Another weekend of Premier League football and we are no closer to deciding the key issues.
The relegation scrap is as tight as ever, the title race is neck and neck (and neck – there are three sides involved after all) while four teams are still competing for the last Champions League place. Tottenham Hotspur are in possession of that invite to Europe’s top table and should the Londoners keep hold until the end of the season, there will be few more deserving of the honour of competing with the European elite than Michael Dawson. The ex-Nottingham Forest defender has been at White Hart Lane since 2005, moving South from the East Midlands club with Andy Reid for a combined £8m. Reid never really settled in the capital but Dawson flourished and has become one of Tottenham’s key players, so much so Harry Redknapp tied the Yorkshire man down to a long-term contract in January until at least 2015, despite his previous contact not expiring until 2012. Having joined as an inexperienced 22-year-old with less than 100 senior games under his belt, Dawson has grown into Spurs’ defensive lynchpin, team captain and most reliable outfield player.
Now 26, the defender was in excellent form in Spurs’ 3-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, a result that looks all-the-more important given Manchester City’s draw with Sunderland and Aston Villa’s stalemate with Stoke City. Dawson stood firm in the face of Rovers’ physical assault – as he has all season – providing the bedrock of a Tottenham side robbed of Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King, two high-class defenders worthy of any Premier League side. Both Woodgate and King have long histories of injury problems that have carried into this season, with the former making just two appearances and the latter 15. Dawson and his regular partner Sebastian Bassong have ensured their team mates have barely been missed. Dawson has played with maturity, leadership and determination, as well as no little ability with an excellent positional sense, timing of the tackle and aerial strength to rival anyone in the division.
Dawson’s consistency, both in terms of performance and selection, has somehow not been rewarded with an England call-up. The Three Lions boast a great deal of depth at centre-back, and few would argue with Rio Ferdinand and John Terry being ahead of Dawson in the pecking order, but that the Spurs No.20 appears to be behind Ryan Shawcross and Gary Cahill is surprising. In Ferdinand’s absence for the friendly with Egypt, it was the Stoke defender brought into the squad, while Cahill would likely have been in ahead of Shawcross but for his arm injury. Shawcross and Cahill are good players and have done well for their respective clubs this season, but Dawson has been exemplary in a side fighting at the top end of the table. While all three of the aforementioned players are unfortunate to be playing at a time when England’s central defensive ranks are swollen to bursting, Dawson’s added experience should put him further up the reckoning.
Matthew Upson and Joleon Lescott are Capello’s chosen re-enforcements in the heart of defence and that is the group Dawson belongs in. Both he and Upson lack the pace of Ferdinand – perhaps explaining Lescott’s continued squad presence – but Dawson is more of a leader than the West Ham defender. Upson – a classy player he may be – does not control and co-ordinate his fellow defenders in the same way Dawson does. The pairing of Terry and Upson looked unsure against a pacy Egypt attack and while Dawson would not have solved that problem either, he should be the Italian’s first call if the Chelsea captain is unavailable, offering as close to a straight swap as is available to the England Head Coach. Terry and Dawson possess the many of the same qualities – especially the never-say-die attitude that spurs them both into putting their body on the line for the cause – but also some of the same weaknesses, including discomfort when the ball is at their feet and a vulnerability to pace. Just as with Terry, however, his positives far outweigh his negatives.
If international recognition is out of his reach, then Dawson will more than content himself with a Champions League place but there is still much work to do for Spurs between now and May. On current form Tottenham are edging ahead of their three rivals, taking 11 points from their last six league games, compared to 10 for Liverpool and Villa and nine for Roberto Mancini’s City, with Dawson featuring in each of the previous half-dozen ties. Thanks to the efforts of Dawson and co, Spurs have conceded four goals in those six games, coming away with three wins, two draws and a single defeat, to Wolverhampton Wanderers. That has contributed to Spurs holding the second best defensive record of the Champions League hopefuls, with their defence breached 28 times, bettered only by Villa (21). Liverpool are fractionally worse off in the goals against column with 29 strikes beating their goalkeeper, but all three sides dwarf City’s record of 36 goals conceded – the most in the Premier League’s top eight. If a Champions League place is won in the back four, Spurs are giving themselves every chance.
Most attention is lauded on the Lilywhites’ strike force but their back line is just as deserving of plaudits. Heurelho Gomes has acclimatised to English football, although is still shaky on occasion, while Vedran Corluka and Gareth Bale provide an excellent outlet for Spurs down the flanks. Bale in particular gives the team the pace and dynamism they lack while Aaron Lennon is missing, complementing the craft of Luka Modric, Niko Kranjcar and Tom Huddlestone and the tenacity of Wilson Palacios. Nevertheless, the strong midfield and dangerous attack of Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko would be for nought if the last line was not up to scratch and led by Dawson, Spurs enjoy one of the most well-rounded defences in the country. A few more sterling performances and Dawson will be checking his passport – if not for South Africa, then for a European tour next season.