In February 2012 Spurs were in third place in the league, a comfortable 10 points ahead of Arsenal in 4th. Although their title challenge had faded (Spurs were 10 points off Manchester City at the time) it was widely assumed they would finish above Arsne Wenger’s men for the first time since 1995. On 26 February they lost 5-2 at the Emirates in what was the beginning of the end of their Champions League aspirations and the end of the road for Harry Redknapp.
On 3 March 2013 Spurs beat Arsenal 2-1 in an entertaining North London derby that sent them third in the league, 7 points clear of 5th placed Arsenal with only ten games to go, Villas-Boas said afterwards “We are on an upward spiral in terms of confidence and they(Arsenal) are in a negative spiral in terms of results.” Several weeks later Arsenal won 0-1 at Newcastle on the last day of the season to clinch 4th and keep Spurs out of the Champions League places.
Whilst many commentators commend Arsenal’s ability to go on terrific end of season runs that ensure they qualify for Champions League football, a more pressing issue is at hand: how do Spurs manage to blow it every year?
Redknapp was removed as manager because he did not secure Champions League football; extremely harsh as Chelsea only edged them out by winning the Champions League on the pot luck that is the penalty shoot-out. Villas-Boas suggested at the beginning of the season he would be expected to obtain a top 4 finish, however the suggestions coming out of White Hart Lane are that he will be given more time and money to mould the team he wants – so how will he ensure they finish within the top four next year?
Spurs scored 66 goals in this season’s Premier League, joint 5th highest with Manchester City who finished 2nd, which is the same as last season. It is clearly an issue that needs addressing as often Spurs played in high scoring matches and they do not grind out 1-0 wins. Gareth Bale scored 21 of those 66, compare that to the combined 16 that Jermaine Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor scored and it is clear Spurs need to invest in at least one new striker. One of the issues faced by Villas-Boas was the lack of cover in this area, when Defoe or Adebayor were out injured or suspended Bale was forced to play the role of lone striker with only the youngster Tom Carroll as an alternative. Leandro Damião has been heavily linked for the past two seasons but the truth is Internacional have no desire to sell and Spurs would be reluctant to match the high asking price for a player unproven outside of Brazil. Hulk is a player who worked successfully with Villas-Boas back at Porto – they won the treble and went the league season unbeaten before Chelsea came knocking. Reports strongly indicate the Brazilian would love to leave Zenit St. Petersburg following a difficult year since his mega move, it would be an exciting signing but Zenit (backed by Russian energy giant Gazprom) are likely to demand an enormous transfer fee which could rule Spurs out of the running. Other players that have been mooted include David Villa (Arsenal are also reportedly interested, no doubting his quality but at 31 surely he would want to be in the Champions League?), Gonzalo Higuain (if he is to leave Madrid, Juventus are leading the chase) and Stevan Jovetic (another Arsenal target, exciting player but he is leaving Fiorentina due to them failing to secure Champions League football).
Tighten the back
The season just gone Spurs conceded 46 goals, the 9th lowest in the league. Whilst Jan Vertonghen has been an excellent signing by AVB, he desperately wanted rid of Michael Dawson – who was club captain – which unsettled the defender. Although better cover is required (William Gallas is now 35) at centre-half, it is the full back positions I think need improving. Kyle Walker on his day is a fine right back, offensively he can cause teams damage with his pace and crossing ability and is strong in the tackle, but there is no competition – at Chelsea they have Azpilicueta and Ivanovic, at United both Smalling and Jones can cover Rafael. Over at the left back position is one of the team’s biggest weak spots. Benoît Assou-Ekotto has had a mixed season, occasional flashes of excellence (his goal at the beginning of the season against West Brom was superb) but a lot of the time it is his desire to get forward and be out of position that causes the team problems. He has also flirted with interest from PSG, coupled with his often lapses in concentration and it’s easy to see why Villas-Boas wants a replacement or better cover. A shrewd move would be for the recently released Eric Abidal, at 31 the French man is not going to stay around forever but he would provided the experience and competition required at the back for Spurs. A move for former Chelsea defender Alex or Maicon of Porto would not come as a surprise.
Resolve midfield injuries
It may seem a fairly obvious point, if Spurs had kept Sandro and Scott Parker fit all season they would have been less likely to concede goals and possibly beat Arsenal to 4th. However how often has Frank Lampard been injured in the last 10 seasons? Or, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Schweinstiger? The answer is very rarely, certain clubs pick up player injuries quite frequently but do nothing about it (Arsenal complain about everybody else), the answer is to look at the training methods and physios being employed to avoid these situations. It’s no coincidence that the top teams in Europe hardly have injured players.
Possibly the most important transfer objective for Villas-Boas will be to keep the Welsh wonder. Thankfully for him Spurs have a chairman that is not easily swayed in Daniel Levy, just ask Luka Modric who requested to leave twice before having to play another season and then being allowed to go to Madrid. Levy will not be bullied into letting Bale go and will try to convince him to let AVB build a team around him. There comes a point when a team needs to hang onto their best players to take the step up to the next level, this is that time for Spurs.
Much of this will depend on how the other teams around them perform, reports indicate that Arsenal are going to spend big (personally I cannot see it happening under Wenger), Chelsea and City will be ready to splash the cash once their respective new managers take charge and Moyes will need to improve United’s midfield. Over the last few summers Spurs have tended to do their transfers last minute, Villas-Boas will be hoping they can be persuaded to get it all done early and maximise the time available to integrate the squad, because another season outside the top four will not be enough to keep him or Bale at the club.
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