His Premier League season may have ended long ago following a severe knee injury picked up back in January, but although Sandro might be gone from this Tottenham Hotspur team, he’s most certainly not been forgotten by supporters.
Indeed, if the popular Brazilian resembled something of a cult hero before rupturing a cruciate ligament against Queens Park Rangers at the start of the year, then the 24-year-old’s standing with fans in N17 seems to have swelled even further in the proceeding months.
The Lilywhite quarters of social media are perpetually awash with messages of goodwill that encompass everything from Instagram photos to comic-book inspired artistic impression. Spurs’ ‘Beast,’ as he’s affectionately known, has been made well aware of quite how much supporters value his presence within Andre Villas-Boas’ side.
But with Tottenham’s defense beginning to cast an increasingly rudderless figure in recent weeks and with the side seemingly unable to stop a steady slew of goals at the back, have Spurs missed Sandro’s industry and guile in midfield more than they could have possibly imagined?
Because as we head in to the Premier League’s final straight, for all the emphasis on the Lilywhites’ attacking impotency and lack of depth up front, it’s their disintegrating rearguard that’s proving the more testing obstacle to overcome in their quest for a top-four finish.
Although it’s fair to say that Villas-Boas’ side were hardly keeping clean-sheets for fun before Sandro picked up his injury mid-way through January, if Spurs had looked somewhat ropey before the former Internacional man’s season ended prematurely, then their defense has begun to run a serious risk of coming unhinged in the months after.
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Of course, for as debilitating a blow the news of Sandro’s injury initially was to supporters, the team’s ability to go the distance and plough through another six games unbeaten without him – taking their run in the league to a club record 12 without defeat – suggested that the Brazilian’s loss might not be as devastating as first feared.
Undefeated they may have been, but if Tottenham looked to be gaining both rhythm as well as points before Sandro’s injury, then the second half of their unbeaten stretch was more an exhibition of grit and determination as opposed to any definitive advancement in play.
This isn’t to say that Spurs didn’t play some attractive football in patches, but the fixtures away to Norwich, West Bromwich Albion as well as the home win against Newcastle, felt far more labored then they should have done and although the West Ham and Arsenal victories sent a wave of euphoria sweeping around the club, Spurs still continued to look worryingly exposed defensively.
And if Tottenham appeared in real danger of coming unhinged at the back, then the proverbial floodgates opened in quite some style following the 2-1 victory over Arsenal.
On face value, the presence of Sandro isn’t one that could have hugely dampened the 15 goals that Spurs have shipped in only eight games. But while the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Steven Caulker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto have struggled in recent games, it’s the disintegration of the safety net in front of them, that’s left a back four dwindling in confidence resemble something of a sitting duck in recent games.
The return of Scott Parker was of course one that was supposed to provide the ultimate healing hands to a midfield bereft of Sandro’s energy and tenacity. But whether you attribute his regression to a change of system, a fading of powers or an element of the two, Parker has often worn the look of a man whom time has passed by since the turn of the year.
Parker has perhaps been a target for an unfair amount of criticism – crafted out of frustration, as much as anything out – from a set of supporters understandably disillusioned at their side’s burgeoning instability from a defensive perspective.
But for all the England man’s ferocity, determination and unquestionable work ethic, his skillset has provided an anemic replacement for Sandro’s gifts of athleticism and mobility in protecting Villas-Boas’ defense and no one should be in any doubt as to quite how big an impact the Brazilian’s loss has made on this team.
If Tottenham are going to be able to salvage their designs on Champions League qualifications this term, then the immediate fixes to their defensive woes are not ones that Sandro’s presence would necessarily possess much influence upon.
With the side in desperate need of stemming the steady slew of goals from set-pieces, while Sandro would inject the sort of combative steel they’ve been missing in recent weeks, it seems difficult to see how he’d prove a tonic to their concerning regression from dead-balls.
Although for all the trials and tribulations that have peppered what’s increasingly becoming one of the more exhaustive Premier League campaigns the club have endured, it’s the loss of Sandro that seems to have become the forgotten footnote of Spurs’ season.
Far from just a cult hero, the 24-year-old has perhaps developed into a player of nearly indispensable value to the club. And come the end of this term, the club might just be reminded of quite how indispensable Sandro’s become in the most painful way possible.