January 31, 2015
I thought this was worth documenting as it’s something that comes up regularly.
We have several first-team players with contracts expiring this summer:
We then have youngsters with unknown contract lengths who I suspect might be released if their deals are expiring:
Grant Hall might be included too, although the club could get a fee for him – he’s a relatively proven Championship player.
Daniel Akindayini is on the 3rd year of a scholarship and will surely be released.
Lloyd Ross is the only one of the second year scholars that I am adamant will be released – the following are borderline between being given professional contracts or offered a third year of their scholarship:
Joe Pritchard – has had a serious injury.
Anton Walkes – 3 months ago I’d have had him on the ‘release’ list.
They have until the rest of the season to impress basically.
I gather the following have already signed professional contracts or received assurances:
This site is an excellent resource for contract info.
January 26, 2015
We were seven minutes plus stoppage time from progression in the FA Cup on Saturday before Leicester City started a comeback that culminated in a complete turn-around.
Spurs dominated possession in the first half without creating too many openings, whilst Leicester were happy to soak up pressure and counter – doing so effectively and creating good chances.
Andrej Kramarić had an opportunity to put Leicester 1-0 up, with Danny Rose failing to cover round despite having a good view of the forward. Michel Vorm’s save was exceptional – the sort that we have become accustomed to with Hugo Lloris in goal.
Leicester’s second chance summed up – for me – why Mousa Dembélé and Étienne Capoue are an ineffective central midfield combination from a defensive viewpoint.
In the above image, Jeff Schlupp has received the ball, brought it down and Vlad Chiricheș/Andros Townsend are approaching him. Neither Dembélé or Capoue are attempting to get into a defensive position to influence the game – presumably assuming that their team mates will deal with the situation. I have long been of the opinion that neither has particularly good natural defensive instincts, and this is a good example of that. Younes Kaboul has to keep one eye on Leonardo Ulloa, who has played the pass and is now getting forward to support Schlupp and Kramarić.
As Schlupp cuts in, there’s a huge gap in the centre of our defence. Either Capoue should have tracked Ulloa, allowing Kaboul to go across to the ball, or one of Capoue / Dembélé should anticipate the potential danger and get into a position to stop Schlupp having a free shot on goal. Presented with the same scenario, I would expect that Stambouli would have provided a more effective barrier.
At the other end we struggled to break down a stubborn Leicester defence, with all three of our central midfield players content to pass sideways to the wingers and give them all of the responsibility of getting in behind the defence. Lamela and Townsend actually achieved on occasions, but having provided openings, Paulinho was guilty of wasting them. His finishing was allegedly an in-joke at Hotspur Way last season, where it was said that he put lots of balls over fences. Based on this display it is easy to see why. He lacked composure and technique and wasted three presentable chances – one going wide, one over, and one straight at the goalkeeper.
Mauricio Pochettino has made some useful substitutions this season, but on this occasion his decisions did not help the situation. At 1-0 and with Leicester gaining a foothold in the game, it had become clear that we were going to need a second goal to kill off the tie. Bringing Christian Eriksen on, then, was a logical move. Taking Townsend off, however, was not. Townsend was having some joy on the right and was looking capable of creating something, especially on the counter. It would have made more sense to take off Paulinho or Dembélé to allow Eriksen to scheme in behind Roberto Soldado. Instead, Eriksen was played on the left, with Lamela switching to the right, and the ineffective Paulinho continuing in the centre (I won’t refer to him as a number 10 as he doesn’t possess any of the qualities of the traditional 10!).
Emmanuel Adebayor then replaced Soldado, which felt a little odd, as Soldado had passed the ball quite well and had won the penalty with an excellent piece of control. Adebayor added more of an aerial threat – challenging for and winning headers, as opposed to jumping into the man and giving away free-kicks as Soldado tends to do – but he undoubtedly slowed down our attacking play. Harry Kane’s introduction for Dembélé after the equaliser was too little, too late – ideally he should have come on for Soldado or Paulinho at the same that Eriksen was introduced.
Vorm’s dreadful error at the end was not his first mistake of the game and, in truth, he was quite lucky to still be on the pitch. Replays showed that he took Kramarić’s back leg rather than the ball in the first half, which should have led to a penalty being awarded and probably to a red card being shown.
Overall it was a disappointing result made more disappointing by the other upsets – this presented a fantastic opportunity to progress in a third cup, and the boos at full-time illustrated the frustration having been in a controlling position.
Pochettino has had to manage his squad carefully to mitigate against fatigue creeping in, which can cause long-term injuries as well as limiting players’ effectiveness (as was so clearly visible against Crystal Palace). But, personally, I don’t feel that we can afford to leave out Eriksen, Harry Kane and Ryan Mason. With none of them in the team we lack a player who can consistently pass forward or open up a defence. My preference would have been to play one of Kane or Eriksen against Sheffield United and the other against Leicester. It will now be interesting to see the team selection on Wednesday – both should start and both should feel relatively fresh.
January 15, 2015
On Wednesday night Spurs scored four goals without response for the second time in the space of a fortnight. On New Year’s Day, we went from 0-1 down to 4-1 up against Chelsea (finishing 5-3); this time we recovered from a more perilous 0-2 to win 4-2.
Burnley rested three key players – Danny Ings, George Boyd and Ashley Barnes, whilst we rested six in Hugo Lloris, Kyle Walker, Federico Fazio, Harry Kane, Nacer Chadli and Christian Eriksen. Burnley’s fast start was somewhat exaggerated by two early goals, but they punished some poor defending well. The defending for Marvin Sordell’s opener was particularly shambolic.
Having not having seen a replay from a different angle, it’s difficult to try to explain what was happening here. Younes Kaboul was up-field – I can only think that he was trying to play offside – but with Jan Vertonghen already too deep to allow this, one has to question the lack of organisation and communication, and that surely comes down to captain Kaboul. This could be explained (if not excused), perhaps, by the fact that Kaboul and Vertonghen haven’t played together since the 2nd November.
The second goal came after seven minutes. Benji Stambouli committed a needless foul, allowing free-kick specialist Ross Wallace to step up. His kick deflected off Roberto Soldado leaving Michel Vorm helpless.
The home crowd – assisted by this match being attended by the 1882 movement – roared Tottenham on, and they stepped up immediately. Andros Townsend made inroads on the right, and inverted-wingered the ball in for Soldado to flick on. Paulinho did superbly to get the ball down quickly and turned neatly to volley home.
From there it almost felt inevitable that Spurs would win – an unusual feeling for Spurs fans – and I think that the optimistic atmosphere in the stadium had a lot to do with it.
The positivity in the stands, though, was not always matched by positivity on the pitch.
After another miscommunication, Vertonghen turned to shout at Kaboul – who had, again, attempted to play offside – and got a whole load of verbal right back. The crowd responded by chanting Vertonghen’s name, a show of support triggered by a combination of factors: rumours about Kaboul’s falling-out with other members of the squad, his lack of emotion on the bench when we’ve scored goals in recent weeks, and the fact that he had been totally inept in this match until that point.
The slanging match continued for a good few seconds and was followed up later by a similar falling out between Kaboul and Vorm. It is clear that all is not well, and Kaboul leaving during the transfer window seems inevitable (so long as there’s a taker).
Kaboul struggled to cope with Sam Vokes’ strength and movement, but Spurs looked good going forward in much of the rest of the half. As halftime approached, Paulinho nicked the ball in midfield and launched a counter. He was cynically fouled, but Soldado picked up the pieces and fed Townsend. He carried the ball before feeding in a perfect cross for Soldado, who somehow hit the bar. The miss was so bad that the BBC even made a separate video dedicated to it. His reaction was to drop to his knees in despair – Stambouli ran over to quite literally comfort him, so broken that he is. But it’s well worth noting that he also continued to get unwavering support from the stands (“Viva Soldado, viva Soldado, he came from sunny Spain to play with Harry Kane, viva Soldado”) – I don’t think there are many players in the squad for whom there is so much genuine goodwill.
Fortunately for Soldado, his blushes were spared by a Capoue thunderbolt just two minutes later. Ben Davies crossed, Paulinho missed his kick, and the ball sat up nicely for a volley that nearly broke the net.
Just three minutes into the second half, stand-in right back Vlad Chiricheș won a corner, and then got on the end of it at the back post to bundle it home – it actually seemed to hit his arm, but I don’t think he knew a great deal about it.
When Danny Rose scored a fourth three minutes later (to make it three goals in a five minute spell) it felt like we might go on to get a few more, but 4-2 was how it stayed. Rose’s goal deserves praise – for the beautiful pass by Stambouli, perfectly flighted into the path of Soldado; for Rose’s fantastically aggressive run into the six-yard box; and for Soldado’s inch-perfect cross.
Nacer Chadli replaced Rose on the left, and made an excellent cameo – at one point putting Reid (I think) on his backside with his dribbling and close control.
The game did somewhat peter out, but was memorable for Josh Onomah, coming on to make his Tottenham Hotspur debut. I’ll be publishing a short profile of Onomah later, so keep an eye out. Onomah already has a song, which has followed him through the age groups. At a previous 1882 event – an Under-18 match – James Welham came up with the ultra-inventive ‘Do do do do do ONOMAH do do do do ONOMAH do do do do do do do do do do do do do do do do do do do do do!’ to the tune of ‘Mahna Mahna’ from The Muppet Show. It’s since followed him from Under-18 level to Under-21 level and now the first team… a proud moment for James as well as Josh! Onomah made some good touches and passes in tight areas, but didn’t really get to show off his terrific dribbling ability.
Vorm – had no chance with either goal, and looked relatively quick off his line, which was something I’d been concerned about after recent appearances.
Chiricheș – aside from one suicidal pass in the first half, he defended well, was a decent attacking outlet and, of course, scored the goal to put us 3-2 up. I enjoyed a short burst of my song for him – “strolling up the pitch is super Vlad Chiricheș, do do do, do do do do do”…
Kaboul – this was not a good return for Kaboul. He struggled with Vokes (Chiricheș had to repeatedly come across to cover) and was arguing with his own teammates.
Vertonghen – after a shaky start alongside Kaboul, he put in a very assured performance.
Davies – clearly a better defender than Rose, but doesn’t quite offer the same forward thrust. That said, his pass selection in the final third is consistently good, and it was his cross that led to Capoue’s leveller.
Stambouli – had a very busy game and worked hard throughout. There are some signs of him starting to settle.
Capoue – like others, he had a shaky start where Burnley were winning a lot of second balls in his zone, but he improved and was very controlled in the second half. His goal was a beauty!
Townsend – a constant threat and a constant outlet. Ben Mee gave him too much space, and he took advantage over and over again.
Paulinho – better, as Andy Townsend would say! I tweeted at half-time that he was ‘busy but imperfect’ and I think that sums him up. He frequently runs with the ball into areas of the pitch which he then struggles to get out of, but I think we have to just accept his limitations and appreciate his few strengths: first-time flicks and knowing when to arrive in the box. He took his goal superbly.
Rose – he actually started his career as an attacking central midfielder and then became a left winger, but his timing was slightly off in an attacking sense. His arrivals at the back post were generally a little *too* late, but he did marvellously for his goal, making a fantastic, aggressive surge into the six-yard box and pointing to where he wanted the ball played.
Soldado – some relatively good link up play, a nice flicked header for Paulinho’s goal, a wonderful cross for Rose’s goal, but his match will be remembered for *that* miss. Viva Soldado.
Chadli – a genuinely exciting cameo in which he looked a real threat. “Nacer is a dolphin, Nacer is a dolphin, la la la la, la la la la…”.
Onomah – I was so excited to see him get on to make his debut – I hope it’s the first of many appearances. Look out for a short profile which I’ll be publishing later.
Dier – it was good to see him back for the first time since the 6th December, nine games ago.
January 3, 2015
At just past the halfway point in the league season, it feels like a good time to pause for breath and consider the progress that we have made to date under Mauricio Pochettino, our latest Head Coach.
Expectations were relatively low at the start of the season. Whilst there are always fans and pundits who *expect* a top four finish having made a change (the “why bother changing it if we’re not going to push on?” argument), the majority were happy to accept a lesser league position in another season of transition in order to establish a foundation and to develop the Bielsa-inspired playing philosophy that brought excitement to Southampton. I was certainly in this camp and, more than anything, I wanted to enjoy going to White Hart Lane again – to feel like our club and fans were unified and moving forward with a sense of togetherness.
It could be said, so far, that signs of the footballing philosophy have been less obvious than we might have expected, but that this has not really been detrimental to results. We are currently three points better off than we were last season when looking at the equivalent league results as well as being through to the semi-final of the League Cup and the knock-out phase of the Europa League.
After some fortunate results over the Christmas period, and some less-than-convincing performances, Thursday’s astonishing victory against Chelsea felt like a turning point. The high press was implemented effectively, with Harry Kane once again leading from the front. The team played as a cohesive unit and, putting aside some defensive lapses, there was plenty to be positive about.
Pochettino still has much work to do but he has been helped by shaping a more definite ‘first team’. Over the past six to eight weeks it has become clear which players he values and which he does not. These sorts of decisions were presumably made at this point with the January transfer window in mind, rather than the correlation just being a fortunate coincidence. The sidelining of certain players now gives them an opportunity to find a new club and for Pochettino to streamline the squad in order to bring in a few players of his own – players who he can trust.
Danny Rose’s comments in today’s Mirror seem to be hinting towards those players that are not working so hard being left out:
“Let’s just say if you don’t work hard under the manager, you’re not playing! You better make sure you give 100 per cent each day in training, which is very hard and intense.
But I really enjoy it. As the long as the manager sees you are willing to work hard and want to fight hard for your team-mates then you will go far with him.”
Pochettino is relentless in his pursuit of a fit, hard-working squad. After the Manchester United match he was asked: “what now? Rest, rest, rest?” He responded chirpily: “no, train, train, train”. Our players (specifically Kane, Christian Eriksen and Ryan Mason) have recently featured in the ‘most distance covered’ stats that the Premier League sometimes produce:
Eriksen initially struggled under the new coach, and his creative influence was missing at the beginning of the season. After a short bedding-in period, though, it has well and truly returned. But alongside that he has been utterly transformed. Where he was previously seen as a ‘luxury player’, he is now an absolute workhorse who pressurises defenders and creates opportunities for turnovers. Indeed, prior to the Chelsea match, Eriksen’s distance covered was the fourth highest in the Premier League at 210.1km. Staggering.
It is notable that in the last six matches, Kyle Naughton, Aaron Lennon, Younes Kaboul, Étienne Capoue, Paulinho and Emmanuel Adebayor have played just 40 minutes between them. One must assume that all would be available for transfer if a suitable offer were to come in. Roberto Soldado has played 110 of the 540 possible minutes in that time and is another that is likely to be available, although it is difficult to see who would pay the kind of fee that Daniel Levy would demand.
Mousa Dembélé (250 minutes) seems to have come back into favour and might be granted a stay of execution, at least until the summer. On the other hand, whilst Vlad Chiricheș (180 minutes) has performed pretty admirably at right-back, he seems set to join Roma on loan with a view to a permanent move.
Interestingly, Eric Dier has not featured at all across this six game period either, but there’s little chance of him moving on permanently – he would provide useful cover were the likes of Chiricheș or Kaboul to leave. Alternatively, there would be no shortage of takers were he to be made available for loan.
The final player regularly linked with a move away is Andros Townsend. Townsend has become a bit of an enigma and divides opinion in the stands. His precision penalty on the stroke of half-time against Chelsea was met with a celebration largely of relief from the player – he will certainly want to use that moment as a springboard, and I think he has shown enough to warrant being used for the rest of the season, at least as a rotation option.
Townsend is an imperfect player but he is certainly not beyond moulding. After seeing the work Pochettino has done to improve (or at least bring the best from) Nacer Chadli and Eriksen, I am hopeful that he can help Townsend to realise his potential – the very definition of a coach. Besides this, we have so few players capable of committing defenders that Townsend offers something a little different from the norm.
Should we be able to create some space in the squad, we might see a couple of players come in. Hector Moreno was a player that I mentioned in September – having played under Pochettino at Espanyol, Moreno is a player that our coach knows, likes and can rely upon. The partnership of Jan Vertonghen and Federico Fazio has become a reliable one (played 15, won 11, drawn 3, lost 1), and if one of them were to be injured, the team would certainly suffer. Moreno would provide excellent cover, and signing him in January would give him time to settle in before potentially becoming first choice next season.
Various journalists (including the well-connected Matt Spiro) are pointing towards Adrien Rabiot, the 19-year old midfielder from Paris Saint-Germain, signing on a six-month loan. Rabiot has been linked for a number of weeks, and makes sense as a stop-gap if Pochettino’s first choice target (who is, presumably, still Morgan Schneiderlin) cannot be obtained at this point.
Rabiot has played just 215 minutes in Ligue 1 this season, but last season he managed 1112 minutes (11 starts). With Nabil Bentaleb heading off to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations with Algeria in a week or so, Rabiot would provide useful cover. A quick comparison with Bentaleb (Rabiot of last season vs Bentaleb of this) seems to indicate why this would be a smart short-term move, with Rabiot averaging more key passes per 90 minutes, taking on more shots, but also making more tackles. His upright, head-up style would hopefully ensure that we don’t lose the sense of calm that Bentaleb gives us in a midfield area that in the Premier League can be very chaotic.
An alternative to Rabiot would be to promote from within and use Miloš Veljković, whose loan at Middlesbrough is due to end around the time that Bentaleb leaves. Their Head Coach, Aitor Karanka, was full of praise after his 30-minute cameo against Ipswich:
“I am very pleased with Milos. I felt he was the best player on the pitch in the last game. He went onto the pitch at a difficult time and he showed everyone he is a mature player, even though he is only 19 years old.”
Veljković got some game time in pre-season and looked like he could step up, but the counter-argument is that it might benefit him to stay on loan and play regularly across the rest of the season, rather than making a handful of appearances for us during January.
Alongside Rabiot, Spurs might want to sign another forward, with Soldado and Adebayor still struggling in different ways and for very different reasons. Danny Ings might represent a budget option – mostly because his contract is up in the summer – and at 22-years old (and being English) he seems to suit the Levy buying policy of old. It will, I suppose, depend on how Ings’ numbers are portrayed in Paul Mitchell’s ‘black box’, but his high-energy, honest style would suit the current framework and would mean that the burden on Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen is reduced a little to negate the possibility of burn-out. Naturally Burnley would be reluctant to sell as they will be reliant on Ings’ goals for Premier League survival, but an offer of around £10 million might convince them to cash in.
January will also see the arrival of DeAndre Yedlin. Having only seen Yedlin at the World Cup, in the recent USA friendly against Colombia and once in the MLS, I am not best-placed to provide a verdict on whether Yedlin will be a hit. However, from the little I have seen I would suggest that most of his initial game-time will be in the Under-21s. That said, his arrival might mean that Pochettino is happier to sell Lennon and/or Naughton, since Yedlin could provide cover in both positions.
In closing, it would be remiss of me to not mention Pochettino’s bravery in picking young players. Tim Sherwood has been receiving plaudits over the past week – after all, it was he who entrusted Bentaleb and Kane last season – and it is fair to say that Sherwood offered our youngsters belief and confidence. But Pochettino was not afraid to go with youth at Southampton, and it’s unlikely that the platform that Sherwood provided had a significant impact on his selection criteria, albeit it helped iron out some of the youngsters’ creases. Pochettino’s use of Mason, and his interest in selecting development squad players on the bench shows to me that he would have done things his way regardless. The average age of our team against Chelsea was just 24. This is fairly remarkable, and I would suspect that this is more likely to go down rather than up as Pochettino has a say in moulding and developing his own squad.
And let’s not forget that there are plenty more youngsters bubbling under the surface that might get a chance in the near future. Harry Winks has made his debut, Dominic Ball and Josh Onomah have made the bench, and Connor Ogilvie and Nathan Oduwa cannot be far behind. There is certainly potential for clearing out mostly-unused squad fodder, and promoting from within to replace them should Pochettino feel that youngsters are more likely to buy into his philosophy. It’s just a pity that we don’t have another young forward who could help to replace Adebayor and/or Soldado in the squad.
Pochettino’s start at Spurs has been solid but unspectacular. We have made progress in the league and cups without always playing well and there have been improvements in key players as the season has progressed – most notably Kane, Eriksen, Chadli, Fazio and Ben Davies (who has put in some really steady performances of late). The nature of this time of the football calendar means that within a month it is possible that we could be out of all of the cups and falling down the league – if that does happen, let’s not forget that this season is about building a philosophy, building a foundation, and building confidence in one of the best Academies in the country. But let’s hope that doesn’t happen and that we go on to win a cup – something to reward the hard work we’ve seen of late. Either way: so far, so good.
Happy New Year and COYS.
November 28, 2014
I was going to post this as a series of tweets, but it quickly became too long so I thought I’d write a blog about Paulinho’s performance against Partizan Belgrade. I re-watched last night’s match against Partizan Belgrade in double speed to have another look at Paulinho as so many people had mentioned to me on Twitter that they thought he did well.
The fist thing to mention is that in our 4-1-4-1 in the first half he had a very ‘free’ role, with barely any defensive responsibility. I don’t know whether this was deliberate, but both he and Dembele left Stambouli exposed and we suffered as a result, getting caught on the counter. In fact, despite changing shape in the second half, we only looked more solid once Bentaleb came on.
In the first half, the majority of the passes he made were either sideways or backwards. Frequently he’d drop off his man, receive the ball with his back to goal and pass backwards to where it had come from. Alternatively, he’d pick up the ball in space in midfield and pass sideways, before trotting forward.
He intercepted one ball and wasted the opportunity to counter by dallying. His other interception came when the ball hit him; a counter was on if he played a quick pass into Soldado, but he didn’t get his head up, and instead ran into a cul-de-sac on the right flank and ended up turning back (although he retained possession sensibly).
All of his first time flicks failed. One in the first half was looking for Soldado, but was too heavy. The idea was a relatively good one, the execution was less good.
He played one good, floated ball out to Davies on the left, and soon after he nearly created something when receiving the ball wide on the left and cutting in, but he overhit his pass to Lamela, forcing Lamela to slide to retain possession.
Lennon fed him in on left of the box where he had two chances to shoot, but the move ended up with him passing up those opportunities, turning away from goal, and taking an awkward, heavy touch which saw him head out to the corner flag where he lost possession.
In the second half we switched to 4-2-3-1, with Paulinho dropping back in alongside Stambouli, and Dembele playing the more advanced role by himself. This was presumably because we were caught a number of times, and Pochettino wanted to ensure we were more solid at the base of midfield.
Paulinho played one nice pass with the outside of his boot through a tight space to Dembele, who immediately lost possession.
He made a useful burst into the six-yard box when Soldado got in on the left, but Soldado’s cross was poor and the goalkeeper claimed it – Paulinho might have had a tap-in otherwise. He then had a decent shot which the goalkeeper saved.
Once Bentaleb came on, Paulinho was pushed up into the most advanced midfield role, where he had another long period of not touching the ball.
He pounced on a loose ball, strode forward, dallied and ended up playing a pass slightly awkwardly onto Bentaleb’s weaker right foot, and Bentaleb mis-controlled.
Kane found him with a clever touch, but he hit a ludicrously heavy toe-poke well ahead of Lennon. Seconds later he was played in by another clever Kane pass, but he was slow to latch onto it. Lamela picked up the pieces and hit a shot just over.
After Kane came on, Paulinho was often the most advanced player, as Kane dropped deep and he ran in behind. But he had another long period of not touching the ball (failing to anticipate a clever Lennon pass in the meantime) and his next involvement was a failed first time flick to Kane.
His final involvement came when was found by a clever pass from Lamela between the Partizan defence and midfield, with an opportunity to hurt them. His clumsy dribbling led to the ball getting caught under his feet, which caused him to check and then to lose the ball with a pass straight at a defender. He immediately regained possession after a misunderstanding between two Partizan players but lost it again, dribbling straight into a defender. He was replaced by debutant Harry Winks shortly after.
Paulinho made a few runs either away from ball, or towards his own player who was driving forward in possession, which often led to the player on the ball being crowded out. But, in truth, these runs were few and far between, and he spent a lot of time just wandering around, neither showing for the ball or moving into space.
I still don’t really know what kind of player Paulinho is. I can list what he’s good at on one hand – pressing, making late runs into the penalty box, and keeping possession with backwards/sideways passes.
The things he is not good at are less easy to list succinctly: he doesn’t anticipate danger well, he doesn’t get his head up when he receives the ball, his shooting is wayward, he doesn’t have a good range of passing, he dribbles clumsily, he sometimes needs more touches than most to get the ball under control, and he can ‘go missing’ for long periods (often not showing for the ball).
I realise that he has not had a decent break from football for longer than is helpful to a top-level athlete but, even giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming that after a rest he’d improve by 20%, I just cannot see any way back for him at Spurs.