Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Has the UEFA Cup been a distraction so far?

After our result in Prague nearly a fortnight ago, I think Spurs fans all over the world are now pretty confident that we can reach at least the group stages of this season's UEFA Cup competition. Our first leg performance was workman-like and effective, and the result very much deserved.

However, has there been a knock-on effect of that match and indeed our presence generally in the UEFA Cup? I cannot fathom why we have started the season so poorly.

Yes, we've lost Carrick and I made my views on him clear earlier on in the summer - he was vital to our creative play last season. Although I think Zokora is looking good so far, he has not yet taken a game by the scruff of the neck (other than the Slavia Prague victory) and pulled all the creative strings in the middle of the park. That said, I do think we have created plenty of goal-scoring chances - it's just a shame we haven't been able to convert them. Now I don't have the stats at hand to know if we are having more or less shots per game than last season, but what is clear is that we have had a lot of gilt-edged chances that we've done nothing with. Therefore, my view is that the problem is to do with finishing not creating, and this cannot be blamed on personnel changes in midfield.

And since our attacking ranks have been strengthened during the close season, we cannot exactly say that we're lacking quality upfront. So why aren't we finishing? Well, I don't think Keane (and to a lesser extent, Defoe) are looking quite as sharp as they have done at times. But I believe the lack of goals (and hence points) is actually more to do with psychological reasons.

Call it feeling the pressure, lacking the bottle, not thinking decisively or clinically enough, whatever. At the end of the day we're not playing with the cutting edge that we showed at times last year. Teams are more wary of us this season and are that bit more determined to win. Our players know that they exceeded all expectations last season, but the bar has now been raised, and anything less than Champions League qualification will be a disappointment to many people. To compound matters, we are also competing in the UEFA Cup - a sexy, exciting, side-piece to the main agenda. And after last season's dismal cup performances, there is plenty of pressure on our guys to do better in this season's cup competitions.

All in all, I think the minds haven't been 100% focused on each task in hand (i.e. each match, one at a time). So not only are players thinking about glory European nights when they should be more in tune to the match at hand, but the injury problems we've suffered and the lack of a true left-sided midfielder have caused increased competition for places, particularly in midfield. Martin Jol also seems to have chopped and changed things around a little - who is the preferred midfield personnel when we lack Lennon? I don't know that I could guess Jol's preferred four after seeing Jenas, Tainio, Zokora, Davids, Murphy, Ghaly, Huddlestone all used in a variety of midfield positions.

So to pull my rambling opinions together, I think the coaching staff need to focus on three simple principles:

  1. Ensure the players are only focusing on one match one at a time. European football should be ignored in the build up to league matches and vice versa.
  2. Build the players confidence - after all, many of the players were involved in last season's impressive fifth placed finish. They have the ability, they just need a bit more luck in front of goal.
  3. Try to build a settled midfield. If Jenas, Zokora and Tainio are 'in', who should join them? If Jol is going to give Murphy his chance then let's give him a proper run in the team.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You have really great taste on catch article titles, even when you are not interested in this topic you push to read it