Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Spurs v Chelsea preview

Tottenham Hotspur are on a roll.  Thanks to a tough 1-0 victory over Martin O'Neill's resurgent Sunderland on Sunday, they remain 3rd two points clear of Chelsea, who dropped two points away at Wigan where they could not convert dominance into goals.  And five clear of Arsenal who suffered their 5th defeat of the season (4th to a Top 6 side) as they lost 1-0 at Manchester City.

Now the Christmas season is upon Tottenham and they (like everyone else) they have four fixtures in 12 days starting with a massive encounter with Chelsea at home on Thursday, then Norwich City away on the 27th (live on Sky Sports); Swansea away on New Years Eve then to finish off a home game against West Brom on January 3rd, before the FA Cup tie at home to Cheltenham Athletic of League Two.

Things have been going well at Tottenham, as I have noted previously, due to their levels of consistency in terms of selection policy allowing continuity and finesse to the line-up.

Brad Friedel is the anchor at the back, getting clean sheets in games that last season would leak goals by Heurilho Gomes, forcing the team to attack and win the game.  On Sunday, Roman Pavyluchenko's goal won the game but the security of having Friedel being able to fend off Seb Larsson's free-kick mastery meant the clean sheet led to three points.

The defence has had a few changes to the usual foursome of Walker, Kaboul, King, Assou-Ekotto - due to injury to Ledley King and the suspension of Kaboul this week, luckily on both occasions the veteran William Gallas has been able to return from injury and do a solid job.

Owing to an ankle sprain sustained in training, Gareth Bale missed his first game of the season forcing Sandro to start meaning Spurs had to attack with a narrower midfield forcing Aaron Lennon to lead the counter-attacking purpose.  Unfortunately, Lennon himself tore a hamstring after 27 minutes in the Sunderland match.  Interestingly, Redknapp chose to bring on Super Pav instead of a natural winger like Steven Pienaar or Nico Krancjar; asking Pav to play with Van der Vaart off of Adebayor in a 4-3-2-1 formation. 

This tactic led to Tottenham plahying some of their most negative football - the fluidity of having two talented wingers coupled with full backs Assou-Ekotto and Walker bombing past in overlaps, meant that Spurs have been difficult to contain and defend against.  What happened Sunday was, Walker did a lot of running for balls that never came and against a stubborn Sunderland defence, this proved difficult until the goal game just after the hour.  Of course, once the lead was obtained the victory was never really in doubt.

Hopefully, Bale will return from injury and be able to attack Boswinga, the problem for Redknapp will be which player to choose on the right wing to not only offer an attacking thrust but someone who is able to track back against Ashley Cole who can bomb down the left flank with the best of them.  Although the team that finished the game, may well start on Thursday although another option may be to switch Bale to the right to combat Cole, and play the vibrant Danny Rose on the left.

However, the next week will bring many different episodes of injuries, suspensions and tactical hiccups - although after the Chelsea game, who themselves have injury concerns over John Terry, the tnext three games can be deemed winnable although Norwich and Swansea are better at home than away, whilst the visit of West Brom will be a welcome conclusion to the hectic period.

The loss of Lennon though is a bitter blow not just for his club, but for the player himself, a man who needs confidence and games under his belt to help his development and maybe earn a recall to the England fold ahead of the European Championships next summer.  He was someway back on the list behind Walcott, Young and Milner anyway but his history of injuries and the time he takes to recuperate will worry many, especially such a delicate muscle like the hamstring and for a player who requires speed so much.

Again, considering the depth of the squad and the players missing - Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone - Spurs have done well to maintain a considerable title charge or at least be taken seriously in discussions whilst Arsenal and Chelsea have both false started this season.  Tottenham went undefeated for 10 games between a defeat by Manchester City in August and last week's defeat at Stoke.

Following the thrilling game between Manchester City and Arsenal on Sunday, Thursday night promises to be just as exciting - for years Chelsea held a curse over Tottenham inflicting some heavy defeats at White Hart Lane, yet Chelsea have not won at 'Three Point Lane' in six years and the influence and play of Luka Modric, so touted by Chelsea in the summer, will be interesting.  It is expected that Chelsea may well bid again for the Croat in the January transfer window, while Spurs look likely to stand firm his performance against the Juan Mata will be interesting.

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