Comfortably 2-0 up away to Everton, it seemed that Tottenham could even afford to be uncharacteristically profligate in front of goal. That is until Spurs had a defensive meltdown and allowed the Toffees back in to the game, goals in the last quarter of an hour from Louis Saha and Tim Cahill providing an unlikely comeback. In truth, both goals could have been avoided, just like the possibility of a draw could have been if Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe had stuck away countless chances earlier on. That Defoe spurned a late reprieve from the penalty spot is immaterial. The hammering of Wigan showed that Spurs are capable of taking their chances; it is the defence that offers the greater cause for concern.
Centrally, Harry Redknapp is on paper spoilt for choice. Ledley King, Jonathan Woodgate, Michael Dawson and Sebastien Bassong are all players of high merit. In the cases of King and Woodgate, they are top quality players. Yet Redknapp rarely has the luxury of having a clean bill of health for his four centre-backs, for any notable period of time. Bassong has been freely available for selection for the majority of games since joining from Newcastle in August and Dawson does not fall in to the injury prone category in quite the way that King and Woodgate do. The pair are developing a decent partnership in the absence of their senior colleagues but, as yesterday showcased, it is still very much a fledgling understanding. Making things harder for the young pair is the knowledge that one or both will make way as soon as their experienced counterparts are fit.
You cannot blame Redknapp for wanting to field King and Woodgate when they are available. Both are top class centre-backs with a wealth of defensive know-how. When paired together they have shown an excellent understanding and would rightly be automatic picks if they were available week in, week out. Partnering one of them with Bassong or Dawson is also beneficial to Spurs, with Michael and Sebastien able to learn much from Ledley and Jonathan. The trouble is that King and Woodgate are available so irregularly that it is detrimental to keep interrupting the Bassong-Dawson pairing to field one or both of the walking wounded. How are they meant to build up a partnership if they are never sure when they will be playing together or who they will be learning from next?
For Everton’s first goal, Gareth Bale at left-back was beaten far too easily by Everton’s rookie right-back, Seamus Coleman. Yet when the ball was played in by Coleman, who was picking up Louis Saha? The French striker was left free at the near post to divert the ball home. The goal bore similarities to Defoe’s strike for Spurs, yet Everton could be forgiven for being lax at the back given that they had four full-backs making up their defence. Bassong and Dawson should have been better placed. As they should have been for the second goal from the home side, with Cahill unmarked at the back stick. The ball should have been cleared from the edge of the area earlier in the move, but that is beside the point. The play had moved in to the next phase and the defence should have readjusted and shown better concentration with the game finely balanced.
One option Harry could investigate would be to dip in to the market in January and sign a new centre-back. There are several issues making that a difficult project. Despite Tottenham hardly having been shy with cash in recent times, there is not the bottomless pit enjoyed at Stamford Bridge and Eastlands. The club have reportedly reached agreement on a move for young Brazilian midfielder Sandro and Spanish goalkeeper Asier Riesgo is on trial at White Hart Lane with a view to moving as cover for long-term absentee Carlo Cudicini. Both potential moves would eat in to the budget for a new defender.
It would be hard to justify keeping the current four centre-backs on the books as well as a new purchase, but who would be going through the exit door? No club who could afford the wages of King or Woodgate would want to spend that kind of money on such injury prone players, and The Daily Mail has recently reported that King has just been offered a lucrative new deal suggesting Redknapp is very keen to keep his skipper. Dawson is under contract until 2013 and is well worth persevering with, showing a goalscoring touch in the past weeks, including a Klinsmann-esque diving header against Everton, to go with his aerial prowess and ball-playing ability. Bassong is a recent signing and has settled in well. Just not well enough. Spurs need to either find a cure for King and Woodgate’s malfunctioning bodies or be bold enough to give Bassong and Dawson a long run together, regardless of anyone else’s availability.