March 12 2014 Latest news:
By Ben Pearce, Tottenham correspondent
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Having made a much-needed move to strengthen the centre of their midfield by signing Paulinho earlier in the month, Tottenham have continued to tick off their problematic positions by landing left winger Nacer Chadli at the weekend.
Width has generally been a strength for Spurs over the last few years, with Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon on the flanks.
And, although the Lilywhites have often lacked adequate cover and competition in the wide positions, that area was apparently not deemed to be a priority.
However, Bale’s successful move into a central role last season changed that, leaving the Lilywhites with a devastatingly effective matchwinner in the middle but creating a hole on the left flank.
That gap tended to be filled by Gylfi Sigurdsson, Clint Dempsey or Lewis Holtby. However, all three looked to come inside onto their right foot, an issue which was compounded when Kyle Naughton was deployed at left-back, leaving the Lilywhites with an entirely right-footed left flank.
Sigurdsson and Dempsey still made useful contributions – and Dempsey was happier on the left than he was as in the No10 role.
However, none of Spurs’ candidates for the left side had the ability to replicate what Bale had produced in that position, blazing past his man on the outside.
That issue was only highlighted by the very different Walker-Lennon combination on the other side – two pacy players who love to fly down the touch-line with chalk on their boots.
And, when Lennon was injured in March, Spurs had no natural width at all, kicking off against Liverpool at Anfield with Sigurdsson on the left and Mousa Dembele on the right – two players who prefer to occupy the central ground.
If width was a strength of Tottenham’s they were hiding it well that day – and again when they lined up at Inter Milan four days later with the same system.
Indeed, Andre Villas-Boas fielded Benoit Assou-Ekotto on the left of midfield in the following game against Fulham, seemingly in a desperate bid to restore some width.
Tottenham lost all three games that week and, while there were certainly other factors – individual errors and fatigue – it highlighted the need to strengthen on both flanks.
Now Tottenham have seemingly solved the issue on the left, recruiting the £7million Belgium international Chadli from FC Twente.
“He played with tremendous success on the left for Twente as a winger and as an attacker for Belgium,” said Villas-Boas. “He’s a player who is extremely versatile and can play in several positions up front.”
The rapid 23-year-old combines pace with strength and power, and at 6ft 1ins he has the frame to hold his own in the Premier League.
There is certainly an end product to his play, as Spurs witnessed in 2010 when he scored in both of the Champions League group games against them – and he hit 12 goals in 26 Eredivisie games last season.
Twente’s former manager Co Adriaanse gave the player a ringing endorsement, stating: “I have rarely seen such a complete player like Nacer. I really do not know what he cannot do.
“Nacer is creative, strong, fast, has a great free kick and he turns excellently. Everything is beautiful in him – even his face.”
Meanwhile, Andros Townsend has returned to Spurs, having shown his ability last season – and he caught the eye on the right flank in last week’s friendly at Colchester, forcing a number of saves.
The 22-year-old now looks ready to offer competition and cover for Lennon, whose end product is still frustratingly inconsistent – and he has virtually had a monopoly on his position since 2009.
It remains to be seen how Villas-Boas will use his wide men, and plenty of questions remain.
Will the Spurs boss persist with the 4-4-1-1 formation that he settled on last season - and that he used against Sunderland yesterday - or will he switch to the 4-3-3 system that he has used in the opening pre-season friendlies at Swindon and Colchester?
If he opts for the latter, will Bale be moved into a wide role again? How do Sigurdsson, Dempsey and Holtby fit into his plans?
Whatever happens, Villas-Boas now has better options and improved competition both in the centre of midfield and out wide – and the lack of strength in depth which undermined the last campaign is looking like much less of an issue.
Now, about that striker...
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