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Spurs – Man City Preview: Ten Point Wish-List For Season 2010/11

Cripes, it’s upon us. No longer a blurry speck in the distance, the new campaign approacheth sharpish – and as such a wish-list for season 2010/11 is, if nothing else, rather timely…1. Finish Fourth 

2. Gareth Bale to Keep Eating His Greens 

3. Some Top-Class Signings 

4. Bring In An Older Head

I was moved to stand and applaud when Eidur Gudjohnsen was signed in January, not only because of my borderline-unhealthy obsession of the Sheringham role in any given football team anywhere, but also because an older, experienced head seemed like a jolly good idea as we approached a season’s conclusion in which retaining-possession-in-the-dying-stages and general nerve-holding became increasingly important. Ours is not the most boisterous gaggle of young men, and an older head like Gudjohnsen, or indeed Davids and Naybet before him, could potentially prove a handy investment, imparting the odd morsel of wisdom on the training-pitch and in the changing-room, and adding a touch of nous on the pitch. (nb No idea what has happened on the Gudjohnsen front, but I presume, alas, that he won’t be returning to the Lane).

5. Rediscover Sergeant Wilson’s Sparkle 

6. Continued Improvement From Daws (And Hudd) 

7. Be More Clinical In The Crunch Games 

8. More 5-1s and 9-1s 

9. Nurture At Least One Of The Kids 

10. Hit The Ground Running 

First up it’s the paupers of Man City. Strictly speaking it is only three points, but hark back to 16 August 2009, and victory over Liverpool was the perfect start to the season, immediately sprinkling around liberal quantities of belief that we were capable of challenging the Top Four, as well as injecting a most pleasant sense of bonhomie around N17, upon which we toddled off and sat atop the table for a few weeks. Something similar tomorrow against another key rival would be tickety-boo.

I half expect that if City’s owners find out that I write a football blog they’ll make a bid for me too, as their spending spree is verging on the ludicrous, but to be honest if some billionaire foreign sort offered to swan into White Hart Lane and invest several hundred million on new players I’m not sure too many South Stand punters would object. However, for all City’s spending they can only stick 11 on the pitch at any given time, and mano e mano our heroes are certainly capable of three points. Here we go again then…

The Week’s Non-Events at Spurs

My goodness it’s an arid, barren football landscape at this time of year. Admittedly there is the Confederations Cup (what the devil is that strange buzzing noise at all the South African stadia?), and the Under-21s are doing a sterling job for Queen and country, but once again at White Hart Lane the week has been characterised by the ethereal presence of rumours rather than any concrete developments.The Fixture List – So no action, no plot, and instead the highlight of the week has been the release of the fixture-list. It’s vaguely akin to getting excited about a weather forecast, but beggars can’t be choosers, so before the TV companies had a chance to stamp their filthy lucre all over it we at AANP Towers had a perusal. Liverpool first up elicited a rather fatalistic eye-roll, and April looks a tad tricky, but the fixture-gods have been strangely benevolent in their choice of final fixtures for us, with Bolton and Burnley standing in our way should we be mounting an end-of-season charge for Europe or better.

The most striking feature of the list is probably what is not included – namely European fixtures. I was a dedicated champion of the drive towards European qualification last season, but there is without doubt a silver lining to our failure to qualify, in terms of fewer games this time round. As well as the general benefit to players of reducing the likelihood of fatigue-induced injuries, this also gives us Ledley for the best part of the season, and ought generally to be conducive to a settled starting line-up, as we were able to produce to such good effect in the final months of last season.

Huntelaar, Robben, Heinze – Still nothing concrete in terms of transfers, but it is little secret that Daniel Levy was heading a delegation in Spain during the week, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is reportedly topping the list. Following the debacle that was Ramon Vega, we at AANP Towers are aware that a cracking name counts for nothing in the Premiership, but his parents still deserve a pat on the back for naming their son “Klaas”. Although I’m a little too apathetic to offer serious comment until this is upgraded from rumour to fact, I would be happy to see Huntelaar brought in before the season starts, rather than, say, Cisse.

Arjen Robben is another name on the list. I recall with bemusement the hullabaloo that surrounded his first few games in a Chelski shirt, when he was lauded by some as the best player on the planet, a commendation which probably said more about the introspective nature of the Premiership and its commentators than the player himself. There is undoubtedly good trickery in his feet, but admiration for his talent is largely negated by my disdain for his histrionics. Admittedly just about every top-flight player has a dive and a roll around the floor these days, but Robben really is one of the most odious offenders.

Gabriel Heinze was the other name supposedly on the list. A top-notch left-back in his pomp at Man Utd, frankly I’m not sure if he’s still got it now in his early-thirties. Nothing wrong with a little competition in the squad I suppose, but I’ll be mightily disgruntled if his appearance at the club prompts Gareth Bale’s departure.

Ashley Young for David Bently plus Jenas/Hudd/cash – As left-wingers go, on a scale of one to ten (or Downing to Joe Cole) I guess Young would get a seven. Very good player, with the pace, trickery and youth to do on the left what Aaron Lennon does on the right, but after a blistering start to last season he rather tailed off towards the end, in common with his Villa team-mates. Still, we need a left-winger (assuming Modric goes central), and frankly if this puts to bed the Downing rumours I’ll stump up some cash for it myself.

Roman Pavluchenko Pav – or more accurately, Pav’s agent – has been making noises about a departure from the Lane. No-one would claim that he has been an unqualified success as yet, but the lad has shown glimpses of class, and I’d be pretty peeved if he were sold off after just one season, particularly if the likes of Cisse or Jones are brought in to replace him. Not reading too much into it at the moment, as it’s probably just his agent whipping up some mischief to pass the time. The devil making work for idle hands and all that.

And that’s all for this week really (which is actually a mild relief at AANP Towers, given that the real world is proving so darned busy – those estate agents can be a smarmy breed…). With the best part of two months to go until the season starts, it seems that the new kit launch will follow the fixture-list publication as the next non-event of the summer. I can barely wait.

England 2-1 Ukraine: If It Ain’t Broke…

It wasn’t particularly broke, it didn’t need fixing. Curious then that Fabio suddenly came over all Norman Bates, picked up an axe and started swinging wildly until something was indeed broken.Lennon was doing a decent job on the right. He had not set the world alight, but there was always a threat, a bit of a buzz, whenever he got the ball and ran at his man. “Menacing” might be the word I’m after. That part in a horror film where the delectable and scantily clad young jezebel finds herself on her own in a dark house – you get the feeling something worth watching is about to happen, even though it might be a red herring.

Lennon on the right offered a genuine attacking threat, balancing (albeit asymmetrically) the Cole-Barry-Gerrard-Rooney combo from the left. At least, that’s how it was in the first half. The withdrawal of Lennon ten mins into the second half robbed England of their only pacy outlet, and coincided with the drop from “urgent” to “perfunctory”.

The introduction of Beckham ought to imply a general shoring up of things, with the game in the bag and 15 mins to go. Instead he was brought on with only a one-goal lead and 35 mins to play. Beckham didn’t get within 30 yards of the Ukraine by-line.

However, Beckham did provide the cross for the winner, which is basically his raison d’être in the team these days, and is something Lennon generally can’t do (certainly not from deep). So was Fabio right after all to withdraw Lennon? The case in his defence – Beckham’s assist – has been made; the prosecution argues that his introduction of Wright-Phillips once Ukraine had equalised indicates that Capello recognised the need for pace missing since Lennon’s withdrawal.

I guess the conclusion is that the whole bally lot of them rather lost urgency in the second half, and the replacement of Lennon with Beckham was a contributory factor – but, when it was needed, Beckham offered an attacking threat, albeit in a vastly different way from Lennon.

The Rest of Them

Elsewhere, it’s broken-record time, as Gerrard’s performance for country was again patently less impressive than his typical displays for club (which is the cue for all Liverpool fans to create life-size models of All-Action-No-Plot Towers and then burn them down in incandescence). Gerrard remains a square peg in a round hole for England. He is most effective behind the front man; but this would negate Rooney, who in a different sort of way is also most effective behind the front man. The bar ain’t big enough for the two of them.

Gerrard on the left is fine against Slovakia, but one wonders if he’ll be quite as effective on the left in the latter stages of a World Cup. Personally I’d go with J. Cole left, and Gerrard-Barry in the centre, with Gerrard having more licence to attack than Lampard currently does. The whole business of Lampard playing a more “disciplined” – i.e. defensive – role had me flailing my arms and muttering in frustration all night.

My man-crush on Rooney continues, but that darned red mist enveloped him once again.

James – calamity.

Ashley Cole – strangely beset by an identity crisis that had him thoroughly clueless as to his nationality, with the result that he spent most of the game passing to Ukrainians. Someone dig out the boy’s passport and talk him through it.

Terry – good assist, and smartly-taken goal, but reckless in conceding the free-kick for their goal. Oh that Ledley’s knee was healthy.

Crouch’s goal was also smartly-taken, but the celebrations for both goals were rubbish. Crouch at least had the decency to look thoroughly embarrassed by whatever the hell he was doing. The Terry-Rooney routine was as appalling as it was perplexing.

However, the bright and breezy take on the game is that we were excellent in the first half, patient and dangerous; and when we absolutely had to raise our game in the second half we did. Three points is all-important in qualifying. If/when we make the World Cup Finals, no-one will care about that dodgy half 30 mins in the second half vs Ukraine in April.

England – Slovakia Preview: Pleat on The European Parliament, Gerrard on The Left

A friendly against some generic Eastern European country will make for a pretty underwhelming Saturday evening. Slovakia, as with Slovenia, Estonia, Belarus and the rest of them, never has contributed anything to football, and probably never will. No-one can name a famous Slovakian player, they will all have rubbish haircuts and are basically the international equivalent of Bolton or someone. It’s likely to be tedious and eminently forgettable – yet is probably a smart choice on the part of the FA bigwigs, given that next week the players all have to make diplomatic noises about the qualifier against Ukraine.Actually, Slovakia might be half-decent, having once been part of a country with healthy footballing pedigree – Czechoslovakia (still part of them in fact, within the strange alternate universe that is David Pleat’s head, where there exists “the republic of Czechoslovakia”. Get that man his own seat in the European Parliament, and watch as history is rewritten.) However, it’s a long-shot. Slovakia might be have some talent, but the likelihood is that this will quickly descend into the archetypal big-boys-vs-lower-league fare.

Personally I quite hope that the game remains nil-nil well after the first half hour, and into the second half. If Slovakia stick eleven men behind the ball, and play the role of untalented spoilers an Rooney-baiters, they will provide a useful test of England’s patience and creativity. By contrast a couple of early goals would draw out the Slovaks, create space and lead to a rout – we would learn nothing. A long barren stalemate will at least give England the experience of breaking down stubborn opponents. With England cruising atop the group, the only potential obstacle to World Cup qualification is likely to be rubbish Eastern Europeans slamming the ball to halfway and inviting us to go again.

Mind you, failure to score an early goal against Absurdistan would probably have the Wembley crowd laying eggs and bottling one another. It’s probably just a minority, but I can honesty say I’ve never heard such a shamefully abusive and impatient bunch. Nevertheless, at the risk of enraging the Neanderthalic Massive, I’m hoping for a dour, goalless start to the game.

Gerrard On The Left 

Injury to the fantastic Joe Cole has again provided a handy escape route from the Lampard-Gerrard problem. Gerrard is fist-clenchingly annoying, but I can’t deny that he’s been awesome in that role behind the striker(s) this season. It seems a right waste to shunt him out left, even though our own wonderful Luka has demonstrated that this need not be a hindrance to a creative genius.

I hope that once Cole is fit again he assumes the left-hand berth, and Gerrard replaces Lamps as the attacking central midfielder. Cole has consistently been excellent for England on the left, provides balance and width, despite being right-footed, and is the only player capable of dribbling past his man.

Lampard is no mug, but just is not as good as Gerrard. If it comes to a straight choice between the two, I hope Capello opts for the scouser (as he think he has previously done on occasion). Lampard would certainly be an excellent player to have coming off the bench.

As mentioned, I’m hardly pushing to be secretary of the Steve Gerrard Fan Cub. Top player, but like that other squeaking irritant, Jamie Carragher, he seems far more concerned about his club than country. Like Carragher, I imagine he would have little hesitation in chucking in the international game if it dawned on him that he did not have a divine right to a place in the starting XI. Presumably he changes light-bulbs by holding them and waiting for the world to revolve around him. And, on top of everything else, he always bangs home the pressure pens for his club (vs Man Utd and Real) but messed up in the quarter-final shoot-out at the World Cup. Still haven’t forgiven him for that.

So hopefully we’ll learn a few things before the glut of second-half substitutions. Great opportunity for Lennon to stake his claim. One-Trick Downing will presumably continue the crime of the century by adding a further England cap to his collection in the second half. Yet another pretender will try on the gloves. Win, lose or draw, no-one will remember this once we’re at South Africa next year.

Modric, Palacios, Jenas, Hudd – The Midfield Conundrum

There’s a great big Uefa Cup-shaped hole in my life at the moment. Instead of working myself into a frenzy of midweek worry, pessimism and nerves, I’ve been at a loss for something to stimulate the usual heart palpitations. Had to resort to half-heartedly watching Liverpool in the Champions League, throwing stones at small garden animals and generally twiddling my thumbs.Listening to England’s heroic failure in the Test Match served as a gentle reminder of the life of a Spurs fan, but generally this cold-turkey approach to the lack of Uefa Cup has not been a bundle of fun. However, I have endeavoured to use the time constructively. With no cup games, midweek distractions or ineligibility mazes to navigate we have the opportunity to settle upon fairly consistent team selection over the remaining ten games in the season. The permutations in defence remain numerous, but something approaching repetition has occurred across the middle, with Lennon on the right and Modric wide left, flanking Jenas and Palacios in the centre.

The Midfield Conundrum 

First things first – no-one in their right mind would question the eligibility of Palacios for a central midfield berth. Not to put any pressure on the lad, but if I ever bump into him I’ll pull out a pen-knife and scratch the words “our saviour” all over his face, but backwards, so that he’ll be reminded every time he looks into a mirror.

With that out of the way I turn to Jenas. Is this really the man we ideally want complementing Palacios? He has the appropriate attacking mentality to go alongside Palacios – far better him than, say, do-do-do-Didier. However, to put it diplomatically, he has not exactly made mind-bogglingly stunning progress since his emergence as a precocious under-21 starlet all those years back. (There, I did it – a full sentence about Jermaine Jenas without any hint of rage or vitriol. I demand a gold star).

More pointedly, deploying Jenas in the centre shunts Modders out to the left, where his impact is undoubtedly diminished. In the grossest practical terms, he’s got less pitch to play on when assigned to the wing. He may weigh less than his own shadow, but the guy is patently a class above the rest. Give him a central role, the freedom of the pitch, the freedom of North London. Our team ought to be built around him.

A Modric-Palacios centre would therefore leave us needing someone on the left. I’ll resist the urge to grumble about the sale of Steed, dagnabbit, and instead examine those who are still keeping the bench warm at the Lane. Brylcreem Bentley, Three-Touch O’ Hara, the genetic experiment that is Bale – even Jenas himself… Personally however I’d give young Giovani a run of games and see what he’s made of, but I get the impression that ‘Arry would rather organise six fixtures a day for the rest of the year than let Giovani establish himself.

Scarily, if no solution is decided upon, by default we’ll end up with One-Trick Downing this summer, fro around £13.9 million more than he’s worth. For that we could buy back several Steeds, or, dreamily, maybe even pinch Joe Cole.

Hypotheticals aside, the question from now until the end of the season revolves around what is preferable – Palacios-Modric in the centre, and A.N. Other wide left; or Palacios-Jenas in the centre and Modric wide left? I vote for the former.

Where Does This Leave Hudd? 

I fall into the latter camp, regrettably so as I have minimal patience with fat people (JUST EAT LESS). When he first emerged I had Hudd down as Carrick Mark II, a player who could feint his way out of trouble with a dip of the shoulder, pick passes dripping in gold and strike a shot with the force of an exocet missile. Far too often however, his passes go astray, although a healthy portion of blame here should go to team-mates’ lack of movement.

Still, the frustration remains. He’s not a tackler, runner or dribbler, and does not have the energy to compensate for mistakes. He most certainly has the capacity to boss games, but too often this only seems to happen when  we’re already two goals up (whereas, for example, Modric seems to dictate games far more regularly). Hoddle or Ginola may have been deemed by many to be luxury players, but they were regularly genuine match-winners too. How often have we said this of Hudd? How often are we likely to say this of Hudd, particularly in the bigger games?

Strange how I have found myself mulling this point because of the absence of European football – the precise stage upon which I reckon Hudd is best suited. Lovely bit of irony with which to wrap up. Tally-ho.

Joe Cole – An Unlikely Tribute

Headgear readjustments this week, as I donned my England hat, carefully placing it alongside the Tottenham version. Although the defeat to Spain didn’t feature any Spurs players, the naming of One-Trick Downing on the left had me sharpening knives, practising my most caustic put-downs, and preparing once again to do battle with those who claim that he’d be a worthy addition to the lilywhite ranks.However, a couple of spanners appeared in the works. For a start, this is hardly new ground. Whether they agree or not, seasoned all-action-no-plotters can virtually lip-synch with me as I trot out my usual lines of argument (decent player but not £14 mil of special; and not exactly a little bundle of unpredictability either), and the responses are themselves fairly predictable too (a natural left-footer provides balance to the midfield; and early crosses for our often ball-starved forwards).

The other problem with revisiting the Downing debate was more practical in nature. If watching “soccer” while holidaying in Oz was pretty darned tricky, then catching a game in New Zealand was nigh on impossible. Just the goals for me then, and the case against One-Trick can be adjourned with no further questions from this particular prosecution.

However, the debate will rage on, particularly in the summer. Rather than just moan about what I consider to be the problem, I shall take the novel and proactive step of suggesting a solution. One other name very briefly linked with Spurs, probably by a gossip-mongerer with a penchant for the particularly tenuous, was that of Joe Cole.

Until around 2004 – 05 the left-wing had been a major headache for the national team, with the list of earnest but inappropriate players shunted into the round hole including Heskey, Gerrard, Barmby, Bridge, Scholes, McManaman and Alan Thompson. Enter Joe Cole, stage left, and the problem ceased to be. Despite being right-footed he seemed to balance the midfield by maintaining positional discipline; he crossed well with both feet; was willing to cut infield (admittedly perhaps a little too willing at times); chipped in with goals; and was (is) pretty much the only player in the national squad with the natural ability to dribble past opponents. He is also one of the few flair players I can think of who is willing to devote as much energy to the hard work of scrapping and harrying as to his dribbling.

And the counter arguments? He can frustrate by failing to impact upon games as much as he ought to; he sometimes dribbles when a pass is on; and he regularly exhibits that most obnoxious of traits – the dive. An undoubted further source of irritation is that he has a voice so high that wild dogs run for cover when a microphone is thrust towards his visage, but the impact of this upon his performances appears minimal.

Not perfect then, but if being compared with One-Trick Downing, “perfection” is a criterion that can be safely tucked away in a drawer and forgotten about until we reach a completely different topic of discussion.

So I’m firmly in the tongue-twisting pro-Joe-Cole camp. Although now out for the season with an injury, there were murmurs to the effect that Cole was not entirely enamoured with life at Stamford Bridge this season. Apparently he was substituted in a dozen consecutive games by Scolari, up until his injury a few weeks ago. With bids of £14 mil bewilderingly being faxed off to Middlesborough there would have been a strong case for redirecting those funds towards Stamford Bridge. It’s all a little academic now, for numerous reasons (transfer window closed, Cole out until the summer, managerial shenanigans at Chelski). However, with our left wing unlikely to solve itself before May, and presuming we don’t continue our buy-back policy and re-sign Steed, I’ll happily design, print out and publicise the bring Joe-Cole-to-the-Lane petition.

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