Good start for Spurs loanees

Steven Caulker and Ryan Mason both made their league debuts for Yeovil yesterday – both played 90 minutes in a 2-0 win, in which Caulker helped them to keep a clean sheet, and Mason won them a penalty. I believe Caulker took the MOTM award – superb achievement for both of them, congratulations to both!

Some nice commentson Mason and Caulker on the Yeovil forum:

“Taff – Agree with everything you say, except Caulker was my MOTM by a country mile, some of his reading of the game yesterday was of the highest class, he also has an excellent turn of pace, which helped out our full backs on numerous occasions, something that we could see more from the terrace (certainly when defending) than maybe the stands.”

“Though must say I have been more impressed with Mason since he has moved into the Centre of the midfield, another who looks real class, and worked well yesterday IMO.”

And a whole thread on Caulker!

If you can sign in, there’s a Caulker interview here.

Andros Townsend was an unused sub for Leyton Orient.

Adam Smith played 90 minutes on his league debut too, as Wycombe lost 3-2 away at Charlton.

Just a couple of mentions on their official site:

“65 mins:
Intelligent play by young full back Adam Smith. The Tottenham youngster, who signed on loan for the Chairboys this week, cannons the ball back off Kelly Youga to relieve the pressure and grant the away side a goal kick.”

“84 mins
Great save by Shearer. McLeod beats Smith for pace on the left hand side, cuts in but sees his rasping effort tipped over brilliantly by the Glaswegian.”

And some comments from the forum:

“Smith 6 Looked a bit lightweight but apart from that good”
“Smith 6 Perhaps thrown in at the deep end…did well to clear off the line.”

Ben Alnwick was an unused sub for Norwich City.

Troy Archibald-Henville was an unused sub for Exeter City.

David Button played 90 minutes as Crewe Alexandra lost 1-2 to Dagenham and Redbridge.

A few comments from their official site:

“There was a defensive mix-up after 41 minutes with O’Donnell heading back past the onrushing Button. Benson got in behind but from an acute angle couldn’t turn the shot home. It was certainly a let-off.”

“The hard working Zola shot wide from 25 yards after pulling possession from the sky but it was Dagenham who would be going into the half-time interval in the lead following a wonderful strike from Nurse. The striker caught his 30-yard shot perfectly to give Button no chance.”

“Grant did have the ball in the net early on in the first half but Elding had only slightly strayed into an offside position in the build-up. Benson, so prolific for Dagenham last season had a sight of Button’s goal on 53 minutes but the on-loan keeper from Spurs got his angles spot on.”

“Crewe should have kicked on from there but almost instantly fell behind again when Benson was granted far too much room and he made Crewe pay. He glided past Jones and O’Donnell before rounding Button and slotting home from within the six-yard box.”

“Benson nearly killed the game off just minutes later though only for Button to tip his effort around the post.”

Tomas Pekhart didn’t even make the bench for Slavia Prague on the 5th.

Adel Taarabt played 90 minutes up front for QPR in a 1-1 draw against Blackpool.

A few comments on Adel here:
“QPR’s on-loan Tottenham forward Adel Taarabt twice combined well with Wayne Routledge early on, only to be denied by keeper Paul Rachubka.”
“And Taarabt missed an opportunity to win the match for Rangers when he headed Routledge’s late cross wide of the target.”

And from the official site:

“Angelo Balanta found Taarabt relatively near the area, and when the Moroccan tricked his way past two men, he played a neat one-two with Helguson.

Seemingly through on goal, Taarabt looked in the clear, only for Rachubka to come racing out of his goal to slide the ball out to safety.”

“In all honesty, Rangers were now firmly in control, not least when Taarabt had the R’s best chance to date. When Routledge beat his man down the left, he played Taarabt through on goal.

And though, in fairness, the angle was acute, nonetheless he forced a fine save from Rachubka, who was anything but untested in the Blackpool goal.”

Kyle Walker played 90 minutes for Sheffield United at right back against Boro on Friday.

A couple of comments from their official site:

“Bunn’s first test was to gather in a cross-cum-shot from Emnes and then he had to rush out to clear a short Walker backpass”

“For the home side, Johnson’s cross was punched away by Bunn and Walker beat Emnes in an aerial battle at the back post.”

“The first serious action of the second period, five minutes in, was an appeal for penalty when Johnson went down under Walker’s challenge following a Huth through ball but referee Mason was not convinced.”

Squad comparison with the sides around us

(Click on the image to enlarge.)

Looking at the teams likely to finish around us (notice I’m leaving out West Ham), our squad looks pretty strong.
Left back, left midfield and central midfield are the weakest areas, but we’re not the only ones with weakneses – Villa badly need centre backs, Fulham lack quality back-up options right across their midfield, Sunderland look short defensively, and Arsenal have the same old problem – a lack of muscle and grit throughout their squad.

For what it’s worth, my prediction would be:

4. Arsenal
5. Everton
6. Man City
7. Spurs
8. Sunderland
9. Aston Villa
10. Fulham

That would be some achievement for Sunderland, but I rate Bruce highly as a manager, and I think he may have a couple of transfer aces up his sleeve.

Assessing our squad

Personally I’m quite pleased with the relatively modest amount of transfer activity so far at White Hart Lane.

So far, our dealings stand as follows:

In: Peter Crouch, Kyle Naughton, Kyle Walker.

Out: Darren Bent, Didier Zokora, Chris Gunter, Ricardo Rocha, Gilberto, Simon Dawkins, Kyle Fraser-Allen, Cian Hughton, Danny Hutchins, David Hutton, Jacques Maghoma and Takura Mtandari, plus Academy players Yaser Kasim, Saulo Asajile, Mark Clare, James Dalton and Ajet Shehu.

Out on loan: Ryan Mason, Steven Caulker (both Yeovil Town), David Button (Crewe Alexandra), Adel Taarabt (QPR), Troy Archibald-Henville (Exeter City), Ben Alnwick (Norwich City), Kyle Walker (Sheffield United).

With Pascal Chimbonda also expected to leave before the deadline, we’re left with a fairly healthy squad:

Goalkeeper: Heurelho Gomes, Carlo Cudicini, Oscar Jansson

Right back: Vedran Corluka, Alan Hutton, Kyle Naughton

Left back: Benoit AssouEkotto, Gareth Bale

Centre back: Ledley King, Jonathan Woodgate, Michael Dawson, Dorian Dervite

Right midfield: Aaron Lennon, David Bentley, Giovani Dos Santos

Left midfield: Luka Modric

Central midfield: Wilson Palacios, Jermaine Jenas, Tom Huddlestone, Jamie O’Hara, Kevin-Prince Boateng

Forwards: Peter Crouch, Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe, Roman Pavlyuchenko


That’s a 25-man squad, ignoring Danny Rose, Jake Livermore, John Bostock, and Jon Obika, all of whom have played a part in pre-season, and Andros Townsend, Calum Butcher and Dean Parrett, who have previously been involved in first team squads.

The weakest area of the squad in my opinion is the left – we’re short of options at left midfield and, were Modric to get injured, Bale is the only other natural left-sided cover. Despite Gareth looking quite useful as a wing-back away at Everton last year, I wouldn’t be entirely comfortable with him being pushed into the first team for any length of time at this point. Left-back cover is also lacking – after AssouEkotto, again we’ve got Bale, who is defensively naive (at best), and Naughton, who is right-footed.

Higher quality competition in the middle of midfield would be nice, although I personally still see O’Hara as a useful option (so long as he’s happy to be a bit-part player) and, against the less athletic teams, Huddlestone has proven in the past that he can do a job too.

The other area that looks weak is central defence. With King only playing 20 games a season or so, and Woodgate needing a hernia op, we’re thin on the ground. Dawson is an able deputy and was, in my opinion, more impressive than Woodgate last year when called upon, but Corluka certainly looks less comfortable at centre back, and Dervite is still very, very raw. It seems that there’s a genuine interest in Bassong, which would make sense, as a pacy defender would be good cover for Ledley King. Personally I’d rather take Distin as a cheaper and more experienced option.

Up front, I still feel that we’re lacking a strong, aggressive striker. All of our strikers are, in one way or another, quite limited, and the combinations that we can field are similarly limited – it’s basically Crouch and one other! But the strikers we have are all good players, and most teams in the PL would be happy to have our selection. They aren’t perfect, but they’re good enough for the time being.

And that is why, with another 26 days until the transfer window closes, I hope that Harry largely decides to stick with what he’s got. It’s a good enough squad to compete for Europe, and we can build from there next summer.

Enter Crouch

One of Berbatov’s greatest assets, oft-overlooked due to his startling skill on the deck, was his ability to win headers, or to hold the ball up on his chest before bringing it down and finding a Spurs man. Since he left at the start of last season, we’ve not had a striker capable of doing this.

In some ways that was probably a good thing, encouraging us to play more to feet, and through our midfield. However, in certain games you need to be able to take a direct route, and of course, with centre backs as keen to find the front man with long passes as Dawson and Woodgate clearly are, it was only a matter of time before Harry identified a target man as a necessary purchase.

Existing strikers

Keane/Defoe/Pavlycuhenko/Bent is not a bad selection of strikers on the face of it. Indeed, I’d suggest that most teams outside of the top 5 (& Man City) would be delighted to have those four. But when you look deeper, it’s an unbalanced collection of players. None are good at consistently winning headers with their back to goal. In fact, none like to play with their back to goal full stop. None have the strength to rattle big, strong defenders (and nearly all PL teams have at least one of those). We already have two quite flimsy attacking players in Lennon and Modric, and with Keane/Defoe as the “second striker”, we clearly lack someone with some strength and presence to help dominate teams. Jones would have been useful in this respect, but he was ludicrously overpriced at £67m or whatever we were quoted.

It’s also important to remember that Defoe is not the same player in away matches, and that Keane had a poor run of form at the back end of last season, where many felt he was dropping too deep and slowing the game down unnecessarily.

Bent is a goal scorer, there’s no doubt about that, but he has little else to his game. If he doesn’t score in a match, he often has a negative impact; he doesn’t hold the ball up or pass well, he doesn’t contribute defensively, he doesn’t win many headers despite being over 6’, and he doesn’t “get at” defenders at all – I imagine as a defender you’d feel more tired having played against Paul Dickov than Darren Bent, despite the obvious height and strength advantage. Normally you’d expect a striker who doesn’t have a great first touch to compensate with aggression and physicality, but Bent has neither.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Pavlyuchenko has more to offer than he has currently shown, and whilst we certainly can’t rely on him at present, I think it’s worth nothing that a lot of Bent’s goals last season were tap-ins/rebounds – as Pavlyuchenko is a similar “predatory” striker, I think we could expect him to score a lot of the goals that we’d previously have expected Bent to score. Whether he’ll get the run of games that he so clearly needs is another matter…

Swapsies

I am all for keeping a consistent squad, but it’s clear that Bent will leave in search of guaranteed first team football and, therefore, it’s a good opportunity to replace him with a striker that can bring skills to the table that we lack. Whilst we will undoubtedly lose goals from Bent, what we’ll gain from Crouch is goals from other areas of the team – he has good awareness of what is going on around him (he gets a good view of the pitch from up there after all), and excels at bringing others into the game. In fairness to him, his scoring record in recent seasons is not too shabby either.

Whether or not we were ever/are in for Huntelaar is irrelevant to me – I’ve always seen him as a similar player to Bent (but obviously far superior). By that I mean that he is a natural goal scorer, but has little else in his all-round game. I don’t think he’d particularly improve us as a team although, like Bent, he is capable of scoring a hatful of goals.

Peter Crouch

In short (haha), Crouch is a good player with skills that we lack – the ability to hold the ball up with his back to defenders, and the vision and awareness to bring others into the game. He does score headers, but they are generally headers where he’s coming on to the ball, rather than out-muscling defenders. He is not as good in the air as one would expect (despite his obvious advantage) and not the type of player that is going to grit his teeth and win header after header against the likes of Terry/Vidic/Gallas/even Distin, and I still think a muscular, aggressive striker as an option would be beneficial. But small steps (groan) are preferable, and I’d rather that we now see how we go with these four, and think about making changes next summer if we can improve again.

For what it’s worth, most Spurs fans are talking about Crouch and Defoe – personally I think Keane will be a great partner for Crouch, and will come back strongly next season.

22/07/09 Aldershot Town vs Tottenham Hotspur X1 3-1, EBB Stadium, Aldershot

A dry evening for my first visit to EBB Stadium (AKA “The Rec”), Aldershot. Just as well, because away fans have a bit of a trek up a hill and through a park to the entrance!

Let me preface this by saying that too much shouldn’t be taken from this game. Not only was it a young squad, but the team was a bit of a mishmash – a couple of first teamers, some reserves, some Academy graduates… and new signing Kyle Naughton, who has joined (along with his team mate, Kyle Walker) from Sheffield United.

Gomes (28)

Hutton (24) Archibald-Henville (20) Butcher (18) Smith (18)

Parrett (17) Livermore (19) Bostock (17) Rose (19)

Taarabt (20)

Obika (18)

Substitutes: Alnwick (22) for Gomes 46, Naughton (20) for Hutton 46, Cox (18) for Taarabt 62, Carroll (17) for Archibald-Henville 78, M’Poku (17) for Parrett 46

Aldershot started fairly strongly, with Spurs struggling to settle and, frustratingly, playing lots of long passes which rarely found their targets. It took just a couple of minutes for the first goal to arrive. Alan Hutton, one of the two “senior players”, was beaten far too easily by his man who back-heeled for a team-mate to cross, and it was turned in from relatively close range.

If anything, rather than settling the home side, the goal settled Spurs. There followed a 10 minute period of controlled possession, with Livermore in particular getting the ball down quickly and playing short passes. However, during this period there was no cutting edge, and all of the passing was in areas which Aldershot would consider “safe”.

On around 15 minutes, Archibald-Henville showed his inexperience – he was dragged out of position, committed himself, and Aldershot had a clear chance, which was put over the bar.

Spurs’ short passing game continued, and Taarabt looked more involved. On 18 minutes or so he set Bostock up for a strike at goal, but Bostock mishit way over – a shame, because it sat up nicely on his left foot. (I notice that the official site saw this effort quite differently: “Taarabt opened it up for Bostock to rifle effort just over from 25 yards.”)

On 32 minutes, a ball was played over the top of the Spurs defence. Butcher, facing his own goal, stretched to meet the ball, but could only get a toe end on it. It looked as though the Aldershot player was going to have a free run at goal, but Gomes ate up the ground, and made a superb saving header, which was warmly applauded. Moments earlier, the Aldershot fans had been chanting “what a load of rubbish, what a waste of money” at the big Brazilian.

Shortly after this, there was a moment of confusion in the Spurs ranks, which caused some tempers to be lost. Bostock played a 10 yard pass to Taarabt in midfield, but Adel had turned his back on play. The Aldershot player nipped in and charged forward, played in the striker who seemed to have time and space. Fortunately he fired wide at the near post. Archibald-Henville stormed out of defence absolutely bawling at Taarabt, who looked rather sheepish.

It took 37 minutes for Spurs to test the Aldershot goalkeeper, with Parrett lashing an effort from the edge of the penalty area out on the right. A good strike, but it would have had to have been something special to beat the goalkeeper from that range and angle.

A poor effort on goal from Rose in a pretty decent position was the only other meaningful moment of the first half.

At half-time, new boy Naughton appeared in place of Hutton, Alnwick came on for Gomes, and Paul-Jose M’Poku replaced Parrett at right midfield.

“Polo” M’Poku made an instant impact for Spurs, upping the tempo, and putting pressure on the Aldershot players with his all-action style. He looks ungainly when he runs, but he’s quite a physical player, and certainly has a good work ethic. He had a chance from a corner, but he didn’t quite get enough on his header and it drifted harmlessly wide.

Substitutions for both teams meant the game went through a particularly scrappy period. Anton Blackwood replaced Butcher at centre back (his first appearance in a Spurs shirt AFAIK), and Cox came on for the frustrated Taarabt. Allen had a bit of a re-shuffle at this point, sending Bostock out to the left, with Cox and Livermore central, and Rose just off Obika.

Blackwood’s first contribution was a player cutting inside him with absolute ease and making a dangerous pass in the box. A couple of minutes later he was guilty of surrendering possession deep in the Spurs half. Things can only get better for him!

It took time for Spurs to settle into the game again, but M’Poku had certainly lifted things, and he seemed to link well with Naughton. This was certainly evident for Spurs’ equaliser – M’Poku playing Naughton in to deliver an absolute peach of a cross. Danny Rose arrived unmarked and planted a header beyond the goalkeeper.

It really was a lovely cross from Naughton, who made a couple of other marauding runs. However, soon after, he was caught on the wrong side of his man, and Aldershot nearly restored their advantage.

The tiny figure of Tom Carroll replaced Troy Archibald-Henville. This meant that Livermore moved to centre back, Bostock moved back into the middle of midfield, and Carroll hugged the left touchline, showing some neat touches, but being nudged off the ball quite easily at times.

Aldershot made it 2-1 on 74 minutes. Poor defending all-round, but a misjudgement from Alnwick in particular, who had already shown some worryingly bad handling.

The game petered out from here, with only one more chance – a free-kick from the right which was whipped in fairly flat. An Aldershot man won the header, and guided it past Alnwick to make it 3-1.

The most disappointing thing about the Spurs performance was the lack of quality passing, which is where you’d expect the better technical players to shine through. Initially we struggled to get the ball down, but then for a 10 minute period we seemed to get our act together – plenty of short, accurate passing, but without any breakthrough. Some players from there on tried to over-complicate, particularly the likes of Taarabt and Bostock, and moves were not given time to develop.

A fairly rigid 4-4-1-1 formation from Clive Allen meant that too many players were playing in unfamiliar and uncomfortable positions – Smith made the best of being at right back, but Parrett did not look comfortable on the right, and it was also notable how isolated Obika was, particularly in the first half. It’s also clear to me that Rose is not a left-winger. He has admitted himself recently that he is happier in the middle of midfield, and for me he struggled on the left – he couldn’t beat his man, and when he got a yard to make a cross, it was generally poor. He seemed to get frustrated with trying to float the ball in, so tried a couple of low crosses in the second half – one caused a bit of confusion in the box, but the other was easily cut out.

The logical answer to me seemed to be to go to 4-2-3-1, with Livermore and Parrett deeper, and Bostock, Rose and Taarabt in support of Obika, and I’ve often thought that Allen doesn’t react quickly enough in these situations – he seems happy enough ranting and raving on the touchline and particularly shouting unhelpful “f*****g get at them” type comments.

I don’t think rating the players here will really tell people a lot about the players involved, or the game, so in addition I’ve added a line or two on what I would expect from each player this season.

Gomes – he was mainly a spectator, but made a good saving header. There wasn’t a lot he could do about the goal he conceded. 7/10
This season – Gomes will be first choice goalkeeper, and will be hoping to build on his impressive clean sheet record from last year. Unlike many Spurs fans, I still have doubts about Gomes, but I hope he cements his place at Spurs, as he seems like a decent guy, and deserves better than what we got from the English gutter press last year.

Hutton – disappointing defending from Hutton for the first goal, and that hardly came as a surprise – his positional ill-discipline and at times poor decision-making has been a problem since his arrival at Spurs. He made a few really decent runs up the right hand side, but not a lot came of them. I also noted a trade-mark dive. 6/10
This season – he will have his work cut out to dislodge Corluka, and with Naughton arriving there’s been a lot of speculation suggesting that he may end up at Everton, with Aston Villa also sniffing around.

Archibald-Henville – a couple of moments of inexperience, but generally he was a commanding figure, winning most headers and challenges. 6/10
This season – I would expect Troy to be back out on loan – Exeter have said they expect him to join up with them again.

Butcher – didn’t do an awful lot wrong, although neither did he look like he was in full control. 6/10
This season – Hopefully Calum will get his first loan spell away from the club, as otherwise he could find himself struggling for games, having graduated from the Academy.

Smith – playing out of position at left back was not easy for Adam. Despite continually having to come inside on his right, he persisted and worked hard up and down the flank. He frequently beat his man, and occasionally jinked between two men. 7/10
This season – Like Butcher, a loan spell is what Smith now needs – I’d imagine that he would be comfortable enough in League One. If he could gain a little strength, I think he could even cope with the Championship.

Parrett – difficult evening for Parrett stuck out on the right. As usual, he battled hard, and chased everything – occasionally he has a tendency to commit himself. Not an awful lot went his way, but he did have our best effort of the first half. 6/10
This season – Dean is moving into the 2nd year of the Academy, so will be one of the senior players in the U18 – I’d expect him to take the armband in Caulker’s absence, and perhaps even go out on loan at some point.

Livermore – whilst he provided a solid base and tried to get the ball down quickly and keep things simple, he didn’t really excel. He showed some solid defensive positioning, and some responsible tracking back, but he’s playing in the area of the pitch where you’d hope for possession to be kept, and we surrendered the ball far too easily at times. 7/10
This season – he has been heavily involved with the first team during pre-season which could show that he’s highly thought of, or could show that he’s this year’s Pekhart (involved early on, and then swiftly sent to the Czech Republic on loan!). I would imagine that he’ll go out on loan for the first few months of the season. He’s a strong lad, so could cope with the rigours of the Championship if a side wants to take a gamble.

Bostock – I think I must have just caught him on bad days, because I’m yet to be impressed. Far too often he beat his man and then passed the ball to the opposition. Neat first touch nine times out of ten, but seems to want to ignore the simple passes too often. 5/10
This season – he still has a long way to go IMO, and I think he’ll be an Academy mainstay this year.

Rose – worked hard, but struggled to beat the Aldershot right-back, and only put in one good cross from about seven or eight. He got absolutely clattered twice in the first half, which may have affected him. Got our goal with a planted header when he was moved just behind Obika, and looked more effective in that position, harrying defenders and getting on the referee’s nerves! 5/10
This season – I can see him linking up with Brendan Rodgers at Reading, who we played under at Watford last year. Needs a season of football before we can really judge him, but I’ve yet to see why he’s been included in the first team squad ahead of others.

Taarabt – one word: PASS! Brilliant dribbling and close control, as ever, but delays passes, ignores passes, frustrates defenders, frustrates team-mates, frustrates himself. A couple of useful cross-field switches, but other than that, not a lot went right for him. Got the hair-dryer from Bostock and Archibald-Henville (and rightly so), for turning his back on the play, and didn’t look impressed. 5/10
This season – it was announced yesterday that he’d be joining QPR on a season-long loan. I think this is make or break for Adel.

Obika – totally isolated for most of the game. It was a hard night for Obika – always a willing runner, but got no service. The few times the ball was played into the channels, it was too heavy or badly angled, and the few times the ball was played to his feet, he had no support, so even if he controlled and turned, he had nobody to pass to. 6/10
This season – I still feel he lacks aggression, and I’d like to see him play a full season in League One and really work on tormenting defenders and letting them know they’ve been in a game.

Substitutes:
Alnwick – one of the worst (if not the worst) goalkeepers I’ve seen playing for Spurs, bar none. He didn’t have much to do, but he basically did little well. Maybe I’m being harsh on him for the second goal, but he was lost under the flight of the ball. 4/10
This season – just a case of running down his contract. Try as I might to look for positives, I can’t find any.

Naughton – whilst he looked useful going forward, and put in an exquisite cross for our goal, his positioning was naïve, and he got caught on the wrong side minutes after his assist. 6/10
This season – I’m sure he’ll be training with the first team squad, making a few appearances from the bench, and playing cup games.

M’Poku – replaced Parrett on the right and instantly hugged the touchline, offering width and an option for Naughton. I am a fan of his unusual style and direct movement, and thought he used his physique well to put pressure on defenders, resulting once in a free kick for Spurs and two misplaced passes to Spurs players. He had one unfortunate moment where he beat the full-back with a nice piece of skill, before totally air-kicking when it came to crossing, but he certainly upped the tempo. 7/10
This season – as one of the senior members of the U18 squad this season, he’ll be expected to really contribute goals this year. If things go well, he may get a spell out on loan. I have high hopes for him – he’s something a bit different.

Cox – a regular at left-back for the U18s last season, Cox came on in the centre of midfield and put himself about. Popular amongst the coaches for his attitude and approach to the game, and because they feel he “sets the tempo” for his team-mates, he showed elements of this, but couldn’t really stamp his authority on the game. 6/10
This season – expected to go out on loan, perhaps to Exeter City with Troy Archibald-Henville.

Carroll – Only a cameo for Tom, but he showed some neat touches, although being so small he gets brushed aside quite easily.
This season – a much bigger role for the U18s, no doubt.

Official Tottenham site’s minute-by-minute guide.
Aldershot Town match report.
Youtube highlights.