Tottenham’s 1-0 defeat at home to Wigan last weekend prompted boos all around White Hart Lane and not for the first time on home soil this season and while manager Andre Villas-Boas will cop a fair amount of stick for failing to beat a perennial straggler in front of their own fans, does it merely point to a larger problem at the club, namely a lack of depth?
The club currently sit in sixth place in the league table on 17 points from their opening 10 league games, just behind Everton and a West Brom side with the best home form in the top flight, so a little perspective is needed and all things considered, the campaign is going reasonably well.
We shouldn’t underestimate the pace of change at Tottenham both on and off the pitch over the past few months either and it would be foolish to overlook its effects. There’s been a change in manager, which has seen a radical new shift in style and culture at the club, the loss of two key creative forces in Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart and the retirement of the club captain in Ledley King. It’s fair to say that most of the major decisions that Villas-Boas has been confronted with making have been out of his control, despite what the boo boys may say.
However, the 1-0 defeat to Roberto Martinez’s side did expose a crucial lack of depth as the side continued to stutter their lines on home turf, with draws to West Brom and Norwich and a defeat to Chelsea hardly making White Hart Lane a fortress. This has led to a creeping cynicism at home and unless the side are performing well early on, the terraces are having their say which must make it an increasingly uncomfortable place to play for the team.
A reason for this is of course the media-led agenda against Villas-Boas. While few shed a tear at the departure of Harry Redknapp, despite what the red tops argue, he was a somewhat divisive appointment for some and while patience has to be given to a new manager, others have already made their mind up about him and the honeymoon period most enjoy simply wasn’t forthcoming. There’s been a pressure, due to the campaign against him, bubbling here in England for well over a year now and that must have had an effect on people’s opinions about him, unwittingly or not.
Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen spoke after the Wigan match about the loss: “We had problems with their system, but normally we turn it around. We just couldn’t do it and it was a shame for the fans because it was a big opportunity with Arsenal losing, plus Fulham and Everton drawing. Overall, it was very disappointing.”
There are evidently still some teething problems with the team’s new style and system which Villas-Boas is trying to implement. How could there not be after Redknapp? The two managers couldn’t be further apart in their approach, which is why during some games so far this season the team have been curiously flat and reserved.
This is best highlighted by the statistic that against Wigan, Jermain Defoe, a player in excellent form this season, only made five passes and less than 20 touches during his 58-minute display, not getting off a single shot, yet his substitution was roundly criticised after the game, with Emmanuel Adebayor partnering Clint Dempsey up top. The crucial element of consistency is missing, which when you factor in the sheer amount of change, is completely understandable.
Perhaps the biggest single factor in the team’s up and down form of late, though, has been the missing presence of driving force Moussa Dembele in midfield. The team have won just one of their last five games since the midfielder aggravated an old hip injury while on international duty. In that run they’ve lost to Chelsea 4-2 at home, drawn with NK Maribor in the Europa League in Slovenia, beaten Southampton away and lost to Norwich at Carrow Road in the Capital One Cup before the Wigan game.
Moreover, prior to Dembele’s injury, Tottenham were on a nine-game unbeaten run in all competitions and his replacements of Sigurdsson, Livermore and Huddlestone, while all perfectly decent players, when played alongside Sandro simply cannot create anything of note from the middle of the park and turnover of the ball is much slower and the side looks less balanced at both ends of the pitch.
That a player new to the fold featured in eight of those nine games during that unbeaten run, the Capital One Cup game away at Carlisle aside, shows you what a vital player Dembele has become. At the same time, it also serves to show how vulnerable and fragile the squad is and that without a few players in key areas, that this side will struggle.
There’s no lack of talent or ability in the squad, and in Bale, Lennon, Defoe, Caulker, Lloris, Sandro, Adebayor and Dembele, they have a strong spine and core group of players. But it’s when you dig a little deeper that you begin to realise that the supporting cast might not quite be up to the same standard and you become more susceptible to fluctuations in form when the odd player goes through a rough patch, like William Gallas and Kyle Walker certainly have of late.
The next time that fans choose to boo a ropey result at White Hart Lane against so-called lesser opposition, the mitigating factors at the heart of the team’s inconsistency need to be taken into account, as does the rate of change. The lack of depth could hurt them further down the campaign, but with the squad that they’ve got and competing on multiple fronts, things could certainly be a lot worse. This is not the time for delusions of grandeur, rather an acceptance of the where the side is at in terms of their development under its new boss and expectations have to be managed as much in the stands as the team does on the pitch at the moment.
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