Tottenham Hotspur vs. Aston Villa: 6 Things We Learned

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistMay 11, 2014

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Aston Villa: 6 Things We Learned

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    Tottenham Hotspur sealed the sixth spot in the Premier League and Europa League football for next season with a 3-0 win over Aston Villa on Sunday.

    Paulinho finished off a tremendous Tottenham passing move to give the home side a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute.

    After Kyle Naughton brought the ball forward, Christian Eriksen played in the Brazilian, who passed on the turn to Gylfi Sigurdsson. His through ball was touched by Harry Kane into Paulinho's path as he continued running. The central midfielder's first shot was blocked by Brad Guzan, but he comfortably tucked away the rebound.

    Spurs' second came just over 20 minutes later when Eriksen's cross was cleared only as far as Danny Rose. The left-back rounded his nearest defender and fired a ball that deflected off the unfortunate Nathan Baker and past Guzan.

    Emmanuel Adebayor sealed the 3-0 win soon after, converting a penalty won after Gabriel Agbonlahor handled Sandro's long-range shot.

    If it proves to be his last match in charge—as speculation continues, something the beleaguered Spurs boss commented on in his pre-match press conference, via The Guardian's David Hytner—Tim Sherwood will be pleased to have finished on a high note.

    There was little to celebrate for Paul Lambert and the visiting Villa fans after the latest insipid display of a miserable season for the 15th-placed club.

    For a few things learned from this final weekend game, read on...

Kane Is Able to Play a Prominent Role for Spurs Next Season

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    In an interview last month—here via Sky Sports—Harry Kane spoke of his hopes of emulating the goalscoring record of boyhood idol Teddy Sheringham.

    Kane has some way to go to become as good as the former Tottenham striker. But it is not a bad comparison in the respect the 20-year-old shares a similar desire—and ability—to influence games outside the penalty area as well as in it.

    Kane's chief quality here is his work ethic. Early on against Aston Villa he set in motion an attack he then got into position to finish off, though his eventual header was comfortably saved by Guzan.

    He won a free-kick out left nutmegging Leandro Bacuna and delivered a dangerous cross from the same side after running after a through ball from Rose. Following his involvement in Paulinho's first goal, he was also twice seen chasing back to win possession in his own half.

    A bright finish to his breakthrough campaign is not enough to say the Spurs attack should be built around Kane. Players like Sheringham proved their class over more than just 19 appearances in one season, a challenge now facing the young Lilywhites forward.

    While Spurs should not put the lead burden of scoring goals on Kane's shoulders yet, he has shown enough—especially of late—to be considered for a prominent role either alongside or in support of a more experienced finisher from the off next season.

    With the goal threat he has proved he can provide and the willingness to contribute elsewhere, Kane is someone who can ensure Spurs do not lack for goals like they did early on in 2013-14.

Tottenham Must Continue to Give the Kids a Chance

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    Of course, Kane was not the only youngster to break into the Tottenham team this season.

    Andros Townsend's extensive learning out on loan paid off with his first significant run in the side prior to the turn of the year. Nabil Bentaleb—a second-half substitute against Aston Villa—was a regular contributor for Tim Sherwood up until the last month or so.

    Refreshingly, others from the Spurs youth system were handed chances to make an impression, albeit more fleetingly.

    Shaquile Coulthirst and Ryan Fredericks both appeared in the Europa League before solid loan spells in the Football League. On the final day, it was the turn of two others.

    Milos Veljkovic came on against Sunderland in April, but was handed the best part of half hour more on Sunday.

    Minutes after replacing Sandro, the versatile Serbian quickly closed down and outmuscled Karim El Ahmadi to win the ball back after a loose header. Completing 30 of his 36 pass attempts—as tallied by Squawka—on a few occasions, the 18-year-old could be seen ushering his team-mates, trying to orchestrate their movements.

    Alex Pritchard made his Spurs debut after impressing on loan at Swindon Town this season. He scored eight times and set up a further nine goals for the League One outfit.

    Having caught the eye in the NextGen Series last season too, a lot is expected of the 21-year-old England youth international. Given less time than Veljkovic, he nonetheless received a cheer after his first pass. He should have been played into the penalty box too, but Eriksen chose to ignore him and the moment was lost.

    Without a doubt this is the most promising group of youngsters Tottenham have put together in a couple of decades. More evidence of which has increasingly been shown over the last couple of years.

    How many will make the cut in north London remains to be seen, but they are only going to be able to do so if they are continued to be given chances to impress.

Importance of Sandro Was Shown in the Freedom Granted to Paulinho

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    Despite the public differences of opinion between them in recent weeks, Sherwood did not hold that against Sandro in selecting his team on Sunday.

    The defensive midfielder started his first game since Tottenham went out to Benfica in the Europa League. Building on his cameo in the previous weekend's loss to West Ham United, Sandro's awareness on guard duty in front of his defence stopped a number of Aston Villa's advances and allowed those in front of him more freedom to express themselves.

    His fellow Brazilian, Paulinho, especially benefited here.

    Alongside Chadli and Sigurdsson in recent weeks, there was a greater requirement on him to pitch in defensively. The partnerships worked adequately at times, but were increasingly exposed by opposition midfielders sussing their discomfort when put on the back foot.

    Knowing Sandro was there to cover him resulted in Paulinho being one of Spurs' most influential first-half performers. As well as his fine work for the opener, he also came close with another couple of shots and worked as a skillful pivot point in combinations with team-mates around him.

    The number of midfielders in the Tottenham squad has, along with issues with form and fitness, meant a settled midfield has not been established for more than a few games at a time this season.

    Sandro's presence in the team is not always going to be enough to stop other teams. But be it with him or Etienne Capoue (or even Bentaleb out in Benfica), Spurs have generally looked better when they have made a concession to the less glamorous work of midfield.

    It is the balance the club should look to adhere to more consistently next season when looking to get the best out of their attacking midfielders. Just who will be kept on to compete for these roles will make for fascinating viewing over the course of the summer.

Sherwood Has Done Well Enough He Would Not Be Undeserving Getting Next Year

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    The elephant in the room for the previous few pages is that already looking toward next season for Tottenham is difficult when the identity of the manager is uncertain.

    In his annual end-of-season message to the fans—carried in the matchday programme but here via Tottenham's official website—chairman Daniel Levy made no reference to Sherwood specifically.

    Mentioning the managerial changes, Levy went on to note "our sense of falling short, felt by all, including the players, is based on some poor performances during the season and knowing we have not performed at the level we know we could have done.

    "Even in games where we gained maximum points, our football was not always what we have come to expect and associate with our Club."

    The latter was almost certainly a reference to the latter days of Andre Villas-Boas' reign. But it is intriguing to wonder if he had Sherwood in mind when saying: "Our challenge now is to ensure we are in the best possible position for the start of next season—a season in which we shall look for a new level of commitment and performance from all."

    Sherwood was handed a contract until the end of 2014-15 when he officially became manager in December. Long enough to give him time if deemed a success this season, short enough the club are not on the hook to compensate him substantially if they sack him.

    The 45-year-old's methods, personality and style have divided opinion among Spurs fans and interested observers. His overseeing of a few more of those aforementioned "poor performances" has undoubtedly clouded his efforts.

    But all things considered, this writer finds it hard to disagree with the manager's own assessment of the work of he and his staff—from his post-match interview with Sky Sports—that he is "not sure if we could have done any more to be honest."

    Spurs' main problems this season—timidness facing the Premier League's best, several new signings having to settle in—were not products of Sherwood's reign. That is not meant as a slight on Villas-Boas, just to say his replacement was coming into a situation not of his making and still took his side to sixth place (and European qualification) having improved the standard of football.

    The opportunity to establish some consistency in north London should not be bypassed easily by the club's hierarchy. Sherwood's familiarity with all aspects of the club and his part in developing the talented youngsters now getting their chances would mean Spurs do not have to start all over again this summer.

    It may turn out that a new manager—be it Ajax's Frank de Boer, Southampton's Mauricio Pochettino or someone else—shows up Sherwood's deficiencies.

    Regardless, all of this is not a thorough analysis of the latter's pros and cons. Rather, just to say, he has done enough to earn the opportunity to mold a Tottenham team to his liking and to send it out against England's best.

    Whether the players and supporters would give him an honest chance to do so would remain to be seen. It might be moot anyway.

Delph Highlights Villa's Need for More Willing to Take a Stand

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    Those representing Aston Villa to make the biggest impact at White Hart Lane on Sunday were their supporters. Noisy from start to finish with many dressed in traditional season-ending fancy dress, they did their best to make the most of an otherwise lacklustre afternoon (though sadly this also meant vocal criticism of their manager).

    On the pitch, probably their only representative to come away with any credit was Fabian Delph.

    As team-mates around him increasingly shied away in the face of Tottenham's quick-passing and greater creativity, Delph tried hard to make an impact at both ends of the pitch.

    The midfield's perseverance saw him get back to stop Kane through on goal after a wonderful pass from Eriksen. Concerned with destruction there, on another occasion he won the ball back and moved between Spurs midfielders with a delightful shuffle between feet to instigate an attack of his own.

    Delph was the only player to seriously look like troubling Spurs. With one of his two shots he was the first Villa player to hit the target—81 minutes in.

    Chosen by Villa supporters as their player of the year, more of Delph's ilk is what the Midlands club will need if they are to improve next season.

    As one of six clubs in the division to have scored under 40 goals, it is especially a need in attack.

    Christian Benteke's performances improved after a lull at the turn of the year before an Achilles tendon injury ended his season. The perennially inconsistent Gabriel Agbonlahor continues to perplex, while Andreas Weimann was less productive than a season ago.

    Villa had enough to stay up in the end. But without more like Delph who are capable of standing up and making an impact, they will continue to struggle.

Villa Must Change the Mood at the Club If They Want to Move Forward

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    It is stating the bleeding obvious, but Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert cannot oversee another season like this.

    "This weekend, I expect the same commitment we had at Man City," he had told the club's official website before the match. Instead, he ended up lamenting a "really poor" first half that all but ended the game.

    Premier League survival is a decent achievement for the team. But for a club who were attempting to crack the division's top four in the latter part of the last decade, the downturn is proving too much to take for supporters.

    Understandable to a degree, the club's lack of spending power must also be taken into account when considering the limitations of the squad.

    Then again, fans will look at the strong season of a club like Southampton—financially sound but hardly able to blow rival teams out of the water when it comes to transfers—and wonder a club of their size and stature cannot come close to that.

    For some, the blame falls on Lambert. Others blame owner Randy Lerner.

    The American is expected to clarify his intentions this upcoming week. Whatever is decided in regards to him and Lambert, they must strive to find ways of improving the mood at the club. Otherwise a slow start to next season could quickly become disastrous.