Spurs are top of the table. Yes it’s only two games but Spurs are looking like a top 4 side and there are reasons to believe that this could be a champions league year.
Beating Liverpool at home was a great result but it was not that surprising. In the last few years Spurs played very well against the top 4. Last year they were 2-2-4 against the top 4 (one of the 2 points in 8 games under Ramos was against Chelsea!). The problem has not been big games against top teams but playing away against the Hulls and the Stokes. Last year in the first game spurs lost away to Middlesburgh, the year before away to Sunderland, and before that away to Bolton (playing a top 4 side at home in game 1 was actually a god send). But Spurs weren’t just bad away from home at the start – we dropped points consistently away from home against the bottom half.
Therefore more impressive than beating Liverpool at home was last night’s 5-1 slaughtering of Hull City at Hull (remember: Chelsea needed a lucky 90th minute fluke chip from Drogba to win at Stamford bridge). Spurs did what top four sides do against poorer competition – they dominated. Spurs dominated possession, won the ball back quickly after losing it through intense pressure, and created scoring chances with stunning regularity. We overcame missing our 3 first choice CBs, which made us vulnerable on crosses and set pieces, and despite a slight wobble in the first half that might have pushed us into disarray the previous years, we battled through and regained control of the game. Phil Brown was asked whether he thought 5-1 was a fair result despite the strong effort from Hull and he said: “I don’t think, hand on heart, 5-1 flattered Tottenham tonight – they were fabulous. It’s difficult to say to our boys to go out there and do what Spurs do because the gulf in class looks alarming. The fact is, though, that anyone who played Spurs tonight will have got a hiding, I think.”
Why this year could in fact be Tottenham’s year.
Under Martin Jol spurs played attractive football and scored a ton of goals but we were weak down the spine, gave away too many cheap goals, and many of his tactical decisions were poor – often preventing us from killing off games and protecting leads. Still, he probably shouldn’t have been sacked. Ramos was a clear flop but he was forced to endure a horrible transfer period that saw us lose arguably the best strike partnership in the league in Keane and Berbatov (as well as defoe), replaced by an unproven EPL novice in Pavlyuchenko and an overpriced right midfielder that was not better than the one spurs already had. Last year was always going to be tough. And it showed – Tottenham still leaked goals like crazy, but now couldn’t score.
Harry came in and immediately recognized the problems. He talked endlessly about the lack of balance in the team he inherited. The fears that Harry would massively reshuffle a squad that probably didn’t need it however did not materialize. Instead, he has improved the attack, strengthened the spine of the team and added balance and proven premiership players. Perhaps just as significant as Rednapp’s arrival was the firing of Damien Commolli who tried to turn Spurs into Arsenal by buying a lot of young players – except many of them were really expensive and we lack the proper youth system to develop them.
I. What Harry has done.
1.He has strengthened Tottenham’s spine. a. The central midfield. The signing of Palacios has been huge. Zakora was a useful player and had incredible pace, which enabled him to close people down, but he wasn’t a tenacious ball winner. Palacios, I think, will soon be considered among the best d-mids in the league along with Mascherano, Essian, Mikel. Additionally pairing Huddlestone with Palacios has given us even more strength centrally. Hudd is too slow to be a ball winning d-mid, but playing deep with Palacios gives us a great passer and more strength in the midfield. Our midfield pairing looks a lot like Liverpool’s last year of Alonso and Maschereno. I’m not saying its as good, but has the same balance. It also allows us to get away with playing two lighter players – Lennon and Modric – on the wings. b. The defense. Ledley King and Woodgate when healthy are fantastic, but with Dawson and now Bassong as cover we have 4 quality CBs.
2. Improved the attack. Last year we entered the season with Bent, Pavlyuchenko, and Frazier Campbell as our strikers. That is just not going to cut it. The (re)addition of Defoe and (the albeit panicy addition) Keane last winter along with Crouch’s signing this summer give us a lot of options and cover. The first two games should put to rest the idea that Keane and Defoe can’t play together. Defoe is in amazing form and with Keane in a deeper role the two look really dangerous together. The one problem is that we have no aerial threat and crosses into the box are pretty useless. But with Modric, Huddlestone, and Lennon we have the skill to play on the ground and put balls in good positions. But if it is and if the attack isn’t working – hey we have a 6-7 guy on the bench who is not too bad and another promising good target striker on the bench in Pavlyuchenko.
3. Spurs have regained a style of play. We are no longer searching for our identity. We play 4-4-2 centered on flowing football through quick passing and movement that relies on high defensive pressure from the midfield. I think the objective is a more English version of Arsenal’s style – to play attractive passing football on the floor but to get on with it instead of trying to pass the ball into the net.
4. Added depth and balance. We are now a very deep team that won’t be overly dependent on one player. In other words if one player goes down, we don’t have to change our formation or its style of play. Currently we have solid backups for every position (see below). The one spot where Harry is still trying to add cover is for Palacios. Huddlestone can play d-mid as well as Jamie O’Hara, but either in that role would probably require us to play a bit more cautiously going forward and could expose our fragility with Modric and Lennon a bit more. I think if we add another D-mid, Jenas will be sold because Modric could play centrally instead of Hudd with Palacios or another similar player.
Modric Huddlestone Lennon
Ekkotto King Woodgate Corluka
Gio Dos Santos – Jenas – Bentley
Bale Dawson Bassong Hutton
II. League Dynamics Should Help Spurs
1. The League is deeper this year and the top four are a bit weaker, meaning there should be less separation from the top four and the rest. Man U is not as good, Liverpool look frail, Arsenal did nothing in the offseason, and while Chelsea look very strong the EPL is not Seria A. Man City are definitely a threat and have drawn most of the attention as a top four threat. Everton and Villa – despite poor starts should be strong again – although the loss of Barry will hurt Villa. The point is that I think a lot more points will be dropped – hence more opportunities for a club to sneak into the top four.
2. All Spurs got is the league. When Spurs finished just behind Arsenal a few years back we played only about 40 games. While the depth of the squad will make it difficult to keep players happy – Spurs are not a side that is an injury away from being average. It also means that Tottenham may be able to maintain more consistency in the league by keeping a consistent squad – much the way Fulham did last year.
To conclude, the odds are still against Spurs from climbing into the top four. Unseating Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, or Man U (as well as Man City) would be quite a feat. Yet while most spurs fans coming into the season thought that this team was still a year away from seriously competing for the top 4, the positive start, the strength and depth of the team, a solid manager, and the attractive yet solid style of play gives Spurs fans legitimate reason to hope that this could be the year.