Monday, 6 August 2012

The US and Watford - What Did We Learn?

Following yesterday's 1-0 win over Championship side Watford, Spurs find themselves less than two weeks away from the start of the Premier League season, with just one pre-season game left to prepare themselves.

A 'behind-closed-doors' friendly with Brentford and a 2-0 win at Stevenage opened the summer for André Villas-Boas' side. Following those games, a trip to the United States was on the cards for Spurs, a second trip in two years.

Spurs opened with a 1-1 draw at LA Galaxy, a second draw with Liverpool in Baltimore (home of new kit manufacturers Under Armour) followed, before we rounded off the tour with a 2-1 win over New York Red Bulls.

The American tour will be viewed as a success for a number of reasons by both coaching and commercial staff alike. While the coaches were able to run their eyes over the squad out of their comfort zones and in blistering heat, the Club was also able to broaden their fan base, with all 3 tour games being well attended.

A partnership with FIFA 13 makers EA Sports was also announced, and the Club made time to hold a FIFA tournament in the famous Grand Central Station in New York, Tom Carroll coming out victorious over Kyle Naughton in the final.

Below is the 4 starting line ups and the substitutions made in the three games in the US and yesterday at Watford.

LA Galaxy
Spurs (4-2-3-1): Cudicini; Walker (Naughton, 65), Kaboul (Dawson, 65), Vertonghen, Bassong (Assou-Ekotto, 46); Livermore (Huddlestone, 74), Sigurdsson (Carroll, 76); Townsend (Lennon, 46), van der Vaart (Jenas, 36), Bale (Bentley, 74); Defoe (Kane, 65).
Spurs (4-2-3-1): Friedel; Naughton (Walker, 46), Gallas (Vertonghen, 75), Kaboul (Dawson, 63), Assou-Ekotto (Bassong, 63); Jenas (Smith, 83), Livermore (Huddlestone, 63); Lennon (Carroll, 71), Sigurdsson (Bentley, 63), Bale (Townsend, 46); Kane.
New York Red Bulls
Spurs (4-2-3-1): Gomes; Walker (Naughton, 60), Dawson, Vertonghen (Gallas, 46), Assou-Ekotto (Bassong, 83); Huddlestone (Jenas, 46), Livermore (Carroll, 61); Lennon (Smith, 83), Sigurdsson (Kaboul, 83), Bentley (Kane, 46); Bale (Townsend, 74).
Spurs (4-2-3-1): Friedel (Cudicini, 46); Naughton (Walker, 46), Gallas (Vertonghen, 46), Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto; Jenas (Sigurdsson, 46), Livermore (Bentley, 79); Carroll (Huddlestone, 66), Lennon, Bale (Townsend, 75); Defoe (Kane, 66).
While the usual suspects saw plenty of game time, those previously discarded by most Spurs fans seem to have been given a chance to impress by Villas-Boas, whether they did enough remains to be seen.

Sebastian Bassong was given the chance to show his versatility by playing at left-back against LA and as a substitute against Liverpool and NY. I saw this as an unusual move by Villas-Boas. While he played there on occasion for Newcastle, I can't remember ever seeing him there for Spurs, while Jan Vertonghen has looked more than comfortable in that position for Ajax and most recently for Belgium against England.

Bassong looked awkward and uncomfortable and was often caught out defensively, while offering little going forward. The new high-line being introduced by Villas-Boas didn't aid his cause, as he surely would have preferred not having to turn and track back when playing in an unfamiliar role.

Adam Smith saw limited playing time, and any game time he did see was further up the field than his usual right-back role. Should we read this as Villas-Boas thinking Smith isn't ready for our first team? Will he therefore be sent out on loan again? A loan to a Premier League side could be a huge opportunity for Smith, and could pay off in the way similar moves for Kyle Walker and Steven Caulker have.

Jermaine Jenas has seen a lot of game time in the heart of the Tottenham midfield, often playing as one of a pair of deeper lying midfielders throughout pre-season. He has often been criticised by the Tottenham faithful, promising plenty but rarely delivering. His engine and ability to get from box to box, as well as playing a simple passing game seems to have made him a part of Villas-Boas' plans for the coming season, though you would expect it to be as little more than a back-up/squad player.

David Bentley has played in a variety of positions this summer, popping up on the both wings as well as through the middle. I've mentioned before that I thought he could do well as the furthest forward of a midfield trio and he had spells of playing in this role, though more often than not he was used on the wing.

Playing just 99 minutes over the four games left him with little chance to show what he can really do, though his dead ball delivery and his crossing did catch the eye. Despite my high opinion of Bentley, I think he could be one of the players to be leaving before the end of August, which could be in the best interests of his career. If he was to remain at White Hart Lane, it would be good to see him get some substantial game time, though that is likely to only happen in the cup competitions.

Jermain Defoe, due to a personal tragedy, missed the second and third games on the tour, but he was back in action against Watford and marked his return with a goal. As our only senior striker at the Club, he is likely to see more action on Thursday against Valencia.

The high-line previously mentioned, was the subject of much debate on twitter and the various forums. Many have made their minds up already, claiming it to be too risky and leaving us too exposed. While it took our defence time to acclimatise to the new strategy, as each game progressed the back four looked more and more confident and looking capable of adapting.

It's important to remember that Spurs didn't play with the same defensive four for more than 45 minutes at a time, and only started with the same back four against Liverpool and Watford, but on both occasions made at least one change at half-time.

The defence will be able to grow more accustomed to the high-line the more training and games they play together. I would expect the line-up to face Valencia to be pretty close to the one Villas-Boas is likely to start at the Sports Direct Arena on August 18th.

Most have the same idea for our 'first choice' defence; Walker, Kaboul, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto. While I would tend to agree, Villas-Boas has hinted that the captaincy could be handed to Michael Dawson before the curtain opener at Newcastle. It would be hard to see how Dawson wouldn't be first choice should this transpire.

One feature I've not noticed anyone else mention from the tour games, was the manner in which we defended when the entire team dropped off. Against Liverpool, at one point I noticed both Kyle Naughton and Benoit Assou-Ekotto tucking right in alongside Gallas and Kaboul, while Lennon and Bale took up the full-back positions, an interesting approach from Villas-Boas, obviously wanting each player to have the ability to both attack and defend.

Brad Friedel looks like continuing his run of consecutive Premier League games once the season kicks off, although it is hard to judge just who is the preferred 'keeper at the Club from what we've seen so far.

Tom Huddlestone still looks to be recovering from the injury that ruined last season for him, and he struggled for consistency during the games. But it was a pleasure to have Tom back, someone I feel we missed a lot last season. His ability to pick a pass, short or long, as well as his superb technique when striking the ball, make him a valuable asset to our team.

Whether he is worthy of a starting place in AVB's eyes remains to be seen. But with Parker still missing through injury, Sandro still competing in the Olympics and Modric keen to leave, Tom could find himself starting against Newcastle in a couple of weeks. Glyfi Sigurdsson has impressed in each appearance so far, and looks a shoe in for a starting berth, possibly even at the expense of Rafael van der Vaart, who is likely to be fit to play against Valencia, if we continue with this 4-2-3-1 system.

Lennon, Bale and Defoe seem to be the obvious choices for the wide positions and the lone striker from what we currently have. Meaning we've only really the three central midfielders to decide on.

While Sandro is likely to rejoin the group before the Newcastle game, it is unlikely he will be thrown straight back into the team following his excursions with the Brazilian u23 team.

Sigurdsson seems to be the only definite starter currently. He has shown he can play as part of the deeper pair alongside a holding midfielder, which would accomodate Rafa', meaning Livermore or Huddlestone would likely start as the deepest of the trio.

A starting team therefore of
Friedel; Walker, Kaboul, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto; Huddlestone, Sigurdsson, Lennon, van der Vaart, Bale; Defoe.
Does that inspire you?

I would certainly hope we have added a striker to our ranks by then, Adebayor ideally. Then the team would look a bit more balanced; his hold up play and work rate have seemingly been incredibly undervalued from last season.

I find myself more excited this season than I was when we entered the Champions League for the first time. While I know it could all blow up in our faces, frankly I don't care. I've seen and read enough to know that no stone is being left unturned in preparation for the new season and that fills me with confidence.

Villas-Boas has been  labeled a huge gamble by the media and fans of other clubs alike, one that won't pay off allegedly. While I know this to be true, nothing would be sweeter than watch a Villas-Boas inspired Tottenham take all four competitions by storm this season, and prove all our doubters wrong.

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