Andre Villas-Boas has been very loyal to his players during the opening twelve matches of the season. Is now the time for him to ring the changes as Tottenham look to recover from last weekend’s defeat to Chelsea? The past two matches against Chelsea and in Slovenia against Maribor have been a clear indication that Spurs are totally reliant on Gareth Bale as their inspiration and creator. Tottenham have coped with the early season absence of a number of experienced players – Scott Parker, Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto but without Mousa Dembele and Bale for the last two matches it has left them short of ideas as an attacking force. Against Chelsea, for a short period early in the second half they raised their game and troubled the visitors. Having gone ahead, however, they were unable to sustain the pressure and were crying out for the pace of Bale to provide a presence to curb Chelsea’s forward movement. In Slovenia, as in Greece for the Europa League match, without Bale Spurs’ play was ponderous and lethargic. The players have responded to Villas-Boas’ faith in them as he persists with his 4 – 2 – 3 – 1 formation but is now the time to try an alternative approach?
There are a number of areas where changes are possible – in goal, in central defence and up front – both in terms of personnel and in approach.
Goalkeeper – Brad Friedel has done nothing wrong in the matches where he has played. No fault can be laid at his feet for goals conceded or overall performance. He has continued this season as he has done throughout his career, bringing consistency and assurance to the defence, something Spurs were in great need of last year. The difference this season is that Tottenham have another top class goalkeeper in Hugo Lloris. At 41 years of age, Friedel is nearing the end of his career and the future for Tottenham’s goalkeeping will be in the hands of the French international. Perhaps, now is the time to give him the opportunity to come to terms with the Premier League by playing regularly as first choice. It is of no benefit to Lloris or Tottenham to have him watching from the bench every week. Only by playing Lloris will he get the experience and Tottenham will know if they have signed a goalkeeper to follow in the footsteps of Jennings, Brown and Ditchburn.
Central Defence – Tottenham have an abundance of riches in central defence – Jan Vetonghen, Younes Kaboul, William Gallas, Syeven Caulker and Michael Dawson. The injury to Kaboul has created an opportunity for Gallas to reclaim a place in the team when most people thought he would be leaving last summer. The move of Vertonghen to left back created the chance for Caulker while opportunities have been limited for Dawson. To many it was a surprise that Gallas was included in the team at the start of the season as well as being named as captain. He has used his experience and led by example through the early matches but last weekend while scoring his first Tottenham goal he was found wanting in defence where two poor clearances contributed to Chelsea’s first two goals. If Kyle Naughton retains the left back position with Vertonghen in central defence it would be very hard on Caulker if he were to be left out. He has shown a good all round ability, his reading of the game is outstanding and he is a serious threat at corners and set-pieces. He can only improve with experience and that is best gained through regular match time. Like Friedel, Gallas is in the latter years of his career so it may be a better option to continue the development and potential of the younger Caulker.
Striker – Jermain Defoe, more than anyone has benefited from a regular starting position in the team. He has played alone all season and scored five goals. At times it is a frustrating role for him as he has so little support and on Thursday’s evidence, few scoring chances created for him. Villas-Boas has expressed his own concerns about burn-out for Defoe later in the season due to his over use in these early stages. A change in formation, with Emmanuel Adebayor starting with Defoe could provide that support or Adebayor, if fit, starting as the lone striker. Adebayor brought much to the Spurs team last season both in terms of goals and assists. He also needs the chance to show he can reproduce that form this year and has had little opportunity so far with fleeting cameo roles in between niggling injures.
Such changes would provide an alternative approach when things aren’t going to plan or when injuries occur. Currently Tottenham can be rather predictable making it easier for opponents to plan and prepare to stop them and Chelsea must have been elated to discover that neither Bale nor Dembele were available last weekend as it made their task so much easier. The return of Bale at Southampton would ease the immediate problem but looking to the bigger picture there will be other times when he and others are out and it is always better to be prepared with an alternative plan rather than muddle through with players playing out of position as square pegs in round holes usually doesn’t work.
Andre Villas-Boas has been quite rigid in his selection and formation so far but may have been considering alternatives in the past days as he looks to get Tottenham back to winning ways.