As the new season draws ever closer, Andre Villas-Boas will be preparing his players for the rigorous schedule which awaits them. You would hope that Spurs will play well over 50 matches this season, across the four competitions we are involved in, and all members of the squad will have to be fully fit, training and on fine form for the games they will called upon to play in. The importance of having ‘strength in depth’ is so important for teams in the Premier League, and especially teams who play in Europe, and I will discuss the individual roles of some players who aren’t necessarily going to be the ‘first names on the team sheet’ for us this season and discuss the depth we have in every position.
In goal, I feel that we are fairly secure. In world-class Hugo Lloris and veteran Brad Friedel, we have two very accomplished first choice keepers to call upon. Barring any disasters, these will be the only two ‘keepers we will use in matches of any real significance next season, so there is no real need to worry. Our third choice ‘keeper this season is most likely going to be Scottish Under-21 player Jordan Archer, or Heurelho Gomes if he doesn’t complete a move away from the club this summer. If Gomes does leave, signing a more experienced goalkeeper on a free transfer (like we did with 36-year-old Jimmy Walker in 2009 and Manchester City did last summer with Richard Wright) and having him on the bench in the event of an injury to Lloris or Friedel would make me slightly less nervous than having the untested Archer on the bench, but I don’t think we necessarily will do this, and it really is not a transfer priority. On the whole we are very secure in the goalkeeping department, and have one of the best keepers in the world at our club, and a fairly reliable deputy as well. No cause for concern.
The centre of defence is another area which doesn’t really need much comment. With Younes Kaboul now fully fit, Tottenham have four very capable centre halves to pick from. Dawson is the club captain, and did perform fantastically last season, so Kaboul will have his work cut-out to win his spot in the starting XI back, but if he can recapture his form from the 2011/12 season, he will be our starting centre-back alongside Jan Vertonghen at the heart of the Spurs back-four. Steven Caulker will also want to steak a claim in Spurs’ team next season, but will most probably be left on the bench in the Premier League more often than not. I expect to see Caulker start most of our cup games, and start against some of the ‘bigger’ teams in the Premier League, such as Stoke and West Ham to give some added strength and height to our defence, a tactic used by AVB to good effect last season. Caulker and Dawson will both get plenty of appearances next season for Spurs, and they are unlucky that we have two other centre-backs as good as Younes Kaboul and Jan Vertonghen already at the club.
Full-back is a slightly more ‘problem area’ for Tottenham. Left full-back is very hard to comment on due to the unclear futures of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Danny Rose and the possible arrival of another left-back to the club. Whatever Villas-Boas decides to do, he must ensure we have two good left-backs at the club for the new season, and I am sure we will have. Ezekiel Fryers is another left-back who could cover this season in a cup game, and I expect we will see him play for Spurs at some point this season, most likely in the FA Cup or the Carling Cup. On the other side, we have three right-backs already on our books: Kyle Walker (who will be our starter), Adam Smith and Kyle Naughton. Despite Smith and Naughton being decent enough players, we really can’t boast that our ‘strength in depth’ in the full-back positions is as good as it could be. When you compare our depth here to our depth at centre half, it is a little bit of a cause for concern. Adam Smith has been examined long and hard by AVB during pre-season, getting run-outs against Brentford and Swindon Town, but I am still expecting him to leave Spurs on loan this transfer window. Naughton looked quite good last season, but when you sometimes see Bacary Sagna, Alexander Kolarov and Cesar Azpilicueta struggling to get a game at some of our rivals, it does highlight that our depth in the full-back positions isn’t as strong as it could be.
Moving onto midfield, and I think that our depth is looking a bit more promising. Assuming that our midfield trio next season will consist of Paulinho, Mousa Dembele and Sandro, I feel we are fairly well equipped to deal with an injury or two in the middle of the park. Despite being extremely different in style to Mousa Dembele, I believe Gylfi Sigurdsson is more than capable of deputising for him as the most advanced player in the trio. Dembele’s game is based around creating spaces for others with powerful forward runs, allowing the team to play more openly and creatively. While Sigurdsson may not be as accomplished at dribbling as Dembele, both are good at releasing the ball in advanced positions to create chances in the final third, and if Sigurdsson can find his form from his days under Brendan Rogers at Swansea, he could even push Mousa Dembele for a starting role in the team. Another player who could play in the most advanced position in the trio is Lewis Holtby. He played as an attacking midfielder for Schalke, but in a slightly different system, so I imagine Gylfi Sigurdsson or Gareth Bale (after a bit of a re-shuffle) will be preferred to Holtby in attacking midfield. Holtby will probably be utilised as reserve for Paulinho next season; he has bundles of energy, which we saw last season, and he is most like the ‘box-to-box’ midfielder Paulinho is of the midfielders we could call upon. Tom Carroll could also play a part in Tottenham’s midfield next season, and certainly could bring a different dimension to Sigurdsson or Holtby with his vision and excellent passing ability, but will probably still be relatively low down Tottenham’s pecking order. With Scott Parker, Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore expected to leave Spurs this summer, you could argue that Spurs are a little short of ‘defensive midfield’ players, so keeping Jake Livermore would probably be a good option just to add a little more depth to midfield. What I like so much about our midfield options at present is that we are so inter-changeable. There are payers to cover every position in our new three man midfield trio, and we also have the ability and flexibility to return to our deeper, five-man midfield from last season, with attacking and defensive options to consider. On the whole, our midfield is in good shape and we have excellent depth.
Moving further up the pitch, I also think we are relatively well covered on the wings too. Gareth Bale is expected to start on the right hand side of our attacking trio if we secure Bernard or Nacer Chadli, who will play on the left. If one of these two players aren’t signed I would imagine Bale will play on the left, allowing Andros Townsend and Aaron Lennon to fight it out for a spot on the right. Lennon and Townsend are two good options, and is an example of the healthy competition which we should have in every position. Andros is fresh from a very promising spell at QPR, and looked lively and talented. He scored two great goals, and given a run of games in the Spurs first team, there is no doubt that he would score more. Lennon is more experienced, quicker and probably more creative than Townsend and will probably see more game time, but this first time since the arrival of David Bentley that Lennon has had any competition of note for his spot on the right, so we can expect big things from Aaron as he raises his game to impress Villas-Boas and keep young Townsend out of the team. On the other side, we have Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson who played on the left last season fairly well, despite perhaps looking a bit one dimensional. Townsend can also play on the left if needs be, and he could well ‘get the nod’ to add a bit more natural width to our 4-3-3 formation. Cristian Ceballos made our Premier League squad on a number of occasions last season, but I think it is unlikely that he will see any significant game time next season. Yago Falque can play on the left hand side of our attacking trio, but he also won’t see any significant minutes. On the whole, we are well covered on the wings. Bale, Townsend and Chadli (if we acquire his services) are both capable of playing on either wing, and in Sigurdsson, Dempsey and Lennon we have more viable alternatives. Very encouraging.
Like with left-back, our situation up front is hard to comment on with the futures of all our attackers up in the air. I personally hope we see Jermain Defoe remain at Spurs next season, as he has proved throughout his career how good a squad player he can be, and how he can change games when introduced from the bench. Emmanuel Adebayor is expected to leave Spurs this transfer window, and I have every confidence that Daniel Levy, Andre Villas-Boas and Franco Baldini together will be able to bring in a number of strikers to give Tottenham plenty of depth up front going into the next season. Harry Kane and Jon Obika will battle it out for minutes, but won’t get anywhere near the Premier League unfortunately.
In conclusion, I believe our squad, depth wise, is in a fairly good state. We have a big squad, and one that will certainly be able to at least look like challenging for a Champions League place next season. Long-term injuries to key players is something which affects all teams, not just Spurs, but this time around we look better equipped than ever to deal with an injury or two. With a bit of luck, Tottenham can do something very, very special this season with this group of players and I am very optimistic indeed.
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