Spurs won't succeed until they learn to defend corners

Posted by Dan Fitch

Imagine that Tottenham do manage to sign the prolific Roberto Soldado this summer. Imagine that they also keep Real Madrid at arm's length and retain Gareth Bale.

That would surely make them a pretty formidable outfit. With quality throughout the team, Spurs would be able to challenge for the title rather than a mere place in the top four, right?

- AVB: Bale contract talks 'ongoing'

Wrong. There will be a couple of things holding the club back. The first is the fact that the squad contains few players with any experience of winning leagues and cups. That might not seem that important if you have a talented enough squad, but history has proved that those who have been there and done that tend to prosper in the period that Sir Alex Ferguson famously referred to as "squeaky bum time."

Yet for me, there's a far bigger elephant in the room, one that seems an almost trifling matter but could well prove the difference between some success and falling short.

Tottenham simply cannot stop conceding goals from corners. This fact proved crucial in the team's failure to win a Champions League spot last season and the preseason game against Sunderland suggested that the issue has yet to be addressed.

With the score tied 1-1, Sunderland took the lead as Wes Brown headed home, having escaped the marking of Zeki Fryers.

It was a familiar story. Spurs conceded a lot of goals from corners last season; most resulted from an inability to properly mark the opposition.

On the face of it, there's no reason Tottenham should be so poor when it comes to defending from corners. In Hugo Lloris they have a keeper who is confident and commanding when he comes off the line, but he seems strangely rooted to the spot when corners are whipped in.

Spurs also have a lot of tall players who are good in the air. If, for example, they were facing the aerial bombardment that is the current West Ham United team, then manager Andre Villas-Boas would be able to pick the following side: Lloris, Walker, Vertonghen, Dawson, Kaboul, Sandro, Paulinho, Dembele, Chadli, Bale, Adebayor. Of that lineup, only Kyle Walker (at a hardly short 5-foot-10) is less than 6 feet tall.

But height and heading ability is only half of the battle. Organization and concentration are the buzzwords when it comes to defending corners.

Too often last season, defenders would look to have everyone marked pretty tightly within the box, only to become guilty of ball watching and losing their runner.

Too often that runner would find himself with the space to launch an unchallenged header toward goal. Too often that header would find its way into the net -- when it would have been easy to clear if only Tottenham had a man on the post.

Defending corners is clearly an area where Spurs should be able to improve. It's not the case that the personnel isn't good enough. On the contrary, this squad should be both miserly when defending set pieces and a deadly threat when taking them. Currently they're neither.

This is an issue that can be sorted out only on the training ground, and we know that Villas-Boas is capable of using this platform to smooth out issues on the pitch (you'd expect this of every manager, but it's beyond a lot of them).

Early last season, Tottenham were continually conceding late goals. AVB reacted by increasing the intensity toward the end of his training sessions rather than gradually easing the workload. Sure enough, the team stopped shipping goals in the last 10 minutes and as a bonus, they even started scoring late strikes themselves.

In terms of improving on last season's record haul of Premier League points, this is an issue that is fixable. It will be both disappointing and costly if Spurs fail to do so.

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