Diarra and Sandro as DMs, Modric and Hud further forward with Lennon and Bale on the wings. Can’t wait to see that!’ It took a while before a few people gently pointed out that add a back four and keeper, that makes eleven – a team without strikers. Actually, come to think of it, bit like most of last season

With or without Diarra, it’s the tactics and formation that will be crucial in the weeks and months to come. Redknapp doesn’t do tactics, of course. Just extends Uncle Harry’s Long Arm of Comfort round the shoulders of our lads, and that’s inspiration enough. Go out and enjoy yourselves, boys.

Harry’s done a decent job for us, so why does he have to insult us with rubbish like this? Another example of how important it is for him to cultivate his image as football’s good ol’ boy. And while I’m about it, of all the absurd cliches that infect our game, ‘just go out and enjoy it’ is surely one of the most ridiculous. I don’t want you to go out and enjoy yourselves, gents. I want you to play like you have never played before, run yourself into the ground so your legs are mere stumps at the end of the 90 minutes and lay bare your heart and soul for the badge. If you want enjoyment, join me in the park for a kickabout.

Harry will have hard choices to make, whoever we add to the squad in the next two weeks. Having too many fine players is a good problem to have but Redknapp and his coaches could struggle to keep a large squad content, never mind the fans.

This season poses fresh problems. Although our experience as battle-hardened European veterans will stand us in good stead, any degree of success means a long hard road ahead with the prospect of over 60 matches. Not only that, the grind of Thursday/Saturday will be further disrupted by kick-offs moved to suit TV – Spurs do not have a home game with a 3pm Saturday kick-off until December 3rd – plus long trips into Europe. Winning with a weaker team is an art, one we haven’t yet learned.

I don’t buy Redknapp’s statement about ‘playing the kids in Europe’. We have to go all out to win trophies and can’t take too much of a risk. The Europa League has a tiresome format designed to make money for teams whilst simultaneously sucking all pleasure from playing the game. However, it’s still a big tournament, undoubtedly worthy of winning, and we have a decent chance. I wouldn’t fear any team in that competition over two legs and should go all out to win it without sacrificing anything in our efforts to challenge the top four.

It is asking a lot but such is the pressure success brings and I wouldn’t be without it. This is the key message that should reverberate around and through the whole squad. To be fair to HR, he never said we would play all kids. Naming only Livermore and Townsend, both of whom have League experience and are hardly kids, he knows that his squad has enough depth to operate a midweek team capable of muddling through the group stage. After Christmas, we’ll see where we are. The main danger is complacency. It’s partly the fringe men entering those games with purpose and motivation, partly also about the more experienced amongst them imposing themselves to make the most of their talents. Hud in the centre maybe, Kaboul at the back, Krancjar and Pienaar as attacking midfielders and whoever plays upfront.

However, there are more fundamental issues to be faced. Last season we gave away too many goals because at the back we were too open too often. Some of our covering was naive in the extreme. If I’ve faced facts then so must Redknapp – we cannot play so much attacking football. In the Premier League our priority is to attack only when we have a solid base and if that means sacrificing one of two players to each attack, then so be it. There’s no alternative.

When the team was set up to press in midfield and lie deeper, as against Milan or Chelsea away for example, we performed those roles well. Problems came when we were stretched out of shape when we took the game to other teams, who could then hit us on the break, Blackpool away being the classic instance. If Bale and Lennon both play, they have to not only work back but shift their starting positions to somewhere deeper. Or, only go forward if others are back covering. The fullbacks have to tuck in tighter to their back four when we don’t have the ball. All of which provides a shield for the back four and the centre halves who were so frequently left exposed and vulnerable.

Defending better doesn’t mean being defensive. We have the men to turn defence into attack with the speed that’s required in the modern game. This is what Manchester United do so well. Sitting low on the Shelf, it is phenomenal to watch them and we need to match their pace and purpose – we have the men to emulate them. They don’t run with the ball like Bale and Lennon do so much as run to get onto the ball, moved swiftly into space. 

We have to buy a striker who can give us the option of playing on their own up front. It’s essential. Banging the ball up  to Crouch must stop. The other requisite for Spurs is width. It plays to the strengths of the team both in terms of men like Lennon and Bale but also the passing ability and vision of Huddlestone and Modric.

The other vital element is possession. We can’t be like Barca but we can follow their example in one sense: keep the ball, because if we’ve got it, the other lot can’t score. It’s not only about skill on the ball, it’s also about movement, ensuring one or two men can always be available to receive a pass. We have the players who are perfect for this. So why didn’t we do that more last year? We could do, for spells only, now let’s be geared to keeping hold of the ball.

So here are a couple of options, assuming that Modric isn’t sold. One is the classic 4-4-2, with Hud or Sandro alongside Modric in the middle, Lennon and Bale wide and VDV off the main striker. Whilst this appeals to me, it’s basically the same line-up that failed to defend well last year, so everyone has to play slightly differently and be more circumspect.

The other option is to get the width from the full-backs. Much as I love Lennon, Walker could offer both the attacking options (coming from deep again) and allow an extra central midfielder who tucks in to allow the full back to come past. Put Bale at full back on the other side and you have more height at the back plus another midfield option, say 2 DMs and still there’s width, and I say this in the full knowledge that if I love Lennon then I adore Benny.

These two aren’t mutually exclusive and we have plenty of options to vary tactics according to our opponents. In some games it may be better to play a defensive-minded fullback, Corluka, behind Lennon, for example.

Three final thoughts. One, in whatever formation Van der Vaart will be crucial. Shrewd and dangerous at the edge of the box, He also offers even more options (stay with me on this one). Whilst he shouldn’t come too deep as he sometimes did last season, that actually is a problem only if there’s no one forward. However, if he chooses to drop back and Bale, Walker or Lennon are hammering forward, that’s fine. We can attack and have men covering.

Which leads on to a second point. Football isn’t played in straight lines. It’s about movement and flow. If our men are clever enough to work on a principle based on knowing where team-mates are, they can vary the options. Men must get forward, men must stay back, but they don’t have to be the same men doing the same thing every time. Flexible intelligence to get the job done, the job (covering, attacking, width etc) being identified with different players doing it at different times, whoever is best placed on the the field at that point.

Finally, and crashing down to earth, set pieces .All this flow and movement doesn’t mean diddly if we can’t do anything from free-kicks and comers. I don’t recall a single goal direct for a free kick last year and we had some pathetic routines that went out with steel toecaps and Brylcreem – tapping the ball cunningly two feet sideways, who would have picked that one up…

 

Tottenham Hotspur Season Preview 2011/12. Now Is The Time

Football hardly seems important in N17 today. Regards to the families and good people of Tottenham.

Here’s part 1 of the season preview – an overview. More on Tuesday, earlier if I pull my finger out – the best of the rest, tactics and off the field

Season 2011-12 represents a watershed in the modern history of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Add two or three players to a squad bursting with talent and ambition, Spurs have a side that could compete with the League’s elite this season and found a modern dynasty as success breeds success. Get it wrong even by the smallest margin and the consequences will reverberate for years to come. We won’t notice anything to begin with – we’ll do all right as we are. Then, gradually, the momentum of a season in the Champions League will dissipate and some of of the brightest emerging talents in Europe will leave, disillusioned. Fade to grey.

I prefer evidence to rumour, reality to fantasy. Although there’s little transfer gossip in these pages, even I have reached the point where the next striker who arrives will receive a personal welcome upon a carpet of rose petals and garlanded with handpicked flowers. The season begins not against Everton on Saturday but when the transfer window closes. It’s not right.

Last summer’s failure to strengthen our ability to score goals was a significant moment. However, this time it’s now or never. Key players are a year older and four or five years wiser, battle hardened veterans of Europe where they earned as much in defeat as in victory. Not only that, they hunger for glory, having whetted their appetite. The difference is, now they know what to do and that they can do it. Also, all summer I have said that never mind who comes in, the absolute imperative is who stays. if we don’t make it this time, There’s no way we can resist the instable demands and unrestricted resources of top teams in this country and abroad. By the end of August, our plans could be in tatters. Now is the time.

The Core

Spurs can build the team around the sumptuous Luka Modric, a supremely skilled footballer and precious playmaker. At his feet, football becomes a thing of wonder and beauty, yet his real value to the team is as the fulcrum around which everything flows and revolves. Criticism of his lack of stature by the unseeing and unknowing is laughable. He’s fearless in the tackle, his work rate not in question.

He’s brave in another sense too. He rarely takes the easy option, making himself readily available to colleagues in all areas of the pitch and when in possession seeking the ball that means something rather than handing over responsibility to someone else to make things happen. If that should be in two or three passes time, he anticipates and moves to be in the right place at the right time. Would that his team-mates were so acute.

Alongside him we have two of the best young prospects in Europe, Gareth Bale and Sandro. The threat posed by Bale’s power and direct running first took our breath away at the Lane then was reflected in the glazed empty eyes of a succession of terrorised Premier League right-backs. Europe sat bolt upright when he destroyed the European Champions  over two games. In 40 years I’ve never seen so much skill on the ball coupled with such rampant athleticism.

Yet even he could be eclipsed by Sandro. After a hesitant start under the unaccustomed pressure of English football, he not merely found his feet, he made an exponential leap. Again Europe was his platform with performances of remarkable maturity. He’s a real defensive midfielder, mobile, physically very strong and comfortable on the ball and utterly  fearless in his challenges in his own box. The possibilities are limitless.

Step forward big Tom Huddlestone. Say that every year. His progress has been held back by injury but perhaps it’s given him time to reflect on how he can add anticipation and positional sense to his superb passing and control.

Further forward we have Rafa Van der Vaart. His late arrival surprised Redknapp to the point where he wasn’t quite sure where to play him. A central free role in front of midfield  makes the best use of his eye for an opening, speed of thought and execution plus his accurate shooting. The opposition simply cannot contain him for the whole 90 minutes.

Recently I was asked to name my best ever Spurs team from players I’ve actually seen, which in my case is 1967 onwards. Without hesitation Ledley King took precedence even over over greats like Mike England. His strength, pace and anticipation coupled with precise timing in the challenge make him the perfect centre back. His injury is tragic for a man loyal to the club and who deserves worldwide recognition. We can’t rely on him being available regularly, if at all, but I refuse to right him off until I see him trundling down the High Road in a wheelchair, and even then I’d be inclined to give him a go. He may have 15 or 20 games a season in him, but think what he could give us if Redknapp chooses the right 15 or 20.

Michael Dawson has overcome his lack of pace to become a giant of the penalty box, a true leader. he wants to win so much, his passion is infectious. He’s also a fine example to younger players hoping to break into the team. When many said he was not good enough, he was determined to prove otherwise. Out of the picture for a time, he took his opportunity a couple of years ago as if it were his last, and has never looked back even after a serious knee injury on international duty. Like he’s never been away, back he came, unflinching in the tackle and a steely glint in his eye. Our captain, our inspiration.

Alongside him he has the canny Gallas, another man who could have allowed his career to slip away in comfortable well-paid security but who took on the challenge of not only the Premier League but also of playing for the bitter rivals of his previous teams. His commitment and experience won over even the greatest cynic, culminating in a defensive masterclass at the Emirates.

He may look at times like a labrador puppy, long-limbed and unco-ordinated, but Younis Kaboul is proving to be one of Harry’s shrewdest signings. Another man anxious to take his chance, he has the pace, power and touch to become a top quality centre half. i expect much from him in the months and years to come.

The Problems

So that’s what we’ve got, and it’s a lot. The main problem is, there’s no mention of a striker so far. Pointless if we don’t have anyone to make and score goals on a regular basis. Last season we were embarrassingly lacking in this respect and all this prodigious talent will be criminally wasted if we don’t right that wrong.

Best of the bunch was Pavlyuchenko. Scorned by a manager supposedly famous for his man-management skills, Pav was toddling along, not doing much and apparently not too bothered, oblivious of what was going around him and of haircuts post 1971. Through  clenched teeth Redknapp was forced to name him because the others were so bad. Pav blew hot and cold. I’m sure his YouTube showreel makes him look like a world-beater as the shots thumped in from range towards the close of least season, yet on other occasions his amateurish control and poor link-up play made one despair. Give him a yard to move onto the ball – look at those goals again, see what I mean – he’s a world beater but that’s the yard you don’t get that often in the Premier League.

Defoe’s work rate improved in inverse proportion to his ability to create danger in the box. A couple of piledrivers show his talent but we need him in the box. Too often he hung back in the comfort zone rather than hammer to the edge of the 6 yard box. In so doing he often bumped into Crouch, ambling towards the back post. It’s a refrain familiar to readers of this blog over the last 12 months. Play Crouch and sure, you will always get something. The point is, we could get something more from the players at our disposal. His presence encourages the long ball, as did sadly the coaches’ tactical talks towards the end of last season. At a stroke the advantages of our passing game are largely nullified. Opponents know where the ball is going to go and anticipation is two thirds of the battle. A nudge in the back and he’s out of the game.

Redknapp’s quintessentially British big man/little man up front is outmoded in the modern game. We need two pacy, mobile strikers able to bring others into the game. If they do so, we can improve on the goals from midfield total, an area where we’ve been lacking of late. If the man can poach 20 goals a season, so much the better, but he doesn’t have to be a high scorer provided he makes the team play. VDV and Luka are desperate to slide balls into  the space or to pick up a late runner from midfield. 

At the other end, Gomes proved the doubters wrong once before, now he has to do so all over again. The occasional ricket from this likeable, agile keeper was outweighed tenfold by fabulous full-stretch saves but just as his confidence off his line increased, the mistakes became a habit. Friedel is a sound signing, both as back-up and to give the Brazilian a nudge without undermining him. His opening month will be crucial for him and the team.

High Stakes

Without raising ridiculous expectations, there’s potential busting out of N17 0AP. I’m convinced Levy has money available for transfers and does not have to rely on sales to fund incoming players. The men we want are much in demand and his legendary bargaining qualities will be fully stretched over the next two weeks.

Keep what we have. Adding a couple of strikers plus a centre half will work wonders to a quality squad all set to achieve. Players are maturing. They’ve learned to be resilient in Europe, a quality they must take to every single league game. Redknapp has to stir it all together, it’s a tasty future. Fail this time around and it will all fall apart.

More next week – the squad, the tactics, off the field

Tottenham Hotspur That Was The Season That Was – The Players

The second in a series this week – the Players

Rubbishing Crouch and Jenas, demanding a wholesale clear-out, insisting on bids for every striker in La Liga. If only it were that straightforward.

It’s not just about the individuals, it’s where they will fit into the shape of the team as defined by our tactics and how they combine with each other in crucial areas of the field such as up front and in central defence. It’s also going to be a busy old season, with two European games before the end of August let alone the league and two cups.

The absurd demands of the Europa League mean that we have to have a squad capable of playing consistently well over a long period of time. Old heads to steady the ship alongside youngsters who should relish the chance not only of first team experience but also of reminding the manager that they deserve a step up into contention for a league start. We have much to learn in this respect – last season we could not rotate the squad to any extent without significantly reducing our chances of winning.

Redknapp has some big decisions to make regarding our approach next season. In the previous piece I advocated a more cautious approach – reality dictates that our open formation neglectful of our defensive responsibilities will not bring sustained success.That doesn’t mean we have to be dull and boring – that’s not what I want from my Spurs and that too does not win trophies. It’s asking a lot but we have the nucleus of a team who are able to deliver, better perhaps than for twenty or thirty years. Top class players who could be the heart and soul of a consistently successful team for years to come.

Some of those partnerships are well defined. Our strikers have looked lost and lonely for much of the season, an estranged couple waiting for the divorce papers to come through. At the back Dawson’s game has improved but he’s mightier still alongside Ledley’s pace and anticipation. Other combinations are no less important, however. If our wide midfielders are going to attack, perhaps they are better off having a defensive minded full-back behind them, who prefers to stay back. Alternatively, a flank combination of full-back and attacking midfielder is potent going forward, then an extra defensive midfielder to slide across can protect us at the same time. It’s about equilibrium – change one part of the system and the rest has to readjust to maintain the balance.

Finally, one formation isn’t enough. We need not only to have  plan B at our disposal, we should be comfortable  and familiar with any changes necessitated by the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents or the need to change gear during a game.

The very roles themselves have been altered by the demands of success in the modern game. Flexibility has a high value, the ability to be mobile and alert physically and mentally, to play a variety of roles often within the same minute or two never mind in the same game. Midfielders have to defend whether they like it or not. A player like Defoe suffers because he’s geared to do his best work in the box but doesn’t bring other players into the game. In the crucial position of defensive midfield it is no longer sufficient to be able to run and tackle. You have to be able  to pass the ball and turn defence into attack.

Goalkeepers

Ah Gomes, you were so nearly the love of my life. Our very own cult hero, derided by many, we could see the potential. We nurtured and protected you until the world saw what we already knew – you could really do it. Until this season when you kept chucking the ball in your own net. Overall he’s not had a bad season, making many vital saves almost as a matter of course. The problem is, the high profile cock-ups have ben recent and stick in mind. Better on crosses lately, the real problem was not the soft one against Madrid or Chelsea (although of course actually that was a save because it didn’t go in) but the panic shown against Blackpool and earlier versus Inter. Mad dashes off the line are one thing but pulling down players for no real reason indicate a lack of composure essential for any reliable keeper.

Reliable, that’s all we need. Solid rather than spectacular will do, good handling, takes the crosses, cuts out the mistakes in front of a sound defence and maybe doesn’t always get into the top the corner. I’d keep Gomes unless we can buy a world-class upgrade.

Cudicini has been a capable back-up but we need more. His legs have lost their spring and anyway I’d prefer to see someone challenging Gomes for the first team place rather than just hanging around for injuries. Pietklosa came well rated but ignored, while if Alnwick cost a penny it was too much. His signing shows the dangers of buying a back-up as opposed to someone who could mount a proper challenge for the first team.

Defenders

A few weeks back i started selling the house and all my possessions, not for the Rapture but for a charitable medical foundation with the sole aim of healing Ledley knee. A true Tottenham great, I raved about him a couple of weeks ago. His magnificence radiates not just from his pace, ability to read the game and perfect timing, it’s his dedication to just playing. he’s adapted his game, using short scurrying strides when once he strode across the turf, minimising his running to save every last drop of energy for the few yards that take him into the right place at the right time. The many fans who wrote him off should be ashamed of themselves. They failed to recognise the willpower of the truly great.

However, he can’t play every game. Dawson can, or appears to want to. Undeterred by a serious injury sustained whilst playing for England. he’s come back stronger than ever. He’s learned to deal with his lack of pace and doesn’t plough in high up the field, timing his interventions with assurance. He does his best work  in the box, however, as does Gallas, so Spurs benefit from some defensive midfield protection. This was conspicuously absent in the matches where our back four were stretched. Any defender on the planet looks uncertain if left exposed and vulnerable.

Gallas and Assou Ekotto both demand special praise for outstanding seasons. Harry’s best acquisition, once fit Gallas has proved himself a fierce warrior. His performance at the Emirates was one of my highlights of the season, his goalline clearance against Milan one of the moments. No hint of the dressing room disruption that has tainted his reputation. On the contrary, everyone around him must surely learn from and respect his attitude. In two or three games he has been injured yet played on as if nothing happened. At the Lane I sit close enough to the pitch to see his pain was real, yet he simply will not bow to the pressure.

If Redknapp likes a player, he will give that man a chance. Although Benny appears not to be moved by anything much, he’s taken his chance, upped his game and become a canny consistent footballing full back, good touch, bit of pace and neat on the ground. He still makes mistakes, usually due to his welcome obsession with not conceding possession – ironically he tries so hard to hang on to it for the team rather than wang it away that he ends up being caught – but the moments where his brain checks out have virtually disappeared. He still needs to tuck in closer to his centrebacks, though.

Another player given his chance by Harry and who has taken it is Kaboul. Sometimes he still looks like an overgrown Labrador puppy but once those growing pains disappear, we have a top class centre half versatile enough to cover at full back. These things are important if we are playing over 60 games a season with squads limited to 25. Another one with a great attitude.

Woodgate’s demise seems to be premature with rumours of a pay as you play deal on the table. Only the club know his true fitness but it will have to be good to get a squad number, given that Ledley will certainly be there.

Less good news on the right flank. Corluka has been extremely disappointing this term. We’ve seen little of the positional shrewdness and strength on the ball that used to cover his chronic lack of pace, whilst his distribution has not been up to previous standards. I still see him as a centre back playing out of position. With Hutton, it’s the opposite – his pace can’t make up for his dreadful positioning. He has no future here.The speed of  Walker’s development has certainly surprised Harry but he will be first choice and vindication of our policy of armin gout young players to gain firs team experience, although from what little I’ve seen, he has work to do on his defensive play.

Bassong needed a run but never quite deserved it on the basis of his play. he had a good subs appearance marking Drogba but fatally he lets players get behind him

Danny Rose. Was he a winger or a central midfielder? No, he’s a full-back and a damn promising one at that. Remarkably good positioning and determined in the air, he’s definitely a first team squad man.

So we are in good shape at the back. Bassong will probably depart although he has the ability to stay, and we will go for another centreback, It’s up to the coaches to weld them into a unit – the raw material is there already.

Midfield

I have never made any secret of my love for Luka and I remain besotted despite his many other suitors and admirers who belatedly have succumbed to his charms. My eyes linger for a fatal fraction of a second after the ball has left his foot, just to see him run. One of my moments of the season was against Newcastle, when as the knee-high tackles flew in, three opponents descended upon him in the centre circle, scenting blood. Waiting until he could feel their breath on his collar, he dropped one shoulder, left two of them stranded, beat the third and was away in a flash, the same focussed, purposeful expression on his face, already looking to shift the ball forward in search of an opening. World-class, he makes football beautiful. One of my favourite players of the last thirty years.

Gareth Bale suffers from being too good. Fans’ expectations reached absurd heights, then he gets criticised for not doing the impossible. This is the Premier League not Melchester Rovers. He’s marked by two or three players most games so he can’t run through the lot of them any more. To me it is astonishing how often he almost does. I’ve never seen someone as big and powerful with such pace and touch. If our strikers had been half decent he would have twice as many assists. He delivers more than enough excellent crosses despite the attention he receives now, and his exploits against Inter are the stuff of legend. Long term his best position may be full-back, where his height and pace will be handy in defence and he can make runs from deep.

Sandro is the discovery of the season. His performances against Milan were those of a man who’s played 210 games, not 10. He’s everything a modern DM should be – moves well, slots into the back four and tracks the runner, yet in a trice is up the other end, and he can pass it too. Genuinely a world-class prospect, he and Modric are already a magnificent pairing and could be the cornerstone of years of success.

Pienaar will fit in well next season: his movement and passing can keep attacks going. I’m less enamoured of Kranjcar, Jenas and Palacios. The former may be able to hammer the ball in from distance but he’s overweight and does not work hard enough. If a theme of this year has been the way several team-mates have made the most of their opportunities, he seems intent on wasting his considerable talents, although to be honest he’s had little chance to shine of late. I always liked JJ although he’s so frustrating. he seems to have the ability to do anything and everything, effortlessly, yet he’s never consistent. His arrival as sub has injected drive in the second half when we have been flagging but he’s now in Sandro’s shadow. Palacios is more of an old-fashioned midfield ball winner and does not either pass the ball well enough or tuck himself into the back four when required. We may have outgrown them all.

Lennon’s game is still developing and he’s come on again this time but his final ball, although much improved, needs further polishing. He’s a fine sight whizzing down the wing: his future to me is more about the shape of the team and whether we can afford to have so many attack-minded players in the team at once. Believe me, I hate to say this, but he and Bale have to work back more than they do.

Hud did well before his injury. We seemed most comfortable when he slotted in in front of the defence and we don’t make the best use of his passing range. For someone who once played centre half, he has little awareness of his defensive responsibilities: it’s partly his stature but mainly he does not have that sense of anticipation. A fine player, if he had that first yard in the head he’d be a world-beater.

Van der Vaart was a steal at £8m. We’ve learned enough to know that he must play in that free role between the midfield and the striker. More about this in my final segment of this series, about the future, but suffice to say I would gear the team to play to this strength, perhaps sacrificing a winger and definitely finding a striker who can genuinely play up front on his own. Rafa can play off and around him with the midfield piling through to help out.

Once again we have riches almost beyond my dreams. Another wide man with different skills to those of Lennon to prevent Luka being moved wide is on the cards and perhaps some experience for the long haul ahead. Again the coaches have to the get the formation right. If Hud could lose 7 pounds, who knows?

Strikers

This is the shortest section but has been the biggest problem all season. Shortest because I’ve been banging on about the same things all season, most recently in the previous blog post.

Crouch is immobile, his touch is dreadful and his accuracy from the balls he wins in the air is poor. We’ll always get something but I want more than a percentage game. Moreover, his mere presence encourages the high ball, thus negating the advantages presented to us by the skilful players in the rest of the team. If he hammered in towards the goal with headers, touches and deflections, that would be fine, but he doesn’t know where the goal is half the time and a nudge in the back takes him out of the equation.

Pav is great if he has the time. Many of his goals are scored when he can push the ball a metre or so ahead of him and move onto it. Sunday was the prime example. The reality is, this seldom happens in the Prem and his touch lets him down more often than not.

Also technically poor is Defoe. Erratic ball control, inadequate positioning and a reluctance to get in where it hurts in the box have led to a poor season punctuated with a few great goals, again when he has the space to move onto it. He’s worked harder than ever (not on Sunday) and his link up play is better but that does not mean it’s up to scratch. Hugely disappointing.

In this department, major surgery is required.

The rest

Some players have not been around for a while and we’re never going to see them in a Spurs shirt again. Keane has been an example to every professional footballer that the grass is not always greener. Stick to what you know, where you feel comfortable, and it will bring out the best in you. I’m sure he’ll find another club that he supported as a boy.

I was all for the signing of David Bentley – he worked hard and his crossing would be just what we need, so I take no pleasure in identifying why it’s not worked out. The signs were there early on. Suddenly he began to appear in the media, opinion pieces and interviews. His agent was shaping him to be the star he was in his own head but he failed to realise you have to work at it. He didn’t have the nouse to realise that alongside Modric and others, he could cover up his inability to beat players and his lack of pace. A real shame.

Dos Santos never showed any consistent talent. To be fair to him, he was always stuck on the wing (small and skilful, see) whereas for Mexico he has a freer role across the pitch. Levy will have to take the hit on all three.

Next – the manager

Jenas and Huddlestone – Spurs and England

The slight air of unreality surrounding our season so far was further compounded by the sight of Jermaine Jenas and Tom Huddlestone in an England midfield, baking under a Middle Eastern sun as the whiplash gales destroyed my garden fence. Congratulations to all our internationals, especially to Tom on his debut. Four Spurs players in the same team: if this carries on and Lennon returns, then perhaps in the years to come Tottenham can take the credit for victory in the 2010 World Cup in 2010, just as the Hammers lay claim to the 1966 triumph.

Now we really are slipping into the realms of the unreal. Not even the most nightmarish of LSD trips could conjure such a surreal vision. Nevertheless, there they were, the two players who most clearly divide opinion amongst the Spurs faithful. Even those who praise their efforts, as I do, would not have selected them.

JJ’s performance has been criticised in the media, or more accurately, it has been passed over. He worked very hard but did little to attract the interest or attention of a media eager for portents for the summer. But it was precisely this quality that for me made his performance interesting, because he worked with a diligence that is often missing when he plays for us.

His stamina and appetite for the ball is beyond doubt. Even during a bad game, to his credit he keeps running and makes himself available for the ball, a sign of his growing maturity as a couple of years ago he would have hidden from view once the crowd began to moan at a few misplaced passes.

His workrate is phenomenal, a quality that is not usually given sufficient recognition by Spurs fans. A few years ago I saw him as the senior player in a pre-season Spurs XI friendly against the now defunct Fisher Athletic. Under little pressure, he covered the whole pitch, running for the sake of it like a toddler dashing up the street, just because they can. On Saturday, he added more of a sense of discipline and purpose, tracking back and picking

Big Tom is happy. And Lenny takes the chance to practice speed skating.

up runners and at least on one occasion making a tackle that could well have prevented a second goal. When not in possession, he dropped back into the midfield shield and remained alert to danger, closing down opponents swiftly. On the ball, he found space and moved it on after a touch or two.

JJ’s problem is that he looks better than he is. In the paddock, so to speak, he is for all the world a thoroughbred, but on the track he will be in contention until falling away in the final furlong. Sometimes he looks so good, striding across the White Hart Lane turf, the ruler of all he sees. Athletic and poised, his long stride gobbles up the yards, setting up attacks, running past the strikers to pick up a knock on or through ball with perfect timing. He can be a danger at the edge of the box with his shooting, and once his free kick against Manchester Untied flew in unerringly.

Bursting with potential, I start each year believing that this finally will be his breakthrough, when he puts it all together. Except that day is never going to come. He will remain frustratingly inconsistent because ultimately his touch on the ball and judgement of weight on the pass is not quite good enough. The less said about his free kicks since Old Trafford, or indeed his credentials as captain, the better.

Coming back to the England experience, the future lies in a genuine response to lower expectations by restricting his role. If that’s how he is, then play to his strengths. We need more in defence, especially away from home, so let’s remind him about his workrate and discipline when wearing the Three Lions, restrict his forward movement until all danger has passed and use his stamina to pick up the runs of opponents or to press and harass in the centre. Here’s our box to box midfielder – I hope he finds his vocation.

As for Big Tom, there’s little to be learned from his brief appearance. The Big Boned One (is it me or have his bones become larger lately…?) also creates huge irritation for similar reasons. His passing is wonderful, seeing the long ball early and picking out his man. I will refrain from making comparison with the incomparable Hoddle, but on his day his touch bears comparison with anyone in the Premier League. He’s young and still learning – despite the number of appearances totting up, this season is the first when he has had an extended run in the team.

However, his inconsistency is again enormously frustrating. There is a top class player in there somewhere but the problem lies not in his feet but in his mind. There’s truth in the old adage that the first yard is in the head, and in Tom’s case it stays there. His lack of awareness when he does not have the ball will hold him back, especially as he lacks the pace to get himself out of any difficultly. Still, this is something that he can learn, but at the moment it’s slow progress. I confess I thought he would be further on in his development by now.

Again, a positional change will do him good. Hud is not a defensive midfielder, just because he’s a Big Bloke. He’s better further forward where his passing can set up Defoe and Keane with early balls to feet or chest and his shooting can be truly dangerous. He’s fine when looking in one direction, i.e. when the play is set out in front of him.

When he moved onto the ball before scoring against Sunderland, he was a man transformed. Gone was the gawky, clumsy, almost adolescent figure, a kid in a man’s body. Suddenly he was perfectly balanced, athletic and powerful in his concentration. The classic footballer pose, in fact. His cap should boost his confidence – he’s not the most extrovert player and his head drops after a few bad passes. Not much on the day but hopefully the springboard to the next stage in his development. But the real lesson to be gleaned from the weekend is a re-think over positions. Maybe JJ should stick to being our midfield dynamo with Hud the playmaker, setting up and scoring. It’s worth a try.

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