Tottenham’s embarrassing Europa League defeat away at Inter Milan last week, where somehow they contrived to win, draw and lose all at the same time across the two legs, saw manager Andre Villas-Boas criticised heavily for getting both his team selection and formation very wrong, but it could also mark a watershed moment in his tenure, namely being that the contributions of both Brad Friedel and William Gallas simply weren’t good enough for a club of their ambition, and it’s high time they were both ushered out of the exit door at the end of the season.
It’s been a sight all too familiar for Tottenham fans over the past two decades; promising seasons torn apart by moments of madness and routine collapses of confidence just when the pressure is on them to perform. The debacle that was the Inter game seemed to be cruising to an inevitable outcome that would see safe passage through to the quarter-final stage minus the presence of Gareth Bale right up until half-time, but the way they fell apart shortly after the break spoke volumes of how far the two men in question have fallen.
What was needed against Inter was an old-fashioned European performance; to many, if not most, that will mean just being boring, tough to beat and preferably with five players across midfield so as to stop any flow through the spine of the side. Instead, what the Portuguese lined up with was a hotchpotch 4-4-2 system that he’s rarely used all campaign, let alone in a difficult away game, with Moussa Dembele on the right of midfield, Gylfi Sigurdsson on the left and Scott Parker as the ball-player in front of the back four. Even when looking at that written down on paper, it’s astounding such an astute young coach thought that was the way to go about grinding out a result.
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Of course, while the performances of the vast majority of the side were abysmal, none more so than ‘hero’ Emmanuel Adebayor, who scored the goal that sent them through to the next round despite a truly dreadful showing, it was the relationship between Gallas and Friedel at the back that proved a real cause for concern. They simply can’t be used again in Europe now after how they performances here, where they both more than contributed to the chaos around them.
The 41-year-old goalkeeper has enjoyed a long and productive career, but now is the time to slowly but surely nudge him out to the retirement home. After a decent start to the season, and please note that it was decent, not the spectacular showing we were all told it was because of a match-saving display against Norwich shortly after Lloris signed, Friedel has come to represent a style that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the side. They have evolved and moved on without him and his failure to adapt nearly proved to be costly.
Sure, he’s good in and around his six-yard box, but the reactions are slowing due to the inevitable and unavoidable onset of time, while he couldn’t be more different from what Lloris brings to the team. It’s strange to talk about goalkeeping styles, because in a predominantly reactive position, stopping what’s in front of them is the main job for every goalkeeper, but the France international has also come to sweep behind Villas-Boas’ high line to great success, one error against Liverpool aside, in recent months. Like a comfort blanket, he provides security to the ball played in behind, which Friedel’s ageing legs simply can’t.
When Villas-Boas persisted with the high line after the break even when it became clear it was not working, especially with Gallas present (more on him shortly), they simply didn’t have the right man between the sticks to help plug a gap and exploitable weakness in a ropey back four.
Moving on to Gallas and it’s truly astonishing that he’s still at the club and wasn’t moved on last summer. Perhaps in all the upheaval at the end of last season they simply forget he was there, but that Villas-Boas once considered Gallas a superior player to Michael Dawson and more capable of fitting his system is one of the greatest managerial errors of judgement this season in the entire top flight. Thankfully it has since been corrected, but the Frenchman is still nonetheless in the loop and has made 20 starts across all competitions this term, more than Dawson and the same as Steven Caulker.
It wasn’t just that he showed an embarrassing lack of technical ability for the goal which saw Antonio Cassano’s free kick zip into the bottom corner via his shin leaving Friedel rooted to the spot, or that he’s now so slow that he completely negates playing with a high line, or that he even allowed Cassano so much space at the back post for the opener, it’s that he just doesn’t seem to care at all anymore.
His performance in the FA Cup semi-final 5-1 defeat to Chelsea last season was as poor a piece of professionalism as I’ve ever seen from a player, where during the build-up to one goal, he actually just stopped running after his marker and gave up. He’s completely lost any pace he once may have had and has come to resemble a penguin trying to sort out his feet whenever the ball comes near him and he’s played a large part in why the side has just seven clean sheets this season in the league.
Villas-Boas will be forgiven for underestimating Inter in the second leg and getting his plans all wrong because by and large he has done great work at the club this season and most fans will recognise that, but when it comes to Friedel and Gallas, who by the start of next season will have a combined age of 78, they simply don’t offer anything that they couldn’t already get elsewhere in terms of squad depth, and they are hindering the team more than they’re helping at the moment. Whenever it comes to that point with a player, it’s time for them to move on.
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