Thursday, January 2, 2014

Onward and Upward: Thoughts on Spurs' New Swagger, and Yesterday's Victory over Manchester United

photo by iheartspamvia PhotoRee

Ed returns to our pages with some thoughts on United and Spurs:

I hate to disagree with the bossman and it will surely cost me a paycheck or a painful assignment (can you say "Wimbleton Wombles?"), but I don't think United were uninspired against Spurs, I just think they were a combination of unlucky and not that super.  By unlucky I mean that they had plenty of chances and shoulda' woulda' coulda' converted a bunch of them if it weren't for cruel chance.  Plus I think that Lloris attack of Ashley Young was deserving of a penalty even though Young vaulted him.  By "not that super" I mean that this is a team with a suspect midfield and a defense that is good but no longer great.  To continue to pull of games like they used to you actually need top-tier talent across the board, and right now they have some great guys but not enough.  I do like Rooney at midfield though -- always have and always will -- why not try him at the Scholes position and put Welback up top with Chicharito or RVP?  Just a thought.

As for Spurs, well, AVB is gone and Tim Sherwood is in and the team is starting to look a lot like Harry Redknapp's from a few years back.  During the outrageously fun "Festive Season," a season that used to be perilous for teams like Spurs, the Spurs have launched into a new (old) formation and have acted like the team that Gareth Bale took to the Champions League.

Was AVB really that bad?  Well, he certainly had a prolific impact on Roberto Soldado, a striker who used to score repeatedly and now can't make so much of a tap in.  But I can't blame him for Emanuel Adebayor, a player who only shows up to play when it's a contract year.  Adebayor was halfway out of the BPL -- probably on to mediocrity in the League 1 or some such thing -- but now has probably put some life back into his career.  Interestingly, he's currently the most important "new addition" in the Spurs lineup.  AVB's banishment of Adebayor obviously worked though not to the benefit of the banisher, and the serial behavior that earned Adebayor his sentence might also make him easier to sign (but please only give him a year-to-year deal).

As for Benoit Aaaou-Ekoto, well, that's harder to explain.  His replacement, Danny Rose, is definitely a high quality player.  But behind him, Kyle Naughton seems a disaster to me.  And remind me the point of taking a player who could probably have fetched the team $5 to $10MM and dropping him so far out of sight as to make him worthless.  Clearly it isn't hard to get into the AVB doghouse.

What was AVB's biggest issue?  Most commentators talk of his insistence on playing a high back line with slow players.  There is truth to this, and Spurs were exposed against top tier strikers in part for this reason.  But I think this was a symptom of a bigger problem, and that is AVB's impatience and overconfidence in his system.  AVB was intent on installing what he knew regardless of whether his players could handle it or were ready for it.  I suspect the best coaches in the world learn to adjust -- the job is both teaching and learning, and AVB has need been willing to do the latter.  Soldado wasn't working alone at the top and the team wasn't scoring, but AVB was unwilling to try anything different despite ugly score lines.

I think the same impatience was evident during his stint at Chelsea when he benched the likes of Frank Lampard and John Terry, two guys who looked pretty darn outstanding against Liverpool just last weekend.  Perhaps they both are too old and too slow, but yet somehow they still looked among the best players on the pitch and Lampard's stats simply don't lie.  Something was clearly to be learned there, but instead AVB dumped them without having guys who were better.

Now AVB has breathed the rarified air of managing two top level BPL teams before he was 40.  And yet, like many at that age, he thought he knew all he needed to know when in fact he had just begun.  I certainly don't wish him ill, but instead hopes he starts over again in a lower role rather than trying another spot at the top.  Really, there's no rush.

As for now, onward and upward!!  Those boring AVB Spurs that couldn't string together two passes seem all but gone,  and somehow the team has learned to pass creatively and energetically AND hang in their on defense against top talent.  All in a few short days.  Thank Tim Sherwood for that, but also thank the players who have been giving it all they have on the pitch.

A few interesting notes about Sherwood.  He played 93 matches for Spurs from 1999 to 2003.  He was hired by (and seems inspired by?) Harry Redknapp.  Perhaps the peak of his career was at Blackburn, where he at first struggled to make the first team before becoming the team captain and guiding them to the championship.  In other words, he seemed to learn on the job.

This is farlieonfootie for January 2.

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