Thursday, 29 March 2012

Tottenham Hotspur v Swansea City, Match Preview, 1/4/12

Goin' down the Lane

In this Division we've had the privilege of travelling to several of Britain's more iconic grounds this season, and it's been one of the more pleasurable experiences of a fantastically rewarding time.

So this Sunday, when we visit Tottenham Hotspur, who are themselves enjoying a season that's seen them challenge for the very top, and, even now, after a frustrating blip in form sees them turn more to consolidating a Champions League place, it'll be both a delight and pleasure to re-visit a ground that can realistically be qualified as one of England's "proper football grounds".

I think you'll know exactly what I mean.

White Hart Lane, like Tottenham themselves, will forever be associated with some of the better things in British Football, from the honour of being the first modern Club to complete "the double", to the recent excitement of seeing Gareth Bale, that son of Wales, rip Maicon, Brazil's first choice full back a "new one" in recent European adventures.

All Swans please - Just ask yourselves : how good you feel about our performances to date this season, and then consider that it's been nothing other than excellent. Their year has been even better. Particularly after their 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge last week, where, to general consensus they were unlucky to not win, so think how good it must feel for them to be in the mix for another CL adventure, and , that, some may consider they could even be doing better! I think most of us would settle for that, in spades.

After all, it's only because of that recent form "blip" leading to several disappointing results that they seem to be no longer in the mix for the Title itself , and, it should be remembered, this is the team that's played some of the most attractive football over the length of the season to the great pleasure of their discerning fans and the broader football audience. Football that not only like ours is pleasing on the eye, but gets positive results to boot.

They've achieved this over and above their popular Gaffer, Harry Redknapp, becoming the red-hot favourite to take over the reins at the England National Team gig in the wake of the FA's clumsiness in losing the once highly regarded Fabio Capello in the wake of "TerryGate", and despite @arry's admirable protestations to the contrary, it's hard to imagine that this hasn't had some effect in contributing to that aforementioned "blip".

From our point of view, I believe that we couldn't be going to the Lane at a worse time, in a sense.

Mainly because after our besting by David Moyes's tactically astute Everton at the Liberty last week, Tottenham will see us as a legitimate chance to get back on course as it were, by delivering a solid winning performance that keeps them on track for that CL push. Far better for us, surely, if they were just coasting to a comfortable berth that matched lesser expectations. Still, I'm not complaining - this, after all, is what we both wanted and expected from the PL- hard, tough,competitive, consistent testing. Most would say we've done pretty well to cope thus far, and I'd agree.

Tottenham's squad has not changed to a great degree since our first meeting, previewed prior to their Lib visit, so again I'll touch today on the differences and changes from that previous meet.

On Tuesday last they played an FA Cup resumed tie at the Lane after the previous occasion had been called off for the Fabrice Muamba tragedy, and both their fans and all within Football wish him well in his recovery. Tottenham's medical staff and all who contributed toward the Bolton player's transfer to Hospital deserve and are offered our highest respect. It must have been hard for both teams to re-convene for the playing out of the tie.

The locals saw Spurs go with the following team
Cudicini, Bale, Parker, Adebayor, van der Vaart, Modric, King, Walker, Livermore, Assou-Ekotto, Nelsen

with the following bench
Subs: Friedel, Kaboul, Saha, Dos Santos, Defoe, Kranjcar, Rose

....ostensibly a 4-2-3-1 set up with Walker, Nelsen, King and Essou-Ekotto across the back, Parker and Livermore sitting, with van der Vaart, Modric and Bale ahead, and Adebayor leading the line. That, however, puts aside the flexibility, where the front 4 and (less so) the sitting 2 rotate constantly, and Bale, Modric and van der Vaart were all equally free to go into any and all available slots.

Ryan Nelsen, the long toothed Antipodean CB acquired from Blackburn in the Transfer window started, and the team also had Louis Saha, the fragile French forward brought in from Everton on the bench.

Two big changes there, then. With Sebastien Bassong gone to Wolves on loan, Nelsen's addition was almost a cushion against defensive frailty, and Saha has showed in his performances that when fit he is still a real talent, even keeping the Club's top scorer Jermaine Defoe out of the side on several occasions, to the Londoner's (and many fans) puzzlement. Interesting times ahead, methinks, since Defoe is unlikely to see this as anything other than a block on his legitimate claim to play every week.

No matter, the scorers in that Cup Tie were Nelson, Bale, and Saha, on as sub, and Totttenham advanced to a meeting with arch rivals Chelsea in the semi-final as most of us thought they were capable of achieving. This tells you all you want to know about the success of their season.

Not only are they challenging for that long desired CL slot, they are now in the semi-final of the FA Cup and you have to think that if it were not for some key and unfortunate injuries would be doing even better.

The squad assembled, as I've said before, is both well balanced and exciting- Tottenham's fans demand no less- as this is a Club that has always had a reputation for push and run football, from Arthur Rowe's (pre Bill Nic even) through to the current day. Please read the history, it's worthwhile.

Looking at their remaining League fixtures they have us, Norwich, Blackburn and Fulham at Home, with Sunderland, Bolton, QPR and Villa Away, so Harry will be targeting some consolidating wins to ease the path over that recent blip.The consolation for us (if it's that) is that at least we can be guaranteed a pure football match rather than an attritional battle - they know no other way to play. The downside, of course, is that they do it rather well.

One of the many pleasurable contributions on offer in this part of North London this season has been that tactical flexibility, and it's always enthralling to see a football man like Redknapp confound his knockers who'd always assessed him as a wheeler/dealer geezerish good man manager lock horns with the more supposedly cerebral tactical coaches in the PL, and usually both surprise and confound them.

Some would offer that this is just because he has always had the ability to make players feel good about themselves thus freeing them up to play with a smile on their face, but I suspect it goes a little deeper than that facile "feel good" reason only - witness that recent Chelsea game, where subtle but effective changes in emphasis in the performance led to them dominating the second half, and all but ripping up Robbie di Mateo's switch to a 4-4-2 by swamping Mid Field and controlling the game. Chelsea, I'd suggest, were very very lucky to get away with a point.

To us Swans, the style of the way that our team has been playing has become more and more important as it's matched our progress up the Divisions, and that trademark "personal style of your own team" is no less important, I know, to Paul Smith, a lifelong Tottenham fan who edits and runs the fine Spurs Odyssey where his fanaticism matches our own.

Similarly, at the dreaded TalkSport portal, one of their better presenters Paul Hawksbee is again an avid Spur. I'd like to think that we could proudly boast that we've taken as much as we can from the game, so let's see what transpires.

Think back to our earlier season meeting at our place, a Match Report of which can be found here.

I would suggest that this was the first real occasion where we realised that we could compete in this division with the very best. No disrespect to those lesser teams we had played earlier- after all we had then already bested several at our gaff, but this felt a little bit more special. Not only was it a game against a significantly stronger opponent, it was also a performance where we fell behind and were then able to strongly come back with a genuinely thrilling second half performance.

Talking of which, all of my recent previews have tended to concentrate on the opposition, unsurprisingly, since we see and know most of our own pretty well, so, for this week, let's have a closer look at Home.

The stand out change will be this week the one that we can't do anything about.

Namely, Steven Caulker, the young Tottenham CB on loan for the season will not be able to play against his parent club. He has been nothing short of terrific for us this year, and I'd hazard a guess now that if Tottenham fans had seen what we've seen from this fine young player this year, they'd be a lot less worried about the state of Ledley King's knee. Trust me you Spurs, he's ready to step in - now. That's how good he's been.

I have admiration for Dawson, Kaboul, Gallas, Nelsen all - but SC will be ahead of them all next year. Pick him a partner, and you'll be OK. Btw, if you want to leave him here, how does £7/8 mill strike you? Done? You would have been.

Gary Monk, our estimable Club Captain, will of course step in - and if his performance at Fulham two weeks back is repeated we Swans will be very happy. His partner is likely to be a significantly stronger Ash Williams, who has now fully recovered from his noticeable virus weakness of last week.

Given Tottenham's strength out wide (with or without the electric Aaron Lennon), we would be foolish in the extreme to mess with either Rangel at RB or Neil Taylor on the left. As we were, then.

Despite the recent comfort of the middle three (of which I've been a vocal supporter), I have a feeling we may well see some change this week.

There has been debate within the Swans family on the efficacy and effectiveness of young Josh McEachran, on loan to us from Chelsea for the latter part of the season, and, because of the stability established by Britton, Allen and Sigurdsson over the last 2 months, unable to get a regular start. I'm an admirer of this fine player, and would suggest that this may be the week when BR chooses to let him start a league game - and there's the rub - who, on that basis, could we possibly leave out?

Rationale, consensus and fact would suggest it can't be Britton, since he sits deepest and isn't even approaching like for like. Joey Allen has turned himself into a ball-thief, so again, the like for like contrast holds true, but if you add Siggi to the mix, then there's an argument to be made for asking the Icelander to sit deeper, where Joey has ruled of late, and adding Josh into Gylfi's more advanced slot - the better to pass the opposition to death, one hopes.That would be my option, but as I've said before - what do I know? Not a lot.

Up front, things seem clearer. Despite Wayne Routledge's excellent performances, with Nathan Dyer available we surely must pick the player who will figure in our player of the year voting in ND. Sinclair I would hold with, with a Danny Graham/ Luke Moore final option, although Leroy Lita ran his heart out in the 2-2 draw with Chelsea Reserves this week. Ah well, we'll see.

From a personal point of view I'm unable to travel this weekend as my host (son) in London has to work the weekend, so I'll be taking my view from the comfort of my sofa. Thank God for Sky Sports. This was a game I'd been planning to attend and had even got tickets for, but circumstances dictated that it was not to be. Never mind, life was never meant to be a bed of roses, more like a thicket of thorns. There will be other times, undoubtedly.

So, bring it on. As the leading game on the Sky Sports Super Sunday broadcast, it should tell us Swans how far we've come. I've no doubt it'll be entertaining, at the very least. Let's just hope we can come back to South Wales with both our pride and result intact.

Onward, Swansea City.


Matt said...

A great read, thanks Pierre. Very excited about the game.

LittleWilly said...

What a respectful, insightful and knowledgeable preview. I'm a Tottenham supporter and it's rare to read an opponent's view without all the associated jingoism and silliness.

Well done - you must be worth your weight in gold to your Club.

Incidentally, I don't know a Tottenham supporter who doesn't hold the contribution of Swansea to this EPL season in the highest regard.