It’s not that long ago when Spurs fans were demanding wholesale changes each and every transfer window as a consequence of going whole months without adding to points totals and handing over leads in closing minutes to snatch defeats from the jaws of victory. But from the start of the Jol years continual improvement has been the name of the game, barring the post Carling Cup win period under Ramos, to a point where Harry’s skills as a football manager rather than the other suggestion he strongly refutes require little change to the playing staff in the January 2011 window.
Standing in fifth place in the Premier League and having secured a Champions League knock out place as Group A champions with the level of injury we have had at the club is a superb first half to the 2010/11 season. And with players returning to fitness we look to be in a decent position to push on towards the business end of the season. I expected Chelsea to beat Bolton but to have actually been ahead of them after their start to the season is something we would take to be improbable but shows that if we keep producing results we can indeed put in a real challenge.
So the question to ponder, having played all of our games for 2010, is “Does our squad have satisfactory talent to see out the season challenging for honours?”
Dealing with multiple fronts
The trouble with Spurs is that we’ve never shown the consistency to challenge for the big prize. We’ve come close since 1960-61 but never been able to do just enough over the 38-42 games. Our skill has been more geared to lifting our performance for cup games or having a run of home ties against lower calibre opposition.
This may be our undoing this season as we try to compete week in week out in the Premier League whilst getting an FA Cup run going and trying to progress in the Champions League. Our home form suggests we can give the very best a game at White Hart Lane and this offers us the opportunity of an FA Cup run and a chance over two legs in the Champions League.
What it cannot ignore is our need to win away points to secure a large enough total in the Premier League to re-qualify for next season’s Champions League. Ultimately this will be our test for the remainder of the season and if we can continue to secure points our challenge is maintained. To do this we need to be firing on all cylinders in every department. Whether we are able to do so remains to be seen.
The goal keeper is an important specialist position which when played at its best controls the defence, keeps out the best efforts of the opposition and turns defence into attack in a slick movement. We’ve had a number of goal keepers since Pat Jennings graced the stage and none of them have bettered his performance. It’s doubtful whether anyone ever will.
Of our current trio Gomes remains the best shot stopper but his confidence can suffer crisis and it is my opinion that at the present time he is suffering. I’m actually torn to decide whether he should stay between the posts or allow Cudicini another stint. His decision making at corners and for crosses is often shot, the punch he offers is weak and we haven’t even considered his rash challenges in the box.
When he plays like this he reminds of the firing squad leader in Blackadder series 4, the gabbler, “Ready-Aim-fire! No style no finesse, but it gets the job done, eh boys.” Unfortunately for Heurelho he has discovered since arriving at Spurs that it rarely does. A pause for breath or thought would often improve his keeping and provide more confidence throughout the team. But is it possible?
Gomes greatest problem may rest with his physique. Rarely a game goes by without a visit from the trainer so the threat of injury must always be in his mind. As a result he may well be acting under blind terror on occasions. My concern is that he will cost us further points between now and the end of the season that may measure the difference between success and failure.
So would Cudicini be any better? I’m not altogether sure but I would not be concerned if he had to play. I think both are an improvement upon Robinson so both signings took us forward but if we have to be ruthless in our quest of the top four slot and then actually putting in challenges to win the tournaments a stronger goalkeeper may be needed.
Targets? I’m not the greatest in knowing the names of targets but if we want to buy in January it needs to be someone with Premier League experience. This suggests holding onto till the summer unless Shay Given is available. I cannot believe he would be allowed to join us.
Every day the National Press link us to a centre back despite the fact we already have seven players who can play the position and now they all know each other most of play it very well. Granted two of this corp are disaster areas when it comes to injury and I do question how long we can continue throwing them back into the team rather than putting them onto the bench as back ups.
Last season Dawson put his marker upon lead position at centre back and he also ended up with the captaincy. For a long time Dawson had been uncomfortable with the lead role and like Sol Campbell before him tried to do too much often leaving himself too thin in an effort to support others. Last year that changed and he deservedly won player of the year. This year injury has restricted his opportunities but injury to Gallas led to a return against Chelsea and a fine first performance. I expect him to continue.
Quite who partners Daws is more difficult. Bassong is unlikely to get the nod full time but has done little wrong when called upon. Understandably he recognises his lack of first team opportunities and he has suggested that he would consider offers from specific clubs. For Seb to make a sensible decision he needs to understand the fitness of Ledley and Woodgate and how they might be used and then see how many games Gallas can manage. Seb’s problem is that the answer to these questions will not be known by 31 January 2011.
Ledley will always struggle with injury. Wonderful player of that there is no doubt but I still do question how long we can continue with project Ledley. Previously we wanted to put him back into the side but as others grow and improve is that still the situation? I’m not so sure. How can you get rhythm and consistency when we play pass the parcel with our important positions. And then if we play 4-4-2 who plays alongside Ledley. I’m happy he stays with us but maybe more as a squad player rather than being looked upon as a starter.
The same goes for Woody. Once again a long injury has cost him a large chunk of his career and he returns to fitness without a registered squad number. The talk is that he will go out on loan but is this for a month or the rest of the season? If it is for a month then I see him also as a back up who can come into the side if needed. He certainly has valuable experience in the Champions League to fall back on.
The arrival of Billy Gallas found favour with me and he can play both centre and full back. If Ekotto falls foul to injury then Gallas can certainly come in on the left and play as he did at Chelsea. His early games suggested that he had gone past his best but after an astonishing display at The Emirates – and as skipper – he played his best football until a hamstring injury robbed us for the Chelsea game. I have no qualms about seeing Gallas partner Dawson as I feel this will be a decent pairing but what of Kaboul?
Younes has strength of that there is no doubt. And he has ball skills and puts the ball in the back of the net better than any of our centre backs. Since his return from Portsmouth he has put in some super performances which leave me in no doubt that in a couple of years he will cement a centre back spot alongside Dawson. Last season he had a couple of run outs at right back and used his ball skills successfully in this position. It may be for specific games that Kaboul will take the right back position and Gallas the left to allow a strong back four of centre backs to be used.
However, it will be difficult to drop our existing full backs as both Hutton and Ekotto have performed extremely well this season. There are always complaints about the full backs and both do have weaknesses but as it stands they are adding to the qualities of the side and in doing so Hutton has kept Corluka back as an able deputy.
Charlie was very good at right back last season and performed well with Aaron Lennon. This season he has been less assured and whilst I am happy to see his name on the team sheet I did feel last timie out that he gave too much room and allowed crosses to be made into the box.
As a consequence I believe that we have sufficient difficulty in picking our centre back pairing without adding other names to the list and as it stands we have some of the best defenders who need a few more clean sheets to their credit to get the recognition they deserve. Now that they know each others games better it might be possible.
Coming up tomorrow Midfield, Attack and our Management and Ownership teams. Let me know what your thoughts are this half term on the above.