Monday, December 31, 2007

Preview for Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur

New Year's Day and Spurs have a late kick-off at Villa Park. The match is on live television but Spurs record for televised League games this season is poor - they still await their first win, achieving only two draws from eight matches.

Earlier in the season Aston Villa were invited guests to Spurs’ 125th Anniversary celebrations and they did their best to spoil the party. Spurs defence had obviously been enjoying the party before the game as they presented Villa with the goals to take a 4 – 1 second half lead. Only a magnificent comeback with Younis Kaboul scoring an added time equaliser lifted the gloom that had descended on White Hart Lane.

That game was one of the many as everyone awaited the outcome of the Jol leaving saga. He has now gone and Spurs are showing improvement under Juande Ramos, although the schoolboy defending returned on Saturday against Reading.

Aston Villa are currently 7th in the Premier League, nine points ahead of Spurs. Their home record is identical to that of Spurs, five wins, one draw and losing on four occasions which should give Spurs some hope.

Martin O’Neill, as always, has turned Villa into a hard-working team which will compete throughout the ninety minutes and never know when they’re beaten, as illustrated in their 4 – 4 draw at Chelsea on Boxing Day. Their strike force of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Joey Carew will give Spurs’ suspect defence problems but while Villa have an experienced defence they too can concede goals.

Carson, in goal, will be trying to show that he deserved his chance for England and Curtis Davies has replaced the suspended Zat Knight, while Melberg and Laursen (no goals for him this time) bring the experience. In midfield, Reo-Coker has settled well after his summer signing from West Ham, playing alongside Gareth Barry. On the left Young is proving very dangerous and Chimbonda will have to be alert defensively throughout the game.

Spurs’ recent record at Villa Park shows one win in the last six games. They won 1-0 in January, 2003 and the last two games have ended 1 – 1.

Last 6 games at Villa Park:
December, 2001: Draw 1 – 1 Ferdinand
January, 2003: Won 1 – 0 Sheringham
May, 2004: Lost 0 – 1
November, 2004: Lost 0 – 1
September, 2005: Draw 1 – 1 Defoe
October, 2006: Draw 1 – 1 Opp. o.g.

There has been a missed penalty in both of the last two games. In 2005 Defoe missed for Spurs and last year Davenport was sent off, Angel missed the penalty and then immediately scored the own goal for Spurs. It was Barry who retrieved the situation for Villa with a long range shot cutting in from the left on his weaker right foot.

At the moment, every match is a ‘must-win’ game for Spurs if they are to make up for the early season failings. It would be a good game for Spurs to win, maintaining their momentum and progress while denting Villa’s hopes.

Many will be calling for Defoe to start ahead of Keane but I would expect to see Keane taking his usual place alongside Berbatov. In defence, King’s presence, if fit, would bring some much needed composure to those around him and with the commitment and effort that Ramos demands, a win is a possibility, if Berbatov can show the application and goal-scoring ability displayed on Saturday.

A Spurs win would bring a very happy New Year to all Spurs’ fans around the world.



Ramos - Tactical Genius or Lucky Manager?

Finding his team a goal down early in the second half, Juande Ramos took off central defender Ledley King and replaced him with striker Jermain Defoe. For the next ten minutes Reading spurned numerous opportunities to add to Spurs’ grief as the home side’s makeshift three man defence struggled to come to terms with their manager’s new tactical plan. Many a manager would have seen his team go under but Spurs somehow survived the Reading onslaught and equalised with Berbatov’s second goal of the game.

More inept defending from a corner, that was three goals conceded from set-pieces, and Spurs were behind again. Almost immediately Berbatov completed his hat-trick to keep Spurs alive in the game, a lovely goal from a corner when he got between two defenders and turned and passed the ball into the net.

More mayhem in the Spurs defence as Reading counterattacked to take the lead for the third time. Surely, Spurs couldn’t make another comeback. This time Steed Malbranque provided the goal to the delight and amazement of every Spurs supporter.

Was it going to be another 4 – 4 draw like the Villa game? No – Defoe scored from the rebound after Robbie Keane, previously so composed and assured with penalties, missed his second penalty in a week.

Up steps the manager to remove Keane and replace him with Teemu Tainio and resort to a back four defensive formation again. Berbatov scored his fourth to make victory secure and Spurs moved ahead of Reading in the league table.

The players showed admirable fighting qualities and endeavour to come back in a game that at one point looked lost as the defence struggled with any Reading attack and especially their set piece play from free-kicks and corners.

Ledley King looked bemused when taken off and many fans were equally confused. It makes sense to treat King carefully as he returns from injury but taking off the club’s best defender when a goal down looked foolhardy and the next twenty minutes of defensive frailties only added to that opinion. However, Spurs striking qualities and Dimitar Berbatov kept Spurs going to eventually achieve victory.

Ramos has shown in earlier games that he is willing to make substitutions in an effort to turn a game around and it worked to admirable effect against Reading. In previous games it also had the desired result where a nervy Kaboul was replaced with a more attack minded player in order to take the game to the opposition.

Are such moves the ideas of a tactical genius or is he a lucky manager?

Whatever your views, Juande Ramos is a brave manager – he has been prepared to make changes in an effort to win games rather than settle for a draw. Such dramatic changes won’t be successful every week so Ramos and Gus Poyet will be only too aware that their first priority must be to strengthen and steady the defence. The transfer window will give them the opportunity to add to that area and from a sound defensive base Ramos will hope that Spurs’ attacking options will continue to flourish.


'There's Only One Robbie Keane!'

Robbie Keane – Top Scorer in 2007

Six goals against Reading and the club’s leading scorer for the calendar year of 2007 doesn’t get on the score sheet, in fact, he misses a penalty at 4 – 4 but sees Jermain Defoe save his blushes as he heads in the rebound. He is then substituted as the team wins 6-4.

That sums up the enigma that is Robbie Keane. Love him or loathe him, as some Spurs fans do, you have to acknowledge that he has an instinct for goals and frequently goals of the spectacular variety.

Robbie Keane joined Tottenham in August, 2002 from Leeds United for £7 million as his former club slipped into financial ruin. Only turned 22 years of age, Keane had also played for Wolves, Coventry and Inter Milan. At the time there was newspaper talk that the signing was controversial due to a difference in view between the manager, Glenn Hoddle, and the Director of Football, David Pleat. Pleat was reported to be in favour of the signing while Hoddle was opposed to it, a view which could be supported as the manager left his new signing on the bench for the next game at Fulham which they lost from a winning position.

Keane made his debut in a 3-2 home win over West Ham United and scored his first goal for the club in an away win at Blackburn three weeks later. He has now scored 98 goals for Spurs in all competitions and his second goal against Fulham on Boxing Day was his 100th Premier League goal, making him the thirteenth player to achieve that milestone.

Keane has developed his game to become creator as well as goal scorer and has developed a great understanding with Dimitar Berbatov as shown by the cross that led to the Bulgarian scoring the first goal against Reading. He also won the penalty which led to Spurs going ahead. Until the past week Keane had been so reliable and shown such composure when taking penalties, able to focus on the task and exclude all distractions from the opposition. He had previously only missed one penalty for Spurs, saved by Spurs now reserve keeper, Ben Alnwick, when he was playing for Sunderland at White Hart Lane.

Keane has shown great commitment to Spurs and has been the leading scorer for a number of seasons and even when omitted from the team, he has battled back into contention. Able to play a variety of roles he has also combined well with other strike partners, Teddy Sheringham, Fredi Kanoute and Defoe.

For the early part of last season, manager Martin Jol rotated Keane and Defoe with Berbatov but eventually sided with Keane who could provide greater support to midfield as he often came to collect the ball before moving forward in attack. On occasions this was a fault in his play as when Spurs were under pressure Keane came further and further back leaving Berbatov isolated and Spurs brought more pressure on themselves.

Keane has many memorable goals – hat-tricks against Wolves and Everton, his juggling goal against Blackburn Rovers and the super strikes against Fulham in the Cup and in Europe. One other memorable moment was his dribbling and bamboozling of the Chelsea full back, leaving him on the ground, as he tricked his way up the line to eventually set up Aaron Lennon for the winner at White Hart Lane in November, 2006.

Martin Jol showed great faith in Keane, making him vice-captain, and he has accepted the responsibility as he did when appointed captain for the Ireland team. He is now their leading international goal scorer.

This past year, 2007, has seen Robbie Keane score 31 goals in all competitions, 19 of which were in the Premier League from 32 appearances, keeping him ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo (18 goals from 31 appearances) and other strikers including Benni McCarthy, Carlos Tevez, Yukubu, Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba.

Last year started slowly for Keane who didn’t start a game in January and his first League goals didn’t come until late February when he scored two against Bolton Wanderers but was then sent off before half-time for handling the ball on the line following a corner. In his final seven League games of the season he scored nine goals and after a slow start to this season he scored another ten, bringing his total to nineteen.

To date, fourteen players have scored one hundred or more goals for Spurs, Robbie Keane is about to join that elite group headed by Jimmy Greaves. Given his age and continued good form and avoiding injury, Keane could very quickly move well up that list.

Hopefully, Robbie Keane will continue to head Spurs’ goal scoring lists as the club move forward to claim some long awaited silverware.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

‘All Hail King Berbatov!’

Dimitar Berbatov reminded Spurs’ fans of why they so loved him last season. In the enthralling encounter with Reading at White Hart Lane he scored four goals to ensure Spurs took the three points in a 6 – 4 victory that took them ahead of Reading and in to twelfth place in the Premier League table.

The match had started so well for Spurs with Berbatov’s first goal giving them a sixth minute lead as he scored from Keane’s well placed cross.

Spurs’ defensive frailties then came into play as Reading equalised following a free-kick after a quarter of an hour. Level at half-time, no-one realised the late Christmas cracker that was to be served up after the interval.

Further defensive woes saw Reading go ahead from a corner and have chances to increase their lead. Berbatov kept Spurs alive when he levelled the score with a powerful shot when a cross from the right fell to him, only for Reading to regain the lead from another corner. Berbatov responded again with his hat-trick scoring a lovely goal from a corner as he got between two defenders and carefully stroked the ball into the net.

Spurs fell behind again as Reading scored on the break. This time it was Steed Malbranque who rifled in a shot to bring the score to 4 – 4. So much excitement as every attack seemed to bring a goal.

Spurs weren’t satisfied and when awarded a penalty for a foul on Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe headed the rebound home after Keane missed his second penalty in a week.

To make the victory safe, Dimitar Berbatov powered past a Reading defender to smash home his fourth and Spurs’s sixth for a win that had seemed improbable less than thirty minutes earlier.

Berbatov the enigma showed all his goal scoring prowess and was a constant threat to the Reading defence. Over the past months as Spurs’ season has struggled along, many have criticised Berbatov for his seeming disinterest and lethargic approach, convinced that he was wanting away to Manchester United or some other big club. However, against Reading, he responded in the most positive of ways and reminded Spurs of why they need him to stay and be part of the team that Juande Ramos is building at Tottenham.

‘All Hail King Berbatov!’

For the Record:

Spurs last Premier League hat-trick:
Jermain Defoe – 18th December, 2004 v Southampton Won 5 - 1

Last Player to score 4 League goals:
Jurgen Klinsmann – 2nd May, 1998 v Wimbledon Won 6 - 2


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ramos’ Early Shoots of Recovery

In the Express of Saturday, 15th December, Harry Harris’s assessment of Juande Ramos’s first weeks at Tottenham read,

‘There looks to be little difference since Ramos took over from Jol.
Tottenham still cannot defend, especially from set-pieces. They are still missing inspirational skipper Ledley King, Dimitar Berbatov remains an enigma, hankering for Manchester United, and I don’t buy his denials.
There is no sign, yet, of Ramos sorting out his four strikers or that troublesome defence.
Tottenham might have won a couple more matches, but they are marginally worse under Ramos than when Dutchman Jol was in charge!’

Now many of you will decry such comments and heap abuse on their author but for my part on that Saturday morning, I would have said that they were a fairly accurate and fair analysis of the past six weeks – Ramos still had a lot to prove.

However, by Saturday afternoon that view was starting to change. In the game against Portsmouth there was a clear indication that Ramos and Gus Poyet were beginning to have an influence on the team. Where previously they would have gone back into their shell in an attempt to hold what they had, now they were much more positive. There was a greater composure about their game and they looked more comfortable, even in defence and with a makeshift defence at that.

Such composure carried itself into the Carling Cup game where they started confidently and positively. The early goal from Defoe helped to build that confidence but even when faced with adversity through the loss of Zokora, they didn’t panic but worked together, competed and frustrated Manchester City who had ten straight home wins to their credit. For seventy minutes they battled to ensure qualification for the semi-finals.

Individual players are showing greater confidence - Robinson, Jenas, Malbranque and Lennon, but all are working for the team and in a positive way.

Ramos was fortunate that his early games were a comfortable introduction into the Premier League. They provided him with a sequence of fairly winnable games, that the team would probably have reaped reward from whoever was manager but two away wins at teams sitting in fourth and seventh places in the Premier League is an early glimmer of the progress that is being sought under Ramos.

Now, he couldn't fashion three points at the Emirates last Saturday, that was too much to expect and we really would have thought he was a miracle worker. However, he saw his team produce a performance worthy of the three points and if Robbie Keane hadn't unexpectedly missed from the penalty spot, it could have been so different.

On Boxing Day, Spurs over ran a poor Fulham team, scoring five, with Keane and Tom Huddlestone both scoring two. Jermain Defoe scored a late fifth. With Ledley King's return and the new manager having an increasing influence, Spurs' fortunes are looking up.