Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Thin Line

photo by Cam Genereuxvia PhotoRee

James is here with the latest from White Hart Lane:

Spurs entered the weekend facing a resurgent Sunderland squad under newly appointed Manager Martin O'Neill in a proverbial "trap" game before the Thursday blockbuster derby against Chelsea at the Lane. Spurs were coming off their first loss since August after being robbed of at least a point by the now infamous Chris Foy at the Britannia, and in middle of the top four chasing pack of Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea who all were, for the most part, not losing.  The stress level increased with the news that gareth Bale was not available due to an ankle injury, and leaped off the grid when Aaron Lennon went down with a probable torn hamstring 30 minutes in.

With Lennons's injury, the signature element of Spurs attack - pace down the wings - pretty much disappeared, and into that void surprisingly stepped the person of Roman Pavlyuchenko, the languid, lazy Russian whose depressed work rate stands in such stark contrast to Emanuel Adebayor. Although I am certain I audibly moaned upon his insertion, it comes as no surprise from a karma standpoint that Super Pav scored the game winner.  He's done this sort of thing his whole career at Spurs - mope around in a completely disinterested fashion and then - suddenly - the ball is on his foot and he scores a marvelous goal.

This one occurred in the 61st minute and came courtesy of a beautiful back-foot pass from Man of the Match Rafael Van Der Vaart, who had shifted to "wing" upon Lennon's removal, but who really seemed in the second half to make up part of a diamond-and-one formation with Luka Modric' beside him in the middle, Scott Parker in back, and the constantly offside Adebayor up front.  This actually seemed to work reasonably well in the second half, as Spurs enjoyed the better of the chances and left the pitch clearly the superior side on this day, but well short of the dynamism they have shown with a healthy Bale and Lennon on the flanks.  In short, they looked fairly average - clearly better than the Sunderlands of the world, but perhaps not up there with the competition at the top of the table.
Now, as we sit mid- week, it appears that Lennon will be a long term absence and that Bale is a big doubt heading into the crucial clash with Chelsea on Thursday.  And, of course, these absences will negatively ripple through the whole squad.  The simple answer is to play Modric and Van Der Vaart on the wings with Sandro and Parker in the middle.  But as we've seen countless times, Modric and Van Der Vaart cannot help drifting into the middle, and "pacey" they are not.

On the other hand, Harry could shift Van Der Vaart back behind Adebayor, and insert Niko Krancjar to match up with Modric on the wings.  Again, though Niko is highly skilled, he will not be confused anytiem soon with Jesse Owens.  Perhaps then the answer is to move Kyle Walker - who is having a fantastic year, and who has the skill set and the pace to cause problems for Chelsea - up on the right, with Danny Rose taking his place at full back. This would create a constant threat on at least one of the wings, with Walker and Rose having shown in the past that they are well up to the task.  

All of this begs another point, though, which is how vital it is for Spurs to keep their key players healthy if they realistically expect to challenge for the title or top four position this year.  While this is certainly true for any squad, as has been well documented, Spurs are the one club of the "Big 6" with the least revenue, lowest payroll and apparently most consistent charge to maintain profitability.  And as was pointed out last week in this excellent review by the Swiss Ramble of the club's fiscal status - Tottenham - Grounds for Optimism or Concern?" - the opportunity for the new stadium to generate the type of revenue necessary to consistently challenge for top four and titles is at least four to five years off.  And, as pointed out by the Ramble, without the new ground, Spurs have only two other avenues to avoid the red:  Champions League or selling players.  One can see then why Levy and company push all of their chips on the table for Champions League and how, with a few key injuries, they may lose the pot. 

So for those of us who yearn for trophies, perhaps it would be wise to enjoy and appreciate the tight rope act Levy and Harry Redknapp have walked rather well up to now, of realistically challenging for Champions League and not selling players.  And to earnestly hope that Bale, Lennon and the rest of the key players can stay healthy enough to continue the walk. Because after missing out on Champions League this year, if they do not make it next year we could be saying goodbye to the likes of Modric, Bale, Van Der Vaart and Walker next Summer.  In the meantime, enjoy the tight rope.

This is farlieonfootie for December 21.

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