Club Focus – Tottenham – Carling Cup exit a blessing in disguise?

Tuesday night’s defeat after extra-time against rivals Arsenal was hyped up as a game for the club’s youth – a glimpse at how things may be between the two sides in five years time – who has the better future. Now that Spurs lost and are out, it should be seen as a blessing, thinly disguised.

As North-London derbies go, it was difficult to get any less competitive, given the fact that surely both of these sides involved in the Champions League would have accepted a hard-fought defeat before the game, and one less competition to cope with. The Gunners played fewer youngsters than expected, not least by Harry Redknapp given his face when asked about the line-up before the game. Spurs did approach the game with youth in mind, but also a large chunk of pragmatism, with one eye looking ahead to the weekend tie with West Ham.

The 4-1 extra-time defeat that followed in the Carling Cup was a blow for the likes of Jake Livermore, Kyle Naughton, and Steven Caulker, who may not appear again this season, but will have little more impact. It is of course easy to say after the defeat that Redknapp would have much preferred three points at the weekend rather than a Carling Cup victory, but even if a win was preferable, it was the best game of the season so far to lose given the club’s involvement for the first time in the Champions League, and the extra travel, fixtures and difficulty of game that it entails. The Carling Cup this year for Spurs was for the second string, it needed to be, and they were not good enough to beat Arsenal’s second XI.

Rather than give us any indication whatsoever about Tottenham’s next fixtures, it does however give us an insight into who may break into the first team squad soon. Livermore looked comfortable on the ball, can pick a pass, and looks physically strong, but played only 45 minutes after the midfield failed to establish itself in the first half, and Livermore has now joined Ipswich on loan until January, and is unlikely to feature again this season for Spurs. Caulker looked promising, if not exactly comfortable, and again will have benefited from this tie, but is unlikely to feature again this season, and has been linked with a loan move to Crystal Palace.

One major positive however was the performance of new Brazilian midfielder Sandro. Although taking a while to get into the game, his performance improved as the game went on, making important tackles, showing a very impressive turn of pace, and being very comfortable on the ball. Placed into a Spurs first XI, in the holding role that currently is occupied by Tom Huddlestone, Sandro could really shine, and was one of very few positives to come out of Tuesday night that has any bearing on the current season.

The negatives were there in a footballing sense, but few of those guilty will make Harry lose too much sleep. One regards Kyle Naughton, who although not necessarily the worst performer for Spurs, lacked something that is often present at full-back for Tottenham. Although far too early to discard him as having no future with Spurs, the most obvious flaw in his game would appear to be going forward – almost on every occasion he received the ball on Tuesday, he would pass it backwards, and really meant that the right-hand side became non-existent in attack. Where Benoit Assou-Ekotto (who didn’t have his best game) strode forward regularly, and delivered deep crosses, Naughton never beat his man nor found a telling ball, a shame considering he impressed last season in this manner when on loan at Middlesbrough.

Whether it is a reflection on the player himself, or the result of Spurs being blessed with numerous quality attacking full-backs is unclear. From Bale to Hutton, Assou-Ekotto even to Corluka, it appears Redknapp knows the limitations of the former Sheffield United man, considering how he has preferred playing the more attacking Younes Kaboul out of position instead of Naughton. The player will surely get more opportunities for Spurs, but will need to improve going forward if he is to fit into a Tottenham team that relies on pace and attacking abilities from its full-backs. At 21 years of age, he has time on his side.

These are as deep observations as can be made from a game involving so few players that would be in an ideal first XI for Tottenham, and considering how the side held a stronger Arsenal team at 1-1 for 90 minutes, something that had the game ended at that, would have been seen as a positive. The weekend will bring a whole new approach and line-up. West Ham have not had a good start to the season, and Tottenham need to push on from a good win at home to Wolves last week, and play themselves into better form in time for the visit of FC Twente next Wednesday.

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