Tottenham’s start to the season has been solid without ever truly being convincing. They’ve accumulated a decent total but no more than that, while performances have only rarely dazzled. So far Spurs have been like a late Oasis album – decent, with the odd good tune but overall lacking something, and overall not as good as before. Spurs’ seasons under Harry Redknapp were the equivalent of Definitely Maybe and What’s The Story (Morning Glory) to continue the analogy.
Spurs have had several problems this season under Andre Villas-Boas. The main problem has been how poor the team have been in possession. Especially when Mousa Dembele is absent, simple passes go astray and the players resort to static, sideways passing in front of the opposition. While keeping possession is to be applauded, too much sideways passing that just peters out into nothingness is like being in a fight and throwing vicious punches to no one in particular 100 yards away from your opponent. Sideways passing that goes straight to the opposition is a case of vomiting down your front minutes before a date with a girl you fancy.
The plan in at the start of the season was for Dembele and Joao Moutinho to both be signed. This would have meant Sandro and Moutinho being paired together in central midfield with Dembele playing behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1. Moutinho would have been the man to knit the team’s play together, Sandro would have been the man to win the ball back while Dembele’s pace, power and dribbling ability would have seen him play more offensively.
As it was Moutinho never arrived. Daniel Levy met in the Porto chairman a negotiator just as ferocious as him and the deal never came to fruition. This meant Dembele had to drop deeper to fill the spot alongside Sandro, and while he’s been excellent in that role it’s left a gap in the position behind the striker, which only recently Villas-Boas has filled by playing two strikers and jettisoning the attacking midfielder role.
One, if not two midfield players need to be signed in January. If Spurs lack anything in their current guise, it’s creativity. The team is filled with pace and power but sometimes in amongst a team of gym honed bodies you need a skinnymalinx who with a magical pass or sublime piece of skill can slice through a team.
So far, Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson have been playing behind the striker when Villas-Boas has played a 4-2-3-1 formation. Neither has done particularly well there, though Dempsey has improved in that role lately. Sigurdsson has struggled badly, at first playing as if he’d had his head shoved down the training ground toilets on his first day at the club and currently contributing decent cameos from the bench, but unable to get a starting role in the team.
Dempsey’s problem was that no one at first seemed to know what his role in the team was. He wasn’t a link up man, wasn’t making late runs into the box like he did at Fulham, wasn’t wandering around the pitch like Rafael Van der Vaart used to in seasons past.
But lately, while Emmanuel Adebayor was serving his suspension for getting sent off in the North London Derby, the American has improved. He was excellent in the home win against West Ham and the victory over old club Fulham at Craven Cottage and has also diligently replaced the injured Bale on the left of midfield in recent weeks. However, despite his improvement, Spurs still need another attacking midfielder, someone who can unlock defences, link midfield and attack better and provide good service to the strikers.
Until recently that someone had been reckoned to be Christian Eriksen. His obvious ability, combined with his age and the pulling factor of having ex Ajax captain Jan Vertonghen at Spurs and Spurs fans were perhaps rightly licking their lips at the prospect of signing one of the best young midfielders in Europe.
But then came news that couldn’t have been more surprising if it had been delivered by pigs flying in the sky. Wesley Sneijder, the man who carried Inter and Netherlands on his back to respectively Champions League glory and the World Cup final in 2010, has been purported to be very close to agreeing a deal to play for Tottenham.
Spurs until a couple of years ago didn’t sign players of this calibre. If a European Cup winner was signing for a North London club, they went to Arsenal. Players with almost 100 caps for Holland went to the big teams who regularly beat Spurs in the manner of a mildly irritated lollipop lady swatting away a fly.
But then Rafael Van der Vaart arrived. And now a player who’s achieved even more in the game than he achieved may be arriving to play at White Hart Lane. Villas-Boas and Sneijder’s agent have denied that a move will take place, though whether that’s a genuine denial or the pretend one you usually see in football remains to be seen.
Should he sign, a Spurs spine of Lloris-Vertonghen-Sandro-Dembele-Sneijder-Adebayor with Bale out wide is on paper at least a terrific team. The pace, power, dynamism of that line up mixed with the skill and football brain of Sneijder should be more than capable of leading Spurs to a top four finish.
In addition to an attacking midfielder, someone more at home playing just in front of the back four would also be welcome. While Sandro and Dembele have been excellent, when one or both of them aren’t available there’s a perhaps surprising lack of options. Tom Huddlestone simply lacks mobility, Jake Livermore has lacked form and fitness all season while Scott Parker is returning from a long-term injury and having spent the latter half of last season hobbling around like a car with a punctured tyre, there has to be doubts about his longevity.
If no attacking midfielder is signed, then a defensive midfield, to provide squad depth or perhaps partner Sandro and allow Dembele to play in the more forward position he was signed to play in is more of a necessity.
Away from the midfield, there are still some holes in the Spurs squad. With Danny Rose on a season long loan to Sunderland, Kyle Naughton is the only specialist full back available to cover both full back positions. Last season Spurs made a huge error in letting Vedran Corluka go out on loan in January, leaving no one to replace an exhausted Walker at right back in the latter part of the season.
The same mistake is being made this season. Highly rated youngster Adam Smith needs to be promoted to first team duties, Rose needs to be recalled from Sunderland (not desirable given the success so far of his stay in the North East) or someone needs to be signed as cover. Otherwise full back will become an area of weakness and lead to the central defence suffering through the superb Vertonghen having to play at left back rather than the centre of defence.
As well as full back, a top class striker would be very handy indeed. Spurs have had a battery of decent strikers since Dimitar Berbatov left in the likes of Robbie Keane, Crouch, Pavlyuchenko and Defoe but no great ones. Adebayor has at times threatened to be that great striker, but this season especially injury, suspension and the nagging feeling he doesn’t try as hard as he could means he’s too often mediocre rather than star quality. A forward who can finish like Defoe and hold the ball up like Adebayor would be a dream signing.
Tottenham need to invest in January. Not qualifying for the Champions League after the collapse of last season would be a big blow and possibly start a slow decline in the club’s fortunes until the much longed for new stadium arrives in a few seasons time. Making the top four is a necessity, and unless there is investment in January, Spurs may very well be beaten by Arsenal or even Everton to 4th spot.