Tottenham Hotspur: Key Areas That Andre Villas-Boas Must Improve on Next Season
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur still technically have the edge in the race for fourth place in the EPL standings, but it is still very uncertain who will make the final cut. A win over Chelsea on Wednesday would see Spurs go one point ahead of Arsenal on equal games played.
Spurs do not look like a crack unit who can outgun their nearest rivals in the battle for that precious Champions League spot. Rather, as of recent they have resembled a company of grunts who happen to have a nuclear weapon for use in an emergency.
This was evident in their dismal showing against Southampton, where the difference was a ballistic missile of a shot from the Gareth Bale warhead.
Even a confidence-boosting win over Chelsea would fail to paper over the cracks in manager Andre Villas-Boas’ team.
Spurs have undeniably performed well over the season as a whole. But the deficiencies that have been laid bare in the past few weeks—during a somewhat crucial stage for Tottenham—are not the signs of a team that is ready for Bayern, Juventus and Real Madrid et al.
In fact, considering AVB’s pedigree and the weight on paper of the team he has assembled, Spurs fans could be forgiven for wondering if they are not cursed to being perpetual nearly-men. Tottenham has quickly gone from hopes of playing Barca to the reality of being knocked out by Basel in the Europa League.
All right, they were desperately unlucky not to get into this year’s Champions League, but still.
Villas-Boas was expecting to win the Europa League this season, but that is now the past. In his eyes, and the eyes of many others, Tottenham should, at the very least, be constantly gnawing on the ankles of Chelsea and Arsenal for third and fourth place.
Such an aspiration is currently easier to attain than it has been in the past, especially when accounting for the uncertainty surrounding the Arsenal hierarchy's perceived lack of desire to challenge at the top.
On the other hand, AVB has the backing of Daniel Levy, a man who has had a huge influence over the resurgence of the north London outfit. Levy will undoubtedly grant AVB funds to make two or three signings, regardless of the future of Gareth Bale.
Naturally, Champions League qualification—and whether or not Bale is still there next season—will affect the decisions of potential suitors. Even if Tottenham do make Fourth Place, AVB will want to ensure that there is not a repeat of this year’s scramble.
Here are some suggestions of areas he could improve, and players he could replace.
Left-Back in the Changing Room
Sticking the boot in: Vertonghen has been a stabilising presence in the Spurs back line.
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
The Spurs defence is actually pretty sound. Kyle Walker, Steven Caulker and Kyle Naughton are all promising, if not yet the complete articles. Jan Vertonghen is a contender for signing of the season, the Belgian having gelled well with Michael Dawson and William Gallas whether positioned at full-back or centre-half.
If I had to remove anyone, it would be Benoit Assou-Ekotto. The 29-year-old has tellingly made the fewest season appearances out of the players mentioned, on 16.
While he can put in a shift on his day, perhaps AVB would prefer a more accomplished player for Naughton to learn from. It is obvious that the manager rates the youngster, but the Champions League is no place for a player who is still developing.
The fact that Assou-Ekotto has openly stated that he does not enjoy playing English football, coupled with his remarks in January that his understudy is not “a real left-back”, does nothing to help his case. It seems as though maybe the Frenchman is overstaying his welcome, especially if Spurs do make the Champions League.
The point is, AVB needs top quality players in all positions, and I just don’t think Assou-Ekotto will cut it.
Provide Dembele with a Strong Midfield Partner
Dembele has obvious class and would benefit from a similarly talented midfield partner.
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
No one can deny that Mousa Dembele is a strong midfielder. But so far this season he has failed to reach the heights of previous campaigns, scoring only two goals in all competitions.
Some of this can be attributed to injury, but you can’t help but think that had he a top-class midfield partner, it might have been better.
That is no disrespect to old iron lungs, Scott Parker, who is a decent holding midfielder and rarely has a particularly bad day. However, the truth is that Spurs and AVB want to challenge at the top and, like Assou-Ekotto, Parker may have to be moved on for a stellar replacement.
Spurs have often found themselves overrun in midfield. With Dembele occupying the playmaker’s role, the focus should be on bringing in a box-to-box ball winner who is also capable of playing the ball around should Dembele have a bad day.
Roma's Daniele De Rossi comes to mind.
It is a very long shot, with both Manchester United and City having shown interest in De Rossi in the past. Spurs getting fourth place would raise the likelihood of acquiring the Italian captain in-waiting.
If getting De Rossi is unrealistic, there is still a pleasing glut of midfield talent coming out of Europe at the moment, not least the impressive being Man U's Kevin Strootman.
Tame Emmanuel Adebayor Should Be Sold
An unusually industrious moment for Adebayor, who has this season failed to offer any reasons why he belongs at the top level.
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
It is hard to see how Emmanuel Adebayor, the former Arsenal and Manchester City striker, will manage to attract any buyers—his attitude is that abominable. It is as though once he secured a permanent deal with Spurs, he seemed to believe that he was entering retirement.
A paltry three league goals in 20 appearances for Adebayor about sums it up. It is all the more grating that you can't even say “at least he tried”.
If Adebayor had not been signed so recently, it would be unthinkable that Spurs would not sell him, if only to get free of his exorbitant wage demands. If they want to secure the quality that is required for a European campaign, selling him is inevitable.
It is not just Adebayor's attitude and wages. If Bale leaves, the simplest solution to replacing the Welshman's average of 13 goals a season would be to buy a top striker.
While he still shows flashes of his old self, Jermain Defoe’s consistency is depleting with every passing year. So maybe not this summer, but I would bet him making an exit by the next.
Will Gareth Bale Out?
Bale makes the difference in Tottenham's most recent game, a dull encounter with Southampton at the Lane.
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Conflicting reports make this one hard to gauge. One minute we’re told that AVB has said that Bale will stay if Spurs make Fourth Place, the next, Bale is staying regardless and signing a lucrative new contract.
At least one thing is certain: The event of Bale’s departure would cause the manager headaches in numerous departments.
Where does Bale even play nowadays? Is he a Number 10, or a roving CAM? Is he a winger who cuts in whenever it takes his fancy or is there more deliberation in when he is allowed to break free from his allotted role?
This is what makes it so difficult to imagine having to replace him. Bale has gone from left wing-back to left wing to roving role behind the striker, but still pops up on the wings. He sometimes comes very deep to receive the ball—not unlike the way Wayne Rooney does at United—though the two are otherwise incomparable.
Does AVB focus on replacing the goals that Bale scores? Or does he instead buy a winger to compensate for the lack of width coming from a squad that lacks out-and-out wide men?
Bale is a forward with the legs of a winger and the shot of a CAM. It feels like you would need at least two new players to get anywhere near replacing him.
But it is not Bale’s play or ability that would be hardest to replace. Where can you find market listings under ‘talisman’?