June 18, 2016

England Don’t Deserve Harry Kane

During the England vs Wales match on Thursday, my Twitter-friend Dan Rattigan tweeted ‘England don’t deserve Kane’. I chortled to myself in the pub, hit the retweet button, and carried on my day. But then I came back to it later that night and realised how much it had resonated with me.

Of course I’m a Harry Kane apologist; I’m a Spurs fan. So here are my excuses on his behalf.

Before this tournament I was feeling grumpy, because I didn’t want to share Harry with other football fans — particularly those casuals who only show up when a big tournament comes around. So I should be happy, right, that I’m not having to? You’d think. Quiet in the first match, and hauled off at half-time against Wales, the backlash has begun, and I’m feeling like a protective boyfriend whose partner has just had her backside groped in a grotty nightclub.

Kane looks sluggish, and it doesn’t take too much digging to understand why. The Daily Mail (*spits*) did some really useful analysis (I know, me either) of the number of matches Kane has played over the last two years.

Harry Kane match analysis

It’s understandable that Kane looks tired.

But has Kane really been that bad? He’s been quiet, certainly. He’s not had much of the ball, he’s had no presentable chances, and he has not looked much of a goal threat.

On Thursday, Kane had just 13 touches in his 45 minutes; that’s not like him. Normally he is so involved, creating a platform for his team to play from. And yet Jamie Vardy only had seven touches in his time on the pitch. Vardy came on, scored a poachers goal from a position that would often have been offside and is spoken of as a hero, with fans in pubs across the country considering the alcoholic beverages and recreational drugs that may or may not be on offer at his upcoming soirée.

Whilst the other ‘super sub’, Daniel Sturridge, played 1700 minutes last season compared to Kane’s 4027. He’s fresher, looks sharp, and should be used. I’m sure he will be now, having come on and scored an impressive last-minute winner.

But I have no doubt that Kane would have buried the chance that Vardy scored to bring England level. And I have no doubt that had Kane remained on the pitch with either Sturridge or Vardy, he’d have had a positive impact in that second half.

The bigger issue, for me, has been the lack of service for the forward(s). Much of that can be put down to Raheem Sterling — bereft of confidence and looking a shadow of his former self — but even England’s better attacking performers (Wayne Rooney, Dele Alli, Adam Lallana) have failed to provide Kane and co with many clearcut chances.

Contrary to popular opinion, I actually think that England have generally played well, looking structurally sound, and conceding few chances in open play. They have played some neat and tidy football, which has been eye-catching at times, and a bit too side-to-side at others. We must remember, though, that the teams we have played so far have defended deep and in numbers, and it is never easy to penetrate sides that do that, as Spurs often found out last season.

For the Slovakia game I’d be looking at starting Sturridge and Vardy, but only to give Kane a bit of a break. Bring him on in the final twenty against tired legs, and hopefully he’ll get a goal to pep him up ahead of the next round. I would absolutely start him thereafter, because he’s our best forward. But I do think that he will need Sturridge and/or Vardy on the pitch with him, or for Alli to play high on the left as he did for Spurs for much of the season. Essentially, he needs someone to play off.

England don’t deserve Kane because ‘they’ don’t know how to love him like ‘we’ do.

Final thought. If you only read one thing today (other than this!), read this masterpiece about Eric Dier by Barney Ronay.

Tagged ,

May 20, 2016

70 Points

70 points for 70 points.

  1. We’re a good team.
  2. An actual, properly good team.
  3. I’ve loved this season, despite the way it ended. In an article I contributed to last week, I said it’d be a 6/10 season if we finished below Arsenal. In hindsight, I can’t hold us to that. 7/10 minimum; so much progress.
  4. It’s fairly obvious that we need to add depth for next season. The Champions League will take its toll far more than the Europa League and, whilst we could make mass changes and bring in ‘the kids’/squad fodder in the Europa League, we need players at a similar level to our first choice players in order to compete in both competitions next season if we want to hold our own. In fact, I would say that not necessary having obvious ‘first choice’ players is an aspiration.
  5. Because, as it stands, our first XI is pretty established; other than Son Heung-min/Kevin Wimmer pushing, the squad lacks players who genuinely challenge the first team spots. This is not ideal. We need to be able to rotate with less of a drop-off.
  6. We do have other players who *might* push next year — players like Clinton Njie, Nabil Bentaleb, Alex Pritchard, Harry Winks, Josh Onomah, heck, even (Big Fat) Nacer Chadli. And, based on the last two years, we can expect Mauricio Pochettino to improve all of those players. But I don’t think we can expect break-out seasons; we have been spoilt this year!
  7. Then you’ve got Kieran Trippier, Tom Carroll, DeAndre Yedlin, and Michel Vorm. Personally, I think that these players are not good enough for the number and status of games we’ll need them for and, personally, I’d try to move them on (though I know Trippier is relatively popular amongst our fan-base and that many disagree with me on that point).
  8. Ryan Mason is another who many expect to leave. He has been linked with Bournemouth, and it was telling that he was taken off at half-time against Newcastle, and that post-match Pochettino said “It’s important to analyse the goals, the formation of the squad and make some decisions.” This implied that he knows that some tinkering is required.
  9. On Mason specifically, it is worth noting that he has had significant injury problems throughout the season. I also, personally, think he’s unsuited to the role that he is being asked to play. Is he good enough to play as a Christian Eriksen/number ten in our team? Probably not. I could see him playing the Dele Alli false 9 role, though that is almost entirely based on what I saw during his youth career, which is now some time ago — Mason turns 25 in June.
  10. With the European Championships, so many question marks over squad members, so many youngsters who *might* fill gaps, and so many high-level games to play next year, it’s a very tricky summer of planning for Pochettino, Paul Mitchell and co.
  11. Who might we sign? We know that we need a defensive midfielder, and N’Golo Kanté would be the dream, though perhaps an unrealistic one. I am an admirer of Christoph Kramer of Bayer Leverkusen. Statistically, he’s comparable to Dier in terms of pass numbers, pass length, interceptions, but it’s noticeable that he makes three times as many tackles and also a higher proportion of forward passes. From the ‘eye test’, I know that he anticipates danger exceptionally well and, whilst he doesn’t cover ground too quickly, he gets across in time because his anticipation is so good.
  12. We might well need another central midfielder too, depending on who leaves and who is promoted. How settled is Morgan Schneiderlin at United? Will we rekindle our interest in Adrien Rabiot? These are good players who would add significant depth.
  13. Striker-wise, we’ve been linked with Michy Batshuayi (Olympique de Marseille), Saido Berahino (West Bromwich Albion) and, recently, Calum Wilson (Bournemouth). Statistically, none of them really match up to Kane, but we have an elite-level striker and it will be incredibly difficult to find someone as good.
  14. We do need someone, though, and preferably someone who can play up front alone, but also in tandem with Kane should we require it. Versatility would be useful.
  15. Do we need to buy? Can we promote from within? Do we need to be concerned about the ‘home grown’ rule? Were we to lose Mason and Carroll — as many people expect — it would take us down to five home-grown players (Walker, Rose, Trippier, Davies, Kane), as we sold Andros Townsend last season.
  16. Alex Pritchard and Grant Ward would also need to be included on our 25-man squad list, as they have now passed the age barrier, and they are also home-grown — so that could be one way to manage this and would take us to seven. Dominic Ball has not passed the age threshold just yet so would not need to be listed – nor would Winks, Onomah, or even Dele Alli.
  17. I am also fairly certain that Nabil Bentaleb *will* be counted as home-grown (depending on when he was formally registered).
  18. Next year’s a big season for Bentaleb. As I said on the final Fighting Cock podcast of the season: if he’s the Bentaleb of two season’s ago, he’s an exciting asset; if he’s the Bentaleb of last season, he’s a liability.
  19. Rumour has it that he has settled down and smoothed things over with the club after an apparent falling out about his contract negotiations. I heard that the club were unhappy with his ‘entourage’ for going to the press.
  20. Clinton Njie’s first season has been a bit like Erik Lamela’s first. He’s looked a bit lost, has suffered with injuries, and a lot of fans are writing him off and calling for him to be sold. But, like Lamela, he has shown some promising glimpses. Hopefully with a good pre-season behind him, and plenty of Pochettino moulding he will become an asset next year.
  21. Lamela: wow! Boy, has he stepped it up?! A remarkable season from him considering where he was a year ago — 11 goals and 10 assists in all competitions. He is also the through-ball king.
  22. Lamela finished the season as our second top scorer in all competitions. We also had two players (Lamela and Alli) with 10 or more goals and assists. Eriksen ended the season with eight goals, 16 assists. So impressive from our ‘band of three’.
  23. Part of Lamela’s improvement has come due to the general tactical progression seen in this season. For a full run-down on our tactics, you really must check out this outstanding article from Talking Tottenham Tactics.
  24. But, generally, what a turn-around this year compared to last. We punched above our weight last year, and were heavily reliant on Harry Kane. This year we went up a notch in terms of team-shape, organisation, tactical astuteness, and individual player growth.
  25. In my opinion no player improved more than Mousa Dembélé. He was consistently one of our best players, and he was also very well-managed. His body is not up to playing two matches a week, and Pochettino intelligently ensured that he played just 2511 minutes across the season — nearly a full 2000 fewer than Toby Alderweireld, who played the most in the squad (4410).
  26. Other players who played a very high number of minutes are: Dier (4360), Lloris (4140), Kane (4027), and Eriksen (3906). And I would argue that these are four of the players for whom we lack obvious back-ups. Ideally next year we will have alternatives so that we can cut down the number of minutes that they play and keep them fresher for longer.
  27. Dembélé had his break-out season and became one of the first names on the team sheet and one of the best midfielders in the Premier League. I am fascinated to see whether he starts for Belgium in the European Championships; previously he has been a bit-part player for them as much as he has for us, presumably because they also struggled to get consistent performances out of him.
  28. But Dembélé wasn’t the only midfielder to shine. First, Eric Dier. A storming year for this 22-year old stalwart. I cannot wait to see how he progresses next season; not only in terms of his defensive play, but his burgeoning ability on the ball.
  29. And PFA Young Player of the Year 2015-16, Dele Alli. What a superstar. The confidence with which this guy plays the game is next level — I’ve rarely seen anything like it in a player that young. Well, perhaps I have: Wayne Rooney.
  30. If he got a four-game ban for this on Claudio Yacob, how did he not get ten games for brutalising Mile Jedinak at Selhurst Park?
  31. As a slight aside, I think Charlie Parrish will give birth to a kitten if this happens.
  32. And on the subject of Charlie, he and I have an exciting project planned for next season which you will hear more about very soon! No, not that.
  33. Back to the goals. We’ve seen some special goals this season. Alli’s was special, but Harry Kane’s goal against Arsenal made me cry real tears. I was a bit overcome. If only… if only it had been the winner, it would have been the perfect moment that Martine McCutcheon sang about.
  34. Kane continues to be a total hero. Not only is he a top-class striker, he is a top-class footballer. A #baller, in fact. The only tiny, tiny downside to Kane this year is that he only managed two assists, a third of last year’s total. Is that a problem? I doubt it, but it’s a point of interest.
  35. Kane was brilliant for nearly all of the season, but looked a little jaded towards the end of the campaign, and it’s a pity in many ways that he won’t get a full summer off.
  36. In fact, @raymondverheije has been tweeting about Spurs’ fitness levels.Tweets from @raymondverheije
  37. Personally, I don’t think the issue is quite as serious as Verheijen describes, though I must admit to being concerned by burn-out throughout the season as our squad is so small. Plus, Bielsa Burnout is a thing.
  38. For me, the problem was more mental fatigue than physical. The ‘title challenge’ seemed to take its toll, and the matches against West Bromwich Albion, Chelsea and especially Newcastle United were low points. Southampton was a bit of a blip, as we didn’t play too badly (despite losing).
  39. “We were on holiday and that is the reality.” was the slightly worrying quote from Pochettino post-Newcastle. How did this mentality seep in? Rumour has it that Danny Rose was out enjoying himself in Sunderland the night before (hence being dropped), so perhaps that shaped Pochettino’s comments.
  40. I still believe that if we’d had Dembélé and Alli for the full run-in, we’d have finished second.
  41. Newcastle-aside, the season’s other low points for me were the West Ham match, where we barely turned up and struggled tactically
  42. …and Borussia Dortmund away. At the time, I could understand the rotation. But, in hindsight, I don’t think it would have been asking too much to squeeze a little more from the first-choice players for such a big game. Tom Carroll and Ryan Mason in central midfield was a step too far, and with Keiran Trippier and Josh Onomah also starting, it felt a bit too ‘reserve’.
  43. The high points were the 4-1 thrashing of Manchester City, where we absolutely took them apart and showed how far we had grown since the previous season.
  44. Plus the 3-0 win at White Hart Lane against United. A cagey game where we flicked a switch and scored three goals in six minutes. Bliss.
  45. And the 4-0 demolition job on Stoke, where we looked like we would score with every attack.
  46. Shout-out too for Watford away, where we played poorly but scored an offside, last-minute winner. Glorious!
  47. So much went right, on the pitch, but things are going well off it too. Pochettino has signed a new deal and had a change of job title – he’s now Manager rather than Head Coach.
  48. I have no idea what this means in terms of responsibilities or day-to-day operations (I’m hoping we’ll know more after the THST have met the board next week), but it seems to imply greater responsibility.
  49. Does this mean he has more of a say in transfers? I’m not sure, but I don’t want anything to change in that respect. Because: Toby Alderweireld, Dele Alli, Kevin Wimmer. Three monstrous signings for comparatively little money. Clinton Njie and Kieran Trippier have — so far — not been as positive, but are by no means duds.
  50. I hope we take the cups seriously next season. Some fans still haven’t fully forgiven Pochettino for Fazio against Arsenal (I’m looking at you, Bardi). The FA Cup was a little different, as we deserved to win against Crystal Palace; but that felt like a huge missed opportunity.
  51. Another minor concern was the lack of opportunities for youth players this season. Not that I’d have expected lots to be thrown in during a title-chase, but earlier in the season against some pretty poor teams in the Europa League, I felt that a few more players could have been introduced/integrated/included on the bench.
  52. We have some good youth players bubbling under who can hopefully push for squad places next year: Cameron Carter-Vickers (18-year old centre-back), Kyle Walker-Peters (19-year old right-back), plus the returning loanees Grant Ward (21-year old midfielder), Conor Ogilvie (20-year old left-back) and Dominic Ball (20-year old centre-back / defensive midfielder).
  53. On the subject of youth, I fully expect the Under-21 squad to be trimmed this summer, either through players being sold or released. We have a few players who are clearly not going to make it, and who are effectively standing in the way of those who might.
  54. We should find out the list of released players on or around the 10th June; the club has to submit its list of released/retained players by tomorrow (21st May).
  55. At the moment, we are pretty much sure that Emmanuel Sonupe from the Under-21s, plus Armani Daly, Charlie Hayford and Chris Paul from the Under-18s will not be retained. There will undoubtedly be others.
  56. The progression to the final of the NextGen Series last week was a good sign — as was Marcus Edwards (arguably the best 17-year old in the country) winning the joint Most Valuable Player award.
  57. The next tournament is the Terborg Tournament, which takes place between the 20th and 22nd May. Our squad should be made up of Academy scholars, plus three overage players. The rules say that it is a tournament for “…players born later than 1. January 1997 and before 31. December 1998. Each team may have up to 3 players no more than 1 year older…”.
  58. The intake for next year’s academy is incredibly exciting, with some very talented players beginning scholarships. We are expecting the following to be given scholarships: Freeman, Eyoma, Dinzeyi, Omolabi, Hinds, Oakley-Booth, Kirby, Griffiths, Lock. There are at least a further two players who must be in contention in Reynolds and Grant. We await confirmation!
  59. This will be a particularly strong Academy group, with the second years made up of: Austin, Bennetts, Brown, Duncan, Edwards, Marsh, Mukena, Oteh, Roles, Tanganga, Sterling, Shashoua, Tsaroulla and Whiteman. A number of these players should be promoted to the Under-21s pretty much from the start of the season.
  60. What might next season have in store? Would finishing lower than 3rd be a failure next time out? Personally, I don’t think we can expect to finish third or above next year as the richer clubs (notice I didn’t say ‘bigger’!) will be wounded animals. They will spend vast amounts in the summer and at least some of them could reasonably be expected to revert back to their previous levels, depending on how they get on with new managers. But I do think we have the ability to challenge, especially if we can keep key players fit again.
  61. We have a number of players who have yet to peak, or who have untold levels of potential (Kane, Alli, Dier), along with a few who seem to peaking — Dembélé, Alderweireld and Lloris come to mind, but I’m tempted to include Walker and Rose in this list too.
  62. Spurs must be a very attractive option to players right now, and the fact that we pay less than other clubs is probably slightly less significant than it once was.
  63. If we can keep Pochettino and his team in place, then the future is just so exciting.
  64. The final few points are a bit me-me-me but, hell, I’m running out of material and it seems fitting to end on a few thank yous.
  65. Thank you to my sister, Sarah, and my good friends Paul and Nick for the great company at first team matches this season.
  66. Thank you to C Raynor and MW for their occasional but excellent company at youth matches this season.
  67. Thank you to my Fighting Cock brothers for the million WhatsApp messages every day. If you like our podcast, by the way, it’d be wonderful if you could leave a review on iTunes.
  68. Shout out to GERRYinHONGKONG who is the most consistent commenter on this blog. I don’t always reply to your comments, Gerry, but I read and appreciate every single one!
  69. Thank you to Dan for maintaining this website — rather excitingly there might be a new look next year.
  70. Thank you to you all for reading my blog, Twitter feed and listening to the podcast. I’m hopefully going to have more time to take on new writing opportunities next year, and will consider anything (paid or unpaid); please do get in touch at Windy@WindyCOYS.com. See you next season and Come On You Spurs! #COYS

Tagged ,

May 7, 2016

Battle of the Bridge – some vague thoughts

On this week’s Fighting Cock podcast we had a lengthy discussion about the Chelsea match, specifically the ‘antics’ of our players. I felt I needed to get it out of my system — I was really angry at their behaviour, and I used some strong language — ‘ashamed’ being one such word. I stand by it too.

The response I had on Twitter, on forums, in messages from friends and on the pod itself was… let’s say ‘mixed’! I’ve had messages from people saying that they agreed with me and that I articulated their own views. Equally, I’ve been called a disgrace, and more than one person has said that they actually switched off the podcast, so angry were they at my views, which were obviously the polar opposite of theirs (which is a pity, as if they had carried on listening, they would have heard Flav and Thelonious arguing with me vehemently and laughing off a lot of the incidents. Both sides were covered.).

I’ll preface this by saying that I totally *get* why the players were so wound up. There are many factors which undoubtedly played a part:

– The fact that it was a local derby.
– The pressure of being in a title challenge.
– The fact that we had given up a lead the previous week and, effectively, given up that title challenge.
– The comments of Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas leading up to the match.
– The fact that the team are — on the whole — young.
– The fact that some of these players have had a few years of ‘big clubs’ winding up our players, surrounding and intimidating referees, and using the dark arts against us.
– Diego Costa. Enough said.

There are mitigating factors. Lots of them! I do understand that.

But our behaviour was, in my view, 1. unacceptable and 2. counter-productive.

Some of it was acceptable. We set out to wind up Diego Costa, hoping that he’d last out or, at least, lose focus. We went into challenges with that extra bit of fire in the belly. It’s a derby, and that is all understandable, excusable, and even potentially useful.

But it became unacceptable; we went too far. We were often the provocateurs, the antagonists, the troublemakers. I don’t need to list the offences — you all know what happened. But suffice to say that had the referee and/or his assistants seen everything clearly and correctly, we could have ended up with seven players on the field at the end of the game. Indeed, Eric Dier could have been sent off twice over (for two bookable offences and then a straight red card offence at the end).

People have excused it as the players ‘not giving in’ to Chelsea’s ways. That not only misrepresents the way that it went — i.e. we were more often the ones doing the winding up — but, for me, also doesn’t explain the levels of indiscipline. Setting a Premier League record for nine bookings in a match, as well as receiving a club charge for the melee at the end is shameful. To me, it came off as the players having a tantrum at Leicester winning the league more than anything else.

And it was counterproductive because when we lost our discipline, we also lost our tactical discipline, and subsequently lost our lead (okay, we didn’t just lose due to our indiscipline, but it contributed). So intent did we seem on kicking Chelsea’s players that we forgot to play like a team. Chelsea took advantage, mostly through a phenomenal second half performance from Eden Hazard, who not only reminded us of his ability, but also that he hasn’t shown up for nearly a whole season — shameful in itself.

So onto that shame word. The reason I was ashamed was that this was not the Tottenham Hotspur team that I know and have loved this season. I have never seen us play like that; with such venom, such aggression, such nastiness. I have not seen us react so strongly to decisions, or rear up at every flash point.

Some fans have justified this by saying that this is why we have not won anything in our recent history. That the reason we have not won leagues is because we have never shown this passion, aggression, fight, spirit. I could not disagree more; there have just been better teams.

This season we have shown more aggression — tactically, individually, collectively — than I have ever seen a Spurs team show. And it has mostly been on the right side of the line (bar a few Dele Alli and Erik Lamela moments). We have been so focussed, so disciplined, have shown bundles of belief, energy, self-control. Had we shown that same discipline against Chelsea, from start to finish, we would have won the match. At 2-0 up just show that same cold, calculating focus that we showed in other games, and see it out. It might be easier said than done, but we’ve done it for most of the season.

I was embarrassed watching us try to kick players for the last ten minutes because it felt desperate, it felt childish, and it felt like an outpouring of frustration of how the season had panned out, rather than a deliberate attempt to ‘send a message’ to Chelsea (and others) that they can’t just walk all over us any more.

And even if it were ‘a message’, it was the wrong one. What have Chelsea learned from that? That Spurs can very much be wound up. That we are emotionally vulnerable, liable to lose discipline and — in essence — very much susceptible to the dark arts.

Next season will see both fixtures hyped and billed as grudge matches, with a circus surrounding each. That will add extra pressure to an already big occasion, making it harder to simply beat Chelsea by being the better team — as we are at this moment in time.

Nobody said pre-match that we needed to show that we aren’t pushovers — that we need to go out and prove a point to Chelsea by being extra-physical. Because, frankly, we’ve done that across the entire season. We have steamrolled teams, we have had Alli and Lamela dishing out just-below-the-radar levels of spite, and we’ve had Eric Dier making strong challenges when it mattered. So to justify the behaviour based upon a need to assert ourselves is revisionist.

Another argument goes that the players showed that they care. That they went out with a fight. I just don’t buy this. They showed that they were angry, and they showed that they had a nasty streak. Is that showing that they care? Is losing a 2-0 lead going out with a fight? To me, showing that they care would have been following team instructions to the letter for 90 minutes, and then going over to applaud our travelling fans (who were utterly wonderful, once again by the way) at the end. That’s how the bond between players and fans has been built this season – hard work and focus from minute one to minute 95.

Having slept on it, I have mellowed on the Mousa Dembélé issue. On the podcast I got a little carried away and suggested that he deserved a ten-game ban. Actually, I think the FA got it right, and six games seems fair to me. But I stand by my other comments.

I’m not even going to get started on the ‘rise above it’ argument, because I imagine that many people are already finding this somewhat sanctimonious, and also that they enjoyed seeing us fire shots. Indeed, I feel a little bad going over this again, because I have loved this season. It has been up there with just about any other Spurs season in my memory, and to write this feels like a betrayal of what has been a thoroughly enjoyable year of football, which has left me feeling incredibly proud and optimistic about the direction of travel. But, equally, I don’t want to shy away from my opinion that this was not something I want to see repeated.

I love you, Spurs, but let’s learn from Monday and channel that aggression in a more productive way next time.

Tagged ,

May 3, 2016

End of Season Loanee Review

As I was collecting information for my weekly Fighting Cock Podcast youth update, I put out a call for club-specific info about our loanees. The responses were nuggets of gold, so I decided to form a blog from the bulk of them. And so, without further ado…

DeAndre Yedlin – Sunderland (Premier League)

Grant Ward – Rotherham United (Championship)

Or should I say ‘double award winner’ Grant Ward?

Paul Davis of the Sheffield Star sent me this fantastic run-down:

There are flaws in Grant Ward’s game … but not many.

The midfield youngster who celebrated his 21st birthday during his season-long loan at AESSEAL New York Stadium was a key figure in Rotherham United’s successful fight for Championship survival.

He found himself out of favour early in his stay during the reign of Steve Evans, but his pace and direct running earned the admiration of successor Neil Redfearn who picked him for virtually every game.

“He gets you up the pitch. Very quickly,” Redfearn said.

Neil Warnock duly replaced Redfearn and Ward’s dynamism and workrate quickly won over the veteran boss.

Ward’s final ball still needs working on, while learning to give a quick, easy pass would add to his armoury.

But, in terms of attacking threat on the right flank, he was up there all season with the best in the division.

He was given a central role at times but produced his best performances out wide where he was always bold enough to take on his man and quick enough to usually leave him for dead.

He also came up with the Millers’ goal of the season, a thunderous 30-yard effort in front of the Sky cameras against Burnley.

Grant Ward. Honorary Miller. Rotherham fans are very sorry to see him go.

Dominic Ball – Rangers (Scottish Championship)

From @IbroxBuzz:

His best position is DM, loves a tackle, quite physical. His use of the ball and general footballing mind seem to be his best attributes. At centre back he really suits our style of play due to composure. For a young boy he’s very vocal, can tell he’s come from an academy with high standards, talking more experienced pros through games and his media skills are top class. Would 100% take him back in a heartbeat, definitely has a future in the game.

And from Jason from Rangers Report:

Warburton always seemed to rely on Ball whenever a big match came around, not so much in defence but as a holding midfielder. Always came through with solid performances. Did I see anything that screams – “here’s a future EPL player”? No. But I also didn’t see anything that showed that he couldn’t play at that level. Given his role (& the way Rangers dominated) he wasn’t under much pressure defensively. As much as I’d love to see him back at Ibrox – he’d probably be better suited playing going on loan with an English Championship side to better evaluate his future value for Spurs.

Thanks to those gentlemen for the terrific insight!

Federico Fazio – Sevilla (La Liga)


Alex Pritchard – West Bromwich Albion (Premier League)

So, I started with the players who finished the season still on loan. And I wanted to get this out while it was current… but I will revisit this and get something together for the rest of this season’s loanees:

Kenny McEvoy – Stevenage, York City (League Two) NB: now joined York permanently.
Shaq Coulthirst – Wigan (League One)
Harry Voss – Stevenage (League Two)
Christian Maghoma – Yeovil Town (League Two)
Nathan Oduwa – Rangers (Scottish Championship), Colchester United (League One)
Connor Ogilvie – Stevenage (League Two)
Ryan Loft – Braintree Town (National League)

A final thought – Spurs have very clearly changed their loan policy over the past few years, with numbers dropping off significantly from around 30 loan deals eight years ago, to roughly a third of that now – see The Spurs Report’s piece on this for more detailed information. Loans seem to be used for specific reasons now – 1. sink or swim (Oduwa), 2. try before you buy (McEvoy) , or 3. too good an opportunity to turn down (Ward). A fourth category might be ‘to test the player’s temperament’. It will be fascinating to see how this is developed next season too.

Tagged , ,

April 14, 2016

Eric Dier is our playmaker

He might not yet be Xabi Alonso, but Eric Dier is developing impressive deep-lying playmaker skills to go alongside his existing defensive talents.

Dier’s rise this season would have been the ‘story of Spurs’ season’ in most other campaigns. But, much like how the Premier League has three or four huge stories going on at once (Leicester City, Chelsea, West Ham United, and Spurs), so has our own squad: Dele Alli taking to the Premier League and showing signs of becoming our next Galáctico; Harry Kane proving that he’s here to stay; Mousa Dembélé becoming the player many of us had convinced ourselves he’d never become; Toby Alderweireld playing like the Belgian Ledley King. I could go on.

The narrative of Dier’s transition to midfield has been written about a lot — from his previous run in midfield for Sporting Clube de Portugal, to the experiments in pre-season, to being thrown straight in on the opening day at Old Trafford. Initially he looked a little clunky and hindered by his frame — he picked up three yellow cards in his first four league games of the season — but he was soon breaking up play and distributing with refreshing simplicity. And whilst it was a well-kept secret amongst Spurs fans that Dier was a naturally brilliant crosser of the ball, his passing game has been spoken about less. But it is absolutely deserving of some recognition.

I tweeted this post-Liverpool match, once I’d watch the game for a second time; I’d had a beer or two the first time, and wanted to focus on the nuances with a clear head. Dier’s ambitious play-making caught my eye. These two attempted clipped passes between the left-back (Alberto Moreno) and left-sided centre-back (Mamadou Sakho) for Son Heung-min to run onto filled me with excitement about what’s to come once Son has acclimatised.

Dier to Son 1st half

Dier to Son 2nd half

These show that Dier has the requisite vision to pick out a run, the poise to be able to find space and get his body into the right shape, and the execution to play this type of pass with the perfect weight.

Typically, the deep-lying playmaker is a holding midfielder whose focus is on passing rather than tackling. I can’t help but come back to Jonathan Wilson description of Xabi Alonso in this article for The Guardian: “Xabi Alonso, although capable of making tackles, focused on keeping the ball moving, occasionally raking long passes out to the flanks to change the angle of attack like an old-style regista.” And, of course, it will depend on a number of factors as to what the key focus of the player is — does his team have the majority of possession? Are the team pressing high? Where will he be receiving the ball? In our case, the answers are: yes, yes, and often between the centre-backs. Dier is expected to do a bit of everything, and I am by no means trying to argue that he will be moving away from being a combative player to a ball-playing one; this is simply another string to his bow.

Dembélé is one of the world’s finest at retaining possession, but his use of the ball is generally fairly simplistic — he attempts lots of short, lateral passes, choosing to make ground by dribbling rather than by using forward passes. To compensate for this, Dier has been asked to play a slightly more expansive game; he attempts more than double the number of long passes (3.4) as  Dembélé (1.5). Indeed, after Kevin Wimmer (59.9) and Tom Carroll (59.2), Dier attempts more passes per 90 minutes (57.0) in the Premier League than anyone else in our squad.

In our system, Dier drops in between the centre-backs (or alongside them, in the right-back area, depending on the phase of play) and receives the ball. He steps into midfield and uses his teammates to create triangles. He moves the ball swiftly into the advanced full-backs, but also regularly fires forward passes into the feet of Kane, Alli, Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen. And, as the above clips show, he’s also willing to play the ball over the top of a defence.

The comparison of the Dier and Dembélé pass maps are intriguing.

Dier & Dembele pass maps vs Bournemouth

In the Bournemouth match, we can see how many relatively long passes Dier played to find the full-backs, especially Danny Rose. Dembélé also played a lot of passes to the left-back area, but they were mostly shorter passes, and he rarely played anything out to the opposite side of the pitch to which he was situated. Dier made plenty of attempted passes, some of which were into the box — in this instance, they all failed. But the intent was clearly there for him to be creating.

Dier & Dembele pass maps vs Liverpool

Against Liverpool, we can again see lots of expansive Dier passes – attempting to direct the ball into different areas, both across the pitch and the final third. Again, most of his more ambitious passes failed, but he did create a chance with a long pass into the box, and sometimes just the willingness to play a long pass can force a team to drop that bit deeper. Dembélé was typically economical with his passing, rarely giving the ball away, but also rarely attempting anything expansive, such is his role.

Dier & Dembele pass maps vs Man Utd

The United game was different. Dier only made 37 passes, Dembélé 44. United dominated possession, and the game was often broken up and quite stop-start. The passing of both players was much more restricted, and both had sub-80% pass completion rates, which is unusual — especially for the economical Dembélé.

It will be interesting to see how the skill sets of the two are put to use over the final few games, and whether he continues to show signs of being able to play a more traditional regista role.

Tagged ,

RSS Feed Google+s The Fighting Cock!