It seems such a long long time ago, maybe not in a galaxy far far away, but I am sure you get the picture. Yes it really is only five months since the first game of the season and our last meeting with Crystal Palace but it seems so much longer.
The first game of the season is always greeted with a mixture of joy and apprehension – joy that the football is back and apprehension about how we are going to fare. Joy that we still had Gareth Bale, apprehension about his future. Joy that we had bought four new players with others promised, apprehension on whether they would live up to expectations.
Do you remember the team we put out, the formation (or do we not worry about such concepts anymore) and the scoreline? No I can´t either, except for the score as it was a late penalty from the Boy Soldier that gave us the fine start – in points at least.
Since then we have remained in contention with teams in the top reaches of the Premiership, while Palace plumbed new depths and hit rock bottom for long periods.
Our play has been typified by a high pressing game, turning over possession and then retaining it, but with no-one making runs into the box, our goalscoring opportunities all seemed to come from long range and whilst we had many shots on goal (throughout the season so far we have had more attempts than anyone other than Citeh and Liverpool) our conversion rate is appalling. That we won more than we lost was perhaps the most surprising aspect of the entire first half of the season.
Palace by contrast under Ian Holloway – a Manager famed for his attacking style whilst at Blackpool – stuttered from defeat to defeat, opting instead for a more defensive system and relying in counter attacks. It didn´t work and Holloway was replaced by Tony Pulis, someone whose former style – whilst at Stoke at least – was totally at odds with his predecessor. Yet the recent style of play has been remarkably open and, with very few changes made, the results have come and they are now – if not clear of the relegation battle – in sight of safety. They are at least above WetSpam which is welcome news.
We, on the other hand, have also had a managerial change, and with one change in playing personnel and the reversion to an old tactic, our goals for column has suddenly improved. But we need it to get better and quickly.
Maybe this weekend´s fixture will prove to be such an opportunity. Hopefully Palace will not come and pack their defence even though they will be keen on picking up points, their ploy recently has been to attack, so they could be there for the taking if we can get in behind them. With Townsend getting close to fitness maybe he can come into the fray for the last 20/30 minutes to frighten them to death with his pace – once Lennon has already terrorised them for the first hour.
Unless Sandro is fully fit, and he has been back in training for over a week, I cannot really see too many other changes to the team that did so well at Old Trafford – even if it was almost exactly the same team that did not do so well at the EmuRat.
Once the other walking wounded are back, selection issues will once again raise their head, but for now at least the team almost picks itself. But will it remain that way – even with the list of injuries reducing – could we see even more new arrivals at the Lane?
When it comes to transfer windows I always look at the bigger squad picture as we have to abide by the rules and that means sticking to the 25 man rule. Put very simply we cannot have more than 25 players listed – excluding under 21s – so before we can buy we have to sell.
The good news in this respect is that we actually only registered 24 players at the beginning of the season and so far we have rid ourselves of Simon Dawkins, probably the longest serving player of any club never to have made a full first team appearance. He has played over 80 times whilst on loan at places like San Jose Earthquakes and more recently at Derby County and has now – at long last – been given a permanent move.
And with Jonathon Obika being loaned out to Brighton, yet another space comes free.
Next out is Jermaine Defoe – a player who polarises opinion. He has been a great servant of the team over two separate terms, scoring over 140 times for us and is now our all time leading scorer in Europe. His electric pace and powerful shooting have been used to great effect over the years but his time on the pitch has been limited to rare cup outings this season, yet he has still managed to find the back of the net nine times.
Erik Lamela could be given the chance to reignite his career with a loan move back to Italy for the rest of the season but as he was not in the original squad due to his age, again this will not free up any space.
So is there anyone else who we could see depart or, like Sandro last year, left out of the squad because of injury?
The only person I can see going is Heurelho Da Silva Gomes, our long suffering and much maligned Brazilian goalkeeper especially as his contract is due for renewal at the end of the season and he could leave for free at that time – maybe now we could do a deal and recoup a little bit of money.
And unless Younes Kaboul shows that he is fully recovered very quickly maybe leaving him to regain full strength and fitness during the remainder of the season will give him the chance to come back next year.
So, we may have four or five spaces available, so who to fill them? We definitely need a striker. If we are to continue playing two up front we almost certainly need two. Do we opt for experienced campaigners or choose to go down the younger is best route.
Two such experienced individuals come in the shape of 30 year olds currently plying their trade at Juventus – Mirko Vucinic and Fabio Quagliarella – who are both finding it hard to get first team football in Serie A following the arrivals of Carlos Tevez and Fernado Llorente. Both have an eye for goal as last season Quagliarella scored 13 goals in 35 games while Vucinic (who can also play behind the main striker) has scored 25 goals in 86 appearances. Not prolific but somewhat better than our other pairing. More importantly perhaps they’re also affordable, as either or both could come on loan as part of any deal taking Lamella the other way, even if it is only for five months.
On the younger side there is Alvaro Morata who was touted as a makeweight in the Gareth Bale to Madrid deal and now finds himself with no game time whatsoever, but again he would probably only be available on loan. Perhaps the only player who might be able to sign for us permanently and fits the bill perfectly is yet another Belgian – Christian Benteke – whose career has stalled recently after such an excellent first season.
One thing is certain, whoever comes in will be in for the ride of their life – as being part of the Spurs set-up is nothing if it isn´t a rollercoaster.
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