Tottenham Hotspur’s game against Blackburn Rovers is perhaps a definition of how far Spurs have come defensively. Not necessarily a pretty game, the Lilywhites ground out a 2-1 win at Ewood Park, against a Blackburn team that had 20 shots, albeit only five on target. Have Tottenham, the club forever associated with the “glory game”, learned to win ugly? Debatably not too long ago, Spurs would have come to places like Blackburn and lost. There was a fragility in the team which seemed to fold under pressure. Similarly, in the Europa League tie against Rubin Kazan, it may be hard to imagine the recent Spurs team not buckling under the amount of pressure the Russian team had.
Since losing the opening two matches of the Premier League, the team has put together an impressive run. In all competitions, they have played 10, won 7 and drawn 3 [including the Stoke City League Cup match]. During this they have scored 17 goals and only conceded seven. Apart from the inclusion of a defensive midfielder – missing in the two matches against the Manchester clubs – in front of the back four, whether Scott Parker or Sandro, which has given an invaluable protection to the defence, there are perhaps three reasons for the defensive improvement.
One may be Brad Friedel becoming first choice in goal. A defensive unit need to be able to trust their keeper, to know what he is going to do and in the consistency of the 40-year-old American perhaps Spurs’ have solved this issue for a few seasons. This confidence in the man behind them has perhaps allowed the back four to be more decisive, knowing a misjudgment should probably be covered by the Friedel.
This season there have been injuries to last season’s two regular centre-backs, Michael Dawson and William Gallas, and now Ledley King. Any suggestion before the season started that Younes Kaboul could emerge as a defensive rock and leader might have seen you laughed out The Lane. However, the 25-year-old Frenchman leads or features high in defensive statistics as well as offering a goal threat. The match against Rubin Kazan perhaps showed Kaboul at his best in an 18 minute cameo. With Spurs under pressure the defender appeared everywhere with blocks, tackles and clearances to help preserve the lead.
Perhaps the main area of improvement this season has been at full-back. Right-back Kyle Walker as expected, has brought pace and attacking threat to the position, but may have surprised with his defensive qualities and has earned a call up into the England squad. On the left, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, maligned last season, gives the appearance of a new player. Gone are the lapses of concentration, mistakes and hesitation. Instead, the Cameroonian may have dispelled any doubts over his right to the position with a series of focused, disciplined displays.
Spurs need to strengthen to cover for injuries, but at present the Spurs defence is looking a very solid unit, allowing them to grind out results when the team is under par and giving the team a good balance to the flair players – a good sign in the race for the all important last Champions League place.
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