Friday, 30 August 2013

The post-Bale Tottenham era

How do you replace someone who's had such an impact on a franchise as Bale?

Christian Bale hung up his Batman cape in 2012 after the completion of the record breaking Dark Knight trilogy. Last week, Ben Affleck was confirmed as his successor in the role for the 2015 Batman/Superman crossover movie. Not a very popular decision amongst the fans it must be said.

Bale will be a tough act to follow

The task of replacing another popular Bale has fallen to Andre Villas-Boas and Tottenham Hotspur. Their Bale, Gareth, is the reigning, PFA Player of the Year and is considered by many to be the best footballer in England right now and ranked among the top three in the world by some.

The term 'One Man Team' is banded about a lot but it has rarely been as applicable as it was to Tottenham last season. Bale scored 26 times and provided 10 assists. Spurs won only one game in which Bale failed to score from the turn of the year onwards. Without his goals, Spurs would have finished 9th instead of 5th. No other player, not even Van Persie at United or Suarez at Liverpool was so heavily leaned-upon by his team-mates in the 2012/13 season.

Manchester United relied a lot on Cristiano Ronaldo (a player Bale has been spoken of in the same breath for some reason) between 2007 and 2009. Ronaldo was the Premier League's top scorer in 07/08 and missed out by one goal the following year. United won the league both years and reached both Champions League finals, winning one. There was also a League Cup and World Club Championship in there, not to mention two PFA Player of the Year awards and the 2008 Ballon D'Or.

Ronaldo left for Madrid for £80m in 2009 and was replaced with Antonio Valencia for £16m from Wigan. An effective player who has performed admirably since but fans would have no-doubt have preferred this war-chest to be used to litter the team with star names. As I recall United were linked with the likes of Frank Ribery that summer. Investing in stars like this may have served the club better as they missed out on the title the following season to a Drogba-inspired Chelsea.

No such issues at Spurs. AVB has already invested heavily in rebuilding for the post-Bale era despite the  massive deal to Madrid not having been finalised yet (August 29th). The imminent signing of Erik Lamela from Roma will break the club's transfer record for the 3rd time in as many months. Christian Eriksen from Ajax and Vlad Chriches from Steau Bucharest are expected to arrive in the coming days, joining Etienne Capoue, Roberto Soldado, Paulinho and Nacer Chadli taking the total outlay for the summer above the £100m mark.

I'm excited in particular about Lamela. Personally I think I've only seen him play once last year but having read quite a lot about him over the past couple of days he seems extremely promising with several Italian football experts saying he could be better than Bale. Statistically he was the most successful dribbler in Europe last season, completing almost twice as many dribbles as Bale himself, who ranked  top in the Premier League at with 59.

He's got the celebration right for a start

Soldado should give spurs what they've been crying out for for years now, a centre forward who leads the line and can rack up 30 goals a season across all competitions. Paulinho impressed at the Confederations Cup although he is unproven in Europe. Capoue impressed me against Swansea, playing the holding role in midfield. He should do a job similar to the one Scott Parker did under Harry Redknapp. Win the ball and give it to Dembele or Paulinho and let them worry about setting up attacks.

So, with these new signings all in place, can we consider Spurs to be genuine title contenders? No. Not in my opinion. But they are closer than ever before.

Spurs will most likely line up with the popular 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation depending on your view of things. Andros Townsend who has started the season brightly will rival Aaron Lennon for the right wing spot. The defence is harder to predict. No one knows if Villas-Boas will prefer Chiriches to Dawson at centre back or bring another new signing out of nowhere. It wouldn't surprise me if he did.

Central midfield I feel is where Spurs are strongest. I always look at the Liverpool central midfield trio of 2008/09 as the blueprint for any effective three-man central midfield. This trio of Mascherano, Alonso and Gerrard had everything.
  • The workhorse. The Makelele role. A player with virtually zero attacking duties. Just win the ball, give it to someone more creative and sit in front of the defence. Mascherano did this brilliantly for Liverpool. Capoue should do this for Spurs.
  • The playmaker. The player who just oozes class and creativity. He doesn't get into the box too often, preferring instead to dictate the flow of play from further back. Xabi Alonso, Andrea Pirlo and Luka Modric are the best examples of this type of player. Tottenham don't exactly stick to the blueprint here and Dembele and Paulinho's role's may overlap. I'd imagine Paulinho will be the one who gets forward more often however so I'll set Dembele as the playmaker.
  • The attacking midfielder. Making late runs into the box to get on the end of crosses, and contributing a sack load of goals in the process. Gerrard was brilliant at this in 2009. Paulinho will be Spurs's attacking midfielder. I don't think he's perfect for the role just yet but can certainly adapt his game as the season goes on. He's certainly talented enough and his an eye for goal.
Clearly the Spurs trio of Capoue, Dembele and Paulinho don't match up perfectly but they will be an effective unit in their own right.

With Lamela and Townsend on the flanks supporting Soldado and a settled back four of Walker, Vertonghen, Dawnson (or Chiriches) and Assou-Ekotto, I reckon this is Spurs strongest first eleven this season. Add to this the likes of Sigurdsonn, Lennon, Eriksen, Lewis Holtby, Nacer Chadli, Defoe and the mercurial Emmanuel Adebayor, Spurs have plenty of attacking strength in depth.

The big question remains over the defence. A title winning defence needs leaders. United have Vidic and Ferdinand, City have Kompany. Chelsea have Terry. I don't think Vertonghen or Dawson or anyone really fits this role yet. Spurs will need them to grow into it if this team hopes to mount a challenge for serious honours in the future

The new look Spurs first eleven

Spurs probably won't trouble the top three this year. United, Chelsea and City all have stronger squads. They do now however look better on paper than their North-London rivals whom they will no doubt be close to in the league table. Securing Champions League football is vital for Spurs this year. The lure of the Europe's elite competition should see them able to attract even bigger names next summer as the club continues to grow under AVB's stewardship. Despite losing their star man, I think Spurs are in a much healthier position as a team than 12 months ago. The future is bright.

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