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Keep Your Enemies Closer: Questions and Answers with Tottenham Hotspur Blog Cartilage Free Captain

Ahead of this weekend's match, we were able to sit down and get some perspective on Tottenham Hotspur.

Richard Heathcote
This week we were able to sit down with Uncle Menno from SBN's Tottenham blog Cartilage Free Captain to exhange questions and answers about each others' clubs and the match this weekend.  These are Uncle Menno's answers to the questions from our side.

Coming Home Newcastle:  I've been a fan of AVB from a distance - having settled in at Spurs now, how would you rate his overall performance?  For a bonus point, who is the better coach: AVB or Jason Sudeikis?

Uncle Menno:  If you were to take a poll of all Spurs fans, English and otherwise, you'd find we're rather split over our adorbs Portuguese manager. There's a distinct contrast between the system put in place by AVB and the freestyle tactics of Harry Redknapp, which we dubbed "FRAAB" (short for "f*#$-in run around a bit").  AVB has a system that he likes, and it's taken a year plus now for us to adapt to that change.  The growing pains were acute at times last season, but I don't think there's any question that it's working -- despite an anemic offense we're still tied for second in the league with a rock-solid defense.  When AVB's system clicks, it's beautiful football, but like any other system, it's a grind when it breaks down or when teams park the bus against us, and it's clear that AVB doesn't allow the same level of personal freedom in his players that Redknapp did. For some Spurs fans, that's okay. For others, it's a reflection that we're no longer playing "Tottenham football."

Where AVB gets docked points in my mind is in his team selection and his substitutions. Most of us haven't understood his determination to make a Paulinho-Dembele central midfield partnership work, and are often left scratching our heads at some of his mid-game adjustments.  He's got a brilliant football mind, overall.  I don't think he's the best in-game tactician, and he has a tendency get out-coached during games by the likes of Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers.

Overall performance? I give him a solid B.

As far as Sudeikis, I'd rank him well under AVB in terms of tactical awareness, and just over him in terms of media relations. I'd give him a 6.5 on the Redknapp Affability Scale.

As far as Sudeikis, I'd rank him well under AVB in terms of tactical awareness, and just over him in terms of media relations. I'd give him a 6.5 on the Redknapp Affability Scale.  Also, LOL.

CHN Reader submitted question: Do you believe in Andros Townsend, or do you simply think he’s a product of ‘new winger hype’ like SWP, Walcott, Lennon, Young, Oxlade-Chamberlain etc. etc. before him?

UM:  I think you could gauge my opinion of Andros Townsend as "cautiously optimistic."  Andros was one of the guys in our youth academy that we've had our eyes on for a few years now.  He's been highly regarded at the youth and U20 level, and we all wanted him to come good. Strangely enough, most of us expected Tom Carroll, and not Townsend, to be the youth player to have broken into the first team by this point.

Townsend is an incredibly direct player with gobs of pace, almost the archetypal young English touchline-hugging winger, in a Premier League that's beginning to evolve away from that sort of direct play. He's had some great matches where he's taken teams by surprise with his ability to beat defenders and his long-range shot.  In that sense, it's understandable why the media is tripping over themselves trying to make the (lazy) comparison of Andros to Gareth Bale. Andros showed flashes of that at QPR, and his play in the early part of the season is a big reason why he's kept £30m signing Erik Lamela on the bench. But Andros is also very, very young, and at times shows a tendency to not pick up his head and see what his teammates around him are doing. Lately he's been way too prone to rip off a long range shot towards Row Z, and he gives up a lot of possession when he's off his game. Also, I think that teams are starting to figure him out a bit, much like they did with Bale.

Townsend's a form player, and he's deserved his early starting role. No-one else fills that sort of direct role in the Spurs offense. I also think that with some time and maturity Townsend can turn into a very important player for Tottenham Hotspur, but he needs time to develop, and the comparisons to Bale aren't helping him. Honestly, I expect him to cool off and eventually be replaced by Nacer Chadli, Gylfi Sigurdsson, or Lamela. But hey, play the hot hand while you can.

CHN Reader submitted question: Is Eriksen the new Modric, and what are the weaknesses he needs to work on in order to hit the next level? (I only ask because I’m a huge fan and see a lot of similiarites between the 2)

UM:  Well, they're not the same kind of player. Modric had his best games for Tottenham when he was operating as a deep-lying playmaker. Harry Redknapp (when he wasn't, frustratingly, playing him out wide) utilized Luka as a slightly-more-forward central midfielder in a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1, often just ahead of Tom Huddlestone, Jermain Jenas, or Wilson Palacios. He excelled from a deeper position, and it was for that reason that a lot of pundits and rival fans tended to underestimate Modric's ability, because he wasn't putting up gaudy stats. He wouldn't necessarily make the pass that led to the goal, but he'd make the pass that set up the play that resulted in the pass that led to the goal. Often, you had to rewind the DVR, close one eye and squint a little before you saw OMG what an amazing play that was, and its impact on the play as a whole. Luka's on-field vision was astounding, and I still see it when I watch him on the pitch at Real Madrid.

Eriksen, while a creative player like Modric, is a flat-out #10 and operates much higher up the pitch in the hole. His creative role manifests itself more in quick one-touch passes, flick-ons, and through-balls to the inside forwards. He hasn't been as effective in recent matches, and lately he's been put behind Lewis Holtby in the order, who is a yapping high-energy terrier of a #10 and gives just a little different look to that role.

Honestly, I don't think Eriksen has that many weaknesses that time and acclimation to the Premier League can't solve. I think the biggest reason that he hasn't set the world on fire for Spurs yet is that he hasn't had time to manifest a Vulcan mind meld with his new teammates. When you watched him play for Ajax, the players around him knew exactly what he intended to do and were able anticipate where he was going to pick up and place the ball. Eriksen's looked a little turgid lately and I think it's in part because he's just not on the same wavelength as the rest of the team. I have high hopes for Eriksen and think he was a marvelous purchase. But to answer your question directly, and in the words of fellow writer Bryan A., he's more of a "Danish Juan Mata" than a new Luka Modric.

CHN:  You've scored 9 times from 10 league matches; new front man Roberto Soldado has only 1 goal from live play.  A) Will Spurs have trouble scoring like this all season long?  B) Are you worried about Soldado?

UM:  Regarding A), I hope not! Soldado is a proven striker who did wonderful things while at Valencia. We know he's a good striker and we know he knows where the goal is. We've debated on the site over and over why we're not scoring, and the general consensus is that we're not providing adequate service to Soldado in the box, and the problem is originating in the midfield.  CFC writer brett rainbow illustrated this phenomenon in his tactical analysis of last weekend's Everton game and that article has some very nice GIFs that really help to visualize the hesitations, lack of vision, and broken plays that have led to a very frustrating season thus far for Soldado.

You could also attribute this in part to the sheer number of new players in this Spurs side, and a need to "gel," but I think solely blaming it on that is a bit of a cop-out. We're not creating chances, and that has to change.  Spurs are leading the league in shots outside the box on target (SoBoT), which are by definition lower percentage shots. Gareth Bale isn't on the team anymore, and we can't rely on him to put a 25 yard ripper past the keeper every match.  We have to find ways to get the ball to Roberto in positions where he can use his finishing. His chances have been few, and he's looked frustrated at times out there.  If and when we figure out how to do that, I think you'll see the scoring floodgates open.
CHN:  You've conceded a very impressive 5 times from 10 matches thus far in the league.  How do you break down the Tottenham defense?

UM:  Spurs' defense is the aspect of the team that has clicked the most, and remarkably it's been done despite a series of injuries and interchangeable parts. Danny Rose went down early, Younes Kaboul still isn't back up to form, and Kyle Naughton has had a series of knocks, so the back line has usually consisted of some combination of Kyle Walker, Jan Vertonghen, Michael Dawson, and newboy Vlad Chiriches. But what really makes the defense click is Hugo Lloris. AVB loves to play a high defensive line and press relentlessly.  This got him in trouble at Chelsea because he had old, slow guys like John Terry who couldn't cope with the pace. I wouldn't call Michael Dawson pacey, but AVB now has Hugo Lloris operating as a sweeper keeper, darting off his line to clean up what the CBs can't handle. Having a world-class keeper like Lloris makes a huge impact on the efficacy of the Tottenham back line, because even if you are able to get a through ball past Dawson/Vertonghen/Chiriches, you can count on Lloris anticipating that happening and making a decisive run to head it off. 19 times of out 20, it's going to work.

The key to beating Spurs' defense is either 1) play on the counter and hope you catch the CBs and Lloris napping, 2) play an extremely physical striker who can outmuscle Vertonghen (or, like Lukaku, put a knee into the head of Lloris), or 3) score on a set piece, which we suck at. 
Spurs' defense is, right now I'd say, the best in the league. Only Southampton has stats that are close to it. The key to beating Spurs' defense is either 1) play on the counter and hope you catch the CBs and Lloris napping, 2) play an extremely physical striker who can outmuscle Vertonghen (or, like Lukaku, put a knee into the head of Lloris), or 3) score on a set piece, which we suck at.

CHN: Why will Tottenham Hotspur be relegated?

UM:  Because we're Tottenham Hotspur and we can't have nice things.  This is a club for whom perpetual reaching for the stars is almost always irrevocably married to soul-crushing disappointment.  You could look at the "lasagna-gate" incident from 2006 where food poisoning took away our best chance at Champions League qualification, or look at 2011 when we clawed our way up to fourth in the league and a return to top-level European competition... only to have sixth-place Chelsea win the goddamn Champions League and take away our spot.  Spurs fans just may be among the most surly and misanthropic of all English football fans, mostly because deep down we expect to have our hopes dashed over and over.  One of our writers, Skipjack, writes a weekly feature about why Spurs are destined to lose every league match against every opponent. It's both hysterical and deeply, deeply cathartic. So yes, we don't care that we tied for second place right now. We KNOW that we're destined for relegation to the Icelandic fourth division.

CHN:  Let's have your prediction.

UM:  We're a very good side playing very mediocre football right now, especially at home. In this match I don't see that changing a whole lot. I predict another 1-0 victory, courtesy of a Soldado penalty in the 94th minute.  I also predict a couple of empty bottles of rum by the end at Chez Uncle Menno.