Heroes and Villains | A Quickfire Preview

This fixture from last season will be most fondly remembered for Alex McLeish’s quite spellbinding teamsheet; riding fast and loose with Emile Heskey and Alan Hutton on the wings and four whole centre backs. It was the kind of morbid tactical blunderbussery that had become synonymous with the Scotsman’s reign in the Midlands. Adebayor knocked in two and appeared genuinely troubled that he didn’t get more. The possession stats were more lop-sided than pair of trousers hand-stitched by Mr. Magoo. Glorious times.

With Big ‘Eck long gone, it’s unlikely we’ll be afforded such a pre-emptive surrender from Villa today, which is a shame. Though the football is far from, well, good (Lambert’s a bright coach, yet have I seen any evidence he’s a miracle worker) they at least play with a degree of positivity- ie; endeavour to pass the thing- and the young chaps he’s drafted in appear committed, fearless and a darn sight easier to love. Banishing Alan Hutton to the nether worlds would’ve helped in this regard, also.

Adebayor might well get a chance to continue his Villa-themed scoring bluster this afternoon, having netted three in his last two against them. According to the vigilant folk at PhysioRoom.com, he’s a late fitness test away from being de-hamstrung, which will take some of the pressure off the boy Defoe should things not go swimmingly early doors. Even from the bench and half-fit, it’ll be nice to have options.

Anyone care to make a prediction? A prize for the closest guess. I think we should have too much for ’em.


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27 Responses to Heroes and Villains | A Quickfire Preview

  1. avatar seattlespursguy says:
  2. avatar Aran says:

    I’m finding it rather annoying that the same people who were ready to call AVB a failure after the first three games are now saying that it’s too early to tell if he’s doing a good job when you point out we’re unbeaten in nine matches. It seems three games is plenty to write someone off but ten games isn’t enough to see if progress is being made.

    A good result against Chelsea and people will start to take notice I think.

    • avatar Longwell says:

      Agreed. It’s funny, I’m actually more interested in how RDM will approach that game than I am AVB. That’s partly because the Spurs team basically picks itself, with the exception of two or three positions (Lloris/Friedel, Adebayor/Defoe, and maybe Sigurdsson/Dempsey or Walker/Naughton). RDM has the more interesting decisions to make, in my view.

      He’s been fond of the attacking trio of Mata, Hazard, and Oscar playing behind Torres and supported by any two of Mikel, Ramires, and Lampard. I think that would play right into our hands. Oscar is pretty good defensively, Mata is diligent but not always effective, and Hazard can’t be arsed. That could leave their flanks open to being exploited by the counterattacking pace of Lennon, Walker, Bale, and Vertonghen. I also see their central midfield as being ripe for a bullying by Sandro and the Moose and Deuce Show.

      I can see RDM electing to drop one of his playmakers in favor of Bertrand or Ramires to shore up the midfield a bit and give more cover to the fullbacks. If he doesn’t, it will be a very interesting contrast in styles. Tottenham the powerful, pacy side and Chelsea the more nimble pass and movers. In other words, a complete reversal from the clubs’ typical identities from most of the last decade.

      • avatar Aran says:

        True – the loss of Modric and VDV has reduced our nimbleness quotient a notch or two but I’m liking this direct, pace filled, physical side we’re turning into. It’s exciting to see so much movement and muscle in there. Dembele is a really hefty guy and Sandro too. I wouldn’t fancy going into a 50/50 with either of them.

        But what about our Belgian defender, eh? What a star he’s turning out to be! If only I could reliably spell his name. I feel like he, Caulker, Kaboul, Walker and Naughton are all long term first-teamers. All 25 and under (I believe) and all ball playing defenders who can carry it forward and attack where needed. Interestingly, apart from Caulker they can all play fullback. Gives a manager all sorts of useful options, that does. Vertonghen can play defensive mid too. If you needed to close out a game you could bring on an extra central defender and push Vertonghen up to play a sweeper type role – keep things tidy in midfield.

        • avatar Longwell says:

          Indeed. The talent in our defensive unit is as strong as it’s been since, well, since as long as I can remember. The heyday of the Ledley/Sol pairing is a high bar to clear, but I think this crew’s got them beat on strength in depth and flexibility, and the individual talent is darned close or will be soon.

          Not to toot my own horn, but Caulker and Vertonghen have been exactly as good as I thought they’d be. I watched a lot of Swansea last season, and it was obvious that Caulker was the real deal. The guy is a chiseled mountain physically, he’s quick, he can pass it, and it’s really really easy to forget that he’s still only 20 years old because he’s so composed and mature.

          I also watched four of Ajax’s CL group stage games last season (Real Madrid and Lyon home and away) and both legs of their knockout tie with United the year before. Vertonghen was, by some distance, very obviously the best defender on the pitch in all six of those games. Every time he turns out in a Spurs shirt, I can’t believe we got him. And for £8M. He’d stroll into any team in the world right now. Levy, you magnificent bastard.

  3. avatar seattlespursguy says:

    A good result and performance, which is what I’d hoped for after the pathetic effort in Greece. Things look to be coming together and if Ade gets a run, I can see us converting a few more goals. Defoe has done well, but we look much more threatening with Ade up top.

  4. avatar JimmyG2 says:

    2-0 Spurs
    I don’t mind sharing it with you seatlespursguy.
    It’ll be one of those freebie t.shirts
    but you can have it for the first couple of years, then pass on what’s left.
    Washed and ironed hopefully.

    Sorry yer man was dropped but Lloris is the future
    and you’ve got Dempsey now.
    Nice early ball wide to Lennon for the goal. Otherwise not impressed so far.

  5. avatar Aran says:

    Lennon. I think we should talk about Lennon.

    A lot has been said about Defoe’s good form this season and many have pointed to AVB as the cause. Bale we expected to be brilliant. Dembele too. But with all this brilliance going on we shouldn’t forget that Lennon has been doing brilliantly this season, having ended last season strongly. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t in the England squad this summer, but at least he’s been recalled now.

    I wonder how much of his excellent form this season has been down to how AVB sets the team up. Clearly he and Bale are playing in more advanced positions now than your regular wingers. A 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 both call for the wide players to push up and come inside more often than the classic 4-4-2. Lennon was fantastic against Villa – arguably he’s been better than Bale so far this season.

    There was a period of time, you may dimly recall, when Lennon seemed to be stalled. Bentley was brought in and many saw him as the more likely England star. Lennon’s crossing hadn’t quiet kept up with his pace and he wasn’t scoring enough. It seems to me that those days are behind him. He looks every bit the class player he was supposed to be.

    • avatar Longwell says:

      He’s been very good, the main difference to my eyes being that he’s using his pace to run onto balls played inside the fullback rather than receiving the ball to feet and then attempting to dribble past the defender. It’s not like Lennon never takes his man on anymore, far from it, but the tactical change is noticeable. As you say, he’s generally positioning himself higher up the pitch now which allows him to make those runs in behind more easily.

      (I do wonder if this isn’t part of why we’re all giving Walker so much stick, though – i.e. Walker doesn’t have Lennon covering him defensively as much anymore.)

      I think Lennon could still improve his crossing. When he was in that real purple patch a few years ago, he was whipping in early crosses from wide as well as his usual game of pushing the ball past the fullback and then dinking it to the back post or pulling it back. His pullbacks have always been a plus, but the floated deep ball is largely ineffective when it’s Defoe leading the line (why doesn’t Bale ever show up there?) and he’s seemingly abandoned the early whipped in ball from wide. If he can get on the same page with Defoe again and reproduce that variety in his deliveries, he’ll be damn near unplayable like he was for those first few months of the 2009/10 season.

  6. avatar KayBee says:

    Agreed on all points with you gentlemen regarding Azza.

    I’ve long had a soft spot for our diminutive right-sided speedster, and used to get fed up with the ad nauseum criticism of him online from certain quarters.

    However, aside from the tactical tweak our Longwell points out, I also think we’re seeing more intelligent handling/management of him. I thought making him captain the other game (Lazio?) was a fantastic move on AVB’s part, and I think showing Azza that he’s very much an essential player for us is a clever way of getting that little bit more from him, rather than isolating him a la Harry Redknapp (calling him out as a bottler, effectively, before the Milan game).

    In fact, if I might go on a slight tangent, one of the chief criticism of AVB at Chelsea was his handling of players – I have been nothing but impressed with his handling of OUR team. From talking them up, to the aforementioned captaincy, to the GK situation to the fact we’ve actually employing bona fide squad rotation now.

    • avatar Aran says:

      Hello there KayBee.
      Indeed – AVB’s man management has been nothing short of excellent so far. As much as some parts of the gutter press (hard to spot among the detritus that largely passes for sports journalism) have been trying to manufacture strife at Spurs, so far we’ve seen some big names leave, some big names come in, a club captain retire, a new formation along with new coaching staff and a new training ground shifted to with not even a hint of any credible unrest. Since AVB’s arrival there’s been a slick, almost effortless quality to everything that’s happened at Spurs. Levy has grown into his role and I think AVB is a natural fit.

      Do you recall, during the summer, some parts of the press were running with stories about an exodus of stars – angry Spurs players queuing up to hand in transfer requests? The press would have had you believe that they were so incensed at Redknapp’s departure and so certain that AVB was the wrong choice that they were knocking the chairman’s door down to demand to be sold. In reality there was nothing of the sort. The only player we’ve sold who we’d rather have kept was Modric and the writing was on the wall for that one long before AVB was even a twinkle in Levy’s eye.
      The young players like Caulker, Naughton, Livermore, Falque and Townsend have had their share of chances – Caulker and Townsend notably are more than pressing their claims for regular first team action. Compare that to Redknapp’s time in charge – in those years how many young players did he bring through? Walker? I can’t think of any more. It could be said that AVB is reaping the rewards of an excellent youth system that was set up under old Harry so I don’t want to be too mean to him, but it’s been a good while since I last recall being so excited about the home grown talent at Spurs.
      We’re still awaiting the return of Scott Parker and Ade has only just returned to fitness – these two will now have to fight there way back into a starting eleven that they were automatic members of last season – that tells you a lot about how strong this side is right now. And lest we forget, young Thud has done well for us in his substitute appearances. Many thought he’d be no good for AVB with his distinct lack of pace but he’s now making a good case for himself with his passing range and improved fitness.

      Worthy of discussion, perhaps, is this piece here about our two attacking mids – Dempsey and Sigurdsson.


      Are we wasting Clint and Gylfi? Do they fit the 4-3-3 and, if not, why did AVB buy them?

      • avatar Longwell says:

        Dempsey and Sigurdsson are more goalscorers than creators. The emerging consensus among the Spurs blogosphere seems to be that we’ll see the best of them when Adebayor is back playing regularly, and I see no reason to disagree with that consensus. Those guys are at their best when they have a target man ahead of them providing knockdowns for them to latch onto and working the channels, pulling defenders out of position to create the space for their late runs into the box. (Zamora/Pogrebnyak, Graham).

        Lots of journalists, pundits, and bloggers are holding on to the notion that AVB will eventually revert to the 4-3-3 that he played at Porto and Chelsea. I don’t know. The guy is young and, by his own admission, still learning. It seems to me more likely that one of the things he took from his Chelsea experience was that shoehorning players into your preferred system can produce some bad results if the personnel ain’t right, and now he’s applying that lesson at Spurs. He recognized that the squad he inherited from Harry was better suited to a slightly different style of play and has bought accordingly. While he may have an underlying preference for 4-3-3, all the best managers have shown themselves to be adaptable to a changing squad. They are flexible. They evolve.

        The other thing is that our 4-2-3-1 is not all that dissimilar to AVB’s implementation of 4-3-3. Bale and Lennon have been positioned farther up the pitch than they were under Harry; not quite as high as Porto’s and Chelsea’s wide forwards, but definitely higher than before. The other thing is when AVB’s Porto were dominating possession (as they usually did), Moutinho and Guarin would push way up so they could feed Falcao more easily and leave the defensive work to Fernando and the center backs. Yes, they were playing three central midfielders but in terms of average position it was more 4-1-2-3. That’s not unlike what Spurs have done lately, with Dembele often feeling comfortable enough to position himself closer to Dempsey and leave the covering to Sandro. There are slight stylistic differences in what Spurs are doing compared to Chelsea and Porto, but I think the overall similarity in philosophy and approach is strong.

      • avatar Longwell says:

        Short version: Dempsey and Sigurdsson fit, but they will fit better with Adebayor.

        I’d also like to see us pick up a passer more in the Modric/Moutinho mold to give us another option in midfield. Maybe Thud can be that guy, but I have my doubts about the lingering effects of that ankle injury. Maybe Carroll can be that guy if he finally hits puberty.

        Looking outside the team, Esteban Granero would have been a great Plan B but the club was preoccupied with the Moutinho transfer saga going down to the wire. Granero’s new teammate at QPR, Alejandro Faurlin has always been quietly impressive whenever I’ve seen him; a real Steady Eddie in the middle. James Ward-Prowse at Southampton looks like an excellent young player but may be viewed as a luxury there as the Saints struggle to survive in the top flight.

  7. avatar ruetheday says:

    I do love this blog, it’s always such an enlightened place to spend a while reading about our beloved Spurs.

    AVB is coming good, which is fantastic. My concerns about our lack of cover at full back initially seemed set to be vindicated, and then Jan came along and demonstrated just how versatile he (and the rest of our defensive unit) can be. My word, the man’s incredible – does anyone honestly think John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, or – whisper it – even King Ledley could play full back so brilliantly? That’s a sign of a player with not just a raging set of athletic skills, but a monster brain to boot. The goal conceded at Panathinaikos is a case in point – blame Dawson, or Lloris, or Moussa if you like, but it’s hard to find fault with Vertonghen – he was drawn out of position by the extra man, but you could see (I watched it a good few times) from his body language that he’d seen exactly what went wrong long before the ball was in the net. That kind of vision is rare indeed, and to have it in a defender so young is incredible. The boy knows the game inside out, and I reckon he’d play wherever AVB told him to, and give it a good stab.

    Azza (Lezza)’s form has been great to see. Agree with KayBee that the captains armband was a nice way of making him feel special, and I’ve long felt he’s just that. As Longwell said, though, a little more variety in his play would make him truly unplayable. I’m even quietly pleased with Bale (diving not withstanding) – still occasionally prone to the Roy of the Rovers moments where his talent doesn’t quite live up to his self-belief, but – particularly considering he’s played a few games not 100% fit – he’s seemed more effective under the new reign than in his previous “play where you like, Gareth” role.

    Harry did us good, and it’s a shame it ended how it did (always the way with outgoing Spurs managers), but the lingering doubts on AVB seem petty, where I’m sitting. I suspect it comes from a mixture of suspicion about the over-intellectualisation of the game, and outright jealousy that a young buck is getting to live the dream, playing Football Manager for real. I sit firmly in the latter camp – jammy bastard.

    Dempsey and Sigurdsson then. Interesting read on that cartilagefreecaptain post, but I think both men have done a lot more than the stats can reflect – their runs (much like Defoe’s) have a habit of creating space for others. Dempsey seems to play more as a Fabregas-style false 10 – a playmaker who pushes up alongside the striker, leaving the opposition midfield and defence unsure who’s following him, while Sigurdsson fits more into the Rooney role of dropping deeper, pulling defenders and midfielders out. Obviously, both players are very different to Rooney and Fabregas, but that seems to be what AVB’s using them for at the moment, and just because neither is taking centre stage with goals and assists, doesn’t mean the tactic isn’t bearing fruit – we’re winning games, aren’t we?

    It’ll be interesting to see how AVB evolves our shape, whether we try to shift to 433, or – as Longwell (and I) – suspect, the Chelsea debacle has forced a rethink in the young manager’s approach. Either way, (Europa league aside) we’re looking pretty tasty at the moment – long may it continue, after the international break.

    • avatar Aran says:

      I totally agree about Jan’s big old noodle. He’s an astonishingly smart player – quick in mind and with a physical agility to match. So much so that it’s almost strange that we managed to get him, and for so little when you think about it. I mean, why weren’t Man U or City in for him? Why haven’t any of the monster clubs from across Europe snatched him up? It’s hardly as though he was hidden away at some backwater club someplace, a diamond in the rough. He was playing for Ajax!

      I think he, Lloris and Dembele will turn out to be the big signings from this summer, long term. All three are 25 – just hitting their peak years. That’s what’s really exciting. Bale, Lennon, Caulker, Naughton, Sandro, Walker, Lloris, Dembele, Vertonghen, Hudd, Livermore, Sigurdsson, Townsend, Falque, Bostock… they’re all 25 and under (many are closer to 20)! There can’t be many top sides in Europe with such a young squad. This is a squad that, if all goes well, could be fairly settled for the next five seasons.

      If we can develop those players – and AVB is the man for that job – then we’re all set for a great future.

      • avatar Longwell says:

        I was baffled that Barcelona didn’t pursue Vertonghen. They knew Puyol is old. They knew Pique had an inconsistent season. Maybe at this point they’re just bored and they want to see if they can win trophies with two wingbacks and eight midfielders on the pitch.

  8. avatar JimmyG2 says:

    I concur gentleman and applaud your generally positive comments re Lennon.Vertonghen and Mr.AVB.
    After Xmas when we have Benny and Kaboul back will we drop Caulker for Vertonghen?
    Or any thoughts on Jan as a central midfielder where it was suggested that King might play
    and did for England as I remember.
    Will Parker dislodge Sandro? Playing them both is too negative except under exceptional circumstances.
    Although after Man.Utd are there any?

    Lloris/Walker,Vertonghen, Kaboul, Benny/ Sandro, Dembele/ Lennon,Siggy(Dempsey),Bale Ade.
    .4321 liftoff.

  9. avatar Aran says:

    So, how do we feel about the Bale = Diver stuff that’s doing the rounds?

    I mean, it’s fair to say he went down a bit easy against Villa but there’s something I hadn’t considered before and that’s the fact he may well have been pre-empting the contact. The keeper was dashing in on him at some speed and was clearly not going to get to the ball.

    If you watch this http://www.whoateallthepies.tv/tottenham_hotspur/142373/football-gif-gareth-bales-laughable-dive-vs-aston-villa-deserves-to-be-punished.html I think you’ll see what I mean.

    Where Bale pulls his foot away before going down is precisely where the keeper’s foot would have made contact with him had he not pulled back at the last minute. In a slow motion replay it’s easy for us to see that he was pulling out, but from Bale’s perspective, it would have seemed to him that he was about to have his legs taken away.

    Now, imagine an alternate history – in this version Bale doesn’t pull his foot away and the keeper follows through. Bale’s foot is planted and the Keeper makes contact – breaking Bale’s ankle. Leaving aside the pain of such an injury, Bale is out of action for a season and never quite regains the pace and movement he had before. Spurs lose a 50 million quid star and the Keeper gets a three match ban for the dangerous tackle.

    I think the point I’m making is that it’s so easy to look at something like that and say “dive!” but Bale didn’t appeal to the ref for the keeper to be sent off. He didn’t roll over and over and hold his leg as though he’d been kicked. He simply went down. If he really was taking a gamble – deciding it’s better to go down assuming he’s about to be taken out than to stay up and be wrong, surely that’s the smart thing to do?

    • avatar Longwell says:

      It’s a gray area, that’s for sure. He’s definitely not a blood and thunder player, and that’s okay. I don’t blame him for being a little gunshy after his recent history of being targeted for, shall we say, less than sporting challenges from the likes of Charlie Adam, Phil Neville, and their ilk.

      Bale’s dive was nowhere near as offensive as Suarez’ beached salmon routine in the Stoke penalty area, nor even as bad as Welbeck’s tumble to win a spot kick against Wigan. Bale didn’t appeal, and he didn’t writhe around in pantomime agony. That’s good. He did go down without so much as a cross look from Guzan, though. That’s bad. Regardless of any post-facto mitigating circumstances, this sort of thing–coupled with his increasingly frequent embellishment of actual fouls–is going to earn him a reputation if it hasn’t already. A reputation he doesn’t want. Luis Suarez can’t buy a whistle for love or money these days, even when opponents are going all sorts of ASBO on him for real.

      As such, I implore the boy Bale to knock that shit right the fuck off.

      • avatar seattlespursguy says:

        Baler strikes me as more pussy than cheat. So, yes, knock that shit off and man up.

        • avatar Aran says:

          But that’s my point – I don’t think it was a dive. We should be clear on what a dive is. It isn’t enough to go over without contact. That happens all the time. A dive must be a deliberate attempt to fool the ref into giving a foul. You have to be able to show that the player went down with the intent to fool the ref.

          I think what Bale did was evasive action. If someone is coming at you full pelt, shaping to kick, and you can see clearly that, should that kick come to be, it will connect directly with your ankle, wouldn’t you try to avoid it? You have to remember that this all took place in a fraction of a second – Bale didn’t have the advantage of multiple slow motion replays in order to check and double check how likely he was to be taken out.

          Think of it this way, if someone aimed a punch at you and you ducked out of the way or went to ground to avoid the punch, and they pulled their punch at the last second, would you be accused of simulating? Trying to get the person in trouble even though they didn’t actually punch you? Of course not. In fact, if that took place and, when taking evasive action you hurt yourself, the person who feigned the punch could be held legally liable for that injury if it could be shown he intended to make you think he was about to punch you.

          We have to be very careful that we don’t take this anti-diving thing so far that players can’t even take reasonable evasive action to avoid injury without being accused of cheating. The last thing we want to see is players so afraid of being branded cheats that they feel the need to accept serious injuries. If someone swings for me, I don’t wait to see if they make contact before I duck, and we shouldn’t expect any different from a professional athlete – why should they be forced risk their health? I don’t care how much someone is paying me, there’s no way I would deliberately risk a serious injury for the sake of image. If I sense danger, I protect myself. In fact, in most cases, the action isn’t even deliberate – it happens faster than you can think.

          Let’s be absolutely clear – falling over isn’t cheating, taking evasive action in anticipation of heavy contact isn’t cheating; appealing for a foul after the fact when no contact is made, directly lying to the ref, is cheating. Bale didn’t do that.

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