There is no question that this past November was a rough one. For various reasons, our play had refused to create enough chances and yield goals. Our defense was largely sound, barring the Manchester City slaughter of course, but our attack up until this point has had few, if any, truly inspiring performances. So by looking at our match against Sunderland, and the rest of the season on the whole, it’s become clear that this “lack of gelling” claim is perhaps a simplistic label for the greater problem with this team, that is, a lack of balance.
As highlighted by the incessant switching and swapping by AVB, our team’s midfield is very much versatile. The midfield against United looked nothing like the one against Fulham, and neither of those two much resembled the trio used against Sunderland. It’s encouraging to see how many capable combinations we truly have. It’s a fine line, however, between fear and happiness because while our team is essentially immune to any injury rooted midfield breakdown, the amount of combinations we have opens the door to the reasoning that our team is struggling because of a particular trio. Because of a “lack of gelling.” And while a particular set-up can in fact impede our progress, like when Dembele and/or Sandro don’t play, our midfield has been in recent weeks consistently solid, creating opportunities one way and stifling those coming from the other. So after three very different midfields getting the job in three consecutive matches, I’m forced to look somewhere else. Forced to find a glaring problem in this underachieving attack in this underachieving Tottenham side. Well, against Sunderland I found one. Constantly slowing down our attacks, wandering into an already crowded midfield, and leaving Chadli with less than no support, he, as usual, was a terrible to sight to behold. I’m looking at you, Kyle Naughton.
A sophomoric right-footer on the left, capable of neither defense nor attack, Kyle Naughton is, to many, where the problem starts and ends. He’s probably used to being the scapegoat that so many people, including myself, make him out to be. But no, not today, I say. Jan Vertonghen’s insistence that he doesn’t enjoy being placed at left-back is a worth a look at as well. Because Jan, with his “Super-Jan” celebration, has struck me as a bit of an egotistical person. And frankly, he deserves to be. His massive play in the center of defense warrants his seemingly slightly inflated head. But me thinking he’s got a big ego also leads me to believe that the reason he doesn’t like playing left back is because he knows he isn’t that good at it. After all, Jan isn’t built like Kyle Walker, built to quickly support the attack and then bolt fifty yards back to make a tackle on an already flying opposition winger. Jesus Navas and Antonio Valencia can tell you more about that. But since the absence of Danny Rose and his industrious pacing down the left wing completely lines up with our nauseating November, I think it’s safe to at least consider that the same seemingly small gap on the left from the midline to the opposition half, the same gap that’s usually occupied at times by an attacking left fullback, is in fact the biggest reason why our attack has not yet taken off. Perhaps the most seemingly insignificant player at the start of the year, in my eyes, is our most crucial.
This is, of course, just speculation. But as evidenced by our match against Sunderland, the balance of our team is as crucial as anything else. And although the combinations of Lennon and Walker on the right were simply fantastic, an improving and imposing Chadli was made to look useless because of a lack of support. And the problem is that the problem doesn’t stop there. After we shelled them on the right, the Sunderland defense woke up and drifted there like a wandering Kyle Naughton. No support on the left undermines the support on the right. Balance is crucial, and even though I’m finding myself more encouraged with Chadli, his right foot was a completely poor decision by AVB, one he finally rectified when Townsend was thrown on to great effect toward the end of the match.
But don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a piece directed at saying why inverted wingers are the problem, because I don’t find that inherently to be true. A fully settled Lamela on the right is a frightening prospect, and once Chadli or Sigurdsson can get a capable partner to support them in attack, I think we’ll find that the goals will start to flow with improved ease. After all, against Sunderland Defoe missed a few sitters that someone like Soldado gobbles up for fun. But in the meantime, we have to keep things balanced, keep things unpredictable and versatile. Because in the few glimpses we’ve had of our attack’s potential, things are looking awfully bright. We just need to realize that Bale is gone, and it’s only in the moments we play as a team, play as one cohesive and, more importantly, balanced unit that we can go on and achieve the greatness we know is on it’s way.
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