Over the past two months Tottenham have shown a greater defensive resolve which has helped them in their battle for a top four finish in the Premier league. Since that Sunday in December, at Goodison Park, when they threw away three points in the final minutes of additional time, Spurs have only conceded 5 goals in 10 League games. A statistic like that is not something that’s usually associated with Tottenham but it is one of the reasons why they continue to be in with a chance of grabbing a Champions League finish, come the end of the season.
Gareth Bale has rightly been claiming all the headlines and accolades over the last number of games, with his spectacular displays and goals. Bale has been present for nine of those games and has scored 7 goals. If, as is more traditional with Spurs, the defence had been less secure, Bale’s goals would have meant for nothing but with the assurance of the defence behind him, it means that Spurs are gaining points (22) at a rate bettered only by Manchester United, the Premier League leaders.
Tottenham have conceded 5 goals, going behind at Sunderland and Norwich while conceding first in the home games against Manchester United and Reading. Three of the goals which Spurs conceded came when a team regained possession quickly in midfield and attacked while Tottenham players were further up-field looking to attack, rather than set up defensively. The goals against Sunderland and Reading came from free-kicks – with the latter from a rebound following a tremendous shot by Harte which hit the woodwork.
Through this period Andre Villas-Boas has continued with his rotation policy for the back four. The match against Newcastle was another example of that, where Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Jan Vertonghen were omitted from a defence which had maintained a clean-sheet against West Brom a week earlier. The manager was probably thinking ahead to the Europa League match against Lyon in midweek as his two players had been involved in last week’s international games.
Who Takes the Credit?
While the defence has built up this record, in match reports I have highlighted that individual players have not been at their best in recent games. Benoit Assou-Ekotto has taken time to settle after five months absence with injury while the two Kyles, Walker and Naughton, have had shaky spells at full back. Jan Vertonghen has returned to central defence but looked uncertain against the pressure and robust game played by Norwich and West Brom. Even, Michael Dawson who is so totally committed in all his play was unsettled under the early pressure at Carrow Road and the Hawthorns.
Some would credit goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris as the one who has brought about this change in the Tottenham displays. Individually, players have had difficulties at times but as a unit they have worked successfully with Lloris bringing an assurance to the defensive play, being quickly off his line in response to any threat from opposing forwards. Yet, Lloris, while he has played well, has never had to produce a ‘Man of the Match’ performance to ensure a Tottenham victory. All of the saves he’s made have been ones which you would expect from a top class international goalkeeper. Even in the home draw with Manchester United, Lloris had a relatively quiet afternoon, even though he was facing a combined attacking force of Robin van Persie, Wellbeck and Wayne Rooney in the latter stages of the game.The tight defensive displays have come down to an all-round team effort with Sandro and then Scott Parker, partnering Mousa Dembele in central midfield providing cover in front of the back four. Aaron Lennon deserves praise for his hard work defensively, covering back if Walker has advanced into the opposition half. He is a constant worry for defenders as he hurtles towards their penalty area but he is doing his part for the team by harrying as opponents try to move forward and in his tackling back in support and to relieve pressure. Lennon’s all-round game has developed greatly this season.
Tottenham will require their defensive composure in the weeks ahead if goals continue to be in short supply. Their reliance on Bale for goals is a problem that needs to be resolved with either Emmanuel Adebayor or Jermain Defoe, when fit, providing some much needed strikes on goal.
Prior to the defeat at Everton, Spurs had recovered from the shock of conceding five against Arsenal by winning three consecutive League matches and only conceding two goals. There has been a defensive stability about Spurs this season in the League and Europe although at times it was all hands to the deck as they tried to defend a lead or hold on to a point in the final minutes of a game. Now, there is more composure to the defending and a greater solidity which can only be of benefit to the team as they look to make further progress in the Europa league as well as in their pursuit of a Champions League finish come next May.