September 22, 2014

Getting WBA off my chest

Our expectations are – or should be – lower this season. But not significantly low as to shrug off a 1-0 home defeat to one of the league’s poorer sides, a side that had not beaten us at White Hart Lane since 1984, the year of my birth. And especially when the performance was also so disappointing.

It is, of course, far too early to pass judgement on Mauricio Pochettino. He is eight matches (and just five in the league) into what will hopefully be a long reign. The style of play that he’s attempting to implement is sufficiently complex to require significant work on the training ground, and he simply has not had enough time yet for it to be fair to expect a lot more than what we have: a set of players not yet fulfilling his instructions. I can absolutely forgive that at this stage.

But what I cannot forgive is a lack of effort. The players should always be sufficiently motivated to go out and try as hard as they can and, certainly for some on the pitch yesterday, it did not feel that they were. And that does concern me – and it will, no doubt, concern Pochettino. His response to this will be fascinating, and his team selections against Nottingham Forest and Arsenal will be telling.

I could spend hours reeling off reasons for yesterday’s poor showing, but I do not have the time or inclination and I’m sure, dear reader, you don’t either. So I’ll stick to three that I consider key.

Europa League

We made ten changes for the midweek game, and so the players should have been suitably fit for Sunday’s match, right? That argument totally misses the point of the Europa League ‘distraction’ argument. The key for me is not the number of games – we have a deep enough squad to cope with them – but the consequence of preparing for two matches in a week rather than one.

From Monday, West Bromwich Albion will have been working hard on their approach for this game. How to stop us, how to hurt us; analysing our strengths and weaknesses. From Monday, we had to prepare for Partizan Belgrade on Thursday. A number of players then had to spend half a day travelling to Serbia, and another half travelling home. Do we assume, then, that we spent Friday and Saturday preparing for West Brom? That’s two days. And how much can a coach achieve in two days?

I love Spurs participating in European competitions, and I would love us to win the Europa League. Even those coming from the ‘sack it off and focus on top four’ angle now have a slightly different outlook since winning the Europa League is rewarded with a Champions League place. It is no coincidence, though, that eight of Spurs’ last thirteen league defeats have come after a Thursday night Europa League match. It is clearly an issue that we need to learn to overcome if we are to be successful in both domestic and European competitions.

Dembélé

I was full of praise for Mousa Dembélé on last week’s Fighting Cock podcast. He was excellent against Sunderland – he won the ball regularly and used it well, the opening goal being a prime example of his quick and simple distribution having won possession. He found our more creative players with regularity between Sunderland’s defence and midfield, and we created numerous chances as a result.

But he was as bad against West Brom as he was good against Sunderland. He was ponderous on the ball – constantly wanting too many touches – and this led to him losing possession three times in dangerous areas. The below illustrates his passes in the 61 minutes he played yesterday, compared to his passes during the 68 minutes he played in a deep midfield position against Sunderland (before he was pushed further forward to accommodate Stambouli).

Mousa Dembele

In neither game did he make a single pass into the box, but against Sunderland he made plenty of short, incisive passes in dangerous areas. The difference is stark – you would be forgiven for confusing his pass map from yesterday with one of Tom Cleverley’s for Manchester United; plenty of sideways passes and no penetration.

In Pochettino’s teams the role Dembélé is playing is a vital one, which was one reason why Pochettino was so keen to sign Schneiderlin, despite the vast price attributed to him. The player in this role is vital for slick transition from defence to attack – he is required to be involved in ball-winning, but also to move the ball quickly to the creative elements of the team to catch the opposition off-guard having won possession.

In May I wrote a piece for FourFourTwo just after Pochettino’s appointment; I speculated that Dembélé might be a player that would struggle. It’s far too early to say that this is the case, but he will need to adapt his game in order to hold down a regular position, particularly with Bentaleb and Stambouli – two players keen to pass the ball quickly – breathing down his neck.

Adebayor

I have been an advocate for Adebayor in a community where many want him cast aside in order to give Soldado a prolonged run. Yesterday’s performance, though, was unacceptable. Ignoring the missed header – because, on seeing a few replays, the ball *was* just ahead of him – he simply didn’t trouble the West Brom defence. He failed to involve himself in the game, having just 25 touches of the ball. His pass completion was 46% – he completed just six passes.

Some of Adebayor’s below-par performance can be put down to a lack of service – Eriksen and especially Lamela were very wasteful, whilst Chadli was a peripheral figure – but he seemed to submit too easily to Lescott’s dominance.

Equally worrying was that Soldado’s cameo was one where nothing really went right for him and, whilst he managed to involve himself quite well, his final pass and shot were lacking. Harry Kane played poorly in Serbia, but would have been a useful option from the bench yesterday with his ability to link play on the edge of the box.

I could write further about Vlad Chiricheș’ nervous display, and Erik Lamela’s appalling marking for James Morrison’s winner, but I will end on a positive – we have two big matches this week, and two big opportunities. Nottingham Forest top the Championship with young striker, Britt Assombalonga, tormenting defences. Arsenal seem to have regained form just at the right time, with Welbeck opening his account at the weekend. Positive performances in these two games would transform the feeling surrounding the team and give us a huge boost. COYS.

 

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September 2, 2014

Thoughts on the transfer window

Ins:

Davies
Vorm
Dier
Fazio
Stambouli
Yedlin (to join next year)

Outs:

Sandro
Dawson
Sigurdsson
Livermore
Fryers
Falque
Obika
Coulibaly
Released professionals: Gomes, Gallifuoco, Lancaster, Michael-Percil, Miles, Stewart, McQueen, Dombaxe and Vigouroux.

Firstly, I’m glad that’s over – I don’t enjoy the way the transfer window works, and how loopy it can send people.

But in terms of assessing our window, I’m satisfied with the work we’ve done. At the start of the summer I identified left-back, centre-back, back-up goalkeeper, and wing-forward as areas to improve. We’ve ticked most of these off. We’ve also shifted plenty of deadwood and not made the mistake of last season, where we spent a lot of money on players on lots of overseas players who took a long time to settle.

We got an excellent price for Livermore, and the dealings with Swansea – giving them Sigurdsson and taking Davies and Vorm for little or no extra cash – seemed very sensible. Whilst he was a good, honest pro who had terrific technique when striking a ball, Sigurdsson failed to hold down a regular place and was not deemed good enough by the majority of fans. His sale allowed us to fill two problem areas – Vorm is closer in style to Lloris than Friedel, and Davies is the ‘steady Eddy’ left-back that Rose simply isn’t.

Dier was signed for a similar fee that we received for Falque – again, great business – and Fazio replaces Dawson (‘Michael Dawson – a tribute‘).

Stambouli has come in for roughly half of what we received for Sandro – if he’s more suited to the system than the loveable but unreliable Brazilian – and that’s a big if – then it would represent another sensible bit of business.

The key is that Pochettino is allowed a degree of control over shaping his squad. Whilst there are some players that he will be able to mould and develop, there are others that he will feel are unwilling or unable to be what he wants them to be. Of course, when transfer fees are spiralling out of control, it’s also increasingly difficult to bring better, more suitable players in.

It’s been pretty well documented that Pochettino wanted to bring in Schneiderlin and Rodriguez from Southampton. He trusts them, rates them, and sees them as able to improve us. Southampton have played hardball with both (credit to them for that) and so Pochettino either needs to be patient, or to seek alternatives – as he seems to have done with Stambouli.

I have a suspicion that his first choice ball-playing centre-back target was the Mexican, Hector Moreno, who suffered a broken leg during the World Cup; Pochettino was his manager at Espanyol. Subsequently we bid for Musacchio, but he proved to be difficult to land owing to complications with his third party ownership. Fazio, I’d guess, was always going to be signed alongside one of these; their playing styles are significantly different to suggest that.

I’m happy to trust Pochettino. If he felt that the squad was too big, I trust his trimming of it. If he felt that a player in central midfield that wins the ball and passes it quickly was his top priority, that’s fine with me. If he didn’t feel that he can rely on the likes of Dawson and Sandro – previous fan favourites – then so be it.

The only area where I feel like we’ve left ourselves weak is wing-forward. Whilst Chadli played well against QPR, I don’t think we can rely on him for the season. Lennon is not productive enough to play high on the left, and Townsend seems more comfortable on the right these days. Welbeck would have been a useful option as he’s able to play wide, or through the centre – my suspicion was that we wanted him on loan, or not at all, given that we seem willing to wait for Rodriguez’s return to fitness.

Personally I’d have also tried to replace Soldado and ship out Paulinho, but – ignoring the fact that they might have been difficult to sell after poor seasons – Pochettino keeping hold of all seven of last summer’s signings does represent confidence to get the best out of players who mostly struggled last year (for various reasons, and with mitigating circumstances).

I take more pleasure from seeing a coach improve players rather than just buying a new team, and it’s important that we give Pochettino and his coaching team a chance to do this. Expectations for the coming season are relatively low, and there will be matches – like the defeat to Liverpool – where the team under-performs as the players learn the system. But I will be staggered if, by the end of the season, we haven’t enjoyed the football more, and don’t see plenty of positive signs.

COYS

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August 30, 2014

25-man squad update

At the beginning of August I wrote about how our 25-man squad is shaping up. After the sale of one ‘home grown’ player (Dawson), the loan of two others (Fredericks and Carroll) and the signing on a non-home grown player (Fazio), I thought I’d follow it up.

To summarise the rule again, we are able to name a 25-man squad if eight of the players are “home grown”. We could name fewer than eight home grown players, but would need to also name fewer than 25 players in our squad – e.g. if we only have seven home grown players, we can name a 24-man squad, 6/23, 5/22, etc. A home grown player is defined as follows:

… one who, irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Welsh Football Association for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21).

We do not need to name players who are under 21 on the squad list; for the 2014/15 campaign, players considered ‘under 21′ will have been born on or after 1st January 1993.

As it stands, our ‘named’ 25-man squad would probably consist of the following (* = home grown player):

Hugo Lloris
Michel Vorm
Brad Friedel

Kyle Walker*
Danny Rose*
Kyle Naughton*

Younes Kaboul
Jan Vertonghen
Federico Fazio
Vlad Chiriches
Zeki Fryers*

Sandro
Paulinho
Mousa Dembélé
Lewis Holtby
Étienne Capoue
Christian Eriksen
Ryan Mason*

Aaron Lennon*
Erik Lamela
Andros Townsend*
Nacer Chadli

Emmanuel Adebayor
Roberto Soldado
Jonathan Obika*

That would mean that the following miss out:

Benoît Assou-Ekotto
Bongani Khumalo
Cristian Ceballos

Also missing out would be the loan players:

Tom Carroll (on loan at Swansea)
Ryan Fredericks (on loan at Middlesbrough)

We are then able to select any players who were born after January 1993 without needing to register them. This means that any of the following (plus the 1st and 2nd year Academy scholars) would be available for selection:

Alex Pritchard (on loan at Brentford)
Jordan Archer (on loan at Northampton Town)
Ben Davies
Harry Kane
Eric Dier
Shaq Coulthirst (on loan at Southend United)
Kenny McEvoy (on loan at Peterborough United)
Nabil Bentaleb
Grant Ward (on loan at Chicago Fire)
Rueben Lameiras
Soli Coulibaly
Tomislav Gomelt (expected to join Bari, possibly on loan)
Alex McQueen
Aaron McEneff
Dominic Ball
Luke McGee
Milos Veljkovic
Daniel Akindayini
Harry Winks
Connor Ogilvie
Nathan Oduwa
Emmanuel Sonupe
Filip Lesniak
William Miller

Zeki Fryers is being linked with Crystal Palace and Jon Obika is being linked with various clubs as well – if either were to leave, we’d either have to not replace them, or to replace them with a homeg rown player. We could, however, sell a non-home grown player to make space for another non-home grown player. For example, with Lewis Holtby expected to move to HSV, we would free up space for another signing if necessary – Benjamin Stambouli, perhaps.

It’s easy to see why a move for Danny Welbeck may look attractive – we’re cutting it fine on home grown players if we want to name a 25-man squad. However, with a talented set of under 21 players (including Bentaleb, Dier, Kane and Davies) we don’t *have* to name the full 25.

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August 26, 2014

Michael Dawson – a tribute

Michael Dawson is a throwback. Not just in terms of his on-pitch style – courageous and uncompromising – but also his off-pitch demeanour. Even his haircut – a short back and sides, generally swept across his forehead – is reminiscent of the era in which footballers like Dawson came from; an era when money didn’t dictate everything from players’ ‘career planning’ to fans having to pick and choose which games they attended. The concept of ‘Category C’ didn’t exist then.

Michael Dawson - club captain

Michael Dawson – club captain

Dawson arrived at Tottenham Hotspur from Nottingham Forest, signed in a double deal with Republic of Ireland international, Andy Reid. As is seemingly so often the case in this type of deal (at least where Spurs are concerned), Dawson was seen by most as the makeweight or add-on in that deal, but his achievements and performances have gone on to far excel those of Reid, who left after eighteen months and is mostly remembered for being overweight. Nearly ten years later, Dawson is set to move on too.

It is sometimes the case that in this genre of article the author forgets to mention the bad, so I’m going to try to avoid falling into that trap. Dawson has become known for a slightly cumbersome style, ill-suited to the high line which Tottenham have played in recent times. He is, frankly, slow on the turn and has a tendency to get sucked into committing himself around the halfway line, leaving plenty of grass for attackers to run into.

He has had some horror-shows. Sergio Aguero has been the bane of his existence on more than one occasion, but particularly in the 5-1 home defeat at the start of the 2011/12 season. At that point Dawson was well regarded and was regularly in England squads, but Aguero made him look foolish; his low centre of gravity making Daws’ turning circle look larger than even his harshest critic could have described. He was involved in the heavy defeats to Manchester City (twice), Liverpool (twice) and Chelsea last season.

But it wasn’t just the elite players that occasionally brought out the worst in him; even before his 12th minute sending off against Fulham in a 4-0 defeat, he was having a real stinker. It occasionally happened, and we can’t ignore it. But these memories belie the truth that he has been a stalwart for the club for nearly a decade, and in that time there have been many, many positives for both individual and team.

He’s played over 300 times for Tottenham Hotspur. He played in the 1-0 victory at Manchester City that took us to the Champions League. He played in both matches against AC Milan in the Champions League, making a vital block from a Robinho effort late on at the San Siro. He played at Wembley in the League Cup defeat to Manchester United. The following season he was named Tottenham Hotspur ‘Player of the Year’.

The phrase ‘100% commitment’ is widely-used in football, but rarely has a player been so deserving of the tag. Dawson is a genuine trier, and us fans just love a trier.

His gentlemanly persona meant that he was able to build rapport with referees – if necessary, they would speak to him to ask him to calm his teammates down, or to explain a decision. He would question, yes, but generally without arm-waving, without ranting and without raving. Unlike so many others, he showed respect.

And that ignores all of the off-pitch add-ons that you get with a player of Dawson’s nature. Club captain. Fan favourite. Consummate professional. Gentlemen. Friendly face of the club. Charitable volunteer. Family man. Recently it emerged that he had sent a letter (or at least signed a letter) to a fan celebrating his 60th birthday. These gestures do not go unnoticed.

He will be remembered as much for his fist pumps, his smile, and his gentlemanly persona as he will for his goal-saving blocks, his brave headers, and his not-always-accurate cross-field passes. I for one have been very happy to have Michael Dawson represent us as captain – as the friendly face of Tottenham Hotspur.

Good luck, Michael Dawson – you will always receive warm applause from me if and when you return to White Hart Lane.

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August 2, 2014

25-man squad

The 25-man squad rule has become an important aspect in ‘transfer planning’, and Spurs seem to be pretty adept at it.

To summarise the rule again, we are able to name a 25-man squad if eight of the players are “home grown”. We could name fewer than eight home grown players, but would need to also name fewer than 25 players in our squad – e.g. if we only have seven home grown players, we can name a 24-man squad, 6/23, 5/22, etc. A home grown player is defined as follows:

… one who, irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Welsh Football Association for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21).

We do not need to name players who are under 21 on the squad list; for the 2014/15 campaign, players considered ‘under 21′ will have been born on or after 1st January 1993.

As it stands, our ‘named’ 25-man squad would probably consist of (* = home grown player):

Hugo Lloris
Michel Vorm
Brad Friedel

Kyle Walker*
Danny Rose*
Kyle Naughton*

Younes Kaboul
Jan Vertonghen
Michael Dawson*
Vlad Chiriches
Zeki Fryers*

Sandro
Paulinho
Mousa Dembélé
Lewis Holtby
Étienne Capoue
Christian Eriksen
Ryan Mason*
Tom Carroll*

Aaron Lennon*
Erik Lamela
Andros Townsend*
Nacer Chadli

Emmanuel Adebayor
Roberto Soldado

That would mean that the following miss out:

Benoît Assou-Ekotto
Bongani Khumalo
Jonathan Obika*
Ryan Fredericks*
Cristian Ceballos

We are then able to select any players who were born after January 1993 without needing to register them. This means that any of the following (plus the 1st and 2nd year Academy scholars) would be available for selection:

Alex Pritchard (on loan at Brentford)
Jordan Archer
Ben Davies
Harry Kane
Eric Dier
Shaq Coulthirst
Kenny McEvoy (on loan at Peterborough)
Nabil Bentaleb
Grant Ward (on loan at Chicago Fire)
Rueben Lameiras
Soli Coulibaly
Tomislav Gomelt
Alex McQueen
Aaron McEneff
Dominic Ball
Luke McGee
Milos Veljkovic
Daniel Akindayini
Harry Winks
Connor Ogilvie
Nathan Oduwa
Emmanuel Sonupe
Filip Lesniak
William Miller

It’s worth nothing that Morgan Schneiderlin – our apparent number one target – counts as “homegrown” (according to the Premier League), as he joined Southampton just in the nick of time to meet the requirements.

Having nine homegrown players already in the squad gives us an element of flexibility. Also, I’ve included Carroll in the squad, when a loan seems likely for him.

We also have the bonus of the likes of Bentaleb, Veljkovic, Archer, Davies, Kane and Dier, who do not need to be named in the squad in order to be used.

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