During Tottenham’s 1-1 draw against West Brom at home last weekend, the timing of Michael Dawson’s proposed move out of the club across London to QPR couldn’t have been better. The supposed strength in depth that manager Andre Villas-Boas has talked about was nowhere to be seen and you have to question whether they are vulnerable at the back.
Most of the talk surrounding transfer business at White Hart Lane this summer has been focused on whether Luka Modric would finally complete his protracted move to Real Madrid and whether the club would be able to bring back Emmanuel Adebayor plus maybe one more striker – little attention has been paid to the state of the defence.
There was, of course, a brief dalliance with Lyon goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, as the club seek a long-term replacement for 41 year-old Brad Friedel between the sticks, but the American is still a perfectly serviceable number one for the time being and they buckled at the Frenchman’s £15m valuation.
However, while Younes Kaboul may have been injured against West Brom, he was still part of the defence that lost 2-1 to Newcastle on the opening day and you have to wonder why the club are still considering selling Dawson.
The sight of William Gallas trotting out onto the pitch in their first home game of the season was strange, but naming his as captain really took the biscuit. At 35 years of age, selling a 28 year old instead makes little sense and I felt sure that the former Chelsea and Arsenal man’s performance in their 5-1 humiliation at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final last term would be the last we saw of him in a white shirt.
It was, without a doubt, the single worst individual display that I’ve ever seen from a defender, and at one point, he literally gave up and stopped chasing after Fernando Torres. It was borderline embarrassing and I honestly can’t believe that he’s considered a safer bet than Dawson and Steven Caulker at the moment, who was on the bench against the Baggies.
Aside from the quite frankly bizarre pecking order, Jan Vertonghen displayed all the hallmarks of a ball-playing centre-half that you might expect. Carrying the ball out of defence and in possession, he was superb, but we shouldn’t let that blind us from what was a fairly shaky showing on his Premier League debut.
When Romelu Lukaku came on, he absolutely battered both Gallas and Vertonghen and the pair looked extremely rattled, while the Belgian was also being caught out positionally a few times in the first half. When you think about it, it’s no wonder that Arsenal were seriously interested in him, they love a flawed, sometimes brilliant, often erratic centre-back.
I argued amongst friends in the summer that Tottenham still needed another centre-half brought in, even though they had already signed Vertonghen. My reasoning was that Gallas should be on his way due to his age and waning powers, Dawson has been out injured for nearly a year, it’s Vertonghen’s first season in a new league and he’ll need time to adapt, King will probably retire and that Caulker’s development may be stunted at a crucial stage in his development if he’s not sent out on loan and he may go a bit rusty while he’s little more than third or fourth choice.
In terms of numbers, they’ve more than got enough, but in terms of quality, there are issues with nearly every single one of them, Younes Kaboul apart, who has quickly matured into an integral member of the first-team and one of the best centre-backs in the entire top flight over the past year or so.
At left-back, while Danny Rose could still be set to move to Sunderland on loan if they manage to find a club for Kieran Richardson before the close of the transfer window, they still have Assou-Ekotto and Vertonghen capable of playing there and they should be fine. At right-back, Kyle Walker and Kyle Naughton are both very good, even if the latter may have just signed a new deal to increase his sell-on price, with very little chance of a long-term future in the side.
Villas Boas had this to say on the Dawson situation: “When there are four central defenders it is already a difficult situation. Normally, teams are balanced with three, and one young player coming through. With five, it is a difficult situation. It is an excellent situation for the manager but it is a difficult situation for the player. If we end up with a scenario with five central defenders there is more competition and there might be less opportunities. That’s why we are willing to consider different options and we have allowed the player to speak to QPR.”
Tottenham came unstuck against West Brom due to the game-changing brute force of the raw Lukaku and with Kaboul in the side, it may not have ever happened, but given that in his past three seasons the Frenchman has made 29, 21 and 21 league appearances, injuries like the one that kept him out of the game against Steve Clarke’s side, history will tell you, are likely to happen again and there has to be a plan B in place for when they do.
Relying on Gallas and Vertonghen, while it may be a partnership that’s easy on the eye, is miles behind when you compared it to the club’s rivals in such a situation. This has very little to do with the often used cliche of the ‘high line’ that’s been implemented by Villas-Boas, as it’s often a lazy go-to critique of the Portuguese manager by his many enemies in the media, but they are suspect at the back right now.
I happen to think that if Tottenham manage to get it right in the transfer market over the next few days, that they are still in with a very good chance of a top four finish this term. While a replacement for Luka Modric remains the priority, another centre-back, perhaps even one a lot closer to home already, needs to be added to the squad or pushed higher up the pecking order, otherwise, capitulation’s under pressure will become a mainstay throughout the campaign.
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