Tottenham and Newcastle showing the value of a solid spine

As the Premier League season passes the half way stage, managers up and down the table will now hopefully know what their best XI is and what style of the play they use is the most effective. With the table now taking shape, some teams will be pleased with how things are going and some won’t and I can see a definite trend in the teams that are performing well thus far in the 2011-12 season.

Obviously the big spenders Manchester City have ample talent throughout their squad and so rotation is possible for Roberto Mancini without a worry. But obviously the rest of the league does not have that sort of luxury. Two teams that have perhaps ‘overachieved’ so far this season are Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United.

I feel the reason of the early success for the two clubs are down to the managers building a strong spine to their side that are the catalyst to their success. Take a look at Spurs who have been able to use a constant spine with Friedel, Kaboul, Modric/Parker and Adebayor. The regular fitness and form of these players have enabled Harry Redknapp to build the side around them, which he has done fantastically. Spurs have been slightly fortuitous with a lack of long term injuries to key players (minus Lennon and Dawson) but they must be praised for trying to keep their best XI fit for each league game which has been a complete success. One or two squad players may need to improve or arrive at the club to give them a real strength in depth to be able to compete with the likes of City and United on a long term basis but the sky is the limit for Redknapp and his squad. A victory tonight will see them go level on points with Manchester United and leave them just three behind leaders City.

Newcastle United have been the surprise package under Alan Pardew in the past five months or so and that has drawn much interest in their top players in the January transfer window. Pardew didn’t spend big in the summer but still put together a terrific side that have earned points home and away against the odds and sit comfortably in the top half. Again, a strong, consistent spine has been the strength that the Magpies have needed to keep up their fine form, with Krul, Coloccini, Cabaye/Tiote and Ba staying fit and putting in top performances week-in-week-out to keep impressing at the Sports Direct Arena.

Midfield maestro Tiote has been hampered by injuries so far this season and will join top scorer and the Premier League signing of the season Ba at the African Cup of Nations for the next month or so which could dramatically damage the Toon’s form. With two players from their spine missing, will Newcastle be in the same position as they are now in five weeks time?

So it has been a good season for Spurs and Newcastle, with their spines dominating their opponents but one side that has struggled with form throughout the campaign is Chelsea. Yes they still sit in the Champions League spots, just above Arsenal, and are through to the knock-out stages of the Champions League, but you can’t help but feel something has not yet clicked at Stamford Bridge.

I feel the problem at the Bridge has been the reverse of what has happened at White Hart Lane and the Sports Direct Arena. With their consistent spines, the before-mentioned clubs have been successful but Chelsea have failed to keep the same XI on the pitch game after game which has not gone unnoticed. It seems AVB is yet to find his best side with Drogba and Torres taking it in turns up front and Frank Lampard now regularly on the bench, joined off the field by influential Michael Essien , who is nearing a return from injury. John Terry’s off the field problems have hampered his performances and the defender that can’t defend, David Luiz has not been much help.

This has resulted in the Blues spine becoming irregular and chopping and changing regularly which has become a problem for the West London club who sit 11 points behind the leaders City as the new year gets under way. The first four or five names on the manager’s team sheet are crucial and a consistency behind that could well be the difference between success and failure, especially over the course of a whole season.

Is your spine at your club strong enough? Who would be the perfect players to play there? Let me know on Twitter: @Brad_Pinard

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