Tottenham are the only team in the battle for top 4 with a single digit goal difference. Having outscored Liverpool and Southampton by three and six goals respectively they still find themselves below the two teams. What seems to be the problem?
Ever since the departure of Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe, Tottenham have dabbled with a great many attacking players in search for a goal scoring striker. Despite that they have without fail ensured to score more than 55 goals in every season for the last 5 years. However of the last 5 seasons including the current one, Spurs have enjoyed a double digit goal difference only in two seasons. Sure you could say that goal difference does not matter as long as you get high enough on the table, however with the League having won by City on goal difference a few seasons ago, every manager has ensured to stress the importance of a good goal difference.
Tottenham have managed to find either one player or a handful of players to help them score a good number of goals for their team, this year the name being chanted is Harry Kane. However the area where they seem to have failed most miserably is the defence. Having conceded an almost equal number of goals to that scored every season, Tottenham have managed to allow a poor goal difference not only ruin their run but also loose crucial games from winning positions. With Paul Robinson losing his form in 2005, the Spurs managers and fans dubbed their defence leaky due to the lack of a good goalkeeper. Having experimented with the Brazilian Hulerio Gomes, Chelsea Veteran Carlo Cudicini and even American fossil Brad Freidel, Tottenham have struggled to keep the goal difference down to a respectable level. In the recent seasons however, having secured the services of Frenchman Hugo Lloris, things seemed to take a turn for the good. Clearly tagged as one of the best keepers in the league. Tottenham should have been revelling in their abundance of clean sheets and lack of goals conceded. However, two years since and they find themselves in a similar position 46 scored, 42 conceded.
Tottenhama s problem doesna t lie in the goalkeeping ranks, but a poor defence. With a vast number of reliable defenders such as Ledley King, William Gallas and Jonathan Woodgate named in the past rosters, Spurs this season are yet to find a winning back four combination. With an extremely large squad to choose from within which stand 9 defenders, Spurs even after fielding their strongest back four, conceded 3 goals away from home ( keeping in mind they have done better away from home) against United. Mauricio Pochettino now at their helm, is reputed for being a master at defensive play. Having blocked all holes in the back for Southampton, he managed to keep a very low goals against rate for majority of the season last year. If there is anyone who can sort a leaky defense for Tottenham it should be the Argentine. However, the story seems to be different, even after his arrival and tweaks, Spurs concede as many as they score. Is he using the wrong combination?
The Center Back Pairing
Tottenham currently have 4 players competent to play in the center back position, all four who are regulars. Pochettino initially started with the named captain of the side, famed Frenchman Younnes Kaboul. Kaboul returning to the starting line-up after a long injury set back, was a site to sour Spurs eyes. However, lack of pace and poor fitness ensured this 30 going on 40 defender was eventually dropped to allow youngster Eric Dier take his place. Kaboul has since never seen a place in the Premier league squad and occasionally has made it to the bench. No doubt he has become redundant for the team and needs to be replaced. Vertonghen yet remains Tottenhama s best defender always finding himself in the starting eleven, however the best in him is yet to be seen as he looks quite confused with a different partner every few games. Defensive errors, poor back passes to the keeper and a lack of communication with the center back partner has often led to goal scoring opportunities and sometimes even goals. In order to strengthen his squad, Pochettino looked to his countrymen and summon the service of Sevilla defender Frederico Fazio. The tall intimidating figure of the defender gave fans hope that when paired with Vertonghen would be a catalyst for success. However this has eventually died down as the Argentine picked up two red cards in his first two starts and then eventually fell out of favour to the youngster Dier. Vlad Chiriches, the Romanian center back was brought in to play alongside Vertonghen, but has looked shaky in his position as well as his make shift right back position, he has been unable to fit in and would probably be better off plying his trade elsewhere.
The Wing Backs
The right-back position has been somewhat of a problem for Tottenham for the past few seasons. From Hutton to Chorluka, Tottenham experimented with a vast number of right backs which never lasted too long. In the current season too Walker being injured, Spurs turned to a combination of Chiriches and Dier. With both the non-natural right backs struggling to adapt, Walkers return was a sigh of relief for fans. However Walkera s pace, something he had in abundance, has not compensated for what he lacked in defensive capabilities. Often succumbing to pressure, Walker has often found himself out of position. But with no other established right-back in the squad Tottenham have no option but to field the defender anyway. However there seems to be a way out, Pochettino has brought in DreAndre Yedlin from the Seattle Sounders. The 21 year old American defender has pace to burn and was a pleasure to watch in the world cup. Using the youngster might threaten Walkera s position and in turn improve both of them.
With the decline as well as departure of Bennoit Asso-ekotto, Tottenham have struggled to find an established left back for the past few seasons. With a combination of Vertonghen and Naughton slotting in the position, Spurs have been to a certain extant vulnerable. Naughton being a natural right footer has never felt comfortable in the role reversal, and Vertongen being the best center back of the team, when played wide left, leaves the middle incomplete and exposed. With Rose returning to Tottenham from his Sunderland loan spell, the left back position has been occupied by him the whole of last season and majority of this. However, Ben Davies, the Welsh defender from Swansea, waits patiently in the side lines for his turn. It is a well-known fact that Davies is a far more competent left back, with a slightly more defensive trait as compared to Rose. It still happens to be a mystery as to why Pochettino has preferred to play Rose ahead of Davies, however it can be said that if Davies isna t given game time, he will either rot and disappear like Bentley or lose interest in the club and move elsewhere in search of game time.
In the current situation however, the best back four for Tottenham would be Walker on the right, Fazio and Vertonghen at center back and Ben Davies on the left. However three pointers for Tottenham to improve defensively in the future are:
- Ben Davies must be given more time, unlike his competitor Rose, he is natural left back and possess better defensive abilities.
- Bring in a new right back and use Dre Yedlin in cup competitions, this would at least give Walker some competition and in turn hopefully improve his defensive capabilities.
- Rid the team of Chiriches and Kaboul, bring in Alderwierld to complement Vertonghen. Dier and Fazio will be good back-ups for the two.
In football half the battle is to score goals, the other half is not conceding it. If Tottenhama s defensive woes arena t solved, then even if Soldado suddenly turning into a 20 goal-a-season striker will not change where they finish on the table.