Monday, February 26, 2007

Martin Jol's New Improved Tottenham

Martin Jol’s New Improved Tottenham

(from Logan's Column on

What a change! Whatever happened at the training ground in the days following the defeat at Sheffield United – it’s had the desired effect. That’s all that supporters have been looking for – a team that is committed, players who show they want to play for Spurs, players for whom winning matters and who are playing to their ability and in a style that is more akin to the Tottenham ‘way’.

Certainly, the three wins have greatly boosted the player’s confidence and raised the spirit within the team and the players are playing with a style and flair that many had despaired of ever seeing from them.

The players showed against Fulham that they were prepared to compete and took the goal scoring chances when they presented themselves. They carried this endeavour forward into the Everton game and played a skilful passing game that had Everton bewildered. It was only after the goal from their fortunate free-kick that Everton started to exert themselves. However, Spurs set aside their annoyance at that decision and showed resilience uncommon for Spurs’ teams and battled through the second half and became stronger through the final minutes as Jenas scored the winner.

The opening minutes against Bolton were unbelievable. Going into this game everyone knew how they expected Bolton to play and Spurs’ results showed that they have had great difficulty against them in recent seasons – only one win in eight games. Most supporters would have been expecting a very tight, competitive game with Spurs having to battle for any opportunity to play football against a very well organised team. They would have been grateful for a hard-earned win to maintain the momentum of the past week. However, in those opening minutes Spurs were a revelation, playing creative, exciting football that had Bolton reeling and in disarray as they found themselves three goals down within twenty minutes – the stuff that dreams are made of. Spurs continued to dominate and looked likely to add to their goal tally when Bolton were awarded a penalty and Robbie Keane was sent off.

Was the dream going to turn into a horrible nightmare? That thought must have been going through every Spurs supporter’s mind as they recalled how Spurs have folded in the past when put under constant pressure. Somehow, Spurs survived and got through to half-time without conceding another goal but they were under pressure and it wasn’t looking good. Could they hold out for the second half – an early Bolton goal was the fear, but Spurs showed early signs that they could take the Bolton pressure and be dangerous on the counter attack. Dimitar Berbatov caused Bolton constant problems and showed his class throughout the game – he always looked capable of scoring or setting someone else up for a goal. Spurs displayed their new found resilience and slowly minute by minute the half ticked away and, in fact, the Bolton goalkeeper was busier than Paul Robinson, so well had Spurs marshalled their defence to ensure they gave Bolton not a glimmer of hope that they could win. Then to add the final touch to a perfect day, Aaron Lennon scored the fourth goal in added time – one that Spurs fully deserved.

How has this change come about? The defence has been much tighter and Robinson has looked to be returning to his best form while the strikers have taken the goal scoring opportunities that have been on offer. Mido worked hard against Fulham while Berbatov returned and played well alongside Keane, working together for the team and providing movement that has made it easier to make chances and create space for other players. Berbatov’s movement and touch have been outstanding and displayed his real class – making him very difficult for any defender to play against.

The improvement at the back and upfront has been important but the biggest difference has been in midfield. For much of the season, Spurs have had a midfield which has lacked pace and movement. They have been very static and ponderous, neither providing cover for the defence nor supporting the strikers. Only Aaron Lennon can be excluded from this criticism as on many occasions his pace and trickery have been the only creativity within the team and if he was out injured or not performing well, the team had nothing else to offer. The return of Jermaine Jenas from injury has brought vitality to central midfield and he uses his pace both in defensive duties and to support from midfield and his four goals since returning have been invaluable. He was often criticised but in his absence supporters have discovered his importance to the team. Didier Zokora has finally started to show why Spurs signed him in the summer. It has taken him a long time to adjust to football in the Premiership and hindered by illness, only occasionally did we see his pace and strength to take players on – now he is prepared to do it more often and the two central midfield players are working well as a partnership. The play of Teemu Tainio has also added strength to the team – if only he could stay clear of injury to get a consistent run in the team. Although, still missing a natural left sided player, this combination of players has given a balance to the team that had previously been missing. Constant player rotation didn’t help the team develop a style of play or allow the players to develop an understanding of how to play together. Perhaps Martin Jol has settled on his best options and will stay with the side as much as possible, keeping future team changes to a minimum.

The players are now playing with a passion that was lacking earlier in the season. The success in the Carling Cup and in Europe was papering over the cracks of the poor league form and the lack of motivation when under pressure. Too often Spurs succumbed to heavy defeats through a lack of fight and determination – they were too ready to accept defeat when things weren’t going their way, the poor away results and their poor goal difference are evidence to that. In the past three games the Spurs players have shown more passion – encouraging and rebuking each other where previously whatever happened was just accepted without blame or comment. Such a competitive attitude is essential if the players are to perform to the true level of their ability and skill and must be maintained in the coming weeks with a number of difficult games in League, FA Cup and Europe.

Two weeks ago, pressure was mounting on Martin Jol as disgruntled supporters aired their grievances on the team’s failings – now, in the space of a week – a Cup win followed by six points in the Premiership and Spurs fans can’t wait for the next game – a trip to play troubled West Ham United. The same urgency, determination, endeavour and application that have been displayed in the past week will be needed there and in the subsequent games against Braga and Chelsea. A week can be a long time in football but if the lessons of the past few games aren’t taken into the coming games then the past week’s success and enjoyment will have been as nothing and Spurs will still be in a cycle of success and failure, going nowhere fast.


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