December 7 2013 Latest news:
By Daniel Grigg
Monday, August 19, 2013
Tottenham blogger Daniel Grigg gives his verdict on yesterday’s 1-0 triumph in the London derby at Selhurst Park.
It didn’t take long for Tottenham fans and Spurs chairman Daniel Levy to witness the true value of a £26million pound centre forward, having already accepted that they’ll probably be losing considerable money on the 28-year-old as his resale value decreases from year to year.
Roberto Soldado’s penalty helped Spurs to put Crystal Palace away 1-0 and keep pace with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, despite a somewhat raggedy and disjointed opening salvo.
The Spaniard repeated the trick from Tottenham’s final friendly against Espanyol, his only previous appearance, beating Julian Speroni coolly from 12 yards as penalties were missed elsewhere in the Premier League.
The defence and goalkeeping were the biggest improvements on where they’d been during pre-season – much more settled and closer to the first-choice line-up, depending on how people see Danny Rose and Michael Dawson, both of whom were solid.
Hugo Lloris was also a lot sharper and more alert than against Monaco a couple of weeks earlier - and he needed to be to keep the clean sheet when it really mattered.
There were only nine clean sheets in the whole of Andre Villas-Boas’ first league campaign in charge of the club - a figure which, even without acquiring a defender and letting Steven Caulker leave for Cardiff City, still has enormous room for improvement.
Tottenham were boosted by the surprise return of Jan Vertonghen earlier than expected as the Belgian went straight into the first XI for the first time since being carried off the pitch in Hong Kong during the 3-1 defeat to Sunderland less than a month ago.
All three of Spurs’ centre-backs made useful appearances, although Younes Kaboul’s was little more than a brief cameo as he came back to competitive football after almost a full year out of the game.
While the defence came together out of adversity despite limited preparation time, the midfield showed it still needs much more work to best fit all the pieces together.
This was not the dominant display many had hoped for - although that was understandable, especially with Gareth Bale and Sandro both absent from the squad.
So far there has been so switch to the 4-3-3 formation which would best accommodate three of the four excellent central midfielders on the pitch at once.
Instead, Tottenham stuck to the 4-2-3-1 system they had persisted with for much of 2012-13, looking to push more men forward to help facilitate Soldado, as well as offering other goal threats for the defence to keep their eye on.
There are still questions to be answered there - how and whether a 4-3-3 formation would work in an attacking sense, even with Paulinho given license to break forward in support.
Neither Mousa Dembele nor Paulinho are especially used to playing as the deepest defensive man, so they quickly had to work things out between themselves as to who went where and who stayed.
However the Brazilian and another new recruit, Etienne Capoue, offered tantalising glimpses of the quality and physicality they were brought in to deliver - the latter off the bench.
Gylfi Sigurdsson was given the enviable central attacking role usually reserved for Real Madrid’s number one target, Bale, and despite a bright enough start he faded badly.
Meanwhile, Nacer Chadli’s game went in the other direction, starting slowly before he gradually found confidence and grew a little as the match continued.
Questions about the creativity of the three players behind the striker - the third member of which was Aaron Lennon - will only have increased, despite the result.
There was too much of a muchness quality-wise and far too many jack of all trades rather than masters for Villas-Boas to have confidence in any individual being a matchwinner week after week in Bale’s absence.
That problem would be fixed fairly quickly if Tottenham were to manage to sign 21-year-old Argentine wonderkid Erik Lamela for what would most likely be yet another new record transfer fee for the increasingly ambitious club.
Franco Baldini was the director of football for many years at Lamela’s current club AS Roma - although perhaps that’s just helped to fuel the excess speculation from the gossips, as much as helping to convince the Italian club to let go their most valuable asset leave, especially with Marquinhos and Pablo Osvaldo already gone.
Lamela is the missing piece for Spurs right now, quite aside his phenomenal potential further down the pipeline. He has height, range, a fantastic dribbling ability which few can match in addition to expressive confidence and, most importantly, he scores loads of goals.
Indeed, he mustered a lot more in Serie A last season than the similarly expensive Willian managed in Ukraine and Russia during the same time.
Willian is vastly talented, but right now Tottenham need a Bale replica, or as close to one as they can get, and that man plays for Roma not Anzhi Makhachkala.
In Soldado, Spurs fans have finally got the quality striker they have pleaded for. The absence of one has been the most consistent and damning criticism of the otherwise fine job that Daniel Levy has done in keeping Spurs competitive without facing financial ruin - although of course, as football fans, we always demand and expect more.
However, he is a striker who is predominantly if not exclusively at his most effective and dangerous within the penalty area, despite his assured touches and strong hold-up play outside it.
The Spaniard is heavily reliant on service and assistance, although he kept making runs and making himself a good option against Palace.
That could work in Tottenham’s favour or against them, depending on how the rest of the team steps up their level after this tentative first step into the new season.
Arsenal provided the biggest bonus elsewhere, going down 3-1 at home to Aston Villa after a summer of maddening inactivity for their fans, devoid of the ambition-affirming marquee signings they had all been promised.
Both Tottenham and Liverpool’s ears rightly perked up by the negative noises coming out of the Emirates on the opening weekend, although Arsenal have been the kings of sneaking into the top four so it is all much too early to make concrete statements.
Still, with one match played, one clean sheet and three points in the bag, Tottenham supporters couldn’t ask for much more.
Follow me on Twitter @Daniel_Grigg