Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Model of Consistency

Tottenham Hotspur, following their dominant 2-0 win over Aston Villa on Monday evening, sit in 3rd place in the Premier League.

A position that after the first two league games against both Manchester clubs would have been unimaginable - two games, two defeats, one goal scored, eight conceded. Tottenham looked brittle next to the two juggernauts of the North West.

Yet, slowly but surely Tottenham have turned the corner and navigated the fixture list with assurance. Admittedly during those two August fixtures there were still some unanswered questions concerning player personnel - the future of Luka Modric was uncertain due to the interest of Chelsea; Scott Parker was not signed until the penultimate day of the transfer window and there was a spate of injuries in defence meaning combinations like Bassong and Corluka were having to fend off the might of Manchester City - Nasri, Dzeko, Aguero and Silva ran riot at White Hart Lane.

The change seemed to come following the signing of Parker and the first game at Wolves - the sort of fixture last season Spurs would lose, this time they left with a 2-1 victory and then followed it up the next weekend with a resounding 4-0 home win over Liverpool (who admittedly ended with 9 men).
Then came the crunch game against Arsenal, who although had their chances it was their own defensive and goalkeeping frailties that led to Kyle Walker scoring the winner in a 2-1 victory.

Spurs have only drawn one game out of 9 games, a 2-2 draw away to Newcastle where they conceded only in the last five minutes to drop two points otherwise it would have been 27 points out of 27 and Tottenham would be only two points behind Man United in second place. Spurs still have a game in hand (home to Everton) which was unfortunately cancelled following the civil unrest in mid August.

A reason I feel that Spurs are doing so well is down to a consistency of selection and also not having the headache of serious European competition to worry about. Tottenham are in the Europa League but Harry Redknapp and his staff are using those games against Rubin Kazan, PAOK Salonika and Shamrock Rovers as breeding ground for his reserve team players - Jake Livermore has especially shone on these occasions. The same would have been said of the Carling Cup but they lost in a lottery of a penalty shoot-out away to Stoke.

However, the lack of fixture congestion and use of squad depth is helping one Ledley King especially. Ledley plays one game and he knows he has a week to sustain and regain his fitness before the next encounter. King's presence at the bag and coupled with the signing of veteran Brad Friedel in goal has led to youngsters like Younes Kaboul and Kyle Walker allowed to express themselves. King did the same trick with Michael Dawson, he has this unbelievable ability of making the man next to him look like he is having a blinder.

Spurs are benefiting from a fixed and settled starting XI - it has been the same men starting the last three and four games. The American in goal; Walker, Kaboul, King, Assou-Ekotto; Bale, Modric, Parker, Lennon; Van der Vaart and Adebayor.

This settled selection means the team knows they must perform to keep their places and their are players who can and will come in to do a job if necessary - Corluka, Sandro, Defoe and Bassong. Tom Huddlestone and Michael Dawson remain on the injury sidelines but will be welcome upon their return.

In contrast, Manchester City with all their highly publicised signings have made a rod for their own back. The constant requirement to keep everyone happy and the forging forward on four trophy hunts means that their is no fluidity in selection. Case in point, at the weekend Micah Richards and Gael Clichy had blinding games going forward in the 3-1 win over Newcastle from their respective full back positions. Yet in Napoli they were dropped for Kolarov and Zabaleta. This more defensive line-up belittled their attacking instincts and negated a negative performance away from home, where they went to not lose the game they did. Now City and their millions must fear the prospect of having to play Thursday night football like they did last year. It will be a big kick in the teeth to fail at the first attempt in the Champions League.

Arsenal after an early season collapse at Old Trafford are profiting from a steady line-up and a full season from Robin Van Persie, who is scoring for fun. The return of Tomas Vermaelen has helped.

Manchester United due to injuries to both central defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have also suffered from a lack of continuity, and the nervousness surrounding David de Gea's debut season means those in front of him might not fully trust him.

Chelsea are really suffering - a new young manager is struggling to impose his ideas on an old guard of senior professionals - they have lost four out of seven and themselves are struggling to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League, having to defeat Valencia at home in their final game to avoid the Europa League.

In contrast, Tottenham in their first foray into Europe did not change their tactics and kept on attacking even when 4-0 down away in the San Siro - a 4-3 loss that galvanised that campaign and led to Gareth Bale being christened the best left back in the world. Whereas many people adored Tottenham's ability to adapt to the scheduling and challenges - there appears to be a certain type of pleasure in seeing City struggle as they attempt to keep as many plates spinning at once. They will be the most dominant side in English football perhaps for the next five years - but they need to get a more consistent system in place and like they have done with Tevez, if people do not want to fit the bill or play their necessary role, show them the door. As there will certainly be people willing to replace them.

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