Tottenham welcome Norwich City to White Hart Lane on Saturday as they begin their life without Gareth Bale in earnest. The Welsh winger has started his new life in Madrid, and by all accounts is doing all the right things, but what has he left behind him?
A lot of new faces
One of the things that has characterised Spurs’ early season performances has been an inability to score. Their first two matches – against Crystal Palace and Swansea City – saw them squeak home with two Roberto Soldado penalties – one for each match, whilst they failed to score away in the first North London derby of the new season as the Gunners cruised to a 1-0 win.
This difficulty in finding the net has primarily been attributed to the fact that Tottenham have bought so many new players. Paulinho, Capoue, Soldado and Chadli have all featured heavily in the Premiership so far; and given the fact that none of these players have ever played in the Premiership before, it stands to reason that it may take them a while to become acquainted with the speed of the game and to get used to what one should expect in the English league.
However, one thing has been very apparent amidst Tottenham’s failure to create chances. They have missed Gareth Bale. Last season, the Welsh wizard with the irritating celebration was Spurs’ saviour on many different occasions. The number-11 would pop up with a pass or a goal that would turn the game on its head, and this was one of the main reasons why Spurs were able to amass such a significant points tally last year. With Bale gone, this Spurs side has been shorn of a match-winner, and Tottenham fans will be desperately hoping that one of their other new players can provide that je nais se quoi that has been so evidently lacking so far.
Tottenham need some spark
My opening comments may have been misconstrued in terms of people thinking that I’m suggesting Spurs are playing badly – this is not the case at all. Most of their new signings – especially the excellent Etienne Capoue – have looked promising, and I think that over time, and as this team gets used to each other, the performances of these players can rise even further.
Nonetheless, what is clear is that Spurs have struggled in the final third of the pitch. Roberto Soldado looks like a more-than-solid acquisition, but the trouble has been getting the ball to the Spaniard. There seems to be a black hole between the midfield and Soldado at present, with Paulinho et al taking the ball a certain way and then not really knowing what to do with it.
This of course is the position that Bale used to inhabit. Playing behind either Jermain Defoe or Emmanuel Adebayor, Bale would roam around in front of the midfield and make things happen. With the Welshman gone, this responsibility will now fall onto either Christian Eriksen or Erik Lamela, and given that these are two 21-year olds with no Premier League experience between them, it’s a very big ask to expect them to be able to step straight in and run the show.
It’s going to take time, but is it time that Spurs have?
Lamela and Eriksen may well turn out to be fantastic acquisitions, but the fact is that they are both still very green. They could turn out to be the best players in the world, but the chances are it’s going to take a couple of seasons for them to acclimatise as well as build on their not inconsiderable talent. Take Cristiano Ronaldo for example – one of the very best footballers in the world. The Portuguese attacker was fairly average when he arrived in the Premier League, and took the best part of three years to become the complete player that he is now. Spurs may have two of the best footballing assets in the world, but they cannot be expected to bloom immediately.
The question is: do Tottenham and in particular Andre Villas-Boas have time to allow players like Lamela and Eriksen to find their feet? Are they prepared to finish 6th or 7th whilst Etienne Capoue and Paulinho get used to the Premier League? Given that Spurs have spent around £100m, fans will be expecting them to build upon their performance of last year, but with so many new players – and young players at that – is that realistic?
This is of course the risk that Daniel Levy took when he finally sanctioned the sale of Gareth Bale – the Spurs side was always going to require some rebuilding. However, ultimately it’s not Levy’s head that’s on the block. Villas-Boas – whose reputation has increased exponentially over the last year – will be expected to make this team tick sooner rather than later. If the Portuguese cannot do so, and the fans become disgruntled; his position could become untenable a lot faster than some might think. For Tottenham’s sake, I hope that Daniel Levy has the foresight to realise that he has handed Villas-Boas an extremely difficult task that cannot be completed overnight, as losing Villas-Boas because the fans want instant success would be a tragedy perhaps even greater than the loss of last season’s match winner.