Trying to read Andre Villas-Boas’ mind in terms of team selection is nigh on impossible. After a fortnight’s break ffor the internationals, how will the manager set up his Tottenham team for the crucial game against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
After suffering another league defeat at home to Newcastle prior to the international break and with Spurs having scored only 9 Premier League goals in 11 matches this season there have been calls for greater creativity in the team. Will AVB respond to these concerns or will he persist with his structured 4-2-3-1 formation?
Tottenham have lost each of the games before the international break this season but have responded with a win in the first match back. This time, facing Manchester City is a much more difficult task and while Spurs are one place and one point ahead of City, they are undefeated at the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League this season. Their only reversal at home was in the Champions League when they lost 1 – 3 to Bayern Munich. In their last two home games they have scored 12 goals, defeating Norwich 7 – 0 and CSKA Moscow 5 – 2. They have scored 20 goals in 5 home league goals and only conceded 2 goals.
Such is the nature of the task facing Spurs that I expect AVB to stick rigidly to the system which has enabled Spurs to keep 7 clean sheets in the Premier League with four of those games being away from home.
Hugo Lloris having played in both of France’s internationals will return in goal. The dilemma in the back four concerns the fitness of Danny Rose and whether to re-introduce him immediately at left back, if fit. If Rose were available, it would allow Jan Vertonghen to return to his favoured position in central defence where he provides greater assurance in the central defensive position. That would leave one position for either Michael Dawson, Vlad Chiriches with face mask to protect his broken nose and Younes Kaboul. It will probably go to Dawson although I have concerns about his ability to cope with small, quick, skilful strikers.
For the central defensive midfield role, Sandro would be my first choice with Etienne Capoue, if fully recovered from his injury and back to full fitness, as his partner.
In the three-man attacking positions I would expect Andros Townsend to start. In the absence of Christian Eriksen who is expected to be out for a month with an ankle injury, the central position could go to Mousa Dembele or Paulinho playing in a more forward position than they have in their time at Spurs. Gylfi Sigurdsson will probably be deployed on the left for his work and covering on that side of the pitch. Roberto Soldado will continue to play as the lone striker, hoping for a better service against a team who won’t defend in depth so there should be more space for him to run into in attacking positions.
While supporters are looking for Erik Lamela to be given a chance in the League, I don’t expect AVB to play him in in such an important game, having used him so infrequently so far this season. While fans suggest that Emmanuel Adebayor should start to provide support for Soldado, that would also appear to be unlikely.
Possible Team: Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Rose (if fit); Sandro, Capoue; Townsend, Paulinho, Sigurdsson; Soldado
In the event of Rose still being out, Vertonghen would continue at left back with Chiriches playing alongside Dawson.
Whatever team, AVB sends out, I simply do not expect him to abandon his defensive, organised principles against a top team and he will be looking for the creative players to make greater use of the space afforded to them by City’s desire to get forward themselves rather than sit defensively as has happened so often against Spurs this season.
This is difficult match for Spurs and one they need to take something from or the teams at the top of the League are going to open up a gap which will be hard to claw back.
What team would you select for the City game?