Quietly but surely, Tottenham have sneaked up into fourth place in the Premier League under the guidance of new manager Andre Villas-Boas, completely dispelling this myth of him being the village idiot, but despite them performing well so far, are they still a side built upon soft foundations?
Before some of you head for the hills, or even worse, the comment box below, this is far from a critique of the man in charge at White Hart Lane these days or the job that he’s done. I have a record of backing Villas-Boas from the ridiculous criticisms and agendas of Fleet Street and I even tipped Tottenham to finish in the top four before the season started. No, it’s simply more of an assessment of where the squad is currently at and whether they have the requisite depth to sustain a top four challenge.
The club have started the new league campaign reasonably well without ever quit hitting the heights that they did in terms of flowing football under predecessor Harry Redknapp, even if the former boss himself greatly exaggerates the point that Tottenham fans ‘never had it so good’. They’ve been durable, methodical and difficult to get the better of, but it’s telling that they lost two of their more challenging games against Newcastle away and league leaders Chelsea at home.
Of course, this is all understandable to an extent as they’ve enjoyed one of the most radical overhauls this summer in terms of staff, players and style and the gradual teething problems which first came to light against West Brom and Norwich at home haven’t completely disappeared. There’s a sense that they’re still vulnerable, despite going nine matches unbeaten across all competitions prior to the loss against Chelsea, including an historic 3-2 win at Old Trafford and they’re still far from the finished article.
The club’s summer transfer business was left incomplete given that a replacement for Luka Modric wasn’t secured and although Joao Moutinho has ruled out a January exit, he should be put right at the top of the list next summer. In his stead, Moussa Dembele, the £15m man brought in from Fulham has been excellent and he looks hugely missed whenever he’s absent from the team. His driving presence in the middle of the park and ability to beat a man with his superb dribbling ability means he’s an altogether different proposition to Modric in a side that’s evolved quickly.
Alongside him in midfield, Sandro has been steady and has benefited greatly from a continued run in the side, while Jermain Defoe has done surprisingly well with the lone striker role with Emmanuel Adebayor confined to the treatment table and subs bench. Clint Dempsey has been far from his best since moving, though and they still look short of numbers up top, with their reliance on Defoe in particular a concern if they continue to compete on three fronts. Elsewhere, Gylfi Sigurdsson has failed to live up to his billing and there’s a sense that unless he’s scoring that he doesn’t really contribute a whole lot more in his current role.
At the back is where the biggest dangers are being felt and it’s not got a jot to do with the manufactured scandal involving the goalkeeping debate. Tottenham have kept just one clean sheet all season in the league at home to Aston Villa and the fact that they’ve conceded 13 goals so far, more than Everton, Arsenal, West Brom, West Ham, Stoke and Sunderland all below them shows exactly where the side is being held back at the moment.
I argued in the summer that despite the signing of Jan Vertonghen that the club still required another recognised centre-back and I stand by that point today. There were simply too many mitigating factors as to why the back four was set to be a recipe for disaster this term, with Ledley King pondering retirement, Michael Dawson coming back from a year out injured, Vertonghen new to English football, Caulker still raw and in dire need of regular games and William Gallas for the knackers yard.
It’s the continued selection of Gallas which is perhaps most troubling and he’s featured in every single league game this season. Villas-Boas seems to have reservations over Dawson’s lack of pace, but his authority would surely bring a more calming influence to the back four than the the Frenchman, who has been erratic at best this term and at 35 years of age doesn’t really represent a long-term bet.
The injury to Benoit Assou-Ekotto has seen Vertonghen shifted out to left-back, making the most of the Belgian’s versatility in the process, which has necessitated Gallas play such a key role, but even so it’s odd that Dawson has been marginalised to such an extent and that Gallas has been forgiven for his numerous patchy performances.
At this stage last season Tottenham had 19 points from their opening nine league games, which would leave them in fourth in the current table, the same position that they’re in now. The media agenda against Villas-Boas has been sustained, cynical and misplaced but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that there is still work to be done right down the spine of the side. The Portuguese boss should look to strengthen and address these areas in January and make the most of a lead on those teams thought to be challenging for a top four place who have suffering from poor starts.
Which area concerns you the most about the current Tottenham side?
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