Getting back on track against Norwich

Posted by John Crace

After the disruption of the international break, a home fixture against Norwich looks just the game that Andre Villas-Boas might have wanted to get the campaign back on track after the disappointing performance away to Arsenal a fortnight ago. No further travelling for players who are already tired and jet-lagged -- Erik Lamela only got back from Argentina on Thursday morning so he can hardly be feeling on top form -- and an opposition that, on paper at least, looks quite beatable.

And yet ... Norwich are exactly the kind of team that have given Spurs problems in recent years. Indeed in their last four matches -- three in the Premier League and one in the Carling Cup -- against Norwich, Spurs have lost two and drawn two. Norwich may not be the most talented team in the Premiership but, with former Tottenham player Chris Houghton as manager, they have retained the tenacity and competitiveness they developed under Paul Lambert that gained then promotions in successive years.

Norwich enjoy their position as underdog. They know they aren't going to be competing for too many trophies, but get their pleasure from taking points off more fancied teams. Which they do regularly. This season they have scrapped their way to a home draw with Everton and beaten Southampton; their only defeat has been away to Hull, a game that had everyone wondering how the Canaries managed to come away pointless. Make no mistake: Norwich are no mugs. They aren't going to roll over and die.

So Spurs are going to have to be at their best to get the win. Any sluggishness in the first half-hour -- a Tottenham speciality, particularly after so many players have had mid-week games -- is likely to be punished. The good news, though, is that Norwich aren't going to surprise Spurs. AVB knows Norwich will defend in depth and try to wear down and intimidate the Spurs midfield by getting first to every 50-50 ball. If Norwich get a chance to score on the break, well and good; but Houghton's team will be happy to leave White Hart Lane with a point.

To combat this, Spurs need both patience and creativity; patience to wear down the Norwich defence into making a mistake and creativity to take advantage of it. The patience they have; under AVB the team has shown a previously untapped strength in not panicking when they have been pressing for 75 minutes and the game is still goalless. And, more often than not, they would force a late winner. The difference is, of course, that last season Spurs had Gareth Bale to get those late goals; a player with the pace, talent, shooting ability and sheer will power to make something happen.

Now Bale has gone to Real Madrid, it's the team's creativity that is most under scrutiny. We know they can keep possession in midfield and we know they can pass the ball neatly from side to side; what we haven't seen is too many signs of the ability to play the killer pass to unlock a stubborn back four. Roberto Soldado is a proven striker -- he scored against Chile in Spain's midweek friendly -- but for most of the three Premiership games he has played, he has too often been an isolated spectator. He isn't getting the ball in positions where he can threaten the goal.

Christian Eriksen has yet to make his club debut, but AVB will be hoping he is the missing link to exploit the gaps between the midfield and Soldado, and if he is fit, he should start. As should Lamela, jet-lag permitting, on the right instead of Andros Townsend. This might seem harsh on the English winger, but AVB needs to get his best players game time together. Sandro should fit neatly into the spot vacated by Etienne Capoue's injury alongside Paulinho. Mousa Dembele has looked a shadow of himself so far this season and should go to the bench. The rest of the team should be the one that started against Arsenal, with the possible exception of Younes Kaboul, if fit, coming in for Michael Dawson as central defender. Jan Vertonghen and Kaboul have to be Spurs' best pairing in defence.

This is still a game I expect Spurs to win. They will expect to win themselves. They also need to win it to restore the confidence dented by the below par performance against Arsenal and to prove to themselves, as much as to the pundits, that they are a class team who deserve a place in the top four. If they play with the intensity and creativity of which they are capable, they should win by two clear goals.


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