Tottenham 2012-13 Squad Preview – Midfield


The composition of Tottenham’s midfield is the most difficult area of the team to predict at the start of the 2012-13 season. For the past couple of seasons a regular core of players have been used with only occasional alterations, usually due to injury or a change of formation. For the match against Newcastle, there are doubts over four of last season’s regulars – Scott Parker is missing having undergone surgery, Luka Modric is waiting to leave before the end of August and as last season will not be in the team, Sandro has had no time with Andre Villas-Boas’ squad due to his participation with Brazil in the Olympics and a call up for the Brazil international game against Sweden this week and Rafael Van der Vaart has had injury problems for most of the preseason preparations. No replacement has been acquired in to take on Modric’s creative role so how will the coach set up his team for the difficult match at Newcastle?

Tottenham Squad – Midfield

Gareth Bale will be the first name Villas-Boas pencils in on his teamsheet. Bale always provides the greatest threat for any opposition as his pace can create goals for others as well as for himself. So much is expected of Bale that it is a disappointment when he fails to reach his high and impressive standards. It will have been a huge relief  to Tottenham that Bale committed himself to the club for another season by extending his contract during the summer.

Gareth Bale has seen a remarkable turnaround in his career since his arrival at Tottenham.  About three years ago there were rumours and suggestions of him leaving Spurs as he struggled to live up to the high praise which accompanied his transfer from Southampton in  May, 2007. Bale, then eighteen years of age, was another player from the successful Southampton Academy to make the step up to a Premier League club and cost Spurs £5 million. His initial appearances in Martin Jol’s side were encouraging but poor results, loss of form and confidence and injury made it difficult for Bale to establish himself in the team.

As season 2009-10 commenced Bale was recovering from surgery during the summer and had an unenviable record weighing heavily on his young shoulders – he had never played on a winning Spurs’ team in his two years at the club.  That burden was eventually lifted at the end of September, 2009 when he appeared as a late substitute in Spurs’ 5 – 0 win over Burnley – after a record twenty four Premier League matches without a win. Assou-Ekotto continued to hold the left back position and there was talk that Bale might go out on loan while some clubs were considering putting in a bid for the young player during the January transfer window. An injury to Assou-Ekotto, however, was to give Bale his opportunity for an extended run in the team. When Assou-Ekotto returned to fitness after a two month absence, Bale moved to left midfield with Modric playing more centrally and as the end of the season approached with Spurs looking to grab a Champions League place, Bale scored in consecutive wins at home over Arsenal and Chelsea. By the end of that season Bale was an established member of the Spurs team and he announced his arrival on the European and world scene with his performances against Inter Milan in the Champions League. The story has just carried on from there with teams having to pay more and more attention to Bale in every match emphasising his importance to Tottenham.

Aaron Lennon has been part of Tottenham’s development over the past number of years. When he is at his best, so usually are Spurs. He has made almost 200 League appearances for Spurs since joining from Leeds United in 2005. Still only 25 years of age, he was unfortunate to miss out on the Euro 2012 squad during the summer. In preseason he has shown a willingness to run at and take on defenders and if his finishing had been better could have scored on a number of occasions. He is developing a good understanding with Kyle Walker on the right but is also a threat when he swaps wings with Bale. Together, Lennon and Bale are the two most dangerous wide players in the Premier League. Lennon also works hard on his defensive responsibilities, tracking back to cover if Walker has pushed forward. Lennon would look to be one of the players likely to start at Newcastle, providing a threat from wide on the right.

Gylfi Sigurdsson was an immediate success during his loan period with Swansea City from January to the end of last season. He fitted perfectly into their style of football and he has shown that he is capable of reproducing that threat for Tottenham. A very useful addition to the team  for his delivery from corners and set-pieces and capable of getting forward dangerously in support of the strikers. He needs the opportunity to play in a settled team to clearly identify his role, something that didn’t happen during preseason. Last season, he had the element of surprise with Swansea, in that teams didn’t know him as a player so, as always, the ‘second year’ will be more difficult for him as teams will prepare to prevent him playing so effectively and also there will be greater expectations on his shoulders with Spurs. He is a player who is quite capable of rising to those challenges.

Sandro hasn’t had an opportunity to get an idea of the new coach’s expectations for the coming season during preseason due to his commitments with Brazil. He will simply have to learn in the team as Parker’s absence through injury will put increased responsibility onto him. As a player, Sandro has grown into the position over the past two years and has shown what he is capable of in central midfield. He works hard and with a great enthusiasm for the game. He uses his strength and speed to get about the pitch very effectively. He would appear to be one of the players destined to start in central misfield in the opening matches, if he has recovered from his exertions on behalf of his country.

Rafael Van der Vaart could take on the creative role vacated by Modric, if no further signings are made. Tottenham have had to adapt their style to accommodate the Dutchman since his arrival from Real Madrid two seasons ago. This may be an opportunity to have him at the centre of the team, if  he proves his fitness. He is always a threat and can produce the unexpected so Villas-Boas will hope to harness that to good effect this season.

Scott Parker made a tremendous impact on Tottenham last season. A player who is fully committed, he fitted into the Tottenham team very quickly and brought a competitive edge to midfield. At times he appeared to be carrying the side on his own with the amount of effort he put into each game. Harry Redknapp compared him with Tottenham’s legendary half-back, Dave Mackay. It was the same with England during the summer and by the end of Euro 29012 he was out on his feet. Not surprisingly, rest was not sufficient for his injury problem and he has now undergone surgery which will sideline him out for at least six weeks. Hopefully, he will make a swift recovery and return to bring competition for places in midfield and add his drive to the team in September.

Jake Livermore was the surprise package of last season and has earned a call-up to the England squad – a tremendous achievement for a young player who a couple of seasons ago was out on loan at various lower League teams. At that point, one wondered if he would make it at Tottenham or in the Premier League. Last season, he worked hard, never let the team down and operated very successfully in a two man central midfield holding role. He was composed and controlled in his play and grabbed the opportunity with both hands. This season will be the test for him – to see if he can build on that and continue his progress and development.

Tom Huddlestone has recovered from last season’s injury and demonstrated his full range of passing ability, both long and short, in preseason. He will, however, need time to return to full match fitness and sharpness before he is ready for the first team where his long passes would be of great use to stretch play quickly and release Bale and Lennon on the wings.

Jermain Jenas has been at Tottenham for seven seasons but he has been on the periphery of the Tottenham squad for some time and it was expected that he would have moved on by now. Last season’s move to Aston Villa, on loan, to prove himself, failed to deliver due to injury. Surprisingly, and rather worryingly, Jenas has had considerable match play during preseason. In my view he has been anonymous and ineffective in those matches, but has Villas-Boas identified a role for him even in the short term? I omitted him from my team for the opening match at Newcastle but it was only after much consideration because I really thought that he could well be part of the coach’s plans.

David Bentley, like Jenas, has spent much time as a non-playing midfielder during the past two seasons. Again, like Jenas, his on loan deal to West Ham United last season was cut short by injury. In his limited preseason outings he looked more active and interested than he has shown previously but he is probably not on Villas-Boas’ long term plans.

Luka Modric is still a Tottenham player but he has trained away from the first team squad as he awaits the completion of a transfer deal to his preferred choice, Real Madrid. While it was expected that he would move on last summer, he didn’t but this year, a move will be completed before the end of the month and possibly sooner to enable Spurs to complete other negotiations.

Young Players

Tom Carroll impressed in the Europa League last season, showing a confidence on the ball and a willingness to take responsibilty. He had done well on loan at Leyton Orient the previous season and he was with Derby County, on loan, from last January. He will want to further his experience in the coming season.

Andros Townsend would have been a useful player to have had on the bench last season or to cover when Lennon was out with injury. In his few first team appearances, he has shown an ability to run and take on players. He has developed through the Academy and has over one hundred League and Cup appearances with nine different clubs in the past three seasons, scoring eleven goals. He has yet to play in the Premier League, his Tottenham appearances having been in the Cups and in the Europa League. At 21 years of age, he would need to get that opportunity soon to test himself at the highest level.

New Signings

At the start of the summer, it seemed that Joao Moutinho from Porto was Tottenham’s main target to replace Luka Modric. Spurs, however, have baulked at the fee required by the Portuguese club and so have looked at other possibilities. The most recent name to be linked with Spurs has been the 22 year old French international, Yann M’Villa from Rennes.

While Tottenham have a large number of midfield players on their books, there is still work to be done in the transfer market, both ins and outs, before Villas-boas has a balanced squad capable of delivering the style of play he would want at the club.

Tottenham 2012-13 squad Preview: Goalkeepers

Tottenham 2012-13 squad Preview: Defenders