Saturday’s game against Espanyol was important on a number of counts as the pre-season draws to a close. It highlighted both positives and negatives and was a crucial final warm up in regards to match fitness. Firstly on an optimistic note it raised hopes for the coming season with very nice possession and incisive build up had an urgency and tempo that we have been lacking in previous summer encounters and will be sorely needed for the fixture at Selhurst Park.
Secondly it brought about the return of the Beast and Kaboul whose addition is vital to the team and creates a tough spine down the middle of the park. Also the fact that Dawson’s return to fitness allays the fears of an injury crisis after Caulker’s sale.
Also the first appearance for the debutants will have served to settle their nerves and started the learning curve critical to forming a cohesive unit. While it also introduces them to the White Hart Lane faithful and allows us time to come up with individual songs for them before August 18th! Soldado was supreme and it was a shame he didn’t score from open play. He looked comfortable on the ball, had great movement and was constantly dangerous while Paulinho looked industrious and good on the ball while he constantly looked for a penetrative pass. However, he rarely lost the ball and knew when to utilise the safe option. The questionable disallowed goal adds to his reputation as possessing a bullet header as evidenced by his goal against Uruguay in the Confederations Cup. The second appearance for new boy Chadli was also very good he constantly looked lively and went past players with flair and ease.
The imminent arrival of Capoue was in evidence as he was spotted in a North Stand box, this signing will provide adequate cover for Sandro and the Centre backs while also nailing in the coffin of Thudd and presumably Scotty P. This will be important in creating strength in depth for the length of the season and concentration of games.
On another positive note we finally have a penalty taker! Not that we needed one last year, with an unrivalled stinginess from referees but we can rest easy that if we do get a penalty, Adebyor will not be there to send it into row Z.
Also the new system seemed to begin to work as Soldado linked to midfield and attack brilliantly while also looking dangerous on the shoulder of the last man while the style of football seems a lot better than last year with lots of passing and link up play the ball seemed to flow from the central midfielder’s feet and the midfield partnership looked strong. The bombing on of full backs looked co-ordinated and worked to great effect. For example half-way through the first period
Sigurdsson, Chadli and Paulinho boarded the showboat. Some typical Brazilian flair was evidenced from Paulinho with some flash passes while Sigurdsson and Chadli skinned a couple of Catalan fullbacks with some lovely skill. Always nice for the fans while also taking the emphasis off Gareth if he stays, Sigurdsson worked hard and impressed as well.
From a negative point of view the continued absence of Bale gives fuel to rumours and he looks unlikely to start against Palace.
Also Vertonghen is still 50/50 for the first game of the season while Holtby has missed out on a vast portion of pre-season with injury as well. These personnel will be crucial for the up-coming season and the sooner that the German No.10 and Belgian centre half get fit the better.
Sigurdsson is also not quite the number 10 that we need to complete the midfield. Whether AVB thinks that Paulinho, Dembele or both can match that responsibility with Sandro behind them if Lewis Holtby is ready or maybe a new signing such as Pjanic or Eriksen is required as a first choice is down to him. Sigurdsson will definitely be enough for the lower league sides however if we have any aspirations for top 3 or better we need to improve on him for games against the top sides.
Finally a major defect in our armour is that we still can’t defend set pieces! AVB, Steffen and David Sousa desperately need to work on this. We have one of the worst corner/goals conceding records in the Premier league while our scoring record leaves a lot to be desired too at 5 from 262 attempts (1.9 per cent). If we had scored at the same rate as Manchester United we would have got over 20 extra goals this would have been the difference between 5th and 4th, possibly even 3rd. The first goal they scored was a good header admittedly but he should not have got in front of his man at the front post nor had that lax an amount of pressure. My disgust deepened when in the second half they nearly scored again with a free header arrowing over the bar in the 65th minute.
Overall there were more positives than negatives but there is definitely fine tuning to be done before the season begins in earnest. There are many encouraging signs for the season ahead especially since we were gifted an easy Europa League draw.
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