We have seriously struggled at home to break teams down, create chances and kill teams off. Not just this season, but under André Villas-Boas too during his 18 months in charge. It’s difficult to put your finger on why these games at White Hart Lane are so difficult, why we look stuck for ideas and unable to win games in a comfortable fashion. Many suggestions have been made, whether it’s the lack of atmosphere & support at the Lane and general expectation that Tottenham will & should win at Home, and it’s the player’s responsibility to entertain & not our responsibility to be the ‘twelfth man’; the fact teams set up in an organised and defensive nature, or my personal favourite from Mousa Dembele, ‘the pitch is too small’. All may have a point, especially the lack of atmosphere at White Hart Lane in recent times, but personally I put it down to a lack of balance in the Tottenham team that is emerging so far this season and at times the two seasons before.
In the 2011/12 season, especially the first half, I think we had the most balanced team in the League. Harry Redknapp was a good manager, he knew how to man manage these players, give them confidence and set them up in a good way which was full of flair, offensive nature & a clinical edge. The balance in that side was extraordinary. With Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto in the full back positions, Gareth Bale on the left of midfield, Aaron Lennon on the right, with Rafael van der Vaart just behind Emmanuel Adebayor. Not forgetting the midfield pivot between Luka Modrić and Scott Parker/Sandro. Look at that, with those players in their prime, we had a team capable of challenging for the League title, but it wasn’t to be, we tailed off at the end of the season and finished fourth, with the unlucky event of Chelsea winning the Champions League and sending us into the Europa League. We lost Luka Modrić, Rafa left for Hamburg and it all went a little tits up. But, that’s beside the point. What I want to look at is how to recreate the sort of balance that team had within it’s ranks in the class of 2014/15.
The key to a balanced side is the full backs and wingers. And at the moment, this season, we haven’t seen that balance. One of the reasons for this is the absence of Kyle Walker through injury. 7 long months of not having a natural outlet at right back, who understands the balance of offence and defence. This season, we have relied on Eric Dier for the most part, and as a natural centre back, he’s done a very decent job, especially defensively apart from his mistakes against Newcastle, but he hasn’t been able to give us an offensive outlet and this makes the team lopsided. On the left, Danny Rose has had a tremendous season so far in my view, he’s come on leaps and bounds from last season’s performances and you have to give him full credit for working hard and coming back stronger, fitter and a much more competent left back under the pressure of new signing Ben Davies. Danny has given the team an offensive outlet on that left hand side, and has been relatively good at balancing his defensive duties with his offensive ones. If we can get Kyle Walker back into this team as soon as possible, and keep Danny Rose in good form, I truly believe we will see this team flourish so much more than we have done so far this season, stretching teams and creating more space for our creative players. The addition of DeAndre Yedlin possibly in January could also be a really big addition and help with this problem of balanced, attacking full backs when Walker is not available.
The reason that offensive full backs are so important to this Tottenham team is Pochettino’s use of ‘inverted wingers’, or having three players behind the striker with the freedom to roam and find their own space. The problem with this is that all three that we play – Eriksen, Chadli & Lamela, like to come inside and this makes our play really narrow and more difficult to find space and create clear cut chances to score goals. With the outlet of offensive full backs, it stretches the opposition and then and only then, will we be able to find space, create chances in the middle of the park and hopefully, score goals! Nacer Chadli & Christian Eriksen have been fairly impressive so far this season, with Nacer really the only player who looks to take on the defenders and try to get in behind an opposition’s defence, and Christian Eriksen is always looking to thread a killer pass, spread the play to our wide players or score himself. Erik Lamela has been slightly underwhelming, it’s true, he needs to improve and be much more efficient on the ball, but sometimes being given this freedom he has too many thoughts running through his head and his decision making seriously deteriorates because of it. It’s part of his game he needs to work on and become a more effective player with goals, hopefully his first Premier League goal comes sooner rather than later; he needs it. If the understanding of the three players behind the striker improves, and the players themselves become more effective, alongside the offensive full backs, I think we can get a good balance in this team.
Upfront, in the striker position, there is no doubt that we lack a clinical goalscorer, except for the young Harry Kane, who needs to be given a sustained chance in the Premier League before judging fully whether he is ready to lead the line. In January, I’m really hoping we can add another striker, even if that man is Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez, someone Pochettino knows well, who occupies the left forward role a bit more than leading the line, but bottom line is, we need someone who can stick the ball in the net more often! In the central midfield position, it looks like Etienne Capoue & Ryan Mason have nailed their places there with good performances, with Etienne only really having a bad game against Newcastle & possibly Manchester City. Their midfield pivot needs time to develop, because I think it’s the starting of a good partnership, with Ryan Mason the more attacking of the two, pushing forward and playing the more incisive passes to get the team going, while Etienne Capoue screens the back four and helps break up play, which he is capable of for sure. It’s important those two increase their understanding. At centre back, it seems Jan Vertonghen and Younes Kaboul is the first choice pairing, and they have been rather inconsistent together, performing in stellar fashion against Arsenal and Southampton, but being poor against Newcastle. With offensive full backs, I think, because of Kaboul’s ability to cover at right back, and Jan Vertonghen’s ability to cover at left back, they would be able to cover when Rose and Walker attack, with Etienne Capoue dropping back further into a ‘sweeper’ position. That, gives us good balance and hopefully the players would have a clear indication of what their roles are in the team. That is just how I would set out, though.
I’m not naive to think that the inclusion of Kyle Walker in the team makes us world beaters, of course. But, under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino, I think it makes us much more of a threat going forward and able to create chances easier than it has been so far this season. At Southampton, Pochettino had a balanced team with offensive full backs, Nathaniel Clyne/Calum Chambers and Luke Shaw were fantastic under his tenure and playing with inverted wingers of Lallana and Rodriguez worked wonders alongside Rickie Lambert leading the line. His Southampton team created loads of chances, attacked with pace & purpose and scored goals because they had a balance and understanding alongside a good work rate and clear game-plan. That is what Tottenham need to develop and that is Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham challenge, to recreate and better the football he played at Southampton with this team, which I think has better players, but they need to be guided in the correct way.
We need to manage expectations this season and back the team and manager. Despite results not being what we wanted we must be patient and not act in a knee jerk fashion. Back the club. Pochettino is managing players that aren’t his at the moment and needs time to build his own team, hopefully he is given that opportunity by Daniel Levy and backed in a good way, with decisions made and money spent. That’s the dream. I still hold hope that it can be reality. When Tottenham lose it seems the end of the world, but we must look beyond the short term and give the manager and players support and time. That’s the key to success. Hopefully the fans do realise that, but also hope the club see that too. Wishing Kyle Walker a speedy recovery, with reports he could return to training very soon and possibly be in action by late November. That would be a massive boost!
In an ideal world, without injuries at this moment in time, my Tottenham team would be:
Walker – Kaboul – Vertonghen – Rose
Mason – Capoue
Lamela – Eriksen – Chadli
Up the Spurs!