Just the one clean sheet for Spurs this season which is quite different to the second half of last year; we kept 7 in the league from February on.
A number of possible reasons for this, I feel, but I’d like to highlight three.
1. Defensive changes.
So far this season we have fielded the following back fives:
Vs Liverpool: Gomes Corluka King Bassong Assou-Ekotto
Vs Hull: Gomes Hutton Corluka Bassong Assou-Ekotto (1 change)
Vs West Ham: Cudicini Corluka King Bassong Assou-Ekotto (2 changes)
Vs Doncaster: Cudicini Naughton Corluka Bassong Hutton (2 changes)
Vs Birmingham: Cudicini Corluka King Bassong Assou-Ekotto (2 changes)
Vs Man United: Cudicini Corluka King Bassong Assou-Ekotto (0 changes)
Vs Chelsea: Cudicini Corluka King Bassong Assou-Ekotto (0 changes)
Vs Preston NE: Gomes Hutton Dawson Huddlestone Bale (5 changes)
Vs Burnley: Cudicini Corluka Huddlestone Bassong Assou-Ekotto (4 changes)
Vs Bolton: Cudicini Corluka Huddlestone Bassong Assou-Ekotto (0 changes)
Vs Portsmouth: Gomes Corluka King Bassong Assou-Ekotto (2 changes).
One clean sheet so far vs Burnley, as highlighted.
Whilst King clearly has to be carefully managed and, as a result, he can’t play every game, there have been changes for cup games (understandably). This has meant that there have been only three games in which there were no changes to the defensive line-up. This can’t be good for confidence and consistency, and may well have something to do with our poor defensive record. A settled (as much as possible) defence will help us no end – hopefully now that Gomes is fit, he can stay fit. Once we get Woodgate and Dawson back to full fitness, Redknapp will need to make a decision on who is first choice. I presume it will be Woodgate, but I personally felt that Dawson out-performed him last year. But that’s by the by.
2. Jermaine Jenas
The Jenas and Palacios midfield partnership was an integral part of our clean sheet record last year. They formed a strong base which allowed our attacking players to go and express themselves. Indeed, at times we played a 4-2-3-1, similar to Liverpool:
Corluka Woodgate King Assou-Ekotto
Lennon Keane Modric
This seemed to work well for us, with three attacking players who were creative, but also knew their defensive responsibilities.
This season, whether it’s because we’ve been without Jenas or not, we’ve tended towards a flat 4-4-2, with Huddlestone and Palacios playing in central midfield in the majority of games. Whilst Huddlestone is a lovely passer of the ball, his defensive awareness is still quite poor at this stage of his career, and even when he is switched on, he doesn’t have the mobility to get up and down the pitch quickly enough.
Jenas, whilst not exactly the most popular player amongst the fans, is one of our more “responsible” players; by this I mean that he doesn’t shirk his defensive duties. He will track runners, and he will drop deeper where necessary. It could be coincidence, but our one clean sheet came on his second start of the season.
3. Wilson Palacios
Palacios is on easily his worst run of form in a Spurs shirt, and needs to lift his game. Whilst even an off-form Palacios is more effective than Zokora, he is also capable of making some of the same mistakes that Didier was often criticsed for: namely unnecessary fouls (giving free-kicks in dangerous areas), and sloppy/over-ambitious passing.
Palacios was a vital, vital cog for us last year, and we badly need him back to his best if we’re going to continue our good run, and particularly if we want to keep more clean sheets.