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Spurs reshape squad without Bale
After so much meticulous and methodical groundwork this summer, all did not go quite according to plan for Tottenham on Sunday. The club went into their derby against Arsenal knowing that soon after the final whistle the Gareth Bale transfer saga would be officially concluded. The statements had been written, the announcement was imminent.
It was never going to be a celebratory moment, even though the Bale sale is jaw-dropping business, but in the end the timing hurt. Tottenham had made the four mile journey across London with their exciting cluster of newly signed players, hoping to demonstrate that life after Bale brims with promise. Naturally, one result means very little in terms of how they are trying to rebuild. But what a 1-0 defeat at Arsenal did show is that whatever promise they have, it is going to take time for it to blossom.
There is quite a balancing act that Andre Villas-Boas has to get right before he is in a position to get the best out of the new team they have assembled. Of the eleven sent out against Arsenal, four were signed this summer, three arrived this time last year, and two spent last season on loan elsewhere. Only Michael Dawson and Kyle Walker could be considered old hands when it comes to life at Tottenham.
Tempting as it is to get carried away when a flurry of players join a club, it is unrealistic to think everyone will click, and adapt to a different team in a different country, instantly. The Spurs players did a prematch huddle: it was hardly surprising they needed to give the impression of bonding considering how little these men must know each other.
They have yet to build up on-pitch understandings so that they can anticipate each other’s movement and passing. Those connections need to be built through repetitive practice. “It is something we have to work on,” said Villas-Boas. “I think it will come with time because the ability is there. It’s not a concern.”
What was immediately obvious is the size and physical power of the players that have come in. In midfield, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue (who picked up an injury) and Nacer Chadli all pack a big presence, in addition to the strong midfielders they already have in Mousa Dembele and Sandro.
Upon that foundation, adding finesse and creativity is key. The question of how quickly Eric Lamela and Christian Eriksen can settle in and impose themselves is key to how soon Tottenham can begin to express themselves. Up front, Roberto Soldado has been a little isolated this season. So far, in three Premier League games, Tottenham have yet to score a goal from open play.
Virtuoso goals out of nothing were something of a Bale specialty. Tottenham knew that they could not go out and buy a replica Bale, so they decided to reshape the team by purchasing a number of players to effectively share the responsibilities one man shouldered.
But the change Spurs are seeking cannot happen overnight. They not only have to balance their team, they also need to balance expectations. It’s the nature of modern football that new players generate excitement. The snowball effect as more and more arrived at White Hart Lane meant that the sense of anticipation has been palpable. A number of high profile critics felt compelled to tip Tottenham not just to break into the top four, but to challenge for the Premier League title.
Andre Villas-Boas' side will look to regroup at White Hart Lane against Norwich City on Sept. 14 (Image: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images).
Losing at Arsenal appeared not to dent Villas-Boas’s big ideas at all. “We have great confidence this could be our season,” he said.
Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to be a little more low-key about the campaign, to ease some of the high-pitched expectations. Stressing the need to take things gently wouldn’t do them any harm at all.
If they talk themselves down, the breathing space they need to start moving onwards upwards should be a relief.
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