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Tottenham’s strength in depth…in depth

Much of Tottenham’s success this season has been down the strength in depth that manager Harry Redknapp can call upon. Every position is covered by a player of equal quality. Or so some of the fans thought. The 2-1 defeat to PAOK highlighted some sheer deficiencies in the quality of Spurs’ reserve players and while many believed that the starting XI on the night would be good enough to comfortably finish in the top half of the Premiership, should they ever be pitted against their league counterparts, the performance during the Europa League encounter left a lot to be desired.

Following the analysis of Spurs’ weak link in the team, To the Lane and Back will now take an in-depth look at the players that would come in to replace their team-mates through suspensions or injuries and whether they are good enough for the current starting XI.

Carlo Cudicini – The disputable deputy to Sheriff Brad, Cudicini has firmly established himself as Tottenham’s number two since he arrived in 2009 from London rivals Chelsea. Briefly instilled as the clubs number one, while Brazilian Heurelho Gomes was having a bit of an un-common mare in between the sticks, the Italian has been reliable when sparingly called upon by Harry Redknapp. Mainly utilised in the Europa League, the former Chelsea shot-stopper appears to have accepted his role in the squad, having leapt ahead of Gomes in the pecking order, a feat made all the more impressive following a motorcycle accident over two-years ago, and doesn’t seem all too fussed about the choice of the Spurs manager. Definitely an effective member of the squad and considering he is happy to warm the bench and step-in when called upon, is an excellent asset to have especially with his Brazilian team-mate expected to leave next month.

Vedran Corluka – Unlucky to have lost his place in the starting XI, if I’m being honest. Never really put a foot wrong and, as a right back, is technically pretty sound. However, his decision making and concentration have been targeted more than once while a distinct lack of pace and about as agile as a freight-train saw the Croatian found out particularly quickly by a number of the Premiership’s nippier wingers. Nonetheless, he managed to form a dynamite partnership with Aaron Lennon and two complemented each other brilliantly. But, when Kyle Walker was bought back from his loan spell, the former Manchester City full-back must have realised his first-team opportunities were limited. And that has been the case with the England international storming ahead of the 25-year-old in the pecking order. However, it is harsh to judge him on the PAOK loss, having just returned from injury, and certainly makes for an excellent squad player. Unfortunately, his time at White Hart Lane may be coming to an end with the player admitting he is looking to leave in January in search of first-team football with Italian outfit AS Roma linked with a move for the out of favour defender.

William Gallas – It’s safe to assume a fair few eyebrows were raised when Harry Redknapp conceded his interest in Big Billy G, as my brother aptly tagged him. And the sheer disbelief when a deal had been struck to bring the Frenchman to White Hart Lane was simply mindboggling. I mean, this was a man who had played for both Chelsea and Arsenal, and one that was rumoured to be a major disruptive influence in any changing room. But, kudos to Gallas, his maiden year in the white half of North London was a considerable success and his performances warranted a two-year extension to his current deal. When Ledley King was out for a majority of the season, Gallas stepped up and his impressive displays aided in Spurs’ push up the table while helping compatriot Younes Kaboul emerge as the mountainous player he is today. Unfortunate to be injured for the first-half of the current season, the 34-year-old has found himself thrust back into the starting XI due to defensive injuries in recent weeks and his experience means he is a useful squad member especially with the games fast approaching over the hectic Christmas period.

Michael Dawson – Dawson, like Corluka, has been somewhat unlucky as to have lost his place in the Spurs starting XI in recent months. Started the season as captain but, due to an Achilles injury, has now seen him relegated to fourth choice centre-back. Redknapp claims the centre-back is making good progress in his rehabilitation, and at just the right time with the festive period right around the corner. Yet, can only play alongside Gallas or King i.e. a commanding centre-back, not a warrior-esc one like Kaboul, as witnessed during the humiliating start to the domestic campaign. However, with the Frenchman firmly established as the number one defender, Dawson is going to struggle to re-establish himself as a first-teamer when he fully recovers from his Achilles problem and many fans believe he doesn’t deserve to start even if he were fully fit citing a slow turn of pace and an un-reliability when up against the less robust strikers in the league, your Sergio Aguero’s and Javier Hernandez’s, for example. Nonetheless, has been a stalwart for Spurs since signing from Nottingham Forest in 2005 and hardly a rubbish back-up to call upon when Kaboul is unavailable.

Danny Rose – Left-back isn’t the young man’s predominant role, preferring to be a little higher up the pitch, but when Benoit Assou-Ekotto was forced out of the remainder of the 2010/11 campaign, the England U-21 international performed admirably when Redknapp asked him to fulfil the role in the back four. Followed in the steps of Aaron Lennon in arriving from Leeds United, he shot to prominence in Spurs’ top four obtaining season when, after being the surprise inclusion in the starting XI during the North London derby, slammed home his first goal for the club with a stunning 35-yard volley. Now considered behind Assou-Ekotto in the pecking order, Rose has made it his mission to usurp the Cameroon man in the starting XI and make the left-back spot his own. However, it is evident that he isn’t a natural full-back and his inexperience in the position was brought to light during the 2-1 defeat to PAOK. Having just returned from an ankle problem, needs match fitness which may lead to a January loan move. A good squad player to have but, is coming to a point in his career where he needs first team football in order to develop, not sit and wait for his chance to break into the Spurs first team.

Steven Pienaar – A somewhat peculiar signing last Christmas and despite having picked up the award for Everton Player of the Year six-months prior to his move down south, was never really welcomed with open arms at White Hart Lane. Yes, he has the tenacity to cause problems and can carve out an opportunity when on form but, was he really needed? Some argue yes but a majority say no, and his 12 months in London is a testament to this, making only eight Premier League appearances since his move. Maybe I am being a little unfair on the South African chap, injury has, after all, blighted his input but, when you consider the players that can play in his position (Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Lennon and Niko Kranjcar (who yes, we will get to shortly)), all of a sudden pint-sized Steven looks a little out of his depth at Spurs. To be fair, he has been used sporadically and did put in a shift during the famous 1-0 win over AC Milan but fans have never warmed to him as much as he may have hoped. A squad player and an effective one to have when the going gets tough, but many will hardly lose any sleep should he be shipped out.

Tom Huddlestone – The third, and certainly not last, of the Spurs squad to have had his position usurped due to injury, Huddlestone was absolutely pivotal to the meteoric rise to the top four. Sitting back to allow Modric to work his magic, the giant England man utilised his physical stature to break-up any ensuing attacks while his passing range enabled attacks to be started quickly and efficiently. Packing a thunderbolt of a shot, Bolton Wanderers, and in particular Jussi Jaaskelainen, know all too well about, he was a real asset to Redknapp when needed. However, ankle surgery in successive seasons has limited his chance to, one more, stamp his foot down on the first team and as such, has only made 16 league appearances in the past 18 months. Now perceived as the fourth choice centre-midfielder, behind Scott Parker, Modric and the next player on our list, the 24-year-old is at a crossroads in his career. Continue to fight for his place in the team, or move on in search of first-team football? An excellent talent to have from the bench but he is too good to be considered just a squad player in my books. Unlucky to be in the position he is now, he is going to have to work hard to earn his spot back in the starting XI. His ability to play at centre-back, despite mobility issues, can come in handy when the going gets tough and his self-confidence is clearly still high despite injury, recently stating he will grow his ‘Huddlefro’ until he scores in a Spurs shirt in aid of Cancer Research UK.

Sandro – The last in our second starting XI that was, like Gallas, Dawson and Huddlestone, unlucky to be injured around the start of the season. Sandro started his Spurs career slowly but, once Huddlestone was ruled out for five months, the Brazilian stepped up to the plate and finished the season strongly slotting in alongside Modric with minimal ease. The fans were expecting him to be one of the first names on the team-sheet for the new season but, after appearing for Brazil in the Copa America, broke down in training with a knee injury. Subsequently, the Lou Ferrigno wannabe faced surgery and the prospect of three months on the sidelines. As a result, Spurs bought in Scott Parker and the Brazilian hasn’t been able to dislodge the fan favourite since. It was a massive strike of misfortune for the 22-year-old, who had been expected to start the season where the last one ended. However, he recently signed a new five-year contract, signalling his intention to remain at White Hart Lane and with Parker now 31-years-old, it won’t be long before the powerful Brazilian gets his chance once again. Plus, he is one hell of a back-up for the England international.

Andros Townsend – Townsend is only the second player from both ‘The weak link in the Spurs team’ and this one to have come through the youth-ranks at Spurs, the other being Ledley King. He has been unfortunate to have seen his appearances limited in the starting XI and hasn’t had the opportunity to really excel in has favoured position on the left following a successful debut against Charlton Athletic at the beginning of the calendar year, being voted man of the match following a goal in the encounter. Numerous loan spells have helped the youngster develop and fans are beginning to get the impression more are to follow despite starting a number of cup tie’s this season. But, having been knocked out of the Carling Cup early, and a Europa League exit looking almost inevitable, Townsend will find his first-team chances limited. However, with time on his hand, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and the 20-year-old isn’t an awful player to have in the squad, with his speed and dribbling ability rendering him ideal as an impact sub.

Niko Kranjcar – I told you I was getting to him. Lining up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, Kranjcar would be perfect in the pocket behind a striker. Technically, the Croatian is a fantastic player with his ability to create something out of nothing only rivalled, perhaps, by Modric and Rafael Van der Vaart. However, he has fallen down the pecking due to the consistency of those around him, which is a darn shame because when he signed, he took to his new surroundings like a duck to water. When Modric suffered a broken leg in his debut campaign, the former Portsmouth star slotted in almost instantaneously and excelled on the left-wing, before the emergence of Bale of course. Yet, hardly utilised last season saw the player repeatedly state his intention to leave the club in search of first-team football but, following moves to Fiorentina and Dynamo Kiev failing to materialise, was once again found in favour by Redknapp at the beginning of the season before a thigh injury hampered his input into the new season. When fully fit, he can change games in the blink of an eye but needs to be starting games, especially with the peak of his career encroaching, something that may not be guaranteed at White Hart Lane.

Jermain Defoe – The England striker can do no wrong but still cannot find a place in the starting XI. Unfortunately for Defoe, Van der Vaart is currently the preferred choice to partner Emmanuel Adebayor leaving the front-man to ponder what else he can do to cement a starting spot. Despite an unproductive season last year, Defoe has hit the current campaign running with six league goals to his name already. Many argue he is better coming off the bench later in the game when defenders are beginning to tire but when given the nod has proven just as prolific, if not more so. Like Sandro, the 29-year-old is unlucky not to be considered a guaranteed first-teamer and in a majority of Spurs’ Premier League rivals, would have his place set in stone. One that is likely to be voice his concerns about a lack of first-team football, and you can hardly blame him especially with Euro 2012 fast approaching. But, Redknapp has managed to keep him happy at the moment and with Van der Vaart’s fitness at times an issue, Defoe will always manage to get minutes on the pitch, be it from kick-off or in the second half.

So while there are a fair few who deserve to be part of the starting XI, ultimately if it is feasibly impossible to do so, a number of the back-up players aren’t reliable enough to be called upon should the worst come to worst. Naturally, the likes of Roman Pavlyuchenko, Giovani Dos Santos, Sebastien Bassong and Gomes are expected to move on in January with no assurances that their place in a travelling 18 is secure.

As previously mentioned, Huddlestone is raising money in aid of Cancer Research UK with the traget set to £75,000. Each just £1 can make a difference. Donate to the ‘Huddlefro’ here.

Ben McAleer

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