Given the pasting Spurs got at Middlesbrough this weekend a knee-jerk reaction from some fans was expected. The message boards have been frothing with a sizable minority lambasting manager Juande Ramos for his team selection and tactics; other fans hitting back, saying that the “fickle” nature of Tottenham supporters is well earned.
But I defend these fans, the ones who are furious at Ramos. They have every right to be. His team selection and tactics were way off this weekend. You’d swear that he’d never seen a Premier League game before. When I saw the line up I assumed that he knows something I don’t in terms of a “Famous Five” attack of Giovanni dos Santos, David Bentley, Luka Modric, Aaron Lennon and Darren Bent being perfectly balanced by a back four missing Ledley King and Gareth Bale, a make-shift right-back and a midfield anchored by Jermaine “F’n” Jenas.
But the game panned out how my head thought it would. Tottenham can pass the ball ten yards to each other but try to carve out a goal-scoring opportunity and that’s where it all kind of goes wrong. However, put Dimitar Berbatov on the pitch – a player of real quality who knows how to find space and exploit it – and finally we might get somewhere. His loss is going to be absolutely huge; a far bigger hole than the £25m Man U are offering is going to fill.
Ramos (and Poyet) have been in the Premier League long enough to know that the team wasn’t going to work against the opposition that we were up against. Play that team against Hull or Stoke? Well, maybe. And play them at home to Hull or Stoke and we may have won 4-0 as we did quite a bit under Jol against the strugglers. But playing away against a huge, physical team (who all played together last year) with an inexperienced, unbalanced team was only going to go one way, sadly.
My own personal view is that Gunter, Bale, King and Berbatov – four of the seven given substitutes – should have started at the expense of Giovanni, Lennon, Dawson and Assou-Ekotto in a 4-4-2. I honestly think we would have competed well – well, a lot better than we did.
However, the glaring problem is the lack of a defensive midfielder. I’ll sugarcoat this a bit: Jermaine Jeans is not very good. Not at all. He can’t go from being an occasionally-performing box-to-box midfielder to an accomplished defensive midfielder in one summer. And he hasn’t. Making him vice captain was a terrible decision. He should not be close to a guaranteed starting place never mind being a player certain to start if Ledley King is “unavailable”. I understand that I don’t see JJ in training and that he may be an outstanding performer there, but he contributes little when it really matters. Surely Ramos can see that?
Anyway the purpose of this blog is to evaluate the squad that we have at our disposal, position by position, and see what needs to be done in terms of recruitment. We’ve done well to offload dead wood but have we made the right decisions (I strangely missed Teemu Tainio and Steed Malbranque this weekend)?
Main position: Heurelho Gomes, César Sánchez, Ben Alnwick
Gomes looked an able replacement for Paul Robinson on the basis of pre-season and Saturday’s game. He does have a reputation for being a bit of a flapper but almost all keepers have weak areas (Petr Cech does not look as solid as he once was, van der Sar is on the decline at Man U). His backups include Spanish veteran César Sánchez and English keeper Ben Alnwick who hit the headlines two years ago for filming an orgy with three team mates and a 16 year old girl. Not exactly the type of personality you like to have around the place.
Analysis: Spurs are reasonably well served in the three players. Little is known of Alnwick who has played 31 league games since 2004, none for Spurs.
Future? Spurs will muddle on with Gomes and Sánchez. Unlikely to need to dip in to the transfer market again unless the injury bug hits.
Main position: Ledley King, Jonathan Woodgate, Michael Dawson, Ricardo Rocha, Dorian Dervitte,
Can also play there: Tom Huddlestone, Didier Zokora
Analysis: After unloading Younes Kaboul, Antony Gardner and Pascal Chimbonda, Spurs have been left exposed in the centre-back position. King and Woodgate have had their injury problems throughout their career – there are frequent questions about whether the former will resume a fulltime career again – and Michael Dawson has suffered a collapse in form without Ledley King alongside him.
Dawson and Woodgate started the first game of the season but the King/Woodgate tandem should be first-choice, fitness pending. Behind them it is unlikely that either Dorian Dervite (just returned from a serious injury) and Ricardo Rocha would get the call ahead of first-team players Tom Huddlestone or Didier Zokora.
Future? Spurs need another centre back before the window closes. Muddling on last year with Zokora, Huddlestone and Chimbonda filling in was hardly ideal and if they don’t rate Rocha (correctly) or think Dervite is good enough (yet) then reinforcements are necessary. Hopefully they won’t blow money on a sub-standard player as they did with Rocha; a player who reeked of Ramon Vega from day one.
Main position: Alan Hutton, Chris Gunter, Paul Stalteri
Can also play there: Didier Zokora, Lee Young-Pyo
Analysis: With Alan Hutton out of action for a while most of us expected Chris Gunter to start against Middlesbrough. However, Poyet and Ramos must have felt the 19 year old (with seven full caps for Wales) was not ready for the big occasion. They used the square-shaped Zokora in the round-shaped position and while he pulled it off just fine, his presence would have been more appropriate in midfield. Perhaps the attitude of reserve players Lee and Stalteri mean they won’t get a look-in but maybe Ramos should think again before completing the next team-sheet. Mind you, maybe he should have thought before selling Chimbonda, troublesome loon though he is.
Future? I think we’re well served in the position given that we have Stalteri there to fill in if need be. I’m interested to know what Ramos thinks of Gunter – he did sign him after all. He seems a nice lad and maybe needs to toughen up a bit before he gets thrown in. Should he be thrown in against Kieran Richardson next weekend?
Main position: Gareth Bale, Gilberto, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Lee Young-Pyo
Can also play there: Jamie O’Hara
Analysis: There seems to be plenty of players jostling for the starting spot while one stands out above the others (hint: It’s Gareth Bale). Gilberto had a rough start in the Spurs shirt, gifting a goal to PSV in a European game, and few would see him as being anything other than a squad player. Similarly Benoit Assou-Ekotto has not adapted over the last few injury-interrupted seasons and he seems unlikely to hold his place. Lee, despite improving significantly from his first season, is not flavour of the month.
Future? No need to hit the transfer market here despite Bale’s injury-plagued season last term. Gilberto and Assou-Ekotto can carry the load in his absence or if he is chosen to play on the left-hand side of midfield. Jamie O’Hara has had a few decent games there too if push came to shove.
Main position: Didier Zokora
Can play there: Tom Huddlestone, Ledley King, Jermaine Jenas
This is a bit of a grey area since it’s more subjective to suggest who is best equipped to play a shielding position in front of a back four. Johnny Giles (Irish pundit) suggests that the position is a myth and that you just need players who can play football in your team, not ones that specifcally can tackle or specifically can pass – all players should be able to do all the basics.
He may have a point but given that we don’t have such luxury at Tottenham it seems pertinent to play someone who can only tackle rather than two or three players who can’t. Didier Zokora is, dubiously, the best option right now. He’s a bit mental, runs around a lot, lunges, can’t shoot or pass, but he still maybe the best man for the position.
Playing Jermaine Jenas there ranks, at best, as outright optimsm from Ramos/Poyet. He’s no Steven Gerrard or Cesc Fabregas. He’s not even a Michael Carrick.
Future? This is one position we are definitely short in. Spurs need a top, all-round player, possibly from Europe. I’ve always liked Yaya Touré but I doubt he would want anything but Champions League football.
Main position: Luka Modric, Didier Zokora, Tom Huddlestone, Jermaine Jenas, Kevin-Prince Boateng, John Bostock, Hossam Ghaly
Can play there: Jamie O’Hara, Giovani dos Santos
I always remember Gerry Francis’ four wingers in midfield (David Ginola, Andy Sinton, Ruel Fox, Jose Dominguez) and wondered if managers sometimes think that any player can play in central midfield. Technically you can probably add Ledley King and David Bentely to the list of can play there but probably won’t. And there should be no need for them as Tottenham are well served there with bodies, if not quality.
Modric and Zokora could put up a good argument for being the first choice pairing right now. One holds, the other attacks. it’s basic stuff. Beyond that Jermaine Jenas may very well find himself as Modric’s replacement should the lightweight Croat fail to adapt to the Premier League “way”. If that’s the case then we have a midfield pairing that was not good enough last year being our first choice this year. The Tom Huddlestone dilemma should also be addressed. Can his raw talent be honed for the Premier League or is he set to become the star that never was?
Future? I think Spurs could get away with what they have but I’m not overly impressed by the lack of results from the likes of Zokora, Hudd and Jenas thus far in their Spurs career. Let’s give the addition of Modric time to settle in and perhaps the tune will be different in January.
Main position: David Bentley, Aaron Lennon, Adel Taarabt
Can play there: Giovanni dos Santos, Jermain Jenas, Hossam Ghaly
Analysis: I don’t know why I keep listing Ghaly as “can play there” considering that I’ve more chance of getting a game at White Hart Lane this season. Bentely and Lennon will wrestle for the position this season with Lennon having the advantage of experience on the left-hand side too. However, it is more likely that Lennon will have to make-do with the bench if Bentely makes any kind of reasonable contribution to the Spurs cause. Since Giovanni is a forward who can play across midfield he can also be utilised here.
Future? No work needed here, even if Lennon was to move on in January (and I wouldn’t rule it out since his departure had to be considered during the summer).
Main position: Gareth Bale, Giovanni dos Santos, Adel Taarabt
Can play there: Aaron Lennon, Jamie O’Hara
Analysis: Gareth Bale seems the most likely player to play there this season. Given that it is so early in his development it is possible that Bale may spend his career as a left midfielder rather than left back. Time will tell. Elsewhere Giovanni is an option as is the exciting but inexperienced Adel Taarabt. Taarabt has sparkled in a Spurs shirt but not as frequently as he has frustrated. It’s probably a make-or-break season for him to knuckle down and adapt to what the team need from him.
Future? I’m not sure Spurs need another option here but I’m not convinced we’ve got outstanding options. Bale may turn out to be a fine left-sided player and Giovanni an able back up. But if Bale goes down to injury again then a transfer move should not be ruled out. However I don’t think Spurs have really had a proper left-sided player since David Ginola (Reto Ziegler? Timothee Atouba? Andy Reid? Danny Murphy? Steed Malbranque?). By that yardstick we are positively spoilt for choice this season.
Main position: Dimitar Berbatov, Darren Bent,
Can play there: Giovanni dos Santos
Analysis: I’m nearly tempted to throw Michael Dawson in to the “can play there” section. Twelve months ago the names of Robbie Keane and Jermaine Defoe would have been listed above but they have moved on without replacement. Giovanni can technically play the “second striker” role so there’s no reason why he can’t line up in attack with Darren Bent. But he’s nowhere near the player that Dimitar Berbatov is so the latter’s imminent departure is going to leave Spurs very, very short.
Future? Wow, where to start. Hopefully there’s no late move for another Andy Booth or Grzegorz Rasiak (possibly the worst player Spurs have played in the Premier League) but Spurs need to sign someone in the next two weeks without a doubt. It’s possible that Berbatov’s move is being stalled by Spurs need to tie up another deal first – and that’s totally understandable. However, I don’t think Spurs can replace Berbatov who is one of the most talented players to ever wear the white shirt. That’s the greatest shame of it.
In my previous blog I listed my first choice XI given the players available. I think it’s a strong team that once the players get used to each other could be quite successful. But there are glaring problems that Juande Ramos really should have nailed by now. It’s alright throwing out media sound bits like “the club is working hard to ensure blah blah blah” but it’s not like the match tickets and the Sky subscriptions get any cheaper if you don’t perform.
Saturday’s performance was a disappointment; not completely unexpected but, by the same token, fans really do deserve better than what was served up. Coming up next Sunderland at home and then Chelsea away. An impressive-looking Aston Villa then visit White Hart Lane. What’s the chance that the points tally could be an unimpressive 3 points or less out of 12? Quite high.
But let’s see what changes are made for Sunderland. Senor Ramos does not have time on his side. If players and managers wanted time they should have played the game in times before money ruled the roost.