As Andre Villas-Boas begins to develop his starting XI and look to settle on a group of players who fit his new look tactical philosophy, on paper, the Portuguese’s core group at Tottenham Hotspur look very strong indeed.
Additions such as Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembele and Hugo Lloris have all undoubtedly boosted the credentials of this Spurs side and fit the bill of the identity which the manager looks to craft his team around. With the likes of Scott Parker and Younes Kaboul still to return, Villas-Boas looks to have a healthy pallet of options and players to change things about at Spurs, should he wish.
But even though the Premier League season is only five games old, already some clubs and managers are looking to the January transfer window and evaluating just where their team is looking a little short. No team is ever without room for improvement, but in terms of squad depth, you wouldn’t necessarily think that Spurs are in too much trouble should the curse of injury and suspension strike the team down.
But we have seen several times before with Spurs, especially at times last term, that squad strength can often flatter to deceive. Spurs started last term with some making some rather outlandish claims about the size and the wealth of talent that abided within the team. Yet although their eventual mid-season demise was down to several perpetuating factors, when push came to shove, Spurs’ reinforcements simply didn’t cut the mustard.
Andre Villas-Boas has suggested so far that the cup competitions, in particular the previously maligned Europa League, will be taken far more seriously than in previous years. This is something that has been largely celebrated within the ranks of Tottenham Hotspur supporters, but to pull it off, they’re going to need a healthy, able and consistent pool of players of which to choose from.
The last league game against QPR offers an interesting outlook, when you analyze the strength of Spurs’ bench. The Lilywhite’s are already undergoing something of a mini-injury crisis, even though we’re only heading into the start of October. The loss of Younes Kaboul to knee surgery after the season’s opener against Newcastle, has quickly been compounded by fitness issues with Emmanuel Adebayor, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Kyle Naughton and the longer standing Achilles issue of Scott Parker. A large chunk of bad luck perhaps, but such a wounded list isn’t out of the boundaries of expectation.
So what options awaited Andre Villas-Boas on the bench? One position that can perhaps instantly be laid to rest is the man between the sticks. Villas-Boas posses an abundance of top-class goalies and the fact that a man regarded by many as one the top goalkeepers on the continent in Hugo Lloris is remaining on the bench, is testament to such strength. A selection of Brad Friedel, Lloris, Heurelho Gomes and Carlo Cudicini offers no cause for concern whatsoever.
But past that, Villas-Boas had a bench of Michael Dawson, Steven Caulker, Tom Huddlestone, Yago Falque, Andros Townsend and Ryan Mason to pick from. Perhaps one that offers stability and youthful promise, but not a wealth of real game-changers on there.
Tottenham have been accused on more than one occasion of investing plenty in their academy, only to refute to call upon their young players when the time is right. The game time handed to Andros Townsend alongside Villas-Boas’ youthful selection for the trip to Carlisle United in the League Cup this week, suggests that he isn’t afraid to give youth a chance. Seeing the talented Ryan Mason get a place on the bench also offers real encouragement to all involved.
But you can’t help that Spurs wouldn’t necessarily turn their nose up at a little bit more of attacking cover in midfield, when the January window comes calling. Out of that bench, it’s hard to pick out a real match winner or genuine game changer from the names just mentioned. Their first XI has room to cater to five from the six of Dembele, Sandro, Sigurdsson, Bale, Lennon and Dempsey, if we exclude the frontman in a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 set-up.
The aforementioned players offer versatility, but either way, there are several ways they can all co-exist within the same team. Andros Townsend is perhaps a more technically refined player than Aaron Lennon, but does he offer anything hugely different to the ex-Leeds wingman? We’ve seen very small flashes from Falque, but from what we have seen, does he have what it takes to make the grade at the highest level? Both must be given a chance, although the addition of an alternate wide man, especially one who offers a goal threat, wouldn’t go a miss.
Up front, Spurs seem adequately covered with Defoe and Adebayor leading the line. But an injury to one of the two would present Villas-Boas with something of a problem in leading the line. The notion that Clint Dempsey could lead the line as a lone frontman is nice in principle but you would perhaps struggle to see him being started on his own up front for a run of five or six games unless disaster struck. Spurs still only bestow two orthodox frontman in principal. Would a third option on the bench, for a team fighting on all fronts, go down such a miss?
A lot perhaps depends on how Spurs evolve under Villas-Boas and what sort of tactical make-up the Portuguese eventually plumps for in the long-term. It remains a work in progress, but the side’s issues in settling into AVB’s new shape, makes it harder to gauge what he needs as back-ups, when we’re not even sure what the first XI will consistently look like.
But either way, there is always room for improvement in any team. Spurs have already been unlucky with injuries, but with long campaigns in both league and cup fronts still to come, it won’t necessarily get any easier. By avidly rotating the squad, AVB should ensure that the ring-rust that plagued the likes of Kranjcar et al previously, shouldn’t be too prominent.
Because this time last year, Spurs’ squad was touted as a realm of riches. Come February, it was January additions Ryan Nelsen and Louis Saga digging Spurs out of a hole.
Shrewd investment in January could make a big difference for Spurs.
Would you delve into the January transfer market if you were Andre Villas-Boas? Or do you think the Spurs squad is perfectly adequate as it is? Let me know on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and let’s talk Tottenham.