The football being played at White Hart Lane at the moment has got fans and pundits alike absolutely salivating. Many have compared the current Tottenham side’s style of play to that of the Arsenal ‘invincible’ team in the 2003/04 season while analysing the similarities with the tika-taka passing game currently played in Spain.
Many argue that this Spurs squad is the strongest in years and many of the players echo the sentiments, many even going as far to say that they have never played in a better team during their respective careers. But, like any team, the weak links are there to be witnessed. An Achilles heel, if you will, to any professional club.
Even the best team in the world has a weaker link that is targeted when exposed; Manchester United have the inconsistent Johnny Evans, Arsenal the inexperienced Carl Jenkinson, Chelsea the ill-mannered David Luiz are but three examples of player’s team would look to expose in key areas of the pitch.
But, where is the chink in the Spurs armour? What players do the opposition look to get the better of in their quest for victory? Below are the players who, at full strength, we believe would form Harry Redknapp’s starting XI and determine whether they could be classified as the weak link in the North London side.
Brad Friedel – Reliable, consistent, providing stability to the back-four and, perhaps most importantly, can catch a ball. Signed in the summer and instantly instilled as Harry Redknapp’s number one, despite sporting the number 24 shirt, replacing, now 2nd/3rd choice ‘keeper Heurelho Gomes. Whereas teams may have targeted the erratic Brazilian in the past, either via long shots or pumping the ball high into the box, the errors have ceased now that American has firmly established himself in the Tottenham starting XI and it was his excellent goal-keeping ability that helped secure all three points in the 3-1 win over Fulham last month. Hardly a weak link and my only criticism is his age, but his yoga outside of the game means the Premiership veteran could probably play forever.
Kyle Walker – Came back from loan spells with QPR and Aston Villa and instantly replaced Vedran Corluka at right-back. Echoing the sentiments of many Spurs fans following his return, him coming into the team was like a new signing. Already has two England appearances to his name, despite being only 21-years-old and many believe he should be starting under Fabio Capello. His pace and stamina is second to none, and perhaps only rivalled by England contenders Micah Richards and Glen Johnson, and having him at right-back is like having another winger on the pitch. Perhaps targeted by a number of the more experienced players in the league due to his age but he is maturing and when he does make mistakes, has the ability to track back and perform his defensive duties. In the 3-0 win over Bolton Wanderers, completed 100% of his passes (44/44)
Ledley King – The man is simply unstoppable and impenetrable at the back. Was told at the beginning of the season that unless he played 20 games or more for Spurs this campaign, would not have his contract renewed at the end of the year, which is set to expire in July. Made his first appearance of the season in the 2-0 win over Wolves and has played the last 10 of Spurs’ 11 game unbeaten run, missing out in the 3-0 victory over Bolton last weekend. Many have compared the Spurs trainee to a Rolls Royce type of player and his inability to train in-between games, due to a troublesome knee problem, before putting a performance of the highest quality signifies his importance to the team. His elegance as a defender is portrayed by the fact that he hasn’t received a yellow card for 39 consecutive games.
Younes Kaboul – Thoroughly enjoying his second stint at White Hart Lane following an abject 2007/08 season. Unfairly thrown in at the deep end, two-years at Portsmouth helped the Frenchman mature as a player and following his return, has come on leaps and bounds especially this season. Forming a formidable partnership alongside Ledley King has seen a major improvement in his defensive capabilities, both mentally and physically. The only problem surrounding the 25-year-old is his inability to really perform alongside an experienced head such as King or William Gallas. When paired with Michael Dawson at the beginning of the year, Spurs shipped eight goals but alongside the aforementioned duo, he is comfortable in the knowledge that any mistakes he makes are easily cleared. It is no surprise that in the previous 11 games, Spurs have only conceded eight goals and the former Auxerre trainee recently challenged his team-mates to keep the run going. Has won the most of any aerial duel this season in the Premiership.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto – We love Disco Benny, like a genuine man-crush on the former Lens ace. Does anyone remember Timothee Atouba? Assou-Ekotto is like the upgraded, updated version of the Cameroonian trickster. Hugely under-rated by many across the Premiership, he has been one of the most consistent performers for Spurs in the last 18 months. His link-up play with Gareth Bale has proven and effective and dangerous weapon in their club’s quest for a top-four finish and his confidence on the ball has made him one of the more entertaining members of the starting XI. Former Spurs legend Graham Roberts recently claimed the 27-year-old was one of the weaker members of the squad but I, and many others, beg to differ. His only set-back may be his lapses in concentration but as the years have gone by, these heave decreased and many consider him to be one of the first names on the team-sheet.
Aaron Lennon – The pint-sized winger has seen his form return him this season following a below-par season at White Hart Lane. But, regaining his goalscoring touch has seen Lennon become the threat that made him so dangerous at the beginning of the 2009/10 season, subsequently earning a call-up to the 2010 World Cup squad. Ahead of Kyle Walker has forced him to adjust his game to suit the marauding full-back and he has done that expertly while swapping flanks with Gareth Bale allows him to cut in onto his right foot and, as witnessed in the 3-0 win over Bolton, get a shot away. However, many feel the 24-year-old has more or less reached his potential and, with his lack of crossing ability, isn’t going to achieve a higher level in the future. But, if he continues to churn out performances like he has been in recent weeks, fans will wonder why the queried his inclusion in the starting XI.
Scott Parker – He is not a weak link.
Luka Modric – As above.
Gareth Bale – The PFA Player of the Year somewhat slumped in form in the tail-end of last season with injuries playing their part on the Welshman. But, like Lennon, Bale has once again re-discovered his goalscoring touch and with the team playing with a new-found confidence, the same has happened with the 22-year-old. It could have been so much different had an injury to Assou-Ekotto two-years ago not forced Redknapp into playing Bale, where he could have been sold to Birmingham City. But, the former Southampton star took his chance with both hands and he hasn’t looked back since. Now courted by a number of Europe’s top clubs, Bale has, fortunately, committed his future to the North London side claiming the best place for him to develop is White Hart Lane. Has all the physical attributes to improve considerably, some argue that the sky is the limit for the winger.
Rafael Van der Vaart – Many woke up on September 1st 2010 pinching themselves. Had Spurs really just signed Rafael Van der Vaart? For just £8m? Parachuting into White Hart Lane just in time to sign on the dotted line, the Dutchman made an immediate impact in North London, scoring 15 goals in all competitions in his maiden campaign. The former Real Madrid ace bought that extra bit of class and was exactly what Spurs had been crying out for; a goal-scoring midfielder. His goals saw the club reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League and this season already has six league goals to his name as Spurs currently sit in third. However, injuries have curtailed his influence in recent weeks but, when called upon, is guaranteed to get you goals, even if he does tend to run out of steam around the 60 minute mark.
Emmanuel Adebayor – Never thought any Spurs fan would see Emmanuel Adebayor performing at White Hart Lane but, lo and behold, he is excelling on his loan spell from Manchester City. The North London side were linked with a number of strikers over the summer and it was the Togolese giant that was bought in. His mobility, work-rate and sheer determination has already won over a number of the Spurs faithful but many are critical of his inability to take the number of chances that are created for him. What Spurs needed over the summer was a front-man who knew where the net was while working extremely hard off the ball. And despite have seven goals in 11 games, he needs four or five chances to score one. In fact, his nine efforts on target during the 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion was a record high in the Premiership for five-and-a-half years.
While a number of small flaws show through at times, the pros certainly outweigh the cons and it’s evidenced through Spurs’ position in the league table. However, if push were to come to shove, we believe it would be Aaron Lennon to be the weakest link. Granted, he has regained some of his previous form and is enjoying his football at the moment but, for a winger it is imperative to know how to cross a ball, something that Lennon has failed to develop during his spell at White Hart Lane and one gets the feeling that the 24-year-old won’t improve any further than his current capability.