Tottenham Hotspur: Positives aplenty but scrutiny needed amid failure

Michael Sumsion runs the rule over Tottenham's rollercoaster 2012/13 season.

So Spurs missed out in the end, despite Gareth Bale’s heroics and their highest points total since the Premier League began. There have been several positives across the season, not least the consistent steeliness of purpose and mental strength and AVB’s quiet assurance and growing tactical intelligence.

Yet obviously certain issues remain unaddressed and need scrutiny in the months ahead.

First, the positives. The French number one, Lloris, has excelled in goal, give or take the odd blunder, and his emergence as the undisputed first choice in place of Friedel was handled acutely and sensitively by the manager.

Lloris has radiated an unflustered, business-like serenity which has spread throughout the side, making important, timely saves and performing consistently solidly. Spurs fans still barely recovering from the car-crash displays by Gomes (on his day, brilliant but so erratic) have drawn an overdue quietude from this sensible piece of business.

As previously discussed, Vertonghen has been a revelation in his debut season at White Hart Lane. He possesses all the requisite skills of a modern centre-back and is versatile, tactically flexible and adventurous with the ball at his feet.

Nimble, strong, good in the air, resolute and skilful, the Belgian’s attributes mark him out as a footballer of the highest calibre. The only issue of contention with him is where he plays, for his cavalier ball-playing at speed and eye for goal at left back gave the side an extra dimension when Assou-Ekotto was sidelined. At centre-back he oozes class, but to my mind he is a more reliable defender than Ekotto at left back and offers more of a threat.

In midfield, Spurs have had a good range of options, though still look more vulnerable and bereft when Lennon is missing on the right. If the chairman was unable or unwilling to close the deal on a creative schemer of Moutinho’s stature and imagination, then the raids for Sigurdsson, Dempsey and Holtby, all of whom have their merits and have made significant contributions to the cause, must be viewed as successful.

Dempsey, in particular, has caught the eye with his positional acumen, cool marksmanship and unflagging professionalism in a campaign where he’s floated in and out and been asked to shoulder some of Van Der Vaart’s scoring burden.

Dembele, meanwhile, is a player the club needs to keep hold of, for he offers a dynamism and skill level which should be on display in the Champions League.

Sandro’s long absence dealt the team a two-pronged blow, for his beguiling range of defensive and offensive assets supercede, though complement, Parker’s more industrial version of the holding midfielder role, and Dembele has had to operate much deeper than I would like.

The mercurial playmaker has tended to replicate Modric’s goals/assists effectiveness in terms of raw stats, even down to their tendency to provide the assist for the assist in a Spurs goal, as it were.

Lennon’s persistent injury problems have become a constant sub-text in the Tottenham story, but this season he has shown sporadic improvement in both execution and consistency of delivery from the flanks and inside.

A few more goals from him would be welcome too. And then, of course, there’s Bale. It is indeed remarkable to think that at Christmas the jury was still out for me regarding his actual effectiveness and contribution to the team.

Since then, this gargantuan talent has raised his level by several notches and not just in fits and starts but relentlessly. The goals, in particular the strikes from outside the box, have been a joy to behold and have lit up an otherwise relatively flat Premiership season. Perverse though it might appear, I still feel that Bale can offer more over the duration of individual games, as opposed to decorate them with his goalscoring feats.

Now to the elephant in the room that is the striker situation. The tension generated by the club’s failure to recruit at least one goalscorer over the course of the two transfer windows has hung over Spurs’ season with a discernible inevitability of outcome.

Adebayor came alive for the final four matches of the season (his goal against Chelsea possibly eclipsing any of Bale’s) but for the remainder of the campaign performed a convincing impression of an ailing dog half-heartedly chasing a balloon.

Defoe’s record since Christmas, apart from the Manchester City wonder strike, cost the side dearly in terms of missed chances and the odd point here and there that would have sufficed in the end. Surely Levy must have learnt by now that Spurs don’t require much, but they do need at least one, probably two, forwards to finish off the myriad opportunities the team create.

Which brings me to some salient points about Spurs’ style of play and the way they operate. For me, they don’t appear to fill the opposition box with enough of a goal threat, certainly in comparison with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and City.

Those other clubs maraud in packs and will often snatch goals in the six yard area as a result of the momentum of sheer numbers pouring into the zone of uncertainty for defenders.

The number of scrappy, scruffy goals scored in these situations by Manchester United in particular - an own goal, a ricochet, a happy accident, a cannoning off a knee - is striking to observe, and Tottenham almost never profit from such goalmouth flurries.

In addition, they rarely score from a set-piece (excepting those Bale direct free kicks) - those bread-and-butter headed goals from corners or scrambled connections from floated deliveries routinely rattled up by others in the top 5.

These types of goals all count and add up over the season, and if Spurs could generate more of these then the pressure on the attacking players to produce more rarefied incisions in every game recedes.

Last of all, the manager. Andreas Villas-Boas has proved himself an articulate, open-minded coach in 2012/2013, able to make changes at opportune moments and re direct the team’s energy.

I have been particularly impressed by his very un-Mancini-like refusal to bemoan his lot regarding the failure to sign a striker. He has managed with what he has had at its disposal and focused on getting the maximum out of his resources.

His refreshing air of erudite positivity has infected the whole club, and he could hardly be expected to achieve much more in his first season. An extra two points and it would have been a momentuous campaign.

image: © James Boyes

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