5 Biggest Worries for Tottenham so Far This Season
Currently sitting sixth in the Premier League, amid circumstances many of their peers would describe as enviable, worries might be too strong a word for what Tottenham Hotspur have.
Perhaps concerns is a better description for some of the issues surrounding Andre Villas-Boas' squad right now—but that is up to how seriously you view them.
Their start to the season has been encouraging enough, with four wins from seven matches in the league being accompanied by an unbeaten run in the cups.
The three matches in which they have dropped points, though, have, naturally enough, highlighted areas where improvements could be made.
Villas-Boas and his players will be striving to ensure they do not become full-blown worries over time. Unfortunately, not all of them are in their hands.
To start off with, though, one area that definitely is...
Getting Things Right in Attack
Tottenham Hotspur have not been firing on all cylinders in attack so far this season; however, when they were winning games, this was easier to excuse.
A tad unlucky not to put away Chelsea, ultimately drawing 1-1, the absence of a cutting edge in the 3-0 defeat to West Ham United proved more costly—and indeed, more damning of their struggle to find goals right now.
One of the defining features of Tottenham's attacking missteps has been the evolving goalscoring drought of summer signing Roberto Soldado. After four goals in his first three games, he has not scored since August.
The Spaniard's all-around form has fluctuated in accompaniment to this.
A contributory factor—seen too against West Ham, even though Jermain Defoe started in Soldado's place—has been the varying quality of the service provided to the player starting in Tottenham's lone forward role.
Villas-Boas' preferred supporting trio (thus far) of Christian Eriksen, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andros Townsend have individually had some terrific performances.
As the players chiefly charged with opening up opposing teams and setting up their frontmen, they have not yet been able to find a desired consistency together.
With considerable attacking talent like Lewis Holtby and Erik Lamela waiting in the wings, there is scope to change things up if needs be.
Ideally, though, Villas-Boas will be attempting to fashion among his team patterns of play and basic criteria that exist regardless of the names on the team sheet. Or at least as much as this is possible to do so.
No player has yet definitively earned their right to be leading these efforts. As welcome as having the options he has is, the manager will be hoping some of his charges do enough to stand out soon.
Particularly in one area of some uncertainty...
What Is Right for the Left Flank?
Danny Rose's return at left-back will restore a more natural balance on that side.
Kyle Naughton has worked hard there. However his unwillingness (or perhaps inability) to use his left foot has left him susceptible outside in defense and limited going forward.
On the same flank, Gylfi Sigurdsson has certainly enjoyed being allowed a little more leeway in the final third—as allowed by a formation that aspires to deploy a front-three.
As already noted, the Tottenham attack has not quite clicked this season. Sigurdsson's three goals have highlighted it at its best, though, notably when he has cut or moved inside into space vacated by opposition defenders.
Exciting as this route can be for Spurs to take, Sigurdsson's appearances here have mostly been defined by these magic moments rather than sustained quality.
For a team and a fanbase not far removed from watching Gareth Bale strut his stuff on left wing, the lack of such a sparkling presence has given the impression Spurs are a little lopsided going forward.
In fairness to Sigurdsson, arguably his best display (against Norwich City) came when Rose's forward forays made up for his lack of pace getting around the right-back. He was allowed to float in centrally and link up with Eriksen and others, with Norwich finding it difficult to track him.
That combination may well work again. Still, sorting out what suits Spurs best here in the long term is a process that might not be solved promptly.
Nacer Chadli has fleetingly impressed in left midfield but still looks like he needs time to adjust to the Premier League. If not sticking with Sigurdsson, that likely leaves one of Lamela or Townsend being switched there.
The Fitness Issues of Lennon and Kaboul
Having recovered from a foot injury that has seen him out since the 1-0 opening weekend win over Crystal Palace, Aaron Lennon is back among his manager's attacking midfield options.
"I’m extremely happy, it’s been a long time out for a player of Aaron’s importance and the team is delighted with his return," Villas-Boas told Tottenham Hotspur.com last week. "He’s proved year after year how important he is for us and to have him back is a major plus."
Even with the positive form of Townsend and the signing of Lamela, Lennon clearly remains an important part of Villas-Boas' squad.
The 25-year-old has spent the best part of a decade in North London and has experience in the right midfield role few can claim.
Having recovered from this injury problem, he might well last the remainder of the season unscathed. Its occurrence, though, does not bode well for a player who has not gone a campaign without missing reasonable game-time.
Despite putting in a career-best 46 appearances for Spurs in 2012-13, injuries again hit later in the year to derail what had been turning out to be one of his best seasons, performance-wise.
Like Lennon, Younes Kaboul has had a tough time of late staying fit. Attempts to return from a long-term injury earlier in 2013 suffered setbacks, and a fortnight ago against Anzhi Makhachkala, he suffered a muscle problem that has sidelined him again.
As a result of the accumulated absences, Kaboul has not had the chance to build on his strong 2011-12.
Spurs have got by without the Frenchman in defense. Still, you feel the player's frustration at not getting his chance to properly cite his case to be one of the club's first-choice centre-backs.
He should not be sidelined for more than a few weeks longer, but the worry will be another knock or strain could put Kaboul back again.
How Can Spurs Become Tighter in Defense
One goal conceded in Tottenham's first nine games this season was a very healthy return for their defensive efforts. The disorganized, almost shambolic nature of that one strike—scored by Olivier Giroud in a 1-0 defeat to Arsenal—looked to have been a mere blip given the solidity of the performances that followed.
The West Ham defeat was not solely down to failures at the back. Like with the Arsenal goal, though, the manner in which they were stretched was not encouraging—albeit it in the Hammers' last goal by a piece of individual brilliance by Ravel Morrison.
Positively this season, Villas-Boas has strove to stick with the same back four in the league, an effort that has only been undermined by Danny Rose's injury.
Yet while the tinkering that so often unsettled Spurs here last year has gone, the defense has not looked as tight as might have been hoped by now. At least not on the bigger occasions.
Michael Dawson brought much-needed leadership and a welcomed no-nonsense approach when he was restored to the team last season.
Those qualities have disconcertingly been absent in a few key moments this time around. Be it the failure to communicate sufficiently with his fellow defenders in the approach to Giroud's goal, or how he uncharacteristically allowed John Terry to run and head in Chelsea's equalizer against them unchecked.
The captain needs to up his game again, not least with Vlad Chiriches waiting his chance and the prospect of a fit Kaboul to compete with to be wary of. Dawson, though, is not alone in the responsibility of tightening things up.
Jan Vertonghen is part of the central defensive partnership. As wonderful a defender as he has proved himself again to be individually, Spurs would welcome seeing the former Ajax skipper become more commanding in regard to the overall unit.
Kyle Walker and whoever plays at left back out of Rose, Kyle Naughton and Zeki Fryers are accountable here, too.
That is the larger issue. Spurs defense are periodically strong but have not yet become the kind of consistent force together the best teams can count on.
Strength of Spurs' Rvials
Tottenham can only concentrate on what they do. Nonetheless, there will be a hint of alarm at the club about the form of some of their rivals this season.
They have seen firsthand the strength of this Arsenal side right now. Doubts remain over the Gunners' ability to go deep into the campaign on more than one front, but their starting XI is as impressive a team as Arsene Wenger has put together since their last title success in 2003-04.
Though the Reds' resurgence has made the headlines, their Merseyside rivals, Everton, look an intriguing prospect under Roberto Martinez. Similar could be said, too, of Southampton, buoyed by significant summer spending on highly regarded players like Pablo Daniel Osvaldo and Victor Wanyama.
But it all adds up to a landscape where qualifying for the Champions League is going to yet again be extremely tough.
Given how much stock Spurs have placed on doing so, the competition for those places will add to the pressure.