April 14, 2009
I think it’s fair to say that things haven’t yet worked out at Spurs for David Bentley.
He came into a team that slumped massively and could barely string three passes together. Given that possession football is one of the main strengths of his game, it didn’t bode well. Not only this, but he was frequently asked to play in an unfamiliar role.
Fans soon got on his back for not creating enough (I’m sure his price tag didn’t help) and were groaning and sighing at any mistake, and at any opportunity to use his tricks to beat a man. His confidence was sapped and he looked like a broken man for weeks.
A few weeks after Harry Redknapp arrived, he bawled Bentley out for a lack of effort. Bentley came back with a better defensive attitude and worked visibly harder to track back and help the team, even using his physical presence more; he challenged and even won more headers than the rest of our midfield in that brief period.
Since then, he has hardly been seen, mainly thanks to the good form of Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon in the wide roles. Clearly he hasn’t played to the levels that he has previously shown at Blackburn and Norwich, but I think (and hope) that there is more to come.
I think there are three main issues to consider:
- The story so far
- The Bentley “ego”
- Where he goes from here
The story so far
£16m is an awful lot of money. However, I tend to think that people worry too much about transfer fees. As long as the money we spend is sustainable, I try not to think twice about it and, I think that if the papers weren’t constantly highlighting our spending, then others wouldn’t either. I don’t like to use price tags against players – whether we’d spend £1m or £16m on him, I’d still be writing this.
It’s worth noting that David Bentley is not a Spurs fan, and has never said he is. What he did say was “Coming to this club means the world to me. Spurs is the first club I watched as a kid and Gazza was my favourite player. All my mates are Tottenham fans and season ticket holders, so there’s a piece of my heart at this club.” Some journalists and fans have thrown the line “he’s meant to be a Spurs fan, and yet he shows no passion” at him, so I think it’s important to set this straight.
Bentley has been greatly criticised by Spurs fans for his poor set pieces in a lilywhite shirt, and I can understand why. However, I don’t think his set pieces have been any more or less consistent than any of our other players’. One reason for this is that, in general, the rest of our team are not particularly good at attacking the ball in the opposition box. A prime example of this is Dawson, who is one of the best around in the air from a defensive viewpoint, but doesn’t score enough headed goals. At Blackburn Rovers he had better targets from set pieces – Santa Cruz and McCarthy obviously, but also Samba, Nelson, Ooijer, Emerton, etc.
The other factor is that you or I would concentrate on just floating the ball into the right general area; naturally it would be very difficult for a player meeting a cross like that to do anything with it. The “fashionable” corners and free kicks at the moment tend to be those fired in really flat and low, curling towards the back post. The margin for error with these is tiny, and I’m sure that, with Bentley, it’s a confidence issue. When he was in good form at Blackburn he was whipping in a good ball 7 or 8 out of 10 times, as opposed to the 2 or 3 out of 10 now.
When we analyse Bentley’s performances so far, I think it is vital to appreciate that he came into a struggling side. If we had bought Ashley Young instead of Bentley, and Aston Villa had bought Bentley instead of Young, I would speculate that Bentley would now be in the England squad (see Milner) and Young would be struggling for form. The talent of the two players is not too different – in my opinion it’s all about the bigger picture. Villa (at the start of the season) were a well drilled, organised, stable unit, who didn’t use too many players and played unspectacular but efficient football. Tottenham (also at the start of the season) were a poorly drilled, disorganised “unit”, who changed the manager and players too often to build relationships and/or a framework for attacking players to work within. Not really a situation where a “confidence” player was likely to thrive.
The Bentley “ego”
I have no idea what David Bentley is like as a person, but when I see him trying flicks, drag backs and other pieces of skill, I see it as trying to beat a man or get into a better position to play a pass – not as him trying to showboat to please his over-inflated ego. Not having much pace means that he has to use his technical ability to beat players.
I think people criticise him an awful lot for “showboating” and then also criticise him for a lack of acceleration. If you don’t have acceleration, you need a trick or two to work a yard for a pass or a cross. This, in my opinion, is why Bentley uses so many step-overs and Cruyff turns, and they are a necessary part of his game.
Where he goes from here
Bentley is a very good footballer. He is a technical player, with a neat first touch and, when on form and high in confidence, a very good delivery into the box – from a standing start or on the move. He doesn’t have Lennon’s acceleration, and never will have, but he clearly strikes the ball much more cleanly than Lennon, and tends to score more goals.
For the majority of his time at Blackburn Rovers, Bentley had Roque Santa Cruz and Benni McCarthy (as mentioned earlier) to aim his crosses at – both excellent at attacking crosses. At Spurs, he has had Pavlychunko and occasionally a midfield runner. It’s not easy. However, I think to Pavlyuchenko’s goal in the home win against Bolton – getting on the end of a superb Bentley cross – and I hope to see a lot more of that next season.
I still have a lot of faith in him, and think that, in a more successful Spurs team, with tails up, he will be an important squad player.
As of 14/04/09, David Bentley has made 29 starts and 10 substitute appearances for Spurs in all competitions, scoring 2 goals, with 3 assists. (ESPN)
April 10, 2009
NB: Style shamelessly stolen from the excellent Bankrupt’s Blog.
Thanks to a cracking stream from justin.tv, I watched the full game last night – it’s always enjoyable to see us beat Arsenal, whatever the level!
As predicted (well, OK, I didn’t get all of the starting positions quite right!), the line-up was:
Hutton (24) Rocha (30) Gilberto (32) Hughton (20)
Mtandari (19) Livermore © (19) Parrett (17) Maghoma (21)
Substitution: Byrne (16) for Parrett 60
Unused subs: Button (20), Asajile (18), Nicholson (16)
Spurs generally started the game really brightly, catching Arsenal flat-footed in the first 10-15 minutes. Most of our good play in this period came down the right, with Mtandari and Hutton linking up well. As early as the 4th minute, Hutton found Mtandari in space in the box, but instead of getting his shot away first time, he took a touch and the chance was gone.
A couple of stunted attacks later (on one occasion Parrett was guilty of trying to force a pass that was never really on), Spurs put together the best move of the opening 10 minutes. A great pass by Gilberto was equalled by some link up play between Mtandari and Hutton again. Hutton whipped in a useful low cross, but it was well defended. Arsenal immediately countered and Rocha was forced to intercept – a word I could use an awful lot about him in this report, because his reading of the game was excellent.
On ten minutes, Mtandari won a free-kick on the edge of the box, and Gilberto stepped up. He curled his free kick to the left of the goalkeeper, James Shea, although not so far to the left of him that there won’t be a slight question mark. 0-1 Spurs.
Minutes later we had a chance to double our lead – Livermore broke forward well and fed Mason in the right-hand channel. Mason took a touch and picked out a really intelligent ball back to Livermore on the edge of the box – he had a little space, but opted for power, and put his shot just over, centrally.
A feature of the opening spell was Kyle Fraser-Allen failing to keep himself onside. Like Defoe, he is a player that does not need to make a run too early, as he has real pace. But three times he went too early, and Clive Allen was clearly frustrated with him.
Another Hutton cross just eluded Maghoma on full stretch at the back post, and now it was Arsenal’s turn to have a good spell. A ball over the top saw Alnwick race out of his goal, and had Rocha not done superbly one-on-one to shrug his man (I think it was Sanchez Watt) off the ball and come away with it, Alnwick would have been punished. Seconds later Rocha was called on again to intercept a Merida threaded pass.
At the other end, Maghoma nicked the ball and found Mason who had a great first touch, but scuffed his shot which allowed the goalkeeper to parry, and Livermore blazed the rebound over from distance.
25 minutes in, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas skipped past Alan Hutton as if he wasn’t there, but shot straight at Alnwick. Arsenal were having a lot of possession in the middle of midfield, but weren’t creating too many chances – largely, I’d say, due to good positioning from our experienced centre backs.
Just before half-time, Ryan Mason tracked back to win possession well, passed the ball to Parrett who immediately presented the ball to Amaury Bischoff who shot just wide. There was another near miss immediately after this when Watt showed good direct running and had too much pace for Rocha. Fortunately his shot was straight at Alnwick.
Early in the second half, Parrett picked up a knock blocking a shot. He limped off, and seemed to be struggling. He came back on but a few minutes later he was replaced by Nathan Byrne, prompting a re-shuffle in midfield, with Mtandari initially going into central midfield with Byrne on the right. Allen experimented a bit, though, with Mtandari also popping up on the left with Maghoma more central, and also Mason dropping deeper.
On 57 minutes, Fraser-Allen finally showed that he could hold the ball up, fighting off his defender and laying off to Maghoma. It must have been frustrating for him, then, when Maghoma immediately lost the ball and Arsenal countered, winning a corner.
The second (and crucial) Spurs goal came on 68 minutes. Mason, who was having an increasing influence on the game, ran at the Arsenal defence and was clearly brought down. The commentators on Arsenal TV compared it to a Randall dive in the first half, but Mason was definitely clipped (and Randall wasn’t). Mason himself stepped up and curled a beauty of a free kick right around the wall and into the corner.
Spurs were dominating now and, although Arsenal had a few corners, it did look as though we may get another. Arsenal were emptying their midfield in search of a way back into the game and, as a result, we were finding plenty of space. The third goal came when Livermore anticipated an error – Shea passed the ball to Luke Ayling, Livermore robbed him and calmly slotted past the goalkeeper. All we had to do was see the game out, but we perhaps should have scored another – Mason’s corner was met by Hutton (not for the first time), but he couldn’t direct it downwards. The very last kick of the game was another Mason free-kick from the edge of the box, but this time it was straight at Shea.
Clive Allen had clearly instructed his players to look to switch play as often as possible, and had set us up with two players who tried their best to stand on the chalk as much as possible. Livermore on a couple of occasions and Gilberto on three picked out some excellent cross-field balls to feet, which got ripples of applause from the Spurs fans – and rightly so. One of Gilberto’s passes in particular was a 60-yard peach. It’s also worth mentioning that Tim Sherwood, Joe Jordan, Harry Redknapp and, strangely, David Pleat were all at Underhill.
NB: Two ratings /10 for each player – first is for the game, and the second is the chance I give them of being with us next season.
Alnwick – None of the saves that he made were above and beyond the call of duty. His decision making was poor at times, though, and if it wasn’t for Rocha rescuing him he’d have probably been embarrassed by poor positioning on one occasion. 5/10
Chances of him being at Spurs next season? We seem to have a lot of goalkeepers who aren’t quite good enough – Alnwick, Butcher and arguably Button. Alnwick, though, is the one that I think could leave as he’ll, at least, command a fee. 3/10
Hutton – A few sloppy passes, beaten easily one-on-one by JET once, but generally impressive. Got forward very well and put some good low crosses into the box. Also got up really well at our corners, and posed a constant thread. 7/10
Chances of him being at Spurs next season? To me, he seems like the kind of marauding full-back that Harry would like. That said, there have been murmurings of him leaving, and we do have about 84 right backs. 6/10
Rocha –Beaten for pace a couple of times, but his reading of the game is excellent, and you can see why he’s done well on the continent. 7/10
Chances of him being at Spurs next season? I really feel for the guy. This is a player who has played for Portugal 6 times, marked Ronaldinho out of a game in the Champions League, and has won the Portuguese league. And now he’s been sat in our reserves for two years! He hasn’t moaned though, has he? And his attitude seems to always have been spot on when he has turned out for the reserves. Surely this Summer he’ll finally get a move back to Portugal? 2/10
Gilberto – One of the better games I’ve seen him have in a Spurs shirt. Playing him at centre back against Arsenal isn’t too much of a problem, as they aren’t the kind of side to lump high balls forward. Gilberto marked and read the game well, and was also able to carry the ball out of defence on several occasions. One delightful, drilled 60-yard pass to feet too. 7/10
Chances of him being at Spurs next season? No chance. 1/10
Hughton – In the first five minutes alone he made three mistakes. Poor passing, beaten too easily twice, and positionally awkward. But that said, he did make a useful run forward in the second and nearly scored with a good, angled drive. 4/10
Chances of him being at Spurs next season? I’d imagine he’ll be released – I wouldn’t be surprised if he was with David Hutton at the Premier League exit trials, and he was on trial with Carlisle United last week. 2/10
Mtandari – He was a regular starter for our U18s in 2007/8, but mainly as a defender. I’d never thought of him as a midfielder before, but he did OK. Linked well with Hutton, but was mainly the one to put Hutton into a good crossing position, rather than having the ability to get into that position himself. A solid outing, but nothing more. 6/10
Chances of him being at Spurs next season? I would imagine that, like Hughton, he would be released. But then he is a little younger, so perhaps he’ll get another year? We’ll see. 4/10
Livermore © – He shields the ball in a way that reminds me of Jenas. He was not afraid to play simple passes (unlike his midfield partner, who seemed to want to try too much). He positions himself pretty well, and also has a decent engine. Seems to be a solid player, but perhaps lacks the vision or ability in the final third. Having said that, he took his goal very well indeed, pouncing on a defensive error and slotting home. 6/10
Chances of him being at Spurs next season? I think it’s important to remember that injury has totally ruined Jake’s season. He was all set to be at Crewe for the entire season, but broke his leg during pre-season and has only just come back in the last month. I’m left wondering whether he’ll ever recover from that set back. 7/10
Parrett – We know that he plays with aggression and energy, and seems a really enthusiastic character. However, he tried two or three over-ambitious passes when we’d committed players forward, and we could have been made to pay. He did make a couple of useful defensive tackles/interceptions, and seemed to enjoy that part of his game. Clearly wanted to stay on and run off his injury, but was probably taken off as a precaution prior to joining up with the Academy in Switzerland. 5/10
Chances of him being at Spurs next season? Still a very young lad and, whilst I’m surprised that he was one of the first of the Academy players to get promoted to the first team, I think he is a player that Harry now has a close eye on. 10/10
Maghoma – Struggled to get involved, and found himself on the fringe of the action for a lot of the game. One good piece of skill to beat his man followed by a powerful effort just wide, but other than that he wasn’t too impressive. 4/10
Chances of him being at Spurs next season? He’s 21 now, has already had a trial at Leeds, and I think he’ll probably be released at the end of the season. I find it hard to believe that Jol would be interested, but you never know. 2/10
Mason – Aside from tracking back and winning the ball several times, he really struggled to get involved in the first half, although this was probably partly because Fraser-Allen was so inept at holding the ball up. In the second, he got on the ball more, and his touch and weighted passes started becoming a threat. Took his goal brilliantly, and also put in a couple off really nice, powerful, flat corners. 6/10
Chances of him being at Spurs next season? Despite not having his best game, he is the star in our U18s IMO. I love the way he plays the game, and I think he’s one to watch. 10/10
Fraser-Allen – Previously, I’ve only seem him play as a winger, and he did look a little lost up-front. Poor timing of runs, poor ball retention, poor passing, poor touch. Not really his day. He did, however, link up fairly well with Mtandari and Hutton on two occasions in the first half, and he also played in Hughton for a shot with a well weighted pass. 4/10
Chances of him being at Spurs next season? Still only 19, but given that he failed to get games on-loan at Macclesfield, I can’t see us hanging on to him. 2/10
Byrne – A reasonably bright cameo from Nathan Byrne, who is still only 16. Loads of pace and energy, he’ll undoubtedly get more games for the U18s next year.
Current Standings: http://www.villatalk.com/index.php?name=PN…1274899#1274899
Pos Team —-P—- —-W—- —-D—- —-L—- —-F—- —-A—- —Pts— —GD—-
1st Aston Villa 14 9 3 2 25 12 30 +13
2nd Fulham 14 6 5 3 24 17 23 +7
3rd Tottenham 12 7 1 4 22 15 22 +7
4th West Ham 14 7 1 6 17 21 22 -4
5th Portsmouth 13 6 1 6 16 24 19 -8
6th Arsenal 13 4 3 6 13 19 15 -6
7th Chelsea 14 4 2 8 23 24 14 -1
8th Stoke City 13 4 2 7 17 18 14 -1
9th WBA 11 3 0 8 13 20 09 -7
I shall be heading to Orient for the return match on Tuesday, so another report should follow.
April 4, 2009
How things have changed since Harry arrived. The management structure, the backroom staff, the way the fans are now generally ‘in the loop’, the added swearing on the touchline, and, not least, the players. During the January transfer window, Redknapp was a real tinker-man, bringing in five players:
However, what’s often overlooked is how many players he has managed to shift. Redknapp identified very early on that deadwood was an issue, saying “We have about 40 or 50 players who sit down for dinner at the club every day but only 14 or 15 of them are good enough to play in the Premier League.” These aren’t necessarily high profile players whose sales would draw headlines, but certainly players that were drawing wages, and potentially clogging the development of others by playing reserve games, etc.
Those who have moved on permanently are:
Dag Alexander Olsen
Kieran McKenna (retired)
Those who have moved on loan since Harry arrived are:
Kevin-Prince Boateng NB: with a view to a permanent move.
Danny Hutchins NB: Hutchins has confirmed that his Spurs contract isn’t going to be renewed.
David Button (x2)
Lee Butcher (x2)
Clearly not all of these players are going to stay at the club, and I imagine a number of the loans are in order to put players in the shop window – especially Hutchins and Hutton, as both have been told that their contracts won’t be renewed. It’s also interesting to note that Harry has sent out two of our Academy players in Obika and Townsend.
Juande Ramos had seemed to want to trim our squad (which was understandable), and only issued squad numbers to those that he wanted involved. This made things uncomfortable for the sidelined players, and didn’t seem to benefit anyone. He sold players who were at least fringe players (Malbranque, Chimbonda, Tainio, etc), yet kept those players who were caught between Academy and first team football (Barcham, Mills, etc). Redknapp’s method of first clearing out the “inbetweeners” stands us in good stead and releases wage funds. I’m sure we’ll see Rocha, Gilberto, etc leave come the end of the season too.
Aside from personnel, the whole mood of the club has been lifted under Harry. Initially, he seemed to be putting a metaphorical arm around the entire squad, telling the press that the players are all capable, and that they’ve impressed him in training. There was a clear shift in confidence early on, and even when there’s been a wobble along the way, or Redknapp has pointed the finger at an individual, confidence has still seemed to be high amongst the squad as a whole.
On the pitch, the one and two touch, pass and move football is now being played with a vital ingredient – two players, in Jenas and Palacios, who are capable of positioning themselves in such a way that Lennon and Modric have a platform to spring from. It doesn’t matter if they bomb on and get caught up-field, because Jenas and Palacios have the awareness and the athleticism to cover where necessary. In turn, this has led to the pressure being taken off the defence, although clearly Ledley King playing a run of games is a massive factor. It’s also no surprise to me that since Didier Zokora came out of midfield, our play with the ball has become more fluent, and our defensive shape and discipline when we haven’t got the ball have improved drastically.
The team is now working as a cohesive unit. This is what has seen teams like Everton and Aston Villa achieve successes with squads that are certainly no more talented than ours. A period of consistency, a rigid team shape, and players that know their roles in the team inside out are the key elements in trying to live up to our billing.
One of my concerns with Redknapp is that there will be a lot more tinkering once the transfer window opens again. I sincerely hope that he doesn’t make too many changes – two or maybe three signings in weak areas should be enough – a central midfield player capable of stepping in for Jenas or Palacios (Michael Johnson of Manchester City would be my preference), a left sided midfield player as “Plan B” (the popular choice seems to be Downing, but I’m still not convinced), and possibly a left back to compete with Assou-Ekotto (I’d like to see Bale go out on loan for the season to regain confidence).
Overhauls clearly don’t work, and I hope we’ve learnt that now.