Season review: Highs, lows and improvements needed
This end of season review covers pretty much everything that I haven't spoken about in the past few articles. It's been a hard graft and mostly enjoyable 2013 so I'll do my best to keep it light. I will probably write more later (in short bursts) and include more detail regarding certain individual players that I want to talk about in more depth. Might also look ahead to the dreaded transfer window. Depends how sadistic I want to be. Might just sit in the corner of a room and foam at the mouth instead. Probably more productive to do that.
Also, I haven't kept it light below. You should know that by now. Enjoy.
Highlights - AVB, the teams progress and Bale
Highlights? It has to be Andre
Villas-Boas for retaining our competitiveness with no direct
replacements for Modric and van der Vaart, injuries to Sandro and Kaboul
and two dysfunctional forwards. Daniel
Levy backed Andre Villas-Boas by appointing him. A risk considering what happened at Chelsea. But a calculated one. He was a very highly rated, much sought after coach at Porto that cost the West London club several million to have him released from his contract. What played out after that will retain ambiguity mostly thanks to the distortion of the press coverage and the plentiful assumptions made by all in the aftermath.
What matters (more so than the destructive nature of the egos at Stamford Bridge) is that AVB learnt some personal lessons on how to conduct himself with the media and approach players. At Spurs, AVB has
fitted in with comfort and confidence. He cited the atmosphere at the club very soon after he joined. He was allowed to go about his work without agendas and politics forced upon him (allegedly). Add to it the opening of Hotspur Way, this was almost too perfect a fit. A methodical scientific coach and a new state of the art training centre. Well hello.
There was a learning curve early season. The pressures were still two-fold. On the one hand the world famous red top press and Sky Sports had already decided this appointment was a disaster having seen 'best modern day Spurs manager' Harry Redknapp 'sacked'. Unacceptable decision by Levy - was the echoed sigh of disbelief repeated over and over again by one dimensional bores all reading off the same laminated sheet stating: "AVB will be a disaster for Tottenham".
The other hand was mostly made up of Spurs supporters with a zero tolerance for patience. Remember early season? People bemoaning and complaining and bitching and pretty much dismissing every fabric of logic and sense by siding with the press that this was all destined to fail. A minority, but one that spoke their mind (sometimes as early as the opening five minutes of a home match).
Yes, we lacked spark and ingenuity. We were slow out of the blocks. But it would appear this minority also dismissed the fact that the entire back-room staff had been replaced, new training methods and match-preparation introduced and the all important fact that the coach was no longer Harry Redknapp.
In an ideal world, you might think the easiest thing would be to inherit a side and tell them to 'just keep on doing what you've been doing'. Much like a doctor would first run a series of tests before suggesting the surgeon operates, Villas-Boas had to understand the squad and work towards guiding them into his own style of play (and not a carbon copy of the one of an ex-manager just because it worked most of the time).
The fact is, it wasn't a completely inherited side. Two of its main creative catalysts had moved on. Another retired. Another was injured. There was new signings but the ones we were led to believe AVB wanted did not transpire when the window closed. Also, a coach has an 'end game' in mind. He wants to set the team up to play a certain way and work towards that final completed template but also do so without sacrificing too much in the way of domestic league process. The introduction of the high line another example of why controlled patience is required (from all concerned). If you want longevity, you can't expect the short term to be all bells and whistles.
Okay, so the football wasn't exactly free-flowing swashbuckle but over the course of the season our character strengthened along with our resilience. We always keep going,
we never give up and when we fall to the ground, we pick ourselves back up again. Team
unity is key.
Long standing problems along with newer ones were tackled efficiently. Remember the issue of late goals conceded? He adapted training and the problem was no longer a problem. You know that cliché about learning from your mistakes and that it can make you stronger? Well that.
As good as we looked last season and the season before there was sometimes a little too much style over substance. When we hit the brick wall, we smacked the brick wall and blacked out, we never smashed our way through it and continued. The mentally of the side has evolved. There is guile there but it's not quite the finished article. We can sometimes still be our own worst enemy. Which again, with positive spin, is a good thing. We're not losing games because of calamity, we're losing it because we're, say for example, not finishing all the chances we've created. Fix it and it's happy days.
In terms of AVB himself, he's been superb in pre and post match press conferences. He's been compelling on the touchline. He's handled rotation and management of players far better than our previous gaffer. I don't mind his passion-filled extravagant dancing and air-punching. If anything, it makes him even more likeable as a Spurs boss. One of the moments of the season was when Bale scored the winner against West Ham and ran to the Villas-Boas. A proper 'in your face' moment to all the haters.
I'm very very comfortable with him in charge of my club.
PFA Player and Young player of the Year and FWA Player of the Year...Gareth Bale. How can he possibly not be the highlight of the season?
An honour to watch the man storm it in a Lilywhite shirt. More or less involved in everything
that was great about our season. A scorer of great goals, a player of
great quality and immense dimension. Our talisman. Heart sign straight back at ya Bale (if you will allow me to use that trademarked celebration...please don't sue).
absolutely imperative he's offered that new contract and retained to
solidify our ambitions for next season. Can't see any other scenario playing out. Really looking forward to the media reaction to it as practically everyone is brokering a deal to have him move away from Tottenham to a 'bigger club' for 'Champions League'.
He's grown in stature this
season and he'll only improve next. Go back a season or so, go back in fact to post-Inter hattrick and WHL demolishing and there was a period of adjustment he had to work through. The ones lacking patience decided he had been found out, rather than allow development, game time, experience - all the requirements to grow as a man and player, to bed in. When they did, his standard went up a notch. From left-wing to free-roam. But this season he has truly taken a huge stride forward. He is a game-changer. And to settle the 'is he world-class' argument. Just ask this question...could he walk into any of the top four teams in this country? Would he be one of their most vital players? Yes and yes. To be able to produce the football he produces is testament to his ability and its consistency.
So much has gone through him this season to the point where we (Spurs) were tagged with the one man team label. But here's a player that has been allowed to go out there and discover himself, to play centrally and to drift and swap flanks. Even if he slotted back into a more traditional left-sided role, his all-round play has been refined in the past season. His eye for goal simply sensational.
With us lacking key ingredients it's no wonder he has been allowed to play with expression and as our main outlet of attack. The team (since Sandro's injury) has had to compensate for an imbalance in midfield. With both Adebayor and Defoe (in part) struggling to own the forward position for varied reasons, Bale has also deputised as a forward (coming from deep, playing behind the last man). All the goals he's scored, the phenomenal purple patch of form that elevated us into that fight for a CL place - this is down to his own belief along with the coach and the players. It's a team game. I know. Shocking detail that.
Now sit back and imagine if the midfield was settled and we had a functional link to the striker and Bale was able to adapt his role based on opposition/score etc rather than be expected to receive the ball at every given moment. Less pressure on all concerned. The team gets better. Bale gets better.
Bale was very good under Redknapp. He's improved under AVB. He'll be even better when this side steps up a further level. Perhaps for the last time, imagine if Luka still played for Spurs (I love this fantasy). That's why players of genuine world class quality have to look to move on, abroad sometimes, to find out just how good they really are and to be able to play with a higher level of players across the team. Hopefully Bale possesses some romanticism and can appreciates the importance of folklore and legendary status and stays with us so we can find out if that next level is finally going to allow us to step up onto it.
More to shout out about: Our excellent away form. Winning 3-2 at Old Trafford. The devastation of two goals in two minutes against
Arsenal at the Lane. The seven minutes and three goals
against City. Dembele's goal in Lyon. Anything Freund does.
The lowest point will be the manner in which we lost at the Emirates. 5-2, an identical score-line to the season before. The irony of this defeat (compared to the last one) was that we actually looked like we were going to smash them. Well, for a short period of time we looked like we would. Probably not quite worthy of a DVD release. Then Adebayor lost his head and got sent off. Even with ten men we still retained belief and AVB displayed his astuteness to change this up to adapt to the sending off and attempt the impossible.
It wasn't enough. By taking offensive risks we left ourselves prone to their attacks. Sure, there were other disappointments. The manner in which we got knocked out of all the cup competitions (late goals, poor performance, penalties). The dropped points earlier in the season at home to the likes of Wigan (1 point out of 6) and Everton away. The manner of the Liverpool/Fulham defeats probably cost us 3rd/4th place. But you have to group all of them together to match up to the pain of losing that single league game to Arsenal.
Improvements with 2014 in mind
Levy has to back AVB again.
We need to look at the full-back positions. Competition for Walker. Cover or a replacement for BAE. Is Danny Rose good enough? We need a play-maker or a player that can fit into the system that allows for quick recycling of the ball in midfield. Retain possession, use possession, don't lose possession. We need cover for the flanks. Townsend to return? Or do we need to look at a 'world class' winger that gives us a triple threat for selection with Bale and Lennon protected from burning out?
We need a forward.
Stop laughing. It might happen.
Adebayor didn't have a good season. Defoe has always been a hot and cold player. Two recognised forwards is not enough for a squad that wants to continue to contend at the very top. We need a 25 goal per season player and more importantly one that is able to play on his own upfront without losing himself to the channels and with the ability to drop deep/link up play. That's a generalisation to be fair on how things have (haven't) played out for us this season.
Adebayor lacked that determined energy, leading from the front. He wasn't effective but did cover a lot of ground in less glorious positions. Renders the old 'cross from the wing' redundant if there is nobody in the box to get on the end of it. Defoe equally up and down. Brilliant at instinctive play, but sometimes lost when asked to do more.
We did create a lot of chances. We need to finish them. Small margins again.
We need to also work
on our set-piece defending. At one point this season we looked excellent at the back. Tired legs, tired minds towards the end. A centre-back pairing of Vertonghen and Kaboul will assist us with consistency at the back, more so if Sandro is playing ahead of them. Verts being played out on the left of defence was never going to be pretty. Our offensive set-pieces are all pretty much direct. I can understand why (Bale) but I'd like to see more training ground innovations attempted. Don't get me started on corners. How many years have we struggled with them. Granted we've marginally improved.
We need to be more adventurous at home (we need to win
more games). The pace of our game can be very slow brooding before it explodes into action. This might be part of the sides growth and understanding of what AVB wants from each player, as individuals and as a working unit. But we have seen what we can do when we play with more directness (quick feet, passing movement, release of the ball). With the additions of new players in those maligned key areas, we might have enough about us to loosen the grip on controlling possession and attack with more decisive action. In fact, at home, we shouldn't look to contain but simply shock and awe. Move a little closer to the more enthralling football we expect as Spurs fans but one with a powerful spine.
Would also like to see us start Tom Carroll. Perfect little player. Intelligent, composed with maturity beyond his age. Looks like a kid, needs to build up his body but he hasn't looked out of place so far. Needs more game time. Would like to see that in a Spurs shirt although I suspect we might see him loaned out (to a Prem side).
Every problem we have is a good one to have. We have
quality in our squad. We need more depth in key areas to contend again,
and this time go one better. Next time we can't be regretful because of our own defiances. The really positive thing here is that this is simply year one. Redknapp built us up to CL football, made us competitive. AVB has to regain that and then seek to take us further. How can anyone that follows Spurs not feel excited about that? Okay...just you lot at the back throwing rotten fruit at me.
Villas-Boas - The voice, the beard, the composure in pre and post match interviews. The touchline dramatics. The passion and desire. He's doing everything right in how he's presenting himself and the manner in which he has taken to Spurs and the supporters. He's done very little wrong on the pitch. In fact the way he managed the early season goal-keeping situation, Dawson and any given blip (not many) we've experienced proves he's worth of sterner stuff than what we witnessed when he was at Stamford Bridge. Sure, some of his substitutions have left us scratching our own beards, but sometimes we over analyse, micro-analyse and we only dare to comment negatively if the sub doesn't work.
No doubting, we need more oomph from the team as a whole. More dynamism. But if you think back to his Porto side, there is nothing to suggest we are not heading towards a more pacey variant of what we have currently - which is a team that plays as a unit and with spirited belief. This was his first season at Tottenham. We missed out on CL football (something few predicted we'd get at the start) by a couple of points. The thing many did predict (stagnation) did not happen.
Lloris. Dembele. Sigurdsson. Vertonghen. Dempsey. Holtby. The only reason some of us seem to think Daniel Levy let everyone down (again) is because we didn't sign more (well, that much fabled striker). Hugo is one of the best signings we've made, a truly world class goal keeper and one that fits perfectly into AVB's high line. Friedel deputised in Europe but long term we're going to need an understudy for the Frenchman.
Dembele (reoccurring injury issues aside) has probably been a little caged in terms of responsibilities this season and held back from being more offensive. He glides forward superbly with the ball at feet but hasn't been able to do so enough. When he plays and plays well his physicality in the middle is all-important to contesting the battle there. Sig struggled initially but has slowly shown his class. Confidence is so important and I expect him to be far more influential next season. Vertonghen has had to deputise at left-back but is another sublime footballer, head and feet, excellent at bringing the ball out of defence and an eye for goal. Will settle down (and not make mistakes) once he retains his position at the heart of the defence and not on its sides. He's had a few shaky moments, but I wonder how much that has to do with the constant rotation at the back.
Assou-Ekotto has been in and out the side (injuries, selection). You can't quite shake off that distinctive feeling he isn't fancied and Benny might be looking elsewhere for a nice sign-on bonus to aid with his dispassionate outlook for football.
Dempsey has struggled to impose his identity but has scored important goals. Always felt like he was the emergency signing that covered off the fact we failed to sign Moutinho and a forward. The comparisons unfair. But with his record at Fulham I felt he could be an important player. He hasn't dominated games with the same authority he did for the Craven Cottage club. But he always seems to score when we most need a goal.
Lennon was impressive in the first half of the season. His work ethic outstanding. Fizzled out a little in the second half of the season. That cover for the flanks, essential for the sake of rest and competition. Parker's effort hasn't shown signs of degrading but his legs look a season past it. He's been much maligned. Easy to forget his age, the return from injury. Even easier to ignore how disciplined his role was when he played alongside Modric, having to simply protect and pass (to Luka).
Huddlestone came back into the fold but looks better suited as an impact player. His passing can't be faulted but his role in the side is a difficult one to accommodate. Dawson almost left, didn't, fought his way back into the side and has displayed his seasoned determination to give it everything in a Spurs shirt. But he'll have to stand behind Kaboul and Verts in line for that centre-back role next season.
Holtby was signed up earlier than we had originally agreed. Difficult to know currently if his high-octane relentless energy is the way he always plays or simply the task he's had to undertake when taking a place in the side. He's got more culture about him, I'm certain of it. A summer, a pre-season and a fresh new start will hopefully prove me right.
Sandro's injury set us back 10 points. You think I'm exaggerating? Not having Kaboul also meant we always appeared to be shifting the back four around. They did what they were asked to do, but it wasn't always crisp and clean.
Stick all those aforementioned together and they reacted positively to the change of coach. Very well. As cited, our away form was superb. Our fight-back-ability equally impressive. The Europa League and our half attempted efforts to progress in it proving to be detrimental at times in the league games that followed. In the end, we did very well (72 points) but it wasn't enough...but not because we blew it. Because we didn't quite have that cutting edge. No point in selecting a specific game(s) as the reasons for not attaining more points. Rather that we lacked the required cutting edge across the entirety of the season.
You're only as good as the players you have and we need a couple more to be better than good. We need to remove the potential of excuse. This season we had the excuse of those players sold/injured. That can't be acceptable this time next season.
As for Levy. He did let us down. Or maybe our scouting did. Or maybe we bid within our budget and got knocked back. Maybe we have the players(s) in mind and want them and were prepared to wait another season. Or maybe we're aiming too high and outside our price range. Maybe AVB does need a technical director to support him when it comes to new acquisitions. Questions, questions, questions. One answer will do. Hellooooo summer transfer window.
We need what we need and we all know what we need. A player to allow for that extra creative dimension left behind by Modric and Rafa. Not necessarily like-for-like replacement(s). The player will be in the mould of what AVB wants, but that missing element is an imperative part that needs to be filled. Unless Bale is going to play an instrumental part in a forward position and Sandro's return allows for Dembele to rampantly attack the penalty box.
We also need that proper ballsdeepingoal forward, for what seems like the fourth season running. We can't have two strikers. We need more depth and we need more quality.
Other improvements will no doubt be asked for and looked at, but these are the main ones.
I just read that all back and I'm thinking...Christ, I'm not asking for much. Considering how the transfer windows play out, it looks like a fair bit to expect to happen. Then again...Lloris. Dembele. Sigurdsson. Vertonghen. Dempsey...all signed last time out.
Villas-Boas inherited a good team but he also inherited their problems.
Key players gone, key players missing. We have over-achieved expectancy
to the point where we are left disappointed with missing out on
Champions League. We are bitterly disappointed because perhaps that over-achievement when played out amongst the rest of the Premier League takes the shape of under-achievement, because even with those problems, we still could have done so much more with what we had.
A strong season. Onwards to the next.
Love the shirt.