Premier League: Picking the Tottenham Hotspur XI to Take on Swansea City
Tottenham Hotspur head to Swansea City this Saturday afternoon, the first fixture in a difficult and most likely season-defining month that incorporates games against their top-four rivals and a Europa League quarterfinal with Basle.
Spurs got the better of Swansea at White Hart Lane in December, a 1-0 win that saw them go on a 12-match unbeaten run in the Premier League. The Swans are generally a tough nut to crack at the Liberty Stadium, though, and will be keen to avoid an already successful season petering out with a win here.
Coming off the back of three successive defeats, Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas has some things to consider as to how he intends to set up his team against the 2013 Capital One Cup winners. Those potential decisions are contemplated in the following few pages as we look at what starting XI Villas-Boas might, and perhaps should, go with.
At the time of writing, there has been no official confirmation of Michael Dawson and Aaron Lennon's (more on whom later) injury status heading into the Swansea game.
Dawson went off at halftime in the Fulham loss as a precaution against a groin injury. If fit, it is a fair assumption the in-form defender will pair up with Jan Vertonghen in central defense, with Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto either side of them (with Hugo Lloris in goal).
The question is, without Dawson, how will Tottenham respond to the threat of Michu and Swansea's quick, incisive attack. Back in December they dealt with them relatively comfortably, with Vertonghen and William Gallas responding to the call for greater, sustained concentration in the wake of blowing a lead late at Everton.
Swansea's cautious approach that day was not unwelcome in this regard, but Michael Laudrup's side are sure to be more adventurous in the familiar surroundings of the Liberty Stadium. If Dawson is not there to marshal Spurs' defensive resources, someone will have to step up.
The worrying prospect for the club's fans is the defense has fared so poorly without their captain. They are hardly impenetrable with Dawson playing, but they look tougher and more prepared.
Given Villas-Boas' penchant for calling on him time and time again, it would not be surprising to see Gallas play. Steven Caulker would be the better choice alongside Vertonghen though, the two of them together being less error-prone, if not entirely in tune with one another just yet. This game offers a chance for them both to assume greater responsibility for their team.
After experimenting against Fulham, it would seem sensible to restore the full-back positions to Walker and Assou-Ekotto. Though patchy this season, neither's form has been so bad as to warrant being dropped (at least since there are not better options).
Lennon's missing the Fulham game through injury and the experimentation with Gareth Bale in a central position have combined to reiterate the value of Tottenham having pace out wide. Bale has made some remarkable contributions in his newer role, but without either him or Lennon (and perhaps without both there) on the flanks, Spurs do not look as threatening.
Villas-Boas may be without Lennon again, in which case will he move Bale back to left-wing? And how will this effect the make-up of the rest of the midfield? It is hard to get a reading on the Portuguese's intentions given how he has often changed things up in his team. The lineup he selects on Saturday is just not about Swansea either. Ideally, it will be one geared up for the tough games that follow, too.
The deployment of Mousa Dembele on the right in absence of Lennon has just gone to show how badly-missed the Belgian is in his usual position of central midfield. It is true he was contributing from an attacking sense out wide, but it meant Spurs lost the vital energy he brings to the defensive side of things.
Jake Livermore and Scott Parker do not have it in them to impose their will on an opposition looking to take them on—at least without a dynamic presence likes Dembele or the injured Sandro beside them. With tests of their resolve in the form of various midfield talents like Leon Britton to David Silva to Frank Lampard coming up, Spurs can not afford to let others have their way.
Around Dembele is where it gets interesting. Calls from many quarters for the impressive young Tom Carroll to get his shot may go unheeded by Villas-Boas with more experienced names to call upon. The thing is, there is a lot of sense to going with the newly-capped England Under-21 international.
He is a bright and energetic midfielder who can pass and, commendably for a young player, is not afraid to get on the ball and instigate attacks when he can. You can make the arguments as to why Gylfi Sigurdsson, Clint Dempsey or Lewis Holtby should be in front of him. Sometimes, though, it is about giving a player their shot.
Given Spurs' general lack of imagination in the final third in recent weeks, the 20-year-old could be utilized in that position just off of the sole striker without much of a risk to the team. Dembele and Parker would be behind doing the heavy lifting in midfield, and Bale and one of the other mentioned midfielders are rehearsed enough in duties on the wings.
Carroll's nippiness and instinct at getting into open spaces means his teammates would rarely be short of an option as they progress into the final third. He has impressed in his outings in the first team so far. A Premier League start might just be the show of faith he needs to take it up a level.
The on-and-off again perseverance with the lethargic Emmanuel Adebayor, both with and without Jermain Defoe beside him, has seen Tottenham grow too staid in the final third. What Carroll offers to the team is a route back to the way of playing that has served them most well in attack.
Earlier in the season, Defoe was sharp and quick, utilizing spaces between the lines and defenders themselves, either giving his teammates an option or opening things up for them. While he has lost form (partly through injury), Defoe has not been helped by having a disinterested-looking Adebayor taking up areas around him.
Carroll would of course be coming from deeper. But with so much of his game about movement anyway, there is exciting potential for quick-release link-up play and interchanges between this nimble duo and their supporting cast.
Defoe might be on a poor fun of form in a Spurs shirt (with Adebayor having actually scored since he last did), however offers much more in ensuring a fluid, harder to track forward line. Having bagged a brace for England against San Marino last week, the hope will be he has found his scoring tough again.
Swansea has proven their resilience at Liberty Stadium and will not be easily beaten. Spurs do have players capable of finding a way through. Given their recent form, though, now might be the chance to try a fresh approach ahead of even tougher challenges to come (and the Swans are pretty tough).
Villas-Boas has surprised this season with some of his team selections, so this may be a route he goes down. He has also shown a faith in his more experienced players, and it may yet be the case Adebayor gets (yet) another chance.
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