Things are looking pretty good for Andre Villas-Boas and Spurs. Our strongest squad in my living memory (all thirty years of it), a very nice start to the season, only two goals conceded so far in 11 games, plenty of players in good form and new signings adjusting well.
The strength of our squad can be shown in the cup competitions – 5-0, 3-0, 3-0, 4-0, 2-0 score lines do not hide just how convincing and dominant our ‘squad’ players have been, even against relatively weak opposition. The question is, how they done enough to become first choice starts in the big games?
Jermain Defoe is the first name that springs to mind, and the voices for the little goal poacher to start against West Ham on Sunday are growing louder with every goal scoring appearance. Bursts of form and goals, followed by barren periods have been a trademark of both JD’s spells at the club, indeed he first came to prominence after going on a ten match scoring run. Right now he is ‘hot’ and while Roberto Soldado has shown promising signs he has yet to get the goals his price tag warranted.
The Spaniard has shown impressive hold up play for someone who is by no means a target man, and in this system Defoe’s tendency to drift away from the striker position to get on the ball can leave us lacking a spearhead. However, Soldado’s anonymous second half against Chelsea showed that the ex-Valencia number nine still needs to adjust to the rigours of the Premier League. He completed just four passes all game.
Another player who suffered as we lost the initiative after half time against the Blues with Christian Eriksen. The young Dane has proved to be a missing link in the team, and ironically his arrival might have helped his direct rival, Lewis Holtby. The team setup has shifted from an anchor man with two in front, to a number 10 with two behind. This helps the German as the team does not have to deal with a change of style/formation when the German comes in.
Eriksen has tired as games have progressed and it was little surprise that Holtby and Defoe made second half appearances as we tried to wrestle back control. While Eriksen is a more clinical, technical player, Holtby is at least his direct rival.
Others trying to push into the league team include Younes Kaboul (injury permitting), Sandro, Nacer Chadli and Erik Lamela. At the moment the players they would replace have not shown sufficient dips in form or energy levels to warrant a change, but how AVB manages the changes or lack of will be crucial to the success of our season.
Keep the cup stars out of the first choice line-up for too long and there will be discontent in the squad. Chop and change too frequently, with players literally only as good as their last game, and individual’s confidence could be destroyed and the team’s cohesion eradicated.
It is a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. AVB has shown the willingness to give players a chance, and to stick with them if they perform, and Gyfli Sigurdsson and Andros Townsend are two examples of players who took their chances when given them. But the team is not yet 100% fluid, and we have yet to shine against the better sides we have faced (which make our results this season even more encouraging), and the likes of Defoe especially have made strong cases for inclusion.
It looks like Villas-Boas will stick with his usual starting eleven in the league, and who can blame him, but after the international break we may see a change. It was after the last set of internationals that Siggy came in and secured a starting berth with his goals against Norwich, and a little niggle for someone could open the door for another.
With two games a week nearly every week until January, there will be plenty of opportunities for those outside the first choice XI to prove their worth. The timing of when AVB moves them from the cup team into the league side will prove crucial in so many ways and we all hope the boss gets it right.