Spurs preview

Man City – Spurs Preview: It’s The Hope That Kills Me…

“It’s not the despair, I can take the despair; it’s the hope that kills me…”As a long-time Spurs-supporting chum put it to me yesterday, we’re not built for this sort of thing. Let-downs and heartbreaks we can deal with, but this business of every single blasted game coming loaded with significance is just too much to take. At any rate it’s almost upon us now, arguably the biggest showdown since Godzilla and King Kong went head to head. I’m not sure I can bear to watch.  

After the season we have had I would be deeply suspicious if we went into our most crucial game with a clean bill of health, so it is only appropriate that we are sweating on the fitness of Ledley and Gomes. Without wanting to tempt fate I think the boy Bassong is a pretty able deputy at centre-back; as for the boy Alnwick… well, let’s just hope that Gomes pulls through.

Central midfield, as ever, provides a selection poser. AANP would stick with Modders and Hudd, but I presume ‘Arry will accommodate Sergeant Wilson somehow, and shove Modders wide right or left. All sorts of head-hurting permutations then follow (Bale left-back? BAE right-back?) but if nothing else we at least have the enticing prospect of Palacios giving Viera a good mauling, something which seems about 15 years overdue.

Elsewhere we just need to close our eyes and pray that nobody fluffs their lines. Kaboul (or BAE) will need to be Jekyll rather than Hyde against the dastardly Craig Bellamy; lilywhites the world over will be imploring Bale and Lennon to go forth and prosper on their respective flanks; and Defoe, Pav and chums blinking well need to adjust their radars, because tonight is not the night to roll out that everywhere-but-the-net routine.

I genuinely think that watching this game might actually kill me. Deep breath. Godspeed, fellas.

Spurs transfers

Cudicini Arrives, and The Reunion Continues With Chimbonda

This bewildering January transfer window looks set to become even more discombobulating, with the news that stroppy Pascal Chimbonda is on his way back to the Lane, gloves, leggings and all, just six months or so since being packaged off to Sunderland by Wendy Ramos et al. While opinion might be split on the wisdom of this move, there can’t be many Spurs fans who aren’t pleased to hear that we’ve also snapped up Chelski reserve ‘keeper Carlo Cudicini on a free.Although I’m generally reluctant to pass judgement on the character of a man I’ve never met, Chimbonda certainly came across as less than thoroughly likeable. The odd story of his mercenary antics was followed by a rather public and self-centred tantrum on being substituted during last year’s Carling Cup Final. Lucky then, that the point of football is not to make friends and invite neighbours around for tea, but is actually geared towards winning matches (although this may be news to some of our midfield). Whatever his personality traits, Chimbonda is a pretty handy defender. Not long ago he was being courted by  Chelski as one of the best right-backs in the country, as well as which he’s a versatile so-and-so, which could prove handy what with Ledley’s legs falling apart, Hutton out for the season and Corluka ineligible in Europe. The reported figure is likely to be around £3mil, and I can certainly remember times when we’ve paid more players of lesser quality.

The return of Chimbonda, hot on the heels of Defoe, has me wondering who else might renewing old acquaintances at N17. Robbie Keane was left out of the Liverpool squad on Sunday, and with admirable maturity responded by staying at home altogether. It’s not inconceivable that he could cast a nostalgic glance back down south, remembering the victory jig against l’Arse, the walk up the Wembley steps to lift the Carling Cup, and his legendary encounter with yours truly on Bill Nich Way, when he posed for a picture. Such memories were the stuff of dreams, and it would be only natural if he were to yearn for a return to such former glories. Indeedy, I’ve heard that ‘Arry has over the last 24 hours spoken of his admiration for Keane and how much he’d love him at the Lane etc etc, but then ‘Arry seems to say that about must Premiership players with a pulse. Of the other possible candidates for a reunion of Martin Jol’s (blessed be his name) class of 2005 – 07, I’d personally love to see Steed back at the Lane, but I suspect Sunderland boss Ricky Sbragia’s head would literally pop if we tried to sign any more of his squad.

The news of Cudicini’s arrival – on a free transfer moreover – has been greeted with vigorous nods of approval and murmurs of commendation at All-Action-No-Plot towers. Until Cech parked up in England, Cudicini was regarded as one of the best ‘keepers in the league. Gomes has become one of our best players since the weekly calamities of the start of the season, but there can be little argument that we needed cover in the department, and Cudicini goes beyond that by offering genuine competition. I also prefer that our reserve goalkeeper (if indeed Cudicini is to be the reserve) is an experienced head, rather than Alnwick, or, as has very occasionally been mentioned in months gone by, Joe Hart. With Shay Given being touted at upwards of £5 mil, Cudicini is a smart signing in just about every sense.

They may not be spring chickens, but both Chimbonda and Cudicini are proven quality in the Premiership, and in these days of inflated price tags, both have come pleasingly cheap. After the early January talk of Stewart Downing, the purchases of Cudicini and possibly Palacios, along with Defoe and Chimbonda, represent pretty decent business, on paper at least. Would you believe it, I’m actually feeling quite upbeat.

Spurs match reports

Man Utd 2-1 Spurs: Insufficient Contribution From The Hudd

Well first of all, an apology to ‘Arry Redknapp – I could barely disguise my displeasure yesterday at the twitchy one’s purported plan to field his weakest possible XI, instead of his full-strength team, in an effort to ensure defeat vs Man Utd and reduce fixture congestion as we battle relegation. However, it seems the cheeky scamp was playing us (meaning me) for fools all along. Play his weakest possible team? He had no such plan lined up at all. Oh how he must have chortled when he submitted his team sheet at Old Trafford, replete with Pav, Modric and Corluka, and not a Ricky Rocha in sight. How Alex Ferguson must have quaked in his boots when the cunning plan was unveiled. While Defoe was benched and Woodgate completely absent, the team was nevertheless fairly strong, at least if measured by salaries.Alas, it didn’t work. While an improvement upon the Burnley mess, we never really looked like winning and Man Utd were not required to hit top gear. There were some encouraging signs – the continued decent form of Dawson, the continued positive attitude Bentley, a better showing from young Alnwick – but there was also a pretty obvious difference in class, neatly epitomised by the build-up and finish to Berbatov’s goal. We struggled to put them under sustained pressure, and created few decent chances.

Thanks to the wondrous efficiency of the London Underground – comparable to Darren Bent in terms of value for money – I managed to miss the first ten minutes of the game. I therefore missed the goal (insert another Darren Bent gag here) – and also, it appears, the only worthwhile contribution of the last two games from the Hudd. Despite being given the platform of a 4-5-1 formation he created little over the 80 minutes I saw. I do doff my cap in his general direction in recognition of the sweet little pass for Pav’s goal, but he really ought to have been looking to pull the strings throughout. Instead, Man Utd won the midfield battle, while Hudd’s distribution was at best average, and his work-rate pretty woeful.

I may do him a disservice, in that he’s not a natural workhouse of an athlete, and therefore even if he is sincerely attempting to harry opponents and win tackles, the effect on the pitch is of a fat man lumbeing from point A to point B as if treading through quicksand. While nippy opponents scurry hither and thither, Hudd puffs and pants after them, apologetically sticking out a leg in the general direction of play, well after ball and opponent have passed him by. Given his limitations in winning the ball, much depends upon what he does with it – but when his passing radar is a little awry he’s more of a hindrance than a help.

The Hudd emerged in the team as the heir apparent to Michael Carrick, a player who was also a relatively weak tackler for a deep-lying midfielder, but who made up for it with his quite exquisite passing ability, not to mention the capacity to dip his shoulder and turn away from trouble, irrespective of how many opponents were crowding him out (a talent these days exhibited by Modric). Hudd’s passing can occasionally be of a similar, jaw-droppingly good level as Carrick’s was – but there’s the rub: it’s occasional. And typically, such occasions will see us already in cruise control in a game, and playing at the Lane. Cruise control hasn’t really been in operation this season, and the need for bite in midfield has been painfully obvious.

Still in his early 20s there is time for Hudd to develop his game, but how many more chances do we give him to prove he can boss a game from central midfield? Opponents of lesser ability but greater energy will continue to get the better of him, as Burnley did last week, and this might not be a risk we can afford to take given our current plight. It’s a tricky one, as his passing has at times had us drooling, and is very much in the stylish Tottenham mould. Rumour has it that Martin Jol (blessed be his name) is considering a bid to take him to Hamburg, and it’s certainly conceivable that he would thrive in a European league. However, too many more anonymous games and ‘Arry’s patience will snap, if it hasn’t already done so.

Spurs match reports

Burnley 3-2 Spurs aet: The Twice-Weekly Ritual Humiliation

Wow. I thought my preview yesterday was pessimistic, but the players outdid themselves last night. 

“I foresee only a lethargic and complacent performance, until, perhaps, shaken out of ineptitude by the concession of goals… We’ll qualify, probably, but we’ll do it the hard way. I can certainly see us scraping through on aggregate by losing 3-1 or 4-2 on the night – it would be the Tottenham way.” – Me, yesterday (’m still too bewildered by it all to have a good proper moan. That feeling of incredulity and humiliation is becoming a twice-weekly ritual now. My immediate post-match summary, to whichever poor sod is within earshot on the night, that it was “Possibly the worst Spurs performance I’ve ever seen,” might as well be shaved into my head, so that when I bow my head in shame at the final whistle of each remaining game this season it is there for all to see and I can bypass the hassle of verbal comment.

Where to start? (I think, in honour of my intrepid heroes, I’ll wait 90 minutes-plus before starting). The game – Spurs’ season, so many of Spurs’ seasons – in a microcosm was the build-up to Burnley’s second goal. Some Championship player stumbled across the halfway line, ball at his feet. Zokora and Hudd backed off. The Championship player meandered to the right, Zokora and Hudd backed off. The Championship player stopped, had a cup of tea, checked his facebook page – Zokora and Hudd backed off, the fear of God in their eyes, treating the lad as if he were an entire pride of rabid lions, hungry for the meat of under-achieving, prima donnas. The Championship player eventually looked to his left, played in another Championship player (unmarked, naturally) and before you knew it half the Spurs defence had been turned inside out and the ball was nestling in the net.

I appreciate that for both Zokora and Hudd to have flown in with diving tackles might have been reckless and left yawning gaps behind them, but one of them could have seized the initiative, shown some desire and just shunted the lad sideways or something. I’m possibly being unfair now, as this might have meant a speck of mud on their nice shiny white shirts.

So, we’re off to Wemberley. Huzzah! With not a hint of dignity, the Spurs players celebrated the late escape almost as if they’d earned it. On this form, and against Man Utd, we could become the first team ever to lose a Wembley cup final by double figures. It won’t happen though. As it’s Man Utd, and Wembley, and a chance for glitz, glamour, celebrity status, a night-out in Faces, WAGs and generous tabloid exposure, the players will excel themselves on 1 March. They’ll be

unrecognisable. They might win it.As my brother said, at least they were entertaining last night.
They were awful, I countered.
Yes, he replied, but they’re comical.

More tactically…

Yes, the tactical bit. Any Spurs players, and quite possibly ‘Arry himself, will stop reading at this juncture, possibly confused by the connotations of the term, and its relevance to the celebrity lifestyle.

The Burnley players are not technically better than ours – if they were they’d be playing in the Premiership, and would have the international caps that our lot have. However, they played last night as if their lives depended on it. As if this was their cup final. Our players went if for the 50-50 challenges in perfunctory manner, because they had to.

At 18 stone and 6’ 5″ (or whatever he is) Hudd should be winning everything in midfield – he didn’t. He never does. As weren’t 2-0 and toying with the oppo, he was largely anonymous. Modric had some good touches, and didn’t seem to mind getting dirty. Bentley’s attitude was admirable, as on Sunday. Assou-Ekotto almost scored the best own-goal since Gary Doherty’s David Platt-style overhead volley vs Leicester in 2003/4. One game isn’t enough to judge Alnwick, especially as it was evidently the first time in his life that he’d played in goal.

The 4-5-1 formation ought to have brought some joy, stifling the Championship midfield, but succeeded only in leaving Defoe isolated upfront. Again, however, I commend his ability to shoot on target, and hard. Do it often enough and it will bring goals, whatever his limitations in other areas.

And one final rant, about The Mentality of The Common Sportsman. Why do players need to be staring defeat point-blank in the face, nose squashed up against its window, before they start competing? The fact that we were losing 2-0 to a Championship side didn’t fluster the Spurs players, because they were on their way to Wembley. Yes, yes, but losing 2-0? To a Championship side? Where’s your dignity, chaps? It’s the same with the England cricket team. Give them a target of 150 to chase down, and with 120 on the board they’ll be making heavy work of it. Yet, against the same oppo and on the same pitch two days later, when chasing 250, they’ll breeze past the 150 mark without any hint of difficulty (only to start falling apart at the seams at the 220 mark). Couldn’t the Spurs players have set out to win the 90-minute game last night? No chance. It wouldn’t be the Tottenham way.