Tottenham’s unexpected Cup defeat to Championship side Leeds United at Elland Road has left Andre Villas-Boas with an issue to sort out in preparation for the remainder of the season. February has been the month in the past two seasons when it has all started to go wrong for Spurs and Villas-Boas will be conscious of the need to avoid a re-occurrence this year. Injuries are taking their toll and time is running out for the completion of any major signings to strengthen the team.
Setting aside the issue of a striker, something which is beyond the manager’s control, there is, however, one issue that Villas-Boas needs to address urgently before it develops into a major problem. Since August, the manager has has a fairly settled midfield, injuries apart, and his options have been severely restricted over his striking formation. In his defensive line-up, however, he has rotated the players constantly. Injuries have again played their part but his selections have usually worked effectively.After giving him a time of acclimatisation to Premier League football, Villas-Boas has finally settled on Hugo Lloris as his first choice goalkeeper. In his back four, he now needs to decide on his central defensive partnership. Injuries in the early part of the season necessitated rotation to provide cover at full back and in the centre. Now that Benoit Assou-Ekotto is fit again, the manager needs to take a decision on his best pairing in the central defence. A strong partnership there brings strength and confidence to the team, providing a strong base from which the team can build. The uncertainty between Steven Caulker and Jan Vertonghen that was evident early on in the Cup defeat continued throughout the game with neither able to stand up to the challenge presented by Leeds.
While Younes Kaboul remains out through injury, for the next few weeks Villas-Boas must decide on a settled partnership, possibly Michael Dawson with Vertonghen – the strength and commitment of Dawson with the footballing ability of the Belgian. Caulker is still a young player who needs careful development, having made great strides in a short period of time. William Gallas when recovered from injury will provide cover until ultimately Kaboul, when fit again, returns to claim his position as first choice in central defence.
Every successful team has a strong spine – goalkeeper, central defenders, in the centre of midfield and as a strike force. Spurs have that in Hugo Lloris and in central midfield where Mousa Dembele and Scott Parker, in the absence of Sandro, can develop an effective partnership. Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor have the ability to provide a striking pairing but need the application and effort. In defence, Spurs have the players to provide it but the chosen pairing needs to be given time to work together to develop into a partnership and form an understanding with the goalkeeper, fullbacks and central midfield. If given the time to do that Spurs would have a very sound unit which will then allow Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale to provide the creativity and flair from the flanks.
The decisions taken to create this central strength to the team will not please all the players but it’s the time of year when these tough choices can determine the future outcome of the season. Defeat in the FA Cup leaves Spurs to challenge in the Europa League and for a fourth place finish in the Premier League. The next few matches in both competitions are vital and will determine if it becomes a season that drifts to a disappointing conclusion or one with much more to play for?
Over to You!
Who do you expect to be Tottenham’s best central defensive pairing?