Premier League: How Tottenham Hotspur Should Set Up to Beat Crystal Palace

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2013

Mousa Dembele has become an integral player for Tottenham in midfield. Who will join him there against Crystal Palace?
Mousa Dembele has become an integral player for Tottenham in midfield. Who will join him there against Crystal Palace?Michael Regan/Getty Images

And so it begins. Tottenham Hotspur kick off their 2013-14 Premier League campaign on Sunday when they visit newly promoted Crystal Palace.

There is still uncertainty as to how Tottenham will specifically lineup.

Last weekend's friendly against Espanyol saw manager Andre Villas-Boas arrange his team in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Whether he does so again—or varies it with a positional adjustment or two—will be dependent on certain selection decisions he makes.

The upheaval of preseason makes it difficult to establish any genuine consistency. So as well as attempting to beat Palace, Villas-Boas has to think about how he wants his team to shape up going forward.

For instance, Gylfi Sigurdsson played behind striker Roberto Soldado in attacking midfield against Espanyol. He performed well and would be deserving of a chance to cement himself in the spot—especially with Gareth Bale absent for the time being.

Despite this, Sigurdsson could be the one to make way to accommodate the returning Sandro and/or one of the two new midfield signings, Etienne Capoue and Paulinho.

Any two of that trio could form a three-man midfield with linchpin Mousa Dembele.

Villas-Boas has to juggle a desire to incorporate his newest signings with appropriate caution for the threat Ian Holloway's side will pose.

Palace's midfield may be new to the Premier League themselves, but players like Mile Jedinak and Jonathan Williams are well familiar with the hustle and bustle of the English game.

In front of an excitable Selhurst Park crowd, it seems reasonable they will seek to set the tone early and get at Spurs any way they can. The adventurous Williams especially cannot be allowed free reign to influence proceedings.

Paulinho's performance against Espanyol suggested he is still adjusting to the pace of football in his new country (albeit against Spanish opposition).

That is understandable at this early stage. His compatriot, Sandro, was similarly hesitant defensively upon his arrival in England. He was given a rude wake-up call by an aggressive Bolton Wanderers side that allowed him almost zero time in possession in a 4-2 loss in November 2010.

With this in mind, it would not be surprising to see Villas-Boas start with the tried and trusted pair of Sandro and Dembele as his main central midfielders (Capoue could have arrived too recently to start). If there is a role for Paulinho, it might be in a slightly more advanced position where he has less responsibility to hold the fort in midfield.

Based on last weekend's display, the recruit from Corinthians is a little more up to speed on the attacking front. A couple of breaks from midfield caught the eye, and him doing so again here would be useful in putting his Palace counterparts on the back-foot (especially the similarly new Jose Campana).

Expected to perform a similar function will be wide-men Aaron Lennon and Nacer Chadli. Without Bale, it is vital that the pair (particularly the more experienced Lennon) step up and ensure Spurs do not start passively.

Upfront, Roberto Soldado is a major threat for Tottenham, but only so long as a quality supply line to him is established. The Spaniard will particularly need his wingers to work openings he can take advantage of and frequently test goalkeeper Julian Speroni, who will take some beating.

One area Villas-Boas could definitely do with establishing some consistency is in defense. That was a position last year in which Spurs periodically got it together but were too often undermined by a lack of concentration that was not aided by the manager's tinkering.

Heading into this season, Villas-Boas has not been helped by a recent injury to Jan Vertonghen. That has extinguished any hope of initial stability, along with Younes Kaboul's returning to fitness and Danny Rose bedding in at left-back.

A possible combination of Rose and Kaboul on the defense's left side could potentially work well. Against Palace though, Kyle Walker and Michael Dawson will need to lead the way in keeping Spurs organized.

Palace might be missing two of their chief attacking threats from last season—top scorer Glenn Murray (injury) and Wilfried Zaha (now at Manchester United)—but they have enough to expose an unsure Spurs defense.

Dwight Gayle is a lively proposition upfront and will be keen to continue his fairytale rise through the ranks of English football. Spurs cannot allow him time to breathe or risk being caught out by his charming eagerness. Marouane Chamakh struggled at Arsenal, but the 6'2" striker is still capable of being a handful himself.

Along with the possibility of a late entry from the ever-reliable Kevin Phillips, Spurs' defense cannot afford the lapses in concentration and organizational stability that proved so costly in 2012-13.

Both these teams will want to start as they mean to go on. Win, lose or draw, this is only the beginning of a campaign that promises plenty of challenges to come.


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