So I received this email the other day from Uncle Menno (@dustingm) from SBNation's Spurs blog Cartilage Free Captain. He reminded me that once upon a time in the days before Yohan Cabaye played for PSG (Pre-Cabaye Departure) we did a Q/A exchange that was pretty fun — would you like to do it again? I recalled the first installment agreed that it was fun and figured we should surely know more about the next squad in line to vanquish our noble Newcastle heroes. This is half of the results of this collaboration. The other half can be found here.
Coming Home Newcastle: The last time we did this, we led off with a question about erstwhile manager of your club, Andre Villas Boas. Tim Sherwood was a dark horse candidate to take the job on a full time basis - but that's exactly what he did. Aside from restoring Emmanuel Adebayor to the starting lineup, what other changes has he made to distance the club from the AVB days?
Uncle Menno, Cartilage Free Captain: So, Tim Sherwood takes over the team and the first thing he does is flip a big ol’ middle finger at AVB and switch to 4-4-2. In my brain, I like to imagine that he looked at his assembled squad, blinking deer-like at him in the locker room, then shrugged his shoulders and said "F&^k it. YOLO." It worked in the short term, but the effect of these early tactics were to get him labelled as "tactically Amish" on Twitter. Being the actual real son of an Amishman (seriously, my dad was born Amish) I took a bit of umbrage at that, and I think it unfairly tarred Sherwood as a tactical simpleton when the truth is he’s more astute than first indicated, settling these days on a fluid 4-1-4-1.
Besides steadying the significantly listing ship that was the HMS Tottenham Hotspur, Sherwood has looked towards the youth squad to help bolster the side, most notably plonking French-Algerian Nabil Bentaleb into the starting lineup as a holding midfielder with decent-to-mixed results. Sherwood has spent the past few seasons working with the Spurs U21s and has helped develop players like Bentaleb, Harry Kane, Andros Townsend, Tom Carroll, and Zeki Fryers. He knows these guys and how they can add to the team.
CHN: Tactically speaking, opinion seems to be divided on Sherwood's tactical acumen. On a scale of Alan Pardew to 100 (100 being perfect), how would you rate his tactics?
UM: What Sherwood has done more than anything else is loosen the formational rigidity that was the hallmark of AVB’s tactics. Under Sherwood, Spurs are more free to express themselves and have a much greater positional flexibility. Sherwood’s wingers — currently Christian Eriksen and Aaron Lennon — cut inside frequently and the central midfielders (Dembele, Paulinho) are given license to bomb forward into the box a lot more often. It’s allowed players like Eriksen to blossom and has created more big chances than we ever had under AVB. Most of my fellow writers at Cartilage Free Captain were convinced that Tim Sherwood was bat-s#!& insane after the first few matches, as the contrast between Spurs under AVB and Spurs under Sherwood was so markedly different. It’s been effective for the most part, though.
I don’t think Sherwood is a tactical genius, and he’s had his fair share of mistakes and WTF-moments, but he’s doing all right by me thus far. It’s tough to rank him though because he’s exhibiting different things almost every week, leading him to be dubbed "Schrödinger’s manager" by one of the writing staff. So I won’t give a number, but I’ll classify him as neo-Redknappian with a potential level probably around that of Paul Lambert. Probably not enough for him to keep his job past this May, though.
CHN: Lewis Holtby was highly rated when he joined Spurs last January. One year later, he's now on loan at Fulham and facing the potential end of his Tottenham career. Where did it all go wrong for him?
UM: Lewis Holtby is a cult figure in the Cartilage Free Captain comments. He was a money ball buy for Spurs — I couldn’t believe we got the German U21 captain as cheap as we did. Unfortunately for Holtby he arrived at a time when we had a glut of quality midfielders and that made it really tough for him to break through. Now that Christian Eriksen’s one of the first names on the team sheet, it was looking like he’d only be getting minutes in Europa matches, and when your goal is to make the German flight to Brazil, that’s just not going to cut it. I like Lewis and think he’s going to be a fantastic player, so I’m glad the move is a loan and not a permanent move. He gets to go to Fulham, a side fighting for its life, and will get a lot of opportunities to impress. Hopefully he’ll come back and establish himself as a Spur. I’d hate to lose him. Also, he’s dreamy. ♥♥♥ Be my Valentine, Lewis. ♥♥♥
CHN: Speaking of the end of Spurs careers, Jermain Defoe left in January for the green green pastures of MLS and Toronto FC. Robbie Keane left Spurs for LA Galaxy a couple of years ago. What do you guys have against moderately aged yet serviceable strikers?
UM: Better question is why are we apparently a feeder club to the MLS? Jermain Defoe is one of my all-time favorite players on Tottenham Hotspur, but it was clear that his time at the club was winding down. He’s still got pace and finishing, he didn’t always fit into the tactics that AVB and Sherwood preferred, and he was getting to that point in a footballer’s life where you want to try and get one last good adventure before you hang up your boots for good. Moving to Toronto was a good move for Jermain — he’ll tear the MLS up and be a superstar and will make some pretty good bank. He also left the club on extremely good terms and I think he’ll eventually end up… maybe not a Tottenham legend, but one of those players that Spurs fans will always remember very fondly.
Meanwhile, Spurs got a great price for the guy and the MLS continues to serve as the EPL Retirement League, which ain’t all that bad, actually.
CHN: Since we last spoke, Spurs have started scoring more freely. By the same token, you have given up goals at a far higher rate as well. If you're a team that loves the 0-3 scoreline as we do, how do you a) stop you guys from scoring and b) take advantage of your leakier defense?
UM: Yes, our defense has leaked goals like a sieve over the past couple of months, but that’s been mostly because our two best center backs have been perpetually injured. In an ideal world we’d be starting Jan Vertonghen and Younes Kaboul at the back of our defense. Those guys are brick walls, brick walls with… uh, excellent spatial awareness (for walls) and the ability to pick out a pass because these walls apparently have feet of course they do and also play their way out of danger and oh God this is a tortured metaphor never mind.
tl;dr — We’ve been playing with Michael Dawson and Vlad Chiriches and neither are what I would call particularly "good" this season. They’ve been serviceable. But now Vertonghen is back! Kaboul is also back (though he’s made of glass)! Hope is a thing with feathers, and Cockerels have feathers, and the hope is that our defense will start to look more like what it did at the beginning of the season under AVB and less like the drubbings by Liverpool and City.
But to actually answer your question, Tim Sherwood has backed off a bit on the pressuring high line and allowed the midfield to absorb a little more of the defensive pressure, but so long as we’re still playing Michael Dawson we still will have issues on defense. Also, playing Christian Eriksen on the left side of midfield exposes Danny Rose at LB, who is prone to "derpitude." If I’m Newcastle, I go straight at Dawson and Rose and either try and get balls past them for Remy to run onto, or provoke them into making dumb tackles in the box. (editor's note: If Rémy scores in this match, I'm on the pitch)
CHN: Roberto Soldado has scored 5 in 20 appearances. . . Is the Spurs fan base ready to give up on him yet? Are you personally?
UM: Give up? …No. Not really. I would like to believe that Roberto will bust out of whatever shell he has around him that has kept him from being the amazing striker that he was with Valencia. I don’t know what’s wrong with Roberto. You can’t fault his work-rate — he’s been all over the pitch, working hard, getting involved, but his finishing is just atrocious. And now that we have Adebayor looking more like a world beater than he ever has before for us, it makes Roberto, well, surplus. I think a lot of Spurs fans have given up on Roberto and deep down I can completely understand why. He was the chosen one! He was supposed to bring balance to the team, not leave it in darkness! But no, I’m not willing to give up on Roberto and I think he could turn things around, even if that turnaround takes place next season. However, I am now willing to consider the possibility that we spent £26m on a donkey, and that makes me ineffably sad.
CHN: Describe what the scenes would look like if Hugo Lloris said the following over the summer? "I'm taking my talents to The Emirates?" Would horses be punched?
UM: Let me answer with an allegory.
Once upon a time, in a land far away called, um, Chickenham, there was a stalwart soldier of the realm. Adored by the entire populace, he (let’s call him "Sal Soupcan") was repeatedly called upon into active service to defend the realm from all its enemies. There came a time where this soldier’s time of service to Chickenham was winding towards a conclusion, and evil counselors from the Land the Goons, Chickenham’s eternal enemies, began whispering in Sal’s ear, asking him to forsake his homeland to fight for them instead. Word of this collusion began to spread to the people of Chickenham, but Sal vociferously said "NO! I will not forsake you to fight for our enemies!" and the people were mollified. But the vile Goonish whispers continued, and eventually, Sal’s heart turned as red as the fires of hell. He forsake his true homeland and abandoned the people who loved him in order to fight against all that is good and decent. The people were shocked, angered, and saddened, and they revoked his title of Chickenham Legend, referring to him henceforth and forever more as He Who Must Not Be Named ("Voldemort").
From that day forward, the people of Chickenham vowed that never again shall they lose one of their stalwart defenders to the Land of the Goons. Yea, even though it seems like the Goonish hierarchy may desire to sample our French cheeses and Jeeroux the Terrible continues to whisper his poisonous exhortations, St. Levy the Jedi Master will ensure that they never place vile tongues within spitting distance of our blessed foodstuffs. Amen, and amen.
* — Sal Soupcan = Sol Campbell. Jeeroux the Terrible = Olivier Giroud. French cheese = Jesus, because every allegory needs a Jesus.
CHN: Would you agree that the final score of the match will be 3-0 Tottenham?
UM: God, could you BE more wrong? This is Tottenham we’re talking about. We don’t do blow-outs. 1-0 Spurs in the 94th minute after a deflected corner goes in off Paulinho’s ass. (editor's note: this would be the most Newcastle United thing ever.)