March 31, 2014

It’s not all bad

After getting a few things off my chest yesterday, I wanted to breathe some positive vibes onto the front page of the blog.

The good news is that, despite the incohesive fan-base, the lack of strategic vision from the top of our club, and significant issues within our first team coaching staff, there are reasons to be cheerful.

On Friday night I watched an Under-21 side comprehensively beat Arsenal. Some of those involved were playing well above their age level, and the performance was encouraging (and, in truth, it could have been 4-0).

Then, on Saturday morning, I saw our Under-18s put in a controlled performance away at Liverpool to record a 1-0 victory. This group of Under-18 players (including Onomah, Miller, Oduwa, Ogilvie and Winks, none of whom played in this match) are without doubt the best I’ve seen over the past decade. And supposedly we have more hot prospects ready to step up next season too.

The first team squad has been a bit of a shambles at times this season, but some intelligent player recruitment and an experienced managerial appointment could quickly turn things around. Contrary to the belief of some, we do have plenty of talent at our disposal, and the new signings will no doubt find their second season far easier.

And, of course, we have 1882. Another brilliant night on Friday showed why 1882 is the envy of other clubs. This season, 1882 has been a beacon of light and the 1882 matches have been by far my most enjoyable experiences of being a fan.

COYS

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March 30, 2014

Toxic Tottenham

I saw a tweet earlier saying that Sherwood is toxic for our club. He isn’t, but the current ill feeling certainly is, and something has to change.

Sherwood has to go. Not because he’ll never be good enough (we’ll never know if he will or not), but because the fans have not and will not take to him. To achieve success, the club needs the fans onside and the majority are patently not – nor will they ever be with Sherwood at the helm (rightly or wrongly).

Predicting that a Spurs manager will fail is not the boldest of predictions; arguably they all have to varying extents since Burkinshaw in the early 80s, aside from a couple of cup wins. Jumping up and down at every questionable decision that the current incumbent makes, and then celebrating ‘being right’ when he inevitably does fail is not, in my opinion, the role of a fan. Instead why not be open-minded and try to create a more positive environment for our players to play in? Criticise, of course, when it’s due – heck, there have been some abominations under Sherwood – but try to be broadly supportive. That’s my position, and that’s why I’m willing to give him a chance until he does something damaging to our club’s reputation, as with Redknapp and the England manager’s job.

I’ve been accused this season of being a Tim Sherwood apologist, much like I was accused before that of being an André Villas-Boas apologist. I’m not, of course, but I am a ‘new manager’ apologist. I have no particular love for Sherwood – I didn’t admire him as a player, and he’s not ‘my cup of tea’ (using his words) as a person. But I could see traces of logic behind his appointment (especially from a continuity POV) and I think the mitigating circumstances surrounding his tenure mean he should be given more leeway from our fans, who are as divided and angry as I ever remember.

For anyone coming in to take over after the final few thrashings under AVB, it was a tough job. We had an under-performing squad with a lot of new players who hadn’t shown signs of settling in any time soon. We’ve also had (surprise, surprise, we’re Tottenham), a ludicrous number of recent injury concerns.

The vitriol towards Sherwood has been far worse than it probably would have been for anyone else. Probably because he’s a Gooner, probably because he’s got an accent which reminds people of the many uncomfortable Harry Redknapp press conferences and interviews and probably because he is, quite literally, unqualified for the job.

Sherwood’s job has, of course, also been made more difficult by the fact that he has no prior experience of managing a football club, and so was always going to be learning as he went along. And he has, sometimes, showed signs of learning: adapting from a 4-4-2 to playing with one forward when necessary, for example, or changing things at half-time against Southampton to ensure we pressed the ball to complement the high line.

Today against Liverpool his hand was forced. Missing our two best players this season – Adebayor and Walker – as well as Chiriches, Capoue, Lamela, and Paulinho and with Sandro (who has been playing with painkilling injections) and Dembele (who looked so unfit last week) seemingly not fit to start, he was “down to the bare bones” and even had to include rookie Harry Winks on the bench. His team selection looked gung-ho on initial inspection, before you realised that – short of going three at the back with Dawson brought into the side – he had few other options.

Add to that that his game-plan – “stay in the game for as long as possible and hopefully it will open up for us later on” – was out the window after just over a minute, mostly due to individual errors.

Sherwood’s been criticised for playing Eriksen wide on the left, but mostly because people feel he’s less effective offensively there. Today, though, he showed his defensive frailty in the first minute. Of course, Sherwood could have opted for a slightly more defensive player on the left to combat Johnson’s runs, but a man with the experience and intelligence of Eriksen should be able to track a fairly obvious run and to stop a cross coming in. Vertonghen scuffed his clearance, the ball awkwardly ricocheted into Kaboul’s instep, and Sherwood needed to think again. It was 2-0 when Dawson played a sloppy pass and then couldn’t catch Suarez.

But here’s where Sherwood could do more. For the rest of the half, our approach play was reasonable and we managed to give both Eriksen and Chadli the ball between the lines, only for them to waste opportunities to create. He didn’t change anything, though, to improve upon this – no personnel changes, no tweaks. And, before long, Liverpool snuffed out any opportunities we did have, restricting our creative players and stopping them from receiving the ball in the areas they had been in the first half.

Then came goal three; Lennon didn’t chase Flanagan back, meaning Bentaleb had to close the ball, leaving Coutinho in space to receive it and get a shot away. We defended too deep at the set piece from which goal four stemmed; Sherwood could be accused of not organising his troops for these situations, but the players need to more accountable for all four goals today.

But I digress from my central point, which is that whilst I don’t think Sherwood is an ideal management candidate, he is our manager (Head Coach), and yet another change does not guarantee improvement. Managers and coaches need time to work with their squads and develop a pattern of play, a defensive structure – an identity. This is why I’ve not wanted to judge our coach too soon; to write him off.

Brendan Rodgers was widely-derided last season, as was one of his favourites, Jordan Henderson. Yet this season he has Liverpool organised, motivated and, importantly, confident. Henderson’s been exceptional and will likely start for England in the World Cup. It might be wrong to compare Sherwood and Rodgers, since Rodgers had four years of managerial experience (including another Premier League job) before taking on his role at Liverpool, but they do share youth coaching backgrounds. Sticking with Rodgers, investing in his player choices, and giving him room to implement his ideas has worked wonders.

Divided since Redknapp’s sacking, the only move that would seem to unify our fan-base is the appointment of someone who seemed previously totally unattainable – Louis van Gaal. And, thus, the revolving manager-door continues.

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March 29, 2014

29/03/14 Liverpool U18s 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur U18s, Kirkby Academy

Liam Priestley (18)
Kyle Walker-Peters (16) Christian Maghoma (16) Cameron Carter-Vickers (16) Kane Vincent-Young (18)
Anton Walkes (17) Filip Lesniak (17)  Lloyd Ross (17)
Joe Pritchard (17) Daniel Akindayini (18) Cy Goddard (16)

Subs:
Shayon Harrison (16) for Lloyd Ross, 46.
Channing Cambell-Young (17) for Joe Pritchard, 67.
Armani Daly (15?) for Cy Goddard, 81.

I had a nightmare this morning – I was all set up ready to watch the game, only for some building works next door to knock my power out! Fortunately I have a very understanding girlfriend, who rescued me by pausing the match and letting me come over to pick up where I left off.

Spurs set up with a formation something between a 4-3-3, and a 4-1-2-2-1. Lesniak held in front of a back four, but it was fluid, and personnel changed positions throughout the game. When the subs were made, it became increasingly difficult to tell who was playing where.

In the opening minute young Liverpool winger Kent had a good touch on the left leading to a free kick which Liverpool played a cross-field pass. Ojo attempted a cross but it was blocked out for a corner, which Priestley claimed at the second attempt.

On 7 minutes, Akindayini switched to Walker-Peters who rampaged down the right but slightly over-hit his cross.

Goddard was fouled on the edge of the box on eight minutes and stepped up to take the kick himself – he hit it straight into the wall but did then manage to work a crossing opportunity, albeit the ball was cleared comfortably.

An unfortunate slip from Ross led to O’Hanlon curling an effort narrowly wide on 11 minutes.

Then, a fine delivery from Vincent -Young – cutting back onto his right in an advanced area – caused mayhem, but Pritchard was caught on his heels and perhaps could have got the finishing touch. It was cleared out for a corner which Goddard slightly over-hit.

Another good ball from Vincent-Young on 16 minutes – this time with his left – just evaded Goddard at the back post. Not to be outdone, Walker-Peters whipped in a cracker himself a couple of minutes later, but nobody attacked it.

Walker-Peters and Ross linked well to get the full back clear into an area to cross the ball, but it was an awkward ball for Pritchard to meet at the back post, and he couldn’t get his header anywhere near the target.

Lesniak’s shot was a weak one on the 21 minute mark – one of few shooting opportunities for Spurs.

A fantastic run from Ryan Kent from Liverpool’s left took him into the box, but Kyle Walker-Peters nipped in just in the nick of time to take it off his toes.

Liverpool then had a decent spell of possession where they moved the ball well but didn’t create anything clear-cut – much like a lot of Spurs’ possession play this season.

Maghoma played himself into trouble by letting the ball run across his body and then trying to beat the attacker; instead, he looped his clearance awkwardly into the air and had to head it clear.

Pritchard spread the play first time to Goddard but Akindayini gave up possession and Liverpool broke – Ojo drove forward and was fouled by Walkes; a foul he had to make. O’Hanlon struck the ball into the ball with his left.

From that move, Spurs went right up the other end with Walker-Peters yet again marauding forward, and Pritchard playing him in behind. The full-back’s cross was blocked for a corner, which Goddard took. Maghoma charged to meet it at the near post but a fantastically brave block led to the ball being cleared. The blocking player – Hart – stayed down, but play continued and Spurs carved out a fine chance for Akindayini with a fabulous cross from Walkes that the forward totally missed when in space.

With Hart back on his feet, play continued. Kent and Walker-Peters resumed their ongoing battle when Kent charged at him, but Walker-Peters battled back to win the ball and begin another Spurs attack – as he so often does.

On 32 minutes, Priestley played a poor pass out which gave Liverpool the ball and O’Hanlon should then have put Liverpool into the lead when he controlled Kent’s cross in space but hit his shot into the ground.

Kane Vincent-Young turned fabulously in the left back area and was fouled resulting in a free kick which Spurs took short, as usual. They rarely hit anything long, and only result to a clearance when truly necessary, preferring to play out from the back.

A cracking delivery from a free kick led to Akindayini heading the ball out at the back post, but Maghoma cleared the resulting corner. The ball bobbled around and an eventual shot was blocked inadvertently by a hand – no penalty was given.

Hart beat Walker-Peters and delivered a low cross for Ojo, which was well blocked by Carter-Vickers.

Kent and Dhanda linked well to try to get Dhanda in, but Maghoma got rid in a no-nonsense fashion.

A lovely first-time cushioned pass from Pritchard sent Walker-Peters down the right – the cross was over-hit but worked wide to Vincent-Young on the opposite side who had a cross-shot blocked for a corner. Goddard’s ball caused problems, but Maghoma couldn’t quite turn on it to get a shot away.

Pritchard cut in from the right and picked out Akindayini, but Cleary came across to make a fantastic last-ditch challenge; it looked like a corner to me, but the referee deemed it to be a goal kick.

Pritchard had an opportunity after a clever touch from Akindayini but his loose control meant that the chance was lost.

Dhanda, Liverpool’s 15-year old Indian number 10, worked so hard to win possession in the midfield, picked out O’Hanlon who found Kent at the back stick, but he struck his shot straight at the keeper, Priestley, although he was offside anyway.

That was that for the first half – an even contest, with Liverpool improving as it went on, aided by a strong wind behind them.

Shayon Harrison – who scored 30 times for the Under-16s last season – replaced Lloyd Ross for the second half. He went to the right, with Goddard dropping deeper.

The first chance of the second half came when Pritchard tried to stand a cross up to Harrison with his left foot, but didn’t wrap his foot around it, and it sent Liverpool keeper Wheeler scuttling backwards, eventually drifting over the bar.

Walker-Peters fired a dangerous ball in low towards Goddard, but Liverpool cleared the ball well. Play switched straight down to the other end where Carter-Vickers outmuscled Ojo and carried the ball out from the back.

O’Hanlon – impressive for Liverpool in the first half – went down with an injury two minutes into the half, which led to full-back Roberts coming on. Liverpool had to totally change their team shape with Ojo moving out to the right and Kent moving into the central striker role.

On 53 minutes, Walker-Peters made yet another fine run down the right, but his cross was sent high and over the bar, mishit this time.

Spurs took the lead on 56 minutes when Cy Goddard got stuck in in central midfield, showing great tenacity. Shayon Harrison took the loose ball and played in Walker-Peters who strode forward and sent in a curling, low cross into the “corridor of uncertainty” which Akindayini and the Liverpool centre-back both missed in the centre, but from which Pritchard made no mistake, smashing home at the back stick.

Goddard was fouled out on the right and Harrison’s low, whipped-in cross struck Roberts and went out for a corner. Harrison’s low corner was poor but the front post clearance went out for another corner. The next one was a much better ball, curled left-footed towards Pritchard at the back post, but the big midfielder was just out-muscled. The third corner went straight out for a goal kick.

The wind was causing a few problems, and Walkes was able to easily control Wheeler’s goal kick as it caught in the wind. Akindayini ran the ball straight out of play, though.

Virtue was booked for a strong challenge on Pritchard – or a totting up of a number of fouls, perhaps – which upset the Liverpool co-commentator, Mark Wright.

Maghoma played Spurs into trouble with a loose ball across to Carter-Vickers. Ojo ran from halfway, with Walkes on the back foot, but could only fire his shot high and wide when he cut in from the right.

Waldron replaced Dhanda for Liverpool, with Randall pushed forward from right-back and Ojo moving forward again into a position more familiar to him.

Walkes picked a fine pass for Walker-Peters, who kept the ball in play, worked himself into a useful position, and played a pass back for Walkes to cross. The ball was blocked, but it was yet another illustration of Walker-Peters’ fantastic attacking ability and constant runs in behind.

Carter-Vickers went to ground to stop a Liverpool attack, commanding as ever.

Channing Cambell-Young replaced Joe Pritchard on 67 minutes. He went to play at right-back, with Walker-Peters moving in-field. Akindayini went to play more towards the left, and Goddard/Harrison/Walkes each had a turn at leading the line.

Ojo missed a good chance on 71 minutes after Carter-Vickers’ presented the ball to Kent. Kent picked out his strike partner, but he cut in and hit a weak shot straight at Priestley.

Walker-Peters nearly made it 2-0 won 72 minutes. He played the ball into Harrison, made a run around the outside, received it back and then burst through, hitting a low shot across the goalkeeper which was touched wide for a corner.

Goddard’s corner from the left was curled in beautifully but missed by Maghoma and then put over by Harrison at the far post.

Walker-Peters had another effort at goal from a Walkes pass before Ojo carried the ball forward on the left before being seen out by Mahoma.

Liverpool put together a very tidy and incisive move involving Ojo, Kent and Randall, but Spurs got the block in again. Randall then nearly slipped Kent in, but his pass was a little too ambitious.

Campbell-Young almost picked out Walker-Peters, but the square ball was just cut out as Walker-Peters approached.

At the other end, Ojo made progress again down Liverpool’s left, beating Goddard but unable to beat Maghoma this time.

Burke volleyed a ball well over when Waldron had dallied too much with his cross.

Armani Daly was introduced for his debut at this level on 81 minutes, with Goddard heading off. Daly got his first touch when the ball fell to him on the left, and he used the ball well, bringing it under control and playing it to Walkes.

Little Daly went to play mostly centrally, with Harrison wide on the right, and Akindayini on the left, although all three were pretty fluid. In midfield, Walkes, Walketer-Peters and Lesniak patrolled centrally.

Harrison picked up a booking for not retreating for a free-kick. The eventual free-kick came to Burke who switched wide to Waldron. He did well to beat Vincent-Young, cut inside, and found Randall out wide. He played a one-two and worked a yard well but his cross came off Carter-Vickers and rebounded back off him for a goal kick.

It was nearly two when Harrison carried another loose ball forward, played a delightful reverse pass to Daly, got it back first time, but couldn’t quite find the corner with his shot.

On 90 minutes, Liverpool possession led to a fantastic Randall strike across goal bringing out an even better save from Priestley, who had done little up until that point.

Walkes picked up a booking for a very strong challenge on Griffin. He was stretchered off and given gas and air, and there was a five-minute delay whilst he was put on a buggy and taken away. Spurs defended the resultant free-kick well and there were no further chances for either side.

Liam Priestley 7 – Had little to do until the end, where he made a fantastic save. He deserves huge credit for that, it’s not easy to stay alert!
Kyle Walker-Peters 9 – A constant threat throughout the game; a very progressive right back who got the vital assist. A real gem of a performance. Once he moved inside we lost a lot of our attacking impetus.
Christian Maghoma 6 – Maghoma’s just come back from a long-term injury, so it’s nice to see him back. Not his finest game, but he was mostly solid nonetheless.
Cameron Carter-Vickers 7 – Like Maghoma, he didn’t have his best game (giving the ball away more often than usual), but he made some solid interceptions and was a commanding presence on the whole.
Kane Vincent-Young 6 – In the first half he was a threat with his crossing, but he drifted out of the game as it went on. It was not easy playing on his wrong side, so he deserves credit for that.
Filip Lesniak 6 – Metronomic figure in the middle who used the ball intelligently and broke play up with good positioning.
Anton Walkes 7 – Seems to be improving nicely; a strong presence in the centre who used the ball well today.
Lloyd Ross 5 – Struggled to impose himself on the game today and was withdrawn at half-time for a slightly more physical player.
Joe Pritchard 5 – Got the vital goal, but looked a little out of sorts playing in an advanced wide role.
Daniel Akindayini 5 – Missed a great chance in the air, but kept running and chasing things down throughout.
Cy Goddard 7 – Very good, technical player who frequently got us out of trouble with his quick feet in tight spaces.

Shayon Harrison 7 – Made a good impact and was heavily involved in the goal, as well as other good moves in the second half. Now needs to do it consistently.
Channing Campbell-Young – Was relatively steady at right-back.
Armani Daly – Looked lively although didn’t see much of the ball.

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March 18, 2014

Benfica focus

Thursday night was a somewhat humbling evening at White Hart Lane, where an organised, compact, counter-attacking, talented team made mincemeat of our disorganised, open and insipid set of players. The tie does, sadly, seem to be over at the halfway point, with Spurs needing to score three against a team that had conceded one goal in their last fourteen matches prior to the first leg.

Benfica, managed by Jorge Jesus since June 2009, tend to rotate players frequently and were missing key men, but still looked like one of the most slick, cohesive units to visit White Hart Lane this season. In contrast, Spurs struggled to string more than a few passes together at a time, illustrated by the fact that not a single player finished the game with a pass completion of 90% or more – pretty unusual for Spurs this season. Indeed, our most important creative element, Christian Eriksen, ended with a 69% completion, which reflected his poor decision-making throughout the game.

Sherwood brought Harry Kane into the line-up as a number 10 to add strength and another player with the ability to play with his back to goal; it was unfortunate for Harry that his most eye-catching moment was a poor loss of possession in a dangerous area, from which Benfica won a corner and, eventually, scored a goal. He made up for it to an extent a few minutes later by winning the free-kick from which Eriksen scored, and was actually one of the only players to show a creative spark in the match – getting his head up and using the ball intelligently at times.

For me, the most frustrating element of the defeat was that all of the goals that we conceded were preventable. From the first – where Eriksen gave the ball away with a poor pass selection, and Naughton made the wrong decision too in not following his man – to the two set pieces, where our man-to-man making went to pot. Kaboul, a big favourite of mine, will be disappointed with his part in both of the set piece goals; he was blocked off for the first, and not tight enough for the second.

Adebayor missed a wonderful chance to level the game on 48 minutes but, aside from that, Spurs barely created a thing in response.

With Jan Vertonghen suspended for the return leg, Tim Sherwood has to decide whether to go with Zeki Fryers and Younes Kaboul at centre-back, or whether he will go for broke and play a midfielder alongside Kaboul in the hope that we can play out from the back.

Before the first tie I wrote a preview for the excellent PortuGOAL website and the website owner and Portuguese football expert Tom Kundert (@Portu_Goal on Twitter) was kind enough to answer my questions about Benfica in response.

Benfica performed impressively at White Hart Lane – was that match typical of how Benfica have played this season?
Very much so, especially the last four months. From the moment coach Jorge Jesus took over in 2009/10, Benfica’s approach was non-stop frenetic attacking, leaving them vulnerable at the back. It was terrific to watch, but led to costly draws and defeats. This season there has been a noticeable shift to a more controlled, counter-attacking style. For the first time in years the defence has been the team’s strong point.

What did you make of Spurs’ showing?
They struck me as a team lacking a clear idea of what they should be doing. Player for player the two sides are probably quite well matched. Players like Eriksen, Paulinho, Lennon and Adebayor are exactly the type of players Jorge Jesus likes to work with, but there was no discernable pattern to Tottenham’s play, and when that happens a player can only shine through an individual moment of inspiration – like Eriksen’s beautiful goal. Jorge Jesus almost always gets the very best out of his players, but overall you got the feeling Tottenham’s lack of cohesion was preventing their most talented players from showing their best. The individuals were working for the team but the team wasn’t working for the individuals.

Do you have any fear at all that Benfica won’t progress in the competition?
It’s a funny old game and all that, but to be honest, no.

With the tie looking dead and buried, will Jorge Jesus take the opportunity to rotate the squad?
Yes. Benfica pretty much threw away the last two championships after leading Porto until near the end of the season and a big reason was because of poor (or complete lack) of rotation. Jorge Jesus has learned from his mistakes and has rotated heavily this season. Given that Benfica played on Monday night, I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes 5 or 6 changes to the side. But as he’s done that for most of the season none of the players are coming in completely cold so I wouldn’t expect Benfica’s performance level to drop significantly.

Jorge Jesus’ touchline antics – what did you make of the incident?
It wasn’t pretty and he’s been slated in the Portuguese media for his antics. Several commentators even said he managed to ruin what should have been a memorable night for Benfica. He’s got previous in this regard. He once waved four fingers at Nacional coach Manuel Machado after Benfica scored a 4th goal against them, then made a lame excuse saying he was telling his team to play four at the back!

In Portugal what really shocked people was the way he treated his assistant and two Benfica legends who are part of the staff – Rui Costa and Shéu. It would obviously be preferable that he carried himself better, although if I’m perfectly honest, it makes for terrific entertainment. He seems to fall into a different zone during games. A flawed genius, you could say.

Finally, some more general questions: what do you make of the current state of English football, and how does it compare to football in Portugal?
I don’t follow English football very closely nowadays, although I’ve caught a few games this season as for the first time in a long time it seems quite an unpredictable battle for the title. As for comparing the two, the quality of the EPL is much deeper all the way down the league, but Portugal’s best one or two teams are often almost as good or as good as the best in England, which is quite amazing given the discrepancy in revenue, i.e. a top Portuguese side will have to sell its best one or two players every summer, while an EPL side would think little of splashing many millions on reinforcements.

I can only conclude that Portugal have better coaches, better scouting set-ups and are better at developing their players. I suppose in England there is so much money that most of the time when things go wrong the solution is to spend, spend, spend rather than building something with more solid foundations.

Having said all that, there are many aspects of the English game which Portuguese football should try to emulate. Full stadiums and passionate crowds, more respect for fair play (less diving), not blaming every refereeing mistake on corruption.

You have a pretty tough World Cup group (Germany, USA, Ghana) – where do you see the national team finishing in the group?
Portugal always thrive when they’re given a tough mission. At Euro 2000, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 they landed in the “Group of Death”, but in all three tournaments they progressed and were only narrowly beaten by the eventual winners and at both Euros they made it to the semis. I’m confident they’ll get through the group in second, beat Belgium in the last 16 and set up a Ronaldo-Messi shoot-out in the quarter-finals. You heard it here first.

Many thanks to Tom for taking the time!

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March 11, 2014

Where I am with THFC

I keep thinking of writing something about our current situation but wonder which angle to take; to write an article that is adding something new to the debate or unique in some way is difficult. For insightful and intelligent comment on our plight, I have to recommend the following:

Greg Stobart on The e-Spurs Podcast – Goal.com’s Greg Stobart talks much sense on where we go from here.
Spurs Lose It, Tim Loses It, I’m Next – Alan Fisher points the finger at Levy (as eloquently as ever).
Enic out!? No – just do their job. The state of Spurs we’re in – Adam Powley also talks about ENIC, and does so beautifully.

Though I do not agree with every word written or spoken, I am unable to come close to the detail and sentiment contained in the above so, instead, I have decided to scribble down a summary on some of the key issues in the hope that I feel better afterwards. And – through me – you might also find some relief to your Spurs-related suffering!

Sherwood’s tactics

There is no denying that we have looked fragmented and disorganised in some of our recent outings, but Sherwood and his coaching team are not as tactically inept as many will have you believe. The first half of the Chelsea match was going very much to plan (albeit with a little bit of luck inside the first five minutes) and, until Jan fell over and had a brain-fart, the second half was going reasonably well too.

With Chris Ramsey – viewed by those in the know as one of the better coaches around – working with our players on the training ground, I think it is unfair to assume our players are just told to ‘run about a bit’. The problem might be that Sherwood’s ethos is too different from AVB’s and – in trying to change too much, too soon – we are falling somewhere between, meaning that we are often open and unbalanced.

Sherwood’s preference seems to be for us to move the ball quickly into wide areas, using Adebayor to create triangles and find the wingers/full-backs. He has chopped and changed from inverted wingers (Lennon on the left) to using one wide player and one player to drift in (Eriksen from the left) to two old-fashioned wingers on their “right” sides. He does not seem to particularly favour any of these strategies, instead making selections based on player availability and the opposition on the day (i.e. Walker on the right of midfield to combat Hazard).

Bentaleb

The jokes about Bentaleb being Tim Sherwood’s lovechild or that Sherwood gets a bonus for Bentaleb’s appearances are somewhat insulting. Since he came into the side, Bentaleb has been consistently good – especially for a 19-year old who had previously not played any league football.  He has not been anything more than good (except for the Newcastle game, where he showed attacking thrust from central midfield that we have not seen since Luka Modric left) but he has not had any matches where he has stood out as being particularly bad either. The Arsenal and City games are cited as having been shockers for Nabil, where he was “out of his depth”; I mostly disagree. Overrun, perhaps, but that was more down to overall team tactics than his individual performances.

In Bentaleb we have a real talent who I hope and believe will go on to be a first team regular at the club for years to come. We have yet to see him at his attacking best in the first team and, once we do, he will hopefully surprise a few people.

Sherwood’s interview

Tim Sherwood’s post-match interview has divided opinion. For me, the home truths needed saying, and his honesty and obvious passion were raw and endearing. It remains to be see whether it will help the team (or himself), but I am hopeful that those players that do care will want to prove a point.

It felt fairly obvious to me that Sherwood was referring to Vertonghen and Paulinho, and possibly Dembele. Vertonghen’s attitude has been poor for a long-time, with the player visibly sulking about having to play at left-back as well as being outspoken of his preference for playing in the centre. Paulinho seems to want to preserve his health for the World Cup in his home country – understandable, perhaps, but his lack of commitment in challenges has not impressed fans. And Dembele was rumoured to have pulled out of the game with little more than a minor knock, which – if true – will no doubt have irked Sherwood.

Identity

The buzz-word of the moment is ‘identity’; apparently we lack one. Many seem to have tied this into André Villas-Boas leaving and Sherwood coming in, whilst others suggest that it dates back further.

The identity that AVB installed – whether he meant to or not – was that of a team that kept things tight and hoped to win by the odd goal. Personally, I was happy for the club to give him time to move beyond this, but that’s where his team was when we parted company.

Sherwood’s ideal identity is a team that plays fluent, attacking football. He talks about having players that can pass the ball, about not wanting players who are solely defensive-minded in the middle of his midfield. Clearly he has not achieved anything like a fluent attacking unit just yet, but it is still early days. Identity is a big word, and is not something that can be found overnight.

The new signings

At the start of the season I was wildly praising the work that Franco Baldini had done in bringing in our seven new signings (and getting shot of a fair amount of deadwood). In hindsight we have overspent on players who are either unsuited, no better than what we had, and/or failing to settle.

Christian Eriksen and Vlad Chiriches have been the pick of the signings, but neither has been consistently good. In both, we have seen glimpses that offer encouragement for next year, and we have to remain hopeful on Erik Lamela too (although seeing Adel Taarabt tear up Serie A does make one wonder…). I would suggest that there is a strong possibility that the we will cut our losses on Capoue, Chadli, Paulinho and perhaps even Soldado, none of whom have played well enough to maintain a first team place.

Ian Broomfield

The re-appointment of Ian Broomfield as a scout suggests that Daniel Levy is far from impressed by the players identified by Franco Baldini and his network.

Broomfield followed Harry Redknapp to QPR, but has been tempted back to the club despite strong interest from Arsenal, who he seemed about to join. He was supposedly responsible for identifying Sandro, and instrumental in the captures of Vertonghen, Dembele, and Lloris, as well as recommending Suarez (who Redknapp turned down).

This move could mean that Baldini will be on his way out or, at the very least, that his areas of responsibility will change.

Louis van Gaal

Rumours suggest that Louis van Gaal will be our next manager, with Levy having put in plenty of groundwork, and LvG even touting himself for the job.

Greg Stobart put it brilliant; Van Gaal is the one type of manager that Levy has yet to take a chance on – “the legendary manager, the guy who has won everything, whose done it, who can go into a club and ave the personality and aura to just take over”. But yet there are no guarantees; LvG might not be a silver bullet for our club.

With the World Cup final on 13th July, Van Gaal – should he be appointed – would have approximately a month to assess the squad, recommend players to be sold (in order to trim the wage bill), and identify key positions to strengthen. It is not impossible to do that effectively, but the timeframe is not ideal.

Then there is Van Gaal’s management style – he does not suffer fools, and is not worried about speaking his mind to fans and the media. He is keen on squad rotation – something that Premier League football fans seem uncomfortable with – and has had a number of fallings out with players. He’s an abrasive character that will undoubtedly rub some up the wrong way. But he’s also a born winner who has a track history for improving players when he joins a club. The signs are good, but there are always doubts – there are no guarantees that Levy and LvG will be a match made in heaven.

The Summer

Complete overhaul, partial overhaul, or continuity? Sherwood and Baldini out and Van Gaal in? Just Baldini out? Just Sherwood out? High player turnover? Or stick for another year?

Part of me is keen to see Sherwood given the opportunity to sign his own players and to see what happens. I have been open to him having an opportunity because we have consistently been too quick to judge managers and make changes in the past. Many of those who wanted AVB to have more time have already turned on Sherwood, failing to see the irony in doing so.

Sherwood may never amount to much as our Head Coach – or as a manager elsewhere – but he holds the position so he deserves our patience, especially having inherited a dysfunctional team mid-season.

On the other hand, a substantial section of the fan-base seems pretty set on him being a failure, and an unwelcome one at that. With that in mind, it might be best for him to either fade into the background – back into a Technical Co-Ordinator/Director role – or to leave the club entirely.

Personally, I struggle to see how Baldini – as nice a man and strong a negotiator as he is meant to be – can be kept on after the absolute failure of his signings.

Perspective

We have the 6th highest wage bill in the Premier League, and yet we sit in 5th place. We are, at least, punching our weight.

We can still win a trophy and the good news for next season is that we have a *lot* of players with unfulfilled potential.

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Mostly pleased to see us revert to a back four because Juan Foyth is a quarter of the defence.
4 hours ago