Manchester City welcome Tottenham to 'The Fortress' on Sunday for what is surely a must-win match given the hole City have created for themselves. After the poor loss to Sunderland, a break followed by a home match against a good club is hopefully just what the doctor ordered. With plenty of questions lingering for both teams, I looked to get some of them answered by Uncle Menno from Tottenham's SB Nation blog 'Cartilage Free Captain'. I also did a Q&A for them, which can be found here.
- B&B: So let's cut to the chase and address the issue that's probably been making Spurs fans pull their hair out; where have the goals gone? A ton of money was spent on reworking the attack but it hasn't been working out as planned so far with only 9 goals in the league (and 3 of those from the spot), so, what needs to be fixed?
CFC: Easy answer: sell us Aguero.
I wish I had an easy answer to why Spurs haven't put the ball in the back of the net lately. We at Cartilage Free Captain have discussed it ad nauseum for the past few weeks and the conclusion we've come to is that we simply haven't provided Roberto Soldado with enough quality service. It's puzzling why that's the case -- Spurs aren't really short of good passing midfielders, and with the addition of (now injured) Christian Eriksen we've also got a good healthy dose of midfield creativity. That's not translating into opportunities inside the box, though, which is where Soldado is most effective. Spurs easily lead the league in shots outside the box on target (SoBoT), a metric fostered by our resident statistician MCofA, and while they count as shots they're essentially much, much lower percentage shots. Our shots in the box on target (SiBoT), are, well, rather pathetic. Fellow CFC writer brett rainbow had a wonderful post not too long ago that detailed rather astutely the hesitations, bad passes, and lack of vision that led to a number of missed opportunities vs. Everton. That's what's got to change. Our midfield needs to quickly Vulcan mind-meld with Soldado and get him the damn ball in positions where he can score. Once that happens, and I think eventually it will, I'm pretty sure the scoring flood gates will open. Soldado's a great striker, but he hasn't had many opportunities to prove it.
Incidentally, despite the loss to Newcastle two weekends ago, Spurs looked much, much better in attack. If Tim Krul would've been a, y'know, NORMAL goalkeeper and not Spider-Man between the sticks and made 14 saves, Spurs probably would've netted at least 3-4 goals. So, there you have it. Two solid ways to beat Tottenham: put men behind the ball and disrupt channels in the attacking third, or sign Spider-Man.
- B&B: Will Spurs finish in the top 4 this season? Why or why not?
CFC: If Spurs' attack opens up and their defense stays as solid as it has been during the opening third of the season, then yes, I think they have a decent shot of finishing top four. But it's tough this year, man. Realistically, Arsenal, Chelsea, and yes, probably City will battle for the title this year, which leaves Spurs, United, Liverpool, Everton. and on current form, Southampton to duke it out for that last Champions League spot. And really, we could be in a situation where the gap between second and eighth could be just a handful of points by the end of the season.
Spurs supporters should be heartened by the fact that they have virtually no offense and they're still within three points of second place. Their rock-solid defense has kept them in the hunt thus far, and you have to think that even regressing to the mean will result in putting the ball in the onion bag more than what they're doing now. I hope they do, because I'm not sure I can take another year of Europa League football.
- B&B: Touching on some of the new faces in the squad this season... will we see more of Erik Lamela in the league soon? How's Christian Eriksen been? And what's the feeling from Spurs fans on Andros Townsend thus far?
CFC: I think Lamela's time is coming soon. Lamela has required patience as he's adjusted to a new team, a new country, and a new language. He's needed time to adjust, and as the Hugo Lloris saga of last season has shown, AVB does tend to work his new signings in rather gradually. Once he gets into the side, though, I think he'll probably be there to stay.
Practically speaking, Andros Townsend has been the one to keep Lamela out of the side for now. There's some dissension in the ranks on f the effectiveness of Andros Townsend. He's been a breath of fresh air this season, practically coming out of nowhere and trying to fill that Gareth Bale-sized hole on the left flank. He has a directness that nobody else on Spurs has, and he's had some really wonderful moments. However, he has a tendency to not pick his head up and see where his teammates are, and that's led to some really derpy plays and some ridiculously ill-conceived long-range shots. He's really young, though, and a very promising player and could turn out to be a real diamond for Spurs.
As for Eriksen, he's had a little bit of trouble adapting here in the early goings, mostly because he's not yet on the same wavelength with his new Spurs teammates like he was at Ajax. He also just got injured on international duty with Denmark in a freakin' meaningless friendly and will be out for an indefinite amount of time. Personally, I think he's the best #10 we have, and not having him is going to hurt our chances of victory in the coming weeks.
- B&B: Do the Tottenham faithful miss Gareth Bale?
CFC: You mean that Welsh bloke who netted 42 goals for us and who just got us 100m in the offseason? Naah. Why would be miss that guy'?
In all seriousness, any team would require some readjustment after losing their best player and top scorer. The good news is that the cash from his sale has allowed us to bring in some really good talent and the flexibility to retool the squad the way AVB wants. I'm not sure you can say yet with certainty that Spurs are now a better team than with Bale, but I do think that they invested that money very well and that it will pay dividends in the future.
I think most Spurs fans don't begrudge Bale leaving for Madrid, and he handled the media circus about as well as he possibly could have. We all miss him and wish him well -- he was a good and faithful servant to the club and he'll be undoubtedly be known as a Spurs legend alongside Klinsmann, Hoddle, and Ledley King.
- B&B: Form and injury situation at Spurs currently? How do you expect AVB to approach City, who rarely drop points at home?
CFC: City provides an interesting puzzle for Spurs. Tottenham has struggled against teams that park the bus, and because of that most teams, have, well, parked the bus against us. Spurs have played their best football against the teams like Norwich who have dared to go straight at us, which has stretched the field and allowed some good opportunities for counterattacking. I don't expect to see much deviation on Sunday from the way that AVB normally sets up his squads -- we'll probably see the same 4-2-3-1 with a high defensive line, Jan Vertonghen deputizing for Danny Rose at LB, and Sandro anchoring the midfield. In Eriksen's absence I'd expect to see Lewis Holtby slot in at the #10 with Townsend and probably Gylfi Sigurdsson or Erik Lamela on the flanks. Soldado up top.
I think the most interesting battle in this match is going to be in the center of midfield. There's a potentially tasty matchup between Fernandinho and his Brazilian counterparts Sandro and Paulinho. Whoever can command the center of midfield will likely get more opportunities on goal. If Yaya Toure can boss the midfield and press Spurs' midfielders into making mistakes, then Tottenham are going to have a long day.
I like Spurs' back line and think it can hold its own against the likes of Aguero, Negredo, and Silva, but it depends on Tottenham not giving the ball away cheaply in the center, which quickly negates the high line. Spurs have the quality to effectively strike on the counter if they're given space to play, and I'll be really interested to see how Clichy deals with Kyle Walker. I'd guess (hope?) that City will play Spurs open and trade blows rather than playing compat and putting men behind the ball. If I were Pellegrini, though, I'd start Edin Dzeko. Spurs have at times struggled against powerful strikers, and he's an imposing target on set pieces, another Spurs weakness.
- B&B: Finally, a prediction for the match?
CFC: I'd like to say I'm optimistic about this match, especially considering City's recent struggles, but I'm not at all. Especially not when y'all are playing at home. I predict a 2-1 City win, and the widening gyre of Tottenham's offensive woes will continue in the media for at least another week. Boy, do I hope I'm wrong.
Many thanks to Uncle Menno for his time! You can follow him on Twitter here and check out more from Cartilage Free Captain (in my opinion, the second best SB Nation Premier League team blog, after B&B of course).