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Season Preview Part 5 07/08/2015

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

INS: Toby Alderweireld (Atlético Madrid, Undisclosed), Kieran Trippier (Burnley, Undisclosed), Kevin Wimmer (Cologne, Undisclosed)

OUTS: Paulinho (Guangzhou Everglade, £9,800,000), Étienne Capoue (Watford, £5,700,000), Lewis Holtby (Hamburg, Undisclosed), Younes Kaboul (Sunderland, Undisclosed), Jordan Archer (Millwall, Free), Cristian Ceballos (Charlton Athletic, Free), Bongani Khumalo (Supersport United, Free), Alexander McQueen (Carlisle United, Free), Brad Friedel (Retired), Grant Ward (Rotherham United, Six Month Loan)

OUR EX-SPURS: Dean Austin, Étienne Capoue, Heurelho Gomes

THEIR EX-ORNS: Danny Rose, Andros Townsend

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two narrow cup defeats, most recently in 2012 when Sean Murray announced himself, previously in the 2008 League Cup when Spurs came from behind in one of Brendan Rodgers’ first games in charge.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2011-12 0-1
2008-09 1-2
1999-00 1-1 0-4
1998-99 2-5
1994-95 3-6 / 3-2
1982-83 1-0

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Lloris
Trippier       Alderweireld   Vertonghen     Rose
Mason         Bentaleb
Lamela                      Eriksen                   Chadli
Kane

VERDICT: Tottenham are just sort of there, aren’t they?  Too good for most of the division, not good enough – rich enough? – to compete with the biggest clubs, they’ve finished between fourth and sixth for each of the last six seasons.  Fourth is the holy grail of course, perversely rendered more significant than the FA Cup it’s appropriate that Spurs, once defined by being a good cup side but not quite good enough to win the league, sit where they are.  Thing is, that fourth place has never quite proven the stepping stone to establishing Spurs as a Champions’ League club… and as has been widely documented the club’s other major recent windfall, the receipt of Gareth Bale’s transfer fee, wasn’t spent entirely successfully.

So Spurs have a very capable side and lots of good footballers… but the defence is far from watertight, there’s a lack of muscle in a lightweight midfield, a lack of pace in the attack and precious little cover for the extraordinary Harry Kane as it stands.  The phrase “difficult second season” is widely mumbled about Kane… no sign any tailing off just yet, but surely unrealistic to ask such a young player to keep carrying such responsibility even if his form holds up and he avoids injury.  A policy of bringing in and bringing through young British talent – Delle Ali, Alex Pritchard, Ryan Mason – might pay off in terms of keeping Spurs fans reasonably content with their lot until such benefits as arise from their relocation – currently scheduled for three years time – pay off.  This season…  fifth would be a far from reckless guess.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION

INS: James Chester (Hull City, £8,000,000), James McClean (Wigan Athletic, £1,500,000), Rickie Lambert (Liverpool, Undisclosed)

OUTS: Graham Dorrans (Norwich City, Undisclosed), Kemar Roofe (Oxford United, Undisclosed), Chris Baird (Derby County, Free), Donervon Daniels (Wigan Athletic, Free), Jason Davidson (Huddersfield Town, Free), Bradley Garmston (Gillingham, Free), Alex Jones (Birmingham City, Free), Youssouf Mulumbu (Norwich City, Free), Georgios Samaras, Andre Wisdom (Liverpool, End of Loan)

OUR EX-BAGGIES: Lloyd Dyer

THEIR EX-ORNS: Ben Foster

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A five-nil thrashing at the Hawthorns early in Malky’s first season and a more creditable draw at Vicarage Road in which the ten man ‘orns took the lead with five minutes to go only for the Baggies to equalise at the death.  The same game saw a Jonas Olsson tackle bring Tom Cleverley’s Player of the Season campaign to a premature end.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2009-10 1-1
2007-08 0-3 1-1
2003-04 0-1 1-3
2002-03 1-0
2001-02 1-2 1-1
2000-01 3-3 0-3
1998-99 0-2 1-4
1995-96 4-4

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Foster
Dawson         Chester        Lescott           Brunt
Yacob
Gardner        Fletcher           Morrison     McClean
Berahino

VERDICT: In terms of establishing a smaller club in the Premier League, .West Brom are yet another decent template having spent the last five years in the top flight – four of which relatively comfortably – a period preceded by eight or nine seasons of yo-yoing between the top two divisions.  They might also serve as a warning.  Fulham’s Premier League life ran out when they became over-reliant on older players; a bit of bad luck with injuries and they had nowhere to go, a load of old blokes on top contracts and little to build off.  West Brom aren’t in quite the same boat, and in terms of compatibility Tony Pulis is a decent match to work with an experienced squad – experience that we could do with a bit of ourselves – but there’s a danger in relying too long on a format just because it’s working.  Four of the eleven above are in their thirties, several more in their late twenties and only Saido Berahino, his future seemingly far from secure as I write, comes in at under 26 whilst in the wings backup includes the likes of Garath McAuley, Jonas Olsson, Stephane Sessegnon and new signing Rickie Lambert.  Lambert, 34 before the end of the season, is a decent addition but you wouldn’t want to be slotting him into Berhino’s slot should the youngster move on;  decent goalscorer that he is, he was never one for too much running around.

Attempts at recruitment have understandably focused on wide positions;  James McClean, no more than reasonable in a relegated Wigan side last season was a bit of an odd one, further moves for Football League stars Matt Phillips and Mickael Antonio stalling as their clubs reject bids.  All of which reflects Jeremy Peace’s famously careful approach to recruitment, hugely frustrating for supporters.  As long as Mr Pulis is happy you’d fancy that Albion are no more than theoretical relegation candidates.  There’s too much savvy in that team.  Wouldn’t take a lot tho…

WEST HAM UNITED

INS: Dmitri Payet (Marseille, £10,700,000), Pedro Obiang (Sampdoria, Undisclosed), Angelo Ogbonna (Juventus, Undisclosed), Darren Randolph (Birmingham City, Free), Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal, Season Loan). Manuel Lanzani (Al Arabi, Season Loan)

OUTS: Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough, £5,500,000), Paul McCallum (Leyton Orient, Free), Dan Potts (Luton Town, Free), Carlton Cole, Guy Demel, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Nenê, Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal, End of Loan), Alex Song (Barcelona, End of Loan)

OUR EX-HAMMERS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A 4-0 drubbing at home early in Sean Dyche’s season when it became clear that Chris Iwelumo was no longer quite the fearsome warrior he once had been, and a much more enjoyable point earned by Sean Murray at Upton Park in which Dale Bennett ended his Watford career on a high.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2011-12 0-4 1-1
2008-09 1-0
2006-07 1-1
2004-05 1-2 2-3
2003-04 0-0 0-4
1999-00 1-2 0-1

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Adrian
Jenkinson       Ogbonna        Reid          Cresswell
Kouyate

Noble                           Obiang
Payet
Valencia            Sakho

VERDICT: Can I just say that I’m going to miss the Boleyn Ground?  Not the bloody queue at the tube afterwards, sure… but the proper claustrophobic footballgroundness of it.  It’s a Good Thing.  The Irons will move out at the end of the season, destined for the revamped, heavily subsidised Olympic Stadium – who said that the 2012 games had no legacy – and so for West Ham more than anyone it’s fundamental to have a good season, to be on an upward trajectory when that move happens so as to make what will be a 54,000 seater arena a positive place rather than a white elephant.  Relegation would be unthinkable, but there appears to be limited threat of that;  for all Big Sam’s “bad fit” at West Ham, he left them a solid base after three mid-table seasons.  Slaven Bilic was always going to be a popular replacement and has West Ham messageboards cooing over his less pragmatic style, new recruit Dmitri Payet a particularly popular addition;  he’ll have to cope with the Europa League (LATE EDIT: No they won’t!), which is sort of like being handicapped with extra sandbags as far as the League goes for squads without two teams’ worth of senior players, but it would take a lot for the Hammers to struggle. Worth noting also that in amongst the thousands of rumours (OK, 89 and counting) over the summer there have been a large number of suggestions of us competing with West Ham for players.  Which I’m inclined to believe reflects rather well on both parties.

WATFORD

INS: Étienne Capoue (Tottenham Hotspur, £5,700,000), Steven Berghuis (AZ67, £4,600,000), Valon Behrami (Hamburg, £3,000,000), Jose Holebas (AS Roma, £1,800,000), Jose Manuel Jurado (Spartak Moscow, Undisclosed),  Allan Nyom (Udinese, Undisclosed), Matěj Vydra (Udinese, Undisclosed), Giedrius Arlauskis (Steaua Bucharest, Free), Miguel Britos (Napoli, Free), Sebastian Prödl (Werder Bremen, Free)

OUTS: Lewis McGugan (Sheffield Wednesday, £300,000), Jonathan Bond (Reading, Undisclosed), Luke O’Nien (Wycombe Wanderers, Free), Marco Motta, Vujadin Savic, Daniel Tözsér, Diego Fabbrini (Middlesbrough, Season Loan), Uche Ikpeazu (Port Vale, Six Month Loan), Juanfran (Deportivo La Coruña, Season Loan), Sean Murray (Wigan Athletic, Month Loan), Adlène Guedioura (Crystal Palace, End of Loan), Gianni Munari (Parma, End of Loan)

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Gomes
Nyom             Prödl        Cathcart     Holebas
Capoue           Behrami
Berghuis                   Abdi                   Jurado
Deeney

VERDICT: There’s a threat in our scars from last time, for those of us old enough to remember.  Last time and the time before.  We’ve sat through seasons that were pretty miserable, tedious and, yes, expensive long before they finished.  Joyless.  During which you had to endure the idiots at work for whom Watford had only recently entered consciousness as anything other than a theoretical entity, to wearily ponder whether it was really worth countering the “cor, Watford are a bit rubbish aren’t they?” with the explanation that we’d done rather well to even get there actually.  In reality that straw of truth became something that we clung to for our own sakes.  In both seasons, in different ways, we were glad when it was over.

It’s different this time.  Genuinely different, more than just a fist-waving “it will be different” statement of intent.  For one thing, we got ourselves promoted automatically and didn’t that feel good.  For another, we’ve got this extraordinary infrastructure behind us this time.  An infrastructure that dwarfs what either of the other promoted sides can throw at the challenges ahead, that has helped us bring in another swathe of new players.  A statement of intent.  We didn’t get promoted to give it a spirited shot and if that wasn’t quite enough to shrug and grin and go back and start again.  No, it’s fundamental that we stay up and Gino Pozzo is giving us the tools to do so.

The approach is “different” in another way of course.  “Different” to more or less everyone else in the country, to varying degrees, with a consequent range of appreciation and comprehension from the nation’s media (Danny Murphy’s “they’ll struggle now their loans have gone back” firmly at the “must try harder” end of the scale).  There’s still sniping too, which is nothing new any more and predictably escalated in volume once we started doing well again after a bit of a hiatus in 2013/14.  Quite why a Manchester City-style bankrolling is morally acceptable whilst an approach that’s sustainable for a smaller club isn’t is a little bit baffling…  but perhaps we’re just resented for getting lucky.  What’s harder for the fanbase to reconcile is yet another huge turnover, another load of names and faces to get used to.  That happened in 2012 of course and we got over that pretty damned quickly… but we’re in a tougher place this time, and Daniel Tözsér did more for us than Carl Dickinson.  Slav’s departure is harder to get your head round than any of the well-catalogued ones that preceded it.

If it were at all reasonable to challenge Gino Pozzo on this, of course, he’d be perfectly justified in asking whether we preferred that nice gentleman in the hat back.  We’ve discussed this before, but it boils down to trust, and he’s earned plenty. The extent of the revamp of the squad and the replacement of the coach outstrip even the sacking of McKinlay for boldness… that that decision had any credibility at all was simply because Gino Pozzo isn’t a bloody idiot.  He’s not the rash, emotional, crass, erratic clown that the lazier analyses imply.  Quite the opposite. In these decisions, as with the McKinlay one, he’s done things that he knew would attract scorn from outside and criticism from within, particularly if things were to go awry.  Not easy decisions, not the soft options.  And he’s done them anyway.  We know enough by now to have confidence in his decision making.

There’s no disputing that Flores’ biggest challenge is getting it all to hang together… a new way of playing, a new bunch of players, in a new division.  There’s also no disputing that two of those things were necessary given the third.  Our “we’ll score more than you” philosophy which saw our three at the back pulled hither and thither for much of last season was always going to be somewhat optimistic in the top flight.  The players we’ve brought in, from Roma and Spurs and Bremen rather than Chesterfield and Rotherham, have us looking more solid already.  Hell, we faced a slickedy slick Sevilla side and looked tight and organised and compact in a way that we rarely did last season.  And yes, it was only a pre-season friendly, and yes Goodison will be a different challenge in many different ways.  But looking solid against Sevilla is a decent start.  That, and the goals of Deeney and Ighalo and Abdi and the less familiar quantities represented by Jurado and Berghuis.

The level of investment in the squad guarantees nothing, of course.  This is in part reflected in the (almost) universally damning take on our survival prospects.  A lot of this is lazy dick-witted tosh – Norwich, heard of them they must be good (“….and we had the best squad in the division.  No, we did we did we did…”).  Bournemouth, they won the division (in the last smegging minute), they must be good.  Watford?  They just sack managers don’t they? – but some of it IS more considered.  Looking at the challenges that we’ve gone through above, new manager, new team, limited emotional investment in either from the support who don’t know them yet, looking at the quality of the opposition.  Yes, much of the “they’ll finish bottom” is lazy tosh.  Some of it isn’t.  Some of it’s more considered.

But still wrong.

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Comments»

1. Adam Segal - 07/08/2015

Great piece again Matt. Thank you. I think we’ll be just fine. 🙂 It may take a month or two but I am confident of survival (and some).

2. petebradshaw - 07/08/2015

At least West Ham won’t be burdened by Europe now. I think they’ll struggle though.

3. Gavin Lilley - 07/08/2015

As usual quality piece Matt…and I think we will survive too 🙂

4. Wycombe Hornet - 07/08/2015

Very true Matt about last two times, very joyless. I’ll be honest and say I’m nervous ahead of the start of the season and think we’ll survive BUT there aren’t enough games in the Prem to take too long getting the team bedded in and that worries me.


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