Tottenham Hotspur: Notes on the Premier League Season so Far
All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey, and with the last international break of 2011 upon us that means the hectic Christmas period isn't far away.
So well as being busy "California Dreamin'', this last interruption of Premier League football for 2011 seems as good as point as any to reflect on Tottenham Hotspur's season so far.
Brief midweek cup excursions aside, the focus for a good while now is on a run of fixtures that will play a big part in defining what the league campaign will come to be remembered as. What has happened already might mean little by FA Cup third round weekend in early January, but Spurs on the whole will be happy with how their season has been going.
After being dismantled by both Manchester United and City in August, an eight-game unbeaten run has left Tottenham in fifth-place with a game in hand, and an opportunity now to really push on should they not lose any momentum.
Here now are some notes on Tottenham's season thus far. From what Brad Friedel might learn from Heurelho Gomes to the biggest reason why Spurs might miss an absent Harry Redknapp.
First up though, a salute to the improving Younes Kaboul.
Younes Kaboul Is at Last Beginning to Play the Concentration Game
When Younes Kaboul first joined Tottenham in 2007 there was evidence of a good defender in the making, but the most overriding impression was of a player who was still very green.
The intervening years have seen him move to Portsmouth only to be brought back to Spurs by Harry Redknapp, the manager who took him to Fratton Park in the first place. He has played both at centre-back but also at right-back, and has definitely had the chance to gain some much needed experience.
At the beginning of this season there was a worry that though Kaboul had improved in some ways as a defender, but one big flaw remained, his lack of concentration. Against Manchester City this was exposed in his failure to react twice to runs by Edin Dzeko which led to him scoring both times.
This writer will admit he was ready to write-off the French international as a legitimate starter for Spurs, convinced Kaboul hadn't matured as he should by this point. But one of the great delights of football is when a player proves you wrong in a positive manner.
Since that game Kaboul has been performing with a far greater focus to his game, something which has been crucial as he has had to compensate in a few games for the absence of both Michael Dawson and Ledley King. On the whole his game has been good, being both a dominant aerial figure for Spurs and also helping to form what has generally been a very solid back line.
Spurs need to look to find a way of keeping some more clean-sheets as goals may not always come as fruitfully as they have of late. But Kaboul is hopefully on the right track of playing his own part in such an improvement.
Why Brad Should Throw More Than He Should Kick
Brad Friedel was superb against Fulham last time out as Tottenham somehow managed to escape with three points. It was another solid display from the American who has demonstrated his ability to pull out the big saves as Gomes could, but crucially has brought a touch more consistency of performance than the Brazilian.
So there is little reason to be unhappy with the summer arrival from Aston Villa, but one thing that might need to be looked at is his persistence in kicking the ball up-field rather than looking for the short option.
At Fulham, Friedel near continuously kicked the ball long. Now obviously it is not always easy to roll it out to a defender or throw it to a nearer option if these players are marked by opposing forwards. But when you have a defender as dominant in the air as Brede Hangeland, kicking it long was as good as giving the ball back to Fulham each time. The amount of pressure the Cottagers put on Spurs in the second-half was no coincidence when you consider this.
It is unknown whether this was something Friedel decided upon or it was a plan discussed with the coaching staff, but Tottenham are at their best when they bring the ball forward at their feet. This was something Gomes often looked to facilitate with his distribution, only kicking it when there was a possibility for a fast-break or if there was no good short option.
Jermain Defoe's Improved Work Ethic
Jermain Defoe's 2010/11 was a poor one, but this season there have been marked improvements in his game.
For too long Defoe has had a habit of waiting for the ball to come to him, something that was always puzzling when you consider movement is such a crucial part of his game. When he looks to get into space to receive the ball it buys him the time to get away from defenders and position himself in the best possible position to get a shot off.
This season the England striker has been working much harder in this respect and also in his overall contribution to Tottenham's game. Off the ball he has been looking to take defenders out of position with his running while he has also been dropping deeper to involve himself earlier in build-up play, at last showing he is aware this doesn't negate him getting back involved in the move further up the pitch.
Four goals in eight league appearances has been a decent return, unfortunately Defoe has not played more due to the development of a burgeoning forward relationship...
The Premier League's Best New Partnership?
It is a little funny that the man brought into remedy Tottenham's goal-scoring issues has helped but not exactly in the fashion expected.
Though Emmanuel Adebayor has scored three Premier League goals for Spurs, it has been his four assists and crucial involvement in several other goals that has been his biggest contribution to his new team so far.
He is in many ways fulfilling the role Peter Crouch should have been used for more often. Though he can be used as an aerial target like Crouch, Adebayor has been involved more often on the ground as a physical link-up man who can hold off defenders and bring others into the game there.
Alongside him Rafael Van der Vaart has been in prolific form of late with six goals in the Premier League. The hope will be this season that he can continue his goalscoring form into the second half of the campaign and not suffer from the loss of fitness and form he did for a time late in 2010/11.
If they can carry on as they have started the two could well produce one of the best and most effective partnerships in the Premier League.
One of the most positive aspects of Tottenham's season so far has been the promotion to the first team of several youth-team players.
Kyle Walker (originally from Sheffield United) has capitalised on impressive showings while on loan to become Spurs' first choice right-back, while also joining him in being called upon on several occasions is midfielder Jake Livermore. The progress of the latter has seen Jermaine Jenas been moved out to Aston Villa on loan while Tom Huddlestone won't have it easy in competing with him for a back-up midfield role.
Both Walker and Livermore have also been playing in the Europa League too where they have been joined by the likes of Andros Townsend, Tom Carroll and Harry Kane. All have performed well so far, stepping up to the challenge of what is a decent level of competition, with Carroll in particular catching the eye.
Should Spurs progress into the knock-out stages it is likely more senior players will be involved from that point, but with the fixture schedule only going to intensify in coming months there will be opportunities for them to continue to impress.
It has been a while since Tottenham had more than one or two players at a time come out of their youth-system and make an impact in the first-team. How many will progress in the long-term remains to be seen, but for now it is enjoyable to see young players given a chance.
First and foremost all Tottenham fans will be wishing Harry Redknapp a happy recovery from the health issues that have caused him to take a step back and rest for a few weeks. That of course must be his utmost priority, as well as making sure he is in the best shape possible to carry on doing a job he clearly loves.
With Redknapp likely to be away for four or five weeks, a coaching staff of Joe Jordan, Kevin Bond and Clive Allen will take the helm and look to continue Tottenham on its current path. What will be interesting to see is how the players respond this period.
Now it is unlikely we will them descend into apathy or even rebellion, but it is interesting to note that people in football often comment about how players start working that little bit harder when the manager turns up on the training ground. When the gaffer isn't there, it can be something of a case of when the cat's away the mice will play.
After a solid first-half performance in the most recent game at Fulham, Tottenham's level of performance quite noticeably dropped off after the half-time interval. Was it a case of not having Redknapp around to keep them focused and on task?
It is something to keep an eye on in the coming weeks, the White Hart Lane faithful will be hoping that is not the case.