The words “consistent” and “Spurs” don’t often fall in the same sentence. Perennial underachievers Spurs have struggled for solidity in recent seasons. Yet under the tutelage of the ambitious, astute Andre Villas-Boas, that fact may just be changing.
A look at recent form tells you that Spurs have lost just one of their last nine, the weekend FA cup defeat to Leeds United, while managing four wins and three draws in the league. Among those results were a comfortable thrashing of an admittedly poor Villa side and a plucky, last gasp draw at home to league-leaders United. What’s more remarkable is that Spurs conceded only three goals in the league over that period, and the defense has looked much improved since the beginning of the season when late goals plagued their game week in, week out.
Contrast Spurs’ form with that of Norwich City over the same period` and the results are striking. Norwich have won just one league match, a 2-1 victory over Wigan, in their last eight league games. Though they played a comparatively harder schedule over that period, including ties against City, Chelsea, and Liverpool, they were the architects of their own downfall by conceding fifteen goals and scoring just five. Their last match, a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Liverpool, was a shambolic display of poor defending and a lack of purpose up front. The long term injury to Sebastian Bassong, former Spurs man and Norwich’s most valuable defensive player, has been strongly felt. Far from the side that produced memorable 1-0 wins over Arsenal and United earlier this year, they look unbalanced and off-form of late. A loss to FA Cup minnows Luton this past weekend will seriously detract from their already floundering confidence.
Based on recent form, this one seems a forgone conclusion. But Norwich fans can take heart, and Spurs fan should take notice. First, Norwich have shown a propensity for bouncing back. After starting the season by taking a 5-0 mauling from Fulham, they responded with consecutive hard-fought league draws (one against Spurs) and a Capital One Cup triumph over Scunthorpe. They’ll be itching to make amends for the losses to Liverpool and Luton, and at home, you’d expect them to be in the mood to defend much better against Spurs. Spurs, meanwhile, have struggled this season to break down sides that are set on placing ten men behind the ball from the off. Like Norwich, though, they’ll be looking to make up for a recent poor result and the cup loss to Leeds may galvanize them for this league encounter.
Tactically, Spurs can expect a narrow, disciplined defensive approach from Chris Hughton’s side. The width will be theirs to exploit, and if Lennon puts in another shift like he did against United, Norwich could struggle to contain Spurs’ attack. Chance creation hasn’t been a problem for Spurs recently, but scoring them has, and the visitors will need Defoe or Dempsey (whichever plays) to be in clinical mood. The first goal will be key, as the home side will only grow more confident with every minute they don’t concede. Spurs have the pedigree to go and get the opener, but they must be sharp on the day.
Norwich’s attack will be based on the physical play of Holt, complimented by the energy and stamina of Pilkington and Hoolahan around him. If Hoolahan can recall the ghost of his form against Arsenal earlier this year, he may give the Spurs defense problems. But if Holt is isolated up front, any central defensive pairings Spurs field should have no problem keeping the lone striker quiet.
Look for an early Spurs goal to open this match up, and the visitors to grab a few more as their hosts attempt to respond and open up space for the likes of Bale and Lennon to exploit on the counter. 3-1 to Spurs, and another win on the road to add to AVB’s impressive record so far this season.
By Mike Schmidt – Follow Michael on Twitter, @Schmidt_the_Yid.
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