July 28, 2009

Enter Crouch

One of Berbatov’s greatest assets, oft-overlooked due to his startling skill on the deck, was his ability to win headers, or to hold the ball up on his chest before bringing it down and finding a Spurs man. Since he left at the start of last season, we’ve not had a striker capable of doing this.

In some ways that was probably a good thing, encouraging us to play more to feet, and through our midfield. However, in certain games you need to be able to take a direct route, and of course, with centre backs as keen to find the front man with long passes as Dawson and Woodgate clearly are, it was only a matter of time before Harry identified a target man as a necessary purchase.

Existing strikers

Keane/Defoe/Pavlycuhenko/Bent is not a bad selection of strikers on the face of it. Indeed, I’d suggest that most teams outside of the top 5 (& Man City) would be delighted to have those four. But when you look deeper, it’s an unbalanced collection of players. None are good at consistently winning headers with their back to goal. In fact, none like to play with their back to goal full stop. None have the strength to rattle big, strong defenders (and nearly all PL teams have at least one of those). We already have two quite flimsy attacking players in Lennon and Modric, and with Keane/Defoe as the “second striker”, we clearly lack someone with some strength and presence to help dominate teams. Jones would have been useful in this respect, but he was ludicrously overpriced at £67m or whatever we were quoted.

It’s also important to remember that Defoe is not the same player in away matches, and that Keane had a poor run of form at the back end of last season, where many felt he was dropping too deep and slowing the game down unnecessarily.

Bent is a goal scorer, there’s no doubt about that, but he has little else to his game. If he doesn’t score in a match, he often has a negative impact; he doesn’t hold the ball up or pass well, he doesn’t contribute defensively, he doesn’t win many headers despite being over 6’, and he doesn’t “get at” defenders at all – I imagine as a defender you’d feel more tired having played against Paul Dickov than Darren Bent, despite the obvious height and strength advantage. Normally you’d expect a striker who doesn’t have a great first touch to compensate with aggression and physicality, but Bent has neither.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Pavlyuchenko has more to offer than he has currently shown, and whilst we certainly can’t rely on him at present, I think it’s worth nothing that a lot of Bent’s goals last season were tap-ins/rebounds – as Pavlyuchenko is a similar “predatory” striker, I think we could expect him to score a lot of the goals that we’d previously have expected Bent to score. Whether he’ll get the run of games that he so clearly needs is another matter…

Swapsies

I am all for keeping a consistent squad, but it’s clear that Bent will leave in search of guaranteed first team football and, therefore, it’s a good opportunity to replace him with a striker that can bring skills to the table that we lack. Whilst we will undoubtedly lose goals from Bent, what we’ll gain from Crouch is goals from other areas of the team – he has good awareness of what is going on around him (he gets a good view of the pitch from up there after all), and excels at bringing others into the game. In fairness to him, his scoring record in recent seasons is not too shabby either.

Whether or not we were ever/are in for Huntelaar is irrelevant to me – I’ve always seen him as a similar player to Bent (but obviously far superior). By that I mean that he is a natural goal scorer, but has little else in his all-round game. I don’t think he’d particularly improve us as a team although, like Bent, he is capable of scoring a hatful of goals.

Peter Crouch

In short (haha), Crouch is a good player with skills that we lack – the ability to hold the ball up with his back to defenders, and the vision and awareness to bring others into the game. He does score headers, but they are generally headers where he’s coming on to the ball, rather than out-muscling defenders. He is not as good in the air as one would expect (despite his obvious advantage) and not the type of player that is going to grit his teeth and win header after header against the likes of Terry/Vidic/Gallas/even Distin, and I still think a muscular, aggressive striker as an option would be beneficial. But small steps (groan) are preferable, and I’d rather that we now see how we go with these four, and think about making changes next summer if we can improve again.

For what it’s worth, most Spurs fans are talking about Crouch and Defoe – personally I think Keane will be a great partner for Crouch, and will come back strongly next season.

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July 22, 2009

22/07/09 Aldershot Town vs Tottenham Hotspur X1 3-1, EBB Stadium, Aldershot

A dry evening for my first visit to EBB Stadium (AKA “The Rec”), Aldershot. Just as well, because away fans have a bit of a trek up a hill and through a park to the entrance!

Let me preface this by saying that too much shouldn’t be taken from this game. Not only was it a young squad, but the team was a bit of a mishmash – a couple of first teamers, some reserves, some Academy graduates… and new signing Kyle Naughton, who has joined (along with his team mate, Kyle Walker) from Sheffield United.

Gomes (28)

Hutton (24) Archibald-Henville (20) Butcher (18) Smith (18)

Parrett (17) Livermore (19) Bostock (17) Rose (19)

Taarabt (20)

Obika (18)

Substitutes: Alnwick (22) for Gomes 46, Naughton (20) for Hutton 46, Cox (18) for Taarabt 62, Carroll (17) for Archibald-Henville 78, M’Poku (17) for Parrett 46

Aldershot started fairly strongly, with Spurs struggling to settle and, frustratingly, playing lots of long passes which rarely found their targets. It took just a couple of minutes for the first goal to arrive. Alan Hutton, one of the two “senior players”, was beaten far too easily by his man who back-heeled for a team-mate to cross, and it was turned in from relatively close range.

If anything, rather than settling the home side, the goal settled Spurs. There followed a 10 minute period of controlled possession, with Livermore in particular getting the ball down quickly and playing short passes. However, during this period there was no cutting edge, and all of the passing was in areas which Aldershot would consider “safe”.

On around 15 minutes, Archibald-Henville showed his inexperience – he was dragged out of position, committed himself, and Aldershot had a clear chance, which was put over the bar.

Spurs’ short passing game continued, and Taarabt looked more involved. On 18 minutes or so he set Bostock up for a strike at goal, but Bostock mishit way over – a shame, because it sat up nicely on his left foot. (I notice that the official site saw this effort quite differently: “Taarabt opened it up for Bostock to rifle effort just over from 25 yards.”)

On 32 minutes, a ball was played over the top of the Spurs defence. Butcher, facing his own goal, stretched to meet the ball, but could only get a toe end on it. It looked as though the Aldershot player was going to have a free run at goal, but Gomes ate up the ground, and made a superb saving header, which was warmly applauded. Moments earlier, the Aldershot fans had been chanting “what a load of rubbish, what a waste of money” at the big Brazilian.

Shortly after this, there was a moment of confusion in the Spurs ranks, which caused some tempers to be lost. Bostock played a 10 yard pass to Taarabt in midfield, but Adel had turned his back on play. The Aldershot player nipped in and charged forward, played in the striker who seemed to have time and space. Fortunately he fired wide at the near post. Archibald-Henville stormed out of defence absolutely bawling at Taarabt, who looked rather sheepish.

It took 37 minutes for Spurs to test the Aldershot goalkeeper, with Parrett lashing an effort from the edge of the penalty area out on the right. A good strike, but it would have had to have been something special to beat the goalkeeper from that range and angle.

A poor effort on goal from Rose in a pretty decent position was the only other meaningful moment of the first half.

At half-time, new boy Naughton appeared in place of Hutton, Alnwick came on for Gomes, and Paul-Jose M’Poku replaced Parrett at right midfield.

“Polo” M’Poku made an instant impact for Spurs, upping the tempo, and putting pressure on the Aldershot players with his all-action style. He looks ungainly when he runs, but he’s quite a physical player, and certainly has a good work ethic. He had a chance from a corner, but he didn’t quite get enough on his header and it drifted harmlessly wide.

Substitutions for both teams meant the game went through a particularly scrappy period. Anton Blackwood replaced Butcher at centre back (his first appearance in a Spurs shirt AFAIK), and Cox came on for the frustrated Taarabt. Allen had a bit of a re-shuffle at this point, sending Bostock out to the left, with Cox and Livermore central, and Rose just off Obika.

Blackwood’s first contribution was a player cutting inside him with absolute ease and making a dangerous pass in the box. A couple of minutes later he was guilty of surrendering possession deep in the Spurs half. Things can only get better for him!

It took time for Spurs to settle into the game again, but M’Poku had certainly lifted things, and he seemed to link well with Naughton. This was certainly evident for Spurs’ equaliser – M’Poku playing Naughton in to deliver an absolute peach of a cross. Danny Rose arrived unmarked and planted a header beyond the goalkeeper.

It really was a lovely cross from Naughton, who made a couple of other marauding runs. However, soon after, he was caught on the wrong side of his man, and Aldershot nearly restored their advantage.

The tiny figure of Tom Carroll replaced Troy Archibald-Henville. This meant that Livermore moved to centre back, Bostock moved back into the middle of midfield, and Carroll hugged the left touchline, showing some neat touches, but being nudged off the ball quite easily at times.

Aldershot made it 2-1 on 74 minutes. Poor defending all-round, but a misjudgement from Alnwick in particular, who had already shown some worryingly bad handling.

The game petered out from here, with only one more chance – a free-kick from the right which was whipped in fairly flat. An Aldershot man won the header, and guided it past Alnwick to make it 3-1.

The most disappointing thing about the Spurs performance was the lack of quality passing, which is where you’d expect the better technical players to shine through. Initially we struggled to get the ball down, but then for a 10 minute period we seemed to get our act together – plenty of short, accurate passing, but without any breakthrough. Some players from there on tried to over-complicate, particularly the likes of Taarabt and Bostock, and moves were not given time to develop.

A fairly rigid 4-4-1-1 formation from Clive Allen meant that too many players were playing in unfamiliar and uncomfortable positions – Smith made the best of being at right back, but Parrett did not look comfortable on the right, and it was also notable how isolated Obika was, particularly in the first half. It’s also clear to me that Rose is not a left-winger. He has admitted himself recently that he is happier in the middle of midfield, and for me he struggled on the left – he couldn’t beat his man, and when he got a yard to make a cross, it was generally poor. He seemed to get frustrated with trying to float the ball in, so tried a couple of low crosses in the second half – one caused a bit of confusion in the box, but the other was easily cut out.

The logical answer to me seemed to be to go to 4-2-3-1, with Livermore and Parrett deeper, and Bostock, Rose and Taarabt in support of Obika, and I’ve often thought that Allen doesn’t react quickly enough in these situations – he seems happy enough ranting and raving on the touchline and particularly shouting unhelpful “f*****g get at them” type comments.

I don’t think rating the players here will really tell people a lot about the players involved, or the game, so in addition I’ve added a line or two on what I would expect from each player this season.

Gomes – he was mainly a spectator, but made a good saving header. There wasn’t a lot he could do about the goal he conceded. 7/10
This season – Gomes will be first choice goalkeeper, and will be hoping to build on his impressive clean sheet record from last year. Unlike many Spurs fans, I still have doubts about Gomes, but I hope he cements his place at Spurs, as he seems like a decent guy, and deserves better than what we got from the English gutter press last year.

Hutton – disappointing defending from Hutton for the first goal, and that hardly came as a surprise – his positional ill-discipline and at times poor decision-making has been a problem since his arrival at Spurs. He made a few really decent runs up the right hand side, but not a lot came of them. I also noted a trade-mark dive. 6/10
This season – he will have his work cut out to dislodge Corluka, and with Naughton arriving there’s been a lot of speculation suggesting that he may end up at Everton, with Aston Villa also sniffing around.

Archibald-Henville – a couple of moments of inexperience, but generally he was a commanding figure, winning most headers and challenges. 6/10
This season – I would expect Troy to be back out on loan – Exeter have said they expect him to join up with them again.

Butcher – didn’t do an awful lot wrong, although neither did he look like he was in full control. 6/10
This season – Hopefully Calum will get his first loan spell away from the club, as otherwise he could find himself struggling for games, having graduated from the Academy.

Smith – playing out of position at left back was not easy for Adam. Despite continually having to come inside on his right, he persisted and worked hard up and down the flank. He frequently beat his man, and occasionally jinked between two men. 7/10
This season – Like Butcher, a loan spell is what Smith now needs – I’d imagine that he would be comfortable enough in League One. If he could gain a little strength, I think he could even cope with the Championship.

Parrett – difficult evening for Parrett stuck out on the right. As usual, he battled hard, and chased everything – occasionally he has a tendency to commit himself. Not an awful lot went his way, but he did have our best effort of the first half. 6/10
This season – Dean is moving into the 2nd year of the Academy, so will be one of the senior players in the U18 – I’d expect him to take the armband in Caulker’s absence, and perhaps even go out on loan at some point.

Livermore – whilst he provided a solid base and tried to get the ball down quickly and keep things simple, he didn’t really excel. He showed some solid defensive positioning, and some responsible tracking back, but he’s playing in the area of the pitch where you’d hope for possession to be kept, and we surrendered the ball far too easily at times. 7/10
This season – he has been heavily involved with the first team during pre-season which could show that he’s highly thought of, or could show that he’s this year’s Pekhart (involved early on, and then swiftly sent to the Czech Republic on loan!). I would imagine that he’ll go out on loan for the first few months of the season. He’s a strong lad, so could cope with the rigours of the Championship if a side wants to take a gamble.

Bostock – I think I must have just caught him on bad days, because I’m yet to be impressed. Far too often he beat his man and then passed the ball to the opposition. Neat first touch nine times out of ten, but seems to want to ignore the simple passes too often. 5/10
This season – he still has a long way to go IMO, and I think he’ll be an Academy mainstay this year.

Rose – worked hard, but struggled to beat the Aldershot right-back, and only put in one good cross from about seven or eight. He got absolutely clattered twice in the first half, which may have affected him. Got our goal with a planted header when he was moved just behind Obika, and looked more effective in that position, harrying defenders and getting on the referee’s nerves! 5/10
This season – I can see him linking up with Brendan Rodgers at Reading, who we played under at Watford last year. Needs a season of football before we can really judge him, but I’ve yet to see why he’s been included in the first team squad ahead of others.

Taarabt – one word: PASS! Brilliant dribbling and close control, as ever, but delays passes, ignores passes, frustrates defenders, frustrates team-mates, frustrates himself. A couple of useful cross-field switches, but other than that, not a lot went right for him. Got the hair-dryer from Bostock and Archibald-Henville (and rightly so), for turning his back on the play, and didn’t look impressed. 5/10
This season – it was announced yesterday that he’d be joining QPR on a season-long loan. I think this is make or break for Adel.

Obika – totally isolated for most of the game. It was a hard night for Obika – always a willing runner, but got no service. The few times the ball was played into the channels, it was too heavy or badly angled, and the few times the ball was played to his feet, he had no support, so even if he controlled and turned, he had nobody to pass to. 6/10
This season – I still feel he lacks aggression, and I’d like to see him play a full season in League One and really work on tormenting defenders and letting them know they’ve been in a game.

Substitutes:
Alnwick – one of the worst (if not the worst) goalkeepers I’ve seen playing for Spurs, bar none. He didn’t have much to do, but he basically did little well. Maybe I’m being harsh on him for the second goal, but he was lost under the flight of the ball. 4/10
This season – just a case of running down his contract. Try as I might to look for positives, I can’t find any.

Naughton – whilst he looked useful going forward, and put in an exquisite cross for our goal, his positioning was naïve, and he got caught on the wrong side minutes after his assist. 6/10
This season – I’m sure he’ll be training with the first team squad, making a few appearances from the bench, and playing cup games.

M’Poku – replaced Parrett on the right and instantly hugged the touchline, offering width and an option for Naughton. I am a fan of his unusual style and direct movement, and thought he used his physique well to put pressure on defenders, resulting once in a free kick for Spurs and two misplaced passes to Spurs players. He had one unfortunate moment where he beat the full-back with a nice piece of skill, before totally air-kicking when it came to crossing, but he certainly upped the tempo. 7/10
This season – as one of the senior members of the U18 squad this season, he’ll be expected to really contribute goals this year. If things go well, he may get a spell out on loan. I have high hopes for him – he’s something a bit different.

Cox – a regular at left-back for the U18s last season, Cox came on in the centre of midfield and put himself about. Popular amongst the coaches for his attitude and approach to the game, and because they feel he “sets the tempo” for his team-mates, he showed elements of this, but couldn’t really stamp his authority on the game. 6/10
This season – expected to go out on loan, perhaps to Exeter City with Troy Archibald-Henville.

Carroll – Only a cameo for Tom, but he showed some neat touches, although being so small he gets brushed aside quite easily.
This season – a much bigger role for the U18s, no doubt.

Official Tottenham site’s minute-by-minute guide.
Aldershot Town match report.
Youtube highlights.

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July 19, 2009

Spurs youngsters Mason and Caulker out on loan

It was announced last week that 18-year old striker, Ryan Mason, and 17-year old central defender, Steven Caulker, had joined Yeovil Town on loan for an initial month. This mirrors the deal last year that took Jon Obika and Andros Townsend to the same club (joining Danny Hutchins, who has now moved to Yeovil permanently) at the back end of the season. Our two lads put in some good performances, with Obika scoring four crucial goals that helped to keep Yeovil in League One. We seem to have a good relationship with Yeovil; Terry Skiverton, the manager there, knows Harry Redknapp well and, if we trust the coaches to be doing the right things, this can only be beneficial to both clubs.

With the Reserve Team being withdrawn from the league for the forthcoming year (see my previous article ‘Abolition of the Reserves – a good thing or a bad thing?‘), I’m expecting a number of the recently “graduated” Academy players – the likes of Obika, Towsend, Butcher, Smith, Cox, etc – to go out on loan to other clubs that we “trust”. Alongside this, I’d expect players like Archibald-Henville and Dervite, who were out at Exeter City and Southend United respectively last season, to be on loan for most of the season. Indeed, Steve Perryman confirmed before our game against Exeter that he expected Troy to join up with them again for this campaign, and rumours suggest that Sam Cox may go there too. Dervite has been linked with a move to Reading.

I’ve made little secret of the fact that I see Mason as the best prospect from our Academy side, and I’d say that Caulker is another favourite of mine from that crop of players, so I find this move quite exciting. I hope that they impress in their first month, and get a chance to extend their loan periods – indeed, they’ve already participated in two friendly games. Their first appearances came against RRFC Montegnee (Mason scored a penalty in a 5-0 win), and they played again in a 3-2 defeat to Grimsby Town. Incidentally, it seems that Mason played in midfield, but his best position is undoubtedly the withdrawn striker role (or “number 10″).

As a slight aside, I was amused to see that Pride of Somerset had dug up a comment that I’d made on another blog and used it in their article! I will aim to round-up the loan situation on here with some regularity.

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July 9, 2009

Cheerio, Didier!

So after 134 games (incredible…), Didier Zokora has moved on to Sevilla. In my mind this is the best bit of business we will do all summer. To say Zokora is one of the worst players to play for Spurs ever is probably a little harsh, but he’s certainly up there as one of the worst to ever play over 100 games for Spurs. (EDIT: Dean Austin and Ruel Fox push him close)

I never had any problem with Zokora’s lack of goals, or his lack of passing ability in the final third. For me, that was outside his remit, so I ruled out the possibility of him ever getting a goal or assist (did he get any assists aside from the dive that won the penalty vs Portsmouth at White Hart Lane two years ago?).

The thing that annoyed me the most with Zokora was his “work ethic” – most people would never, ever question this, as he did run around a lot. I have no problem with players that cover a lot of ground (Jenas for example), so long as the work they are doing is the right type of work; most of Zokora’s running was wasted. For example, due to his lack of positional discipline he’d often charge towards a player and stop 5 yards short, meaning all that he had then stopped the opposition player doing is progressing further forward. Good players then just make triangles and pass the ball around him. Another example is his lack of tracking of runs – he’d often be seen sprinting back towards his own goal at high speed because he had failed to notice a breaking midfield player until it was too late.

Of course, he did have some good elements to his game – his acceleration was second to few in the PL – he had the ability to run past players at ease (normally shortly before falling over), and … well, that’s it.

So Cheerio, Didier – you always seemed like a nice bloke. But then I’m a nice bloke, and I wouldn’t pick myself to play in the middle of midfield for Spurs.

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