December 11 2013 Latest news:
By Ben Pearce, Tottenham correspondent
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Spurs correspondent Ben Pearce looks at the tactical challenge facing Andre Villas-Boas as Tottenham’s players return from international duty.
At the end of last season, it seemed that Spurs’ strength would be found in stability as they planned ahead and plotted another bid for Champions League qualification.
With the top three Premier League teams all undergoing seismic changes at the top and replacing their managers, it appeared that the steady status at Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool would give them an advantage going into the next campaign.
There has already been evidence for that benefit – Liverpool are the early frontrunners, while Manchester United and Manchester City have already been defeated in the top flight.
Meanwhile, the Gunners’ settled line-up was arguably the key factor in their derby victory over a new-look Spurs side, who have ended up undergoing widespread changes for the second summer in a row.
The Lilywhites may have maintained consistency in their management under Andre Villas-Boas but, like in 2012, the Portuguese must remould a side that has been shorn of vital creative talent.
Last year he was forced to adapt to the losses of both Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart at the spine of the team, which was easier said than done.
Spurs brought in Mousa Dembele, Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson in a bid to replace Modric’s ingenuity in the middle and Van der Vaart’s impact in the final third, but the results were mixed.
While Dembele immediately became a hugely influential figure in the centre of midfield, Tottenham found it harder to replace their Dutch No10, which restricted the supply line to the forwards.
Sigurdsson and Dempsey both struggled in the role and it was only really when Gareth Bale was moved inside that the issue was solved, as the problem position between the central midfielders and striker became a huge source of strength.
However, Real Madrid have swooped again, stealing Spurs’ prized asset and breaking their spine for the second consecutive summer.
Of course, that has enabled over £100million of investment in seven international stars, giving Tottenham the most competitive squad they have had for a long time.
But the fact remains that Villas-Boas must re-form his side and build new relationships – and again that will be particularly important through the middle, given the necessity to be able to play quickly through the heart of the opposition.
While Tottenham have undoubtedly recruited talented players, that process may be even tougher than it was last season and it could take even longer.
After all, there are two new central midfielders in Paulinho and Etienne Capoue, three new candidates for the No10 role in Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli and a new frontman in Roberto Soldado.
The issue down the core of the team was highlighted against Arsenal by the lack of a No10 and a central midfield trio which struggled to get forward, create chances and feed Soldado.
Having lost Van der Vaart and subsequently Bale, Eriksen now looks like the best candidate to fill the void behind the striker – but he is at square one with Tottenham, yet to appear for his new club.
Everything is exciting, new and full of potential and possibility. Yet Villas-Boas faces a big challenge to get all of his new players to gel effectively while also rotating to maintain a happy squad and consistently pick up results in the Premier League, Europa League and Capital One Cup.
The supporters understood the need for patience this time last year, following the new head coach’s arrival. Indeed, it is to Villas-Boas’ (and Bale’s) credit that what initially looked like a transitional season turned into a fierce fight for the top-four spots, and a record-breaking campaign in terms of the club’s Premier League points total.
Now new relationships must be forged again - but the summer’s expenditure has raised the levels of expectation and the fans may not be as tolerant of any slip-ups as they were 12 months ago.
The same will probably be true of the external reaction as everyone waits to see whether the Lilywhites have made the right decision in cashing in on Bale, and whether they have reinvested wisely.
It remains to be seen whether Tottenham have now taken a step up and are about to compete with the Premier League’s elite this season or whether the extent of the changes will result in a similar season to the last one - trial, error and improvement, with the polished finished product elusive, just over the horizon.
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