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Premiership Preview–6. Tottenham

The 2007-2008 season was a roller coaster for Tottenham Hotspur. Martin Jol was removed from the manager’s post in late October, but only found out through a text message sent to his nephew, who then forwarded the news to the Dutchman’s phone. A team that was a trendy pick to break into the top four at Arsenal’s expense was sitting around 15th place at the time, and for all the plaudits received by Juande Ramos for the job he did after he took over from Jol, Spurs still only wound up in 11th. They beat Chelsea to win the Carling Cup, but Ramos isn’t being paid a whopping $9 million per season for mid-table finishes.

Spurs have undergone considerable change under Ramos, both on the field and off. The Spaniard implemented new dietary and fitness standards to keep his team in the best possible shape. He uses a more rigid, disciplined 4-4-2 than Jol, relying less on individual creativity and making it a team game.

He’s turned over the roster from back to front, bringing in eight new players this summer in addition to the four acquired in the January transfer window, while getting rid of eight others this summer, four in January, and loaning several more out. All these moves haven’t come cheaply; the net cost to build this new first team is well over $100 million. To be fair, the money spent has brought back some great young talent and potential high-impact returns.

Heurelho Gomes was signed from PSV for around $14 million to be the starting keeper. David Bentley’s initial $30 million price tag needs to justified with his play on the right wing. Luka Modric is a joint club-record signing at $33 million from Dinamo Zagreb, and the Croatian midfielder should play as an attacking midfielder behind the two strikers. Giovani Dos Santos, who has been labeled as “the next Lionel Messi, cost roughly $9.5 million up front, though that figure could rise to $17.2 million based on performance-related criteria, and the deal includes a sell-on clause as well. Dos Santos made the move from Barcelona, who seemed happy to ship the supremely skilled Mexican youngster off because of some well-documented attitude issues, likely relating to the immaturity that comes part-and-parcel with his age. He’ll be looking to prove those doubters wrong with his play opposite Bentley.

Only one major piece from a year ago has left White Hart Lane — Robbie Keane was sold to Liverpool for a total that could end up at just over $40.5 million. The Irish striker scored 23 goals in all competitions last season and 45 combined in the past two campaigns. He formed a lethal partnership with Dimitar Berbatov up front, who will now pair with Darren Bent.

Spurs are undoubtedly strongest in midfield, where they now have eight players who would be legitimate starters for most every other team in the Premiership. Only four, and occasionally five, can play at the same time, however, and three of those spots already seem to be filled up by Bentley, Dos Santos, and Modric. Of those three, Dos Santos is the one who may not start all the time because Modric can play on the left as well, which would allow another central player to get a chance. Four central midfielders — Tom Huddlestone, Didier Zokora, Jermaine Jenas, and Jamie O’Hara — are essentially competing for one or two spots, with the middle two the clear favorites at this point, especially Zokora. Kevin-Prince Boateng may also figure into that mix, though he’s probably going to be resigned to appearances in cup games. Aaron Lennon (remember him?) provides much more pace than Bentley on the right, but Bentley is a superior crosser and is very good on the set piece. Because of this plethora of midfielders, don’t be surprised to see Ramos employ a 4-2-3-1 at times throughout the year.

Projected Starting Lineup (4-4-2):

GK: Gomes

*RB: Alan Hutton

CB: Jonathan Woodgate

**CB: Ledley King (captain)

LB: Gareth Bale

RMF: Bentley

DMF: Zokora

AMF: Modric

LMF: Dos Santos

ST: Berbatov

ST: Bent

*Hutton is out for an indefinite period with a sprained ankle, so expect to see Zokora inserted there to start the season. Jenas would then be shifted to Zokora’s role in the midfield.

**It’s been reported that because of King’s chronic knee problem, he can realistically only play one game out of every three for the rest of his career. When ready, King will start, but you’ll be seeing plenty of Michael Dawson as well.

Games against Chelsea (away), Aston Villa (home), and Portsmouth (away) highlight the six-match opening to Spurs’ schedule, which also includes must-win home games with Sunderland and Wigan.

October begins in easy fashion for Ramos’ side, with visits from Hull City and Bolton sandwiched around a trip to Stoke City. After those three matches, though, comes the first “scum” vs. “scum”, North London derby of the season against Arsenal, with this one coming at the Emirates to finish up the month.

The much-anticipated clash with Arsenal is followed in short order by an appearance from Liverpool, a must-watch game as it’s Robbie Keane’s return to White Hart Lane.

Tottenham hasn’t beaten Arsenal in the Premiership seemingly in ages, and hadn’t defeated the Gunners in any competition since November 1999 before they thumped Arsene Wenger’s kids 5-1 in the second leg of the Carling Cup semifinal last year. Spurs will get their second chance to beat Arsenal in the league on February 7 and get home-field advantage in that game.

Spurs end the year with four tough games in their last five; road games at Manchester United, Everton, and Liverpool are broken up by a winnable home game against West Brom and a tricky home date with Manchester City.

Bottom Line: It’s simple — if all of the new signings brought in by Ramos can adjust to the Premiership quickly, Spurs has the talent to challenge for a place in next year’s Champions League; if not, all the optimism in this part of North London will have gone out the window and it’ll be yet another disappointment from the club’s end. Tottenham has spent the money to contend, now they have to put up or shut up.

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  1. Reo

    August 14, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    Please add a preview tag to this post. Thank you!

  2. Matt

    August 9, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    Michael, you can say it as many times as you want, you’ll still be wrong. This is supposed to be a preview of what to expect from these teams in the upcoming season, not a venue for you to express what you think they should do. Jenas will start over Zokora every time the question is asked. You say that Zokora should start over Jenas in a 4-4-2 to balance the midfield. Fine, but the problem is that Spurs aren’t playing a 4-4-2 anymore. If Zokora starts it will be alongside Jenas, not at his expense.

  3. The Gaffer

    August 9, 2008 at 9:01 am

    EPL Matches,

    A ‘Recent Posts’ widget has now been added to the lower right corner. Good idea.

    Not sure what you mean by the problem with posting comments and being stuck on the thank you page. Works OK for me. If it happens again, please send a screenshot to me at thegaffer[at]epltalk[dot]com

    Thanks for the feedback.

    The Gaffer

  4. brewster

    August 9, 2008 at 7:52 am

    agree with a lot of what’s been said here. there is no way we would leave Jenas out of a first choice side. Ramos loves him – and, Bent aside, he’s been the best player of pre-season, driving the team forward from midfield.

    Michael, I know what you’re saying re Zokora, but he has really been awful in midfield, and his surging pointless runs hardly protect the back four.

    But without the addition of a quality defensive midfielder – and like everyone else here, I hope we sign one – the formation helps the problem. In a 442, having a holding player is paramount. But if we line up with three quite central midfielders who are all strong and can tackle (ie Jenas, Bentley) it’s less of a problem.

    So, for this reason, and assuming Berbatov leaves for Man U before the start of the season, here’s my first choice starting line-up. It’ll be a 433, in the style Chelsea used to play, with two attackers supporting a lone striker (they used to have Duff and Robben doing this), three central midfielders, one sitting just to the right and left, and the full backs getting forward to provide width.

    GK: Gomes

    RB: Hutton
    CB: King
    CB: Woodgate
    LB: Bale

    LCM: Jenas
    DM: Huddlestone
    RCM: Bentley

    AMLC: Dos Santos
    AMRC: Modric

    ST: Bent

  5. eplmatches

    August 9, 2008 at 4:00 am

    Please make the site somemore user friendly…
    After submitting comment it goes to thank you page and stucks there.

    please add a recent posts widget in the sidebar too.. please

  6. Ev

    August 8, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    I have to agree with the comment about ignoring O’hara at our own peril. I don’t think I can add any more about him that hasn’t already been said (tireless, strong passer, unafraid of getting stuck in). My one worry about him is that he gets upset when he does make a mistake and usually follows up with a booking.

    Also, Gunter. Maybe he isn’t ready to fill in for Hutton completely, but I think he’s got the talent to do the job on a temporary basis. I think if they play him in the games that Ledley plays – until Hutton gets back – Ledders’ leadership will really help him.

    Someone also mentioned Lennon in a more central role. IMO, he’d do a great job in a free role position, darting in behind the lines and starting quick counters, but I think he’s probably going to be a change of pace for Gio or Bentley. Who knows, maybe he’ll turn into a super-sub a la Ole Solskjaer.

    I also have a soft spot for Dawson, who I think, gets more stick than he deserves. Maybe I’m wrong, but I believe that he has the heart and the talent to do the business.

  7. Michael

    August 8, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    Matt, what I’m saying is if it’s a 4-4-2, I believe Zokora should start over Jenas to balance the formation out, because the other three midfielders are definitely attack-minded and Zokora is better defensively than Jenas.

    If it’s a 4-2-3-1, than both Jenas and Zokora should start.

    I don’t know how many times I can say it.

  8. Matt

    August 8, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    I’m curious what makes you think Zokora will start at Jenas’ expense? Especially when Jenas has just been named the new Vice-Captain. This is more significant at Spurs than most clubs considering Ledley King only captains the squad for about 30% of the games if we’re lucky. Robbie Keane was essentially our captain last year and Jenas will be this year; meaning: he plays.

    If Spurs go into the season with the squad they currently have, I could see them lining up with this formation:

    GK: Gomes

    RB: Hutton
    CB: King
    CB: Woodgate
    LB: Bale

    DM: O’Hara/Zokora/Hudds
    DM: Jenas
    CM: Modric
    RM: Bentley
    LM: dos Santos

    CF: Berbatov


    Spurs started the Norwich game in a similar formation. Jenas and Huddlestone played at d-mid with Modric at center-mid. O’Hara and dos Santos played wide while Bent played up top. I can almost guarantee you that Spurs will not play a 4-4-2 this season. At least, not in the traditional sense. Dos Santos or Arshavin, if he’s brought in, will play the left midfield role tucked in slightly, allowing Gareth Bale to roam up and down the side line while Hutton at right back stays at home. More than Bale, anyway. It’s a dedicated defensive midfielder that I want for the club, though. Zokora’s not good enough, Huddlestone’s not fast enough, and O’Hara’s young and unproven. I’m crossing my fingers for one of Corluka, Albelda, or Veloso.

  9. Weston

    August 8, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    Wow, the yid army is coming out in force for this article! You can tell that all the off-season activity is getting people excited.

    Too bad the Spurs v Roma friendly isnt on tv tomorrow , dammit!

  10. Michael

    August 8, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    Ice, I’m including the transfers last January of Hutton, Woodgate, Gunter, and Gilberto, and Bostock in May.

    Robinson only was worth $7 million, Keane $40 million, fair enough, and the Sunderland trio was no more than $30 million.

    I don’t count Gardner and Kaboul because they haven’t officially been sold yet.

    I should’ve clarified what I said — Spurs have spent a net $100 million since last summer, also including Jol’s acquisitions (Bent, Kaboul, Bale, Boateng). I made it seem like Ramos has spent that much, which is incorrect. Apologies for the confusion.

  11. Ice

    August 8, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    $100m net spend? How’d you figure that one out? Correct that we’ve spent approximately $100m (which is being generous) – but we’ve recouped nearly all of that through the sales of players like Keane, the Sunderland trio and Robinson plus forthcoming sales of Gardner and Kaboul – which totals around $90m. Total net spend – $10m.

  12. NYSursFan

    August 8, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    My prediction (assuming no new signings and Berbatov is gone):

    GK Gomes
    RB Zokora (although I don’t think this is a good idea. I’d prefer O’Hara or Gunther here)
    CB Woodgate
    CB Dawson (saving King for other matches)
    LB Bale (Benny is going out on loan to a team in France, I believe)
    DM Huddlestone (or O’Hara. Maybe start O’Hara and bring Hudd in as a defensive substitute)
    CM Jenas
    LM Modric
    RM Bentley
    “FW” Gio
    FW Bent

    I’m envisioning a Christmas tree formation, with Hudd (or O’Hara) at the apex in front of the back four. Jenas will slide back and forth between Hudd and the attack. Gio free to roam around feeding balls to Bent.

    The real conumdrum arises if Berbatov stays. I don’t think a Berbatov-Bent partnership will work.

  13. Chirpy

    August 8, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    Forget O’Hara at our peril. His pre-season performances as “scavenger” in front of the
    back four mark him out as a future England king pin. His passes never go astray, loose balls are
    consumed with ease, and his energy levels are boundless. Every great team needs a destroyer and ours is about to be unleashed on the PL. Arsenal, Chelsea, Man U beware…

  14. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    August 8, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    Wow Spurs must be loaded if Gio doesn’t start.

    I’m glad Michael you learned your lesson from last year NOT to EVER pick Spurs ahead of Arsenal. Personally I prefer Spurs to the Gunners but know the N. London hierarchy.

    Also if Gio is unable to start for a Premier League side, what does that say about the state of football in North America? Gio along with Vela are possibly the two best players in this region. A few years back Jared Borgetti couldn’t hold down a spot at Bolton. Mexico is the dominant footballing power in CONCACAF and the fact that their players have such a hard time playing the honest British game, not the dishonest game you see in parts of the continent worries me greatly.

  15. spurs muaythai

    August 8, 2008 at 5:26 pm




    hud (dm)
    mod (cm)
    bently (rw)
    dos santos (lw)


    berbatov is gone lets face it, we need asharvin. we can sell kpb i dont think hes up to the pace of prem. im sure ramos will play jenas instead of hud in midfield but i think hel get caught forward to much with mod!

    lennon is a valuable sub as he can ad lightening pace to up the game when needed as is zacora and other english kid whos name ive forgotten are use full as they are flexible players.

    tarabat and kpb if good money is offered should get the boot!

  16. dimi Berbatov

    August 8, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Zokora is the utility defensive player at present (DM, CB, LB, RB). If Spurs picked up Corluka or Veloso, Zokora would not feature for Ramos. Jenas played whenever fit for Ramos and was named vice-captain as previously stated. There is no way that Ramos would play Zokora over a fit Jenas. Also I would add that I think you are wrong about the riginess of Ramos. He is all about versatility as has been noted by some of the players and his willingness to play people out of their first choice position. I actually believe that Modric will play a deeper more defensive role than he prefers because Ramos wants him to pull the strings with incisive passes starting the counter-attack rather than score himself

  17. Weston

    August 8, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    True, all of our other midfielders are attack-minded, but Zokora had a horrible run of form at the end of last season – specifically his defensive tackling started to get reckless (see: Drogba’s goal in the Carling Cup final). If his defensive ability starts to slide, then he has nothing left to offer since we all know he couldnt bury the ball in an open net if his life depended on it (again, see: Carling Cup final).

    I agree with the lineup you proposed, but would sub Jenas for Zokora. Also, look for Benoit Assou-Ekotto to get some quality time.

    Either way, it should be a very exciting season for Spurs and im looking forward to the game next saturday.

  18. SamSpur

    August 8, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Michael, I agree I’d rather put in Dos Santos and move Bale back to LB, but he really hasn’t been played there by Ramos.

  19. US yid

    August 8, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    ok fair enough. But i think ramos would much rather play 1 up front, and as the season goes on i believe he will. As far as Jenas goes i think you will find he will be in ramos’ first 11 everytime, he was one of the most effective players last year, and our stats without him were obvious to see. There is no point in publicly naming a player to take the arm band from ledley if he doesnt even think hes good enough to start in his team. If everyone is fit it will be modric and jj in the centre, zokora just simply isn’t a good enough football player.

  20. Michael

    August 8, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    SamSpur, you really don’t think Dos Santos is going to start? Come on.

    The good thing about Bale is he can play both left back and left midfield, but because Spurs have so many wide midfield options already and Bale is too good to sit on the bench, I think he’ll play more at left back.

  21. Michael

    August 8, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Spurs have played 4-4-2 as well this preseason, trust me. Bent has scored 10 goals in five games, do you really think he’s not going to get a chance to start?

    Also, I don’t mean rigid as in Ramos won’t change formations when necessary, I mean rigid as in the players by and large don’t interchange positions when they’re out there; he likes to keep a sturdy shape. That may change a little bit this year with Dos Santos and Modric, though.

    I’ve said Jenas will get plenty of chances because Ramos will use a 4-2-3-1 at times. I just think that if everyone’s healthy and Spurs are using one central midfielder other than Modric, it’s going to be Zokora because those two compliment each other very nicely, and Zokora provides some help to a back line that’s rather weak.

  22. SamSpur

    August 8, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    I predict this lineup for our first match at Boro:

    GK Gomes
    RB Corluka
    CB Woodgate
    CB King
    LB Assou-Ekotto
    CM Jenas
    CM Modric
    RM Bentley
    LM Bale
    AM Arshavin
    FW Berbatov

    with Bent replacing Arshavin if he isn’t signed yet. I have Corluka at RB cause Hutton will be out for a bit, and Bale at midfield; he hasn’t played LB at all during preseason, if Ramos rated him there, he would be playing there.

  23. US yid

    August 8, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    rigid ramos*

  24. US yid

    August 8, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    Michael, Jenas was the top performer in an appaling season last year, and as someone previously stated he is now the new vice-captain, which with ledley means he is the new regular captain! Zokora will be ramos’ utility player this year covering centre mid and defense when injuries occur and JJ is the first name on the team sheet. Also Jol hated leaving a 442 unless there was 10 minutes left and we were down, Ramos is the more fluid manager. The team have been playing 4-2-3-1 throughout pre-season, and played 3 at the back many times during last season, so i dont know where you got this ‘rigis ramos’ from.

  25. rhino

    August 8, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    zokora is shit our worst regular player by far i think he’s a CUNT

  26. Michael

    August 8, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Boobie and dimi, Zokora played basically every game he was available for last season; he missed games because of the ACN but otherwise was a regular for Spurs. Also, because he’s better defensively, I think he’ll start ahead of Jenas based on the fact that the rest of the midfielders are clearly attack-minded.

  27. dimi Berbatov

    August 8, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    Gomes in goal of course

  28. dimi Berbatov

    August 8, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    here is the team

    RB Hutton
    CB Woodgate
    CB King (c)
    LB Bale

    RM Bentley
    CM Modric
    CM Jenas
    LM Lennon

    CAM Dos Santos

    ST Bent

    this is contingent on the sale of berbatov. If he is sold, I think the chances of buying Arshevan increase and he would take the role of Dos Santos as CAM/support striker. The back four is really fluid and relatively thin due to fitness worries for all four players. The midfield is deep. Huddlestone, O’Hara, Zokora, and Taarabt all provide something different from the subs bench. The sale of Berba might finance several moves which should push at least one player to the bench and add depth at the back were a quality CB cover is needed (Corluka, Cuellar??). I don’t think Dawson can cut it without the guidance of a great CB and after him Huddlestone and Zokora have been called in to play over Kaboul who is clearly unwanted by the manager. Overall I think six is fair but Ramos has the quality of the squad on the up.

  29. Karthik Balasubramanian

    August 8, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    Spurs have never played as a sum of their parts. If Modric picks up an injury a very real danger in the prem league for someone of his stature, out goes Ramos’s plan.

    I would like to see Lennon operating in a hole behind 2 strikers. He cuts in from the wing anyways. It might not be the most ideal formation but it would be a good way to change it up between games to make the spurs unpredictable.

    Jenas and Huddlestone are expendable. bringing in someone like Veloso for their money and making Boateng and Taarabt deputise for him over there would be a good move too. Something to think about for the January Market??

  30. gian angelo gallace

    August 8, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    Agreed. Also, the team is still a work in progress as of today. It’s not necessarily likely that Berba will still be around, and the club seems close to signing Corluka from City to fill in for Hutton and King. And Arshavin may be coming as well.

  31. boobie

    August 8, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    With Jenas being the vice captain this season, I dont see Zakora starting ahead of him.

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