With the international break at its midway stage, Martin Jol must be training with his squad, wondering who he will pick for Tottenham’s next game; a tricky away tie against Newcastle on Monday.
Though he does not have the luxury of picking players from a full and fit squad, the question remains: if he did have, who should he pick as the best starting eleven?
In goal, Paul Robinson has been having a torrid time of it lately, but a couple of good performances against Estonia and particularly Russia will do him the world of good, and hopefully he’ll have cut out the mistakes by the time Tottenham’s game against Newcastle comes about. I don’t think it’s time yet to start thinking about dropping him for Radek Cerny.
The right-back position picks itself with Pascal Chimbonda as the only real candidate, and with him in talks to sign a new deal, we need not worry about this department.
Centre back is a bit more difficult. Ledley King would be a definite starter, but his partner is difficult to choose. Anthony Gardener and Ricardo Rocha are squad players, with Michael Dawson and Younes Kaboul the real contenders. Based on Kaboul’s performances for Tottenham this season, his strong physical presence and his eye for the odd goal, I would have to go for him in front of Dawson.
Left-back is a position where I still feel we need to strengthen, but out of the players we have, and with Gareth Bale too dangerous to leave in defence, I would pick Lee Young-Pyo.
For me, this is our problem and will be until we sacrifice individuals for what will make our team work well. In many ways, the problem is like what England’s was, until Lampard was injured and continued to be left out even when fit. We must have not necessarily the best eleven on the pitch, but the best team.
At right-midfield Aaron Lennon should start as he can beat men, has lots of pace, and though his delivery is not his greatest asset, he has too much potential not to play.
The centre of midfield poses the most problems, but as long as a formation and system is sorted, it is just a question of playing the right players. Personally, I think we should play a diamond formation, with one defensive and one attacking central midfielder. I would pick Teemu Tainio as the defensive midfielder, as he has the ability to tackle well, hold his position in front of the defence without moving too far upfield, and pass the ball accurately. He also gives 100% not matter where he is asked to play, and if he is picked to play here, you can bet opposition defences will have trouble getting by him.
Didier Zokora attacks from deep when he plays as a defensive midfielder, and though his forward runs are dangerous, there is no end product from him. Jermaine Jenas does not pass the ball as well Tainio, and he loses it far too often, as well as performing extremely inconsistently.
At attacking central midfield, I think Tom Huddlestone should be given a chance. His passing is fantastic from deep, and if this were to be utilised further up the field, Huddo could thread some great balls through to our strikers and wide midfielders.
Jermaine Jenas scores more goals than Huddlestone, granted, but the former Derby man has a great shot from outside the box, has netted a few for us himself, and if he were to move further upfield, he could surely score more when supporting the strikers. Didier Zokora is yet to score for us, and still has trouble finding that killer pass.
At left midfield, Gareth Bale is a fantastic choice for us; his great ability to cross, take free-kicks and corners, as well as score a fair share already in his first season for Tottenham and at the age of 18 speaks volumes.
Players such as Steed Malbranque and Adel Taraabt would have to be used as substitutes, but they would do well then something needed to be created for the strikers.
As with last year, the best combination is Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane. Tottenham’s summer acquisition Darren Bent is unfortunately a bench-warmer in this scenario, and indeed, this is happening right now. However, the understanding Jol’s favoured two have built up from last year – the Liverpool game evidence of this – means that they should get the nod in front of Bent and fourth-choice Defoe.
Keane needs to play off the shoulder of the last defender, and not drop deep into attacking midfield as Tom Huddlestone will cover this area. Keane’s two goals against Liverpool showed how well him and Berbatov can combine when they link up in and around the box. In terms of consistency, these two would also be the best choice, and so, the final team sheet would read:
What would be your first eleven for Tottenham if everyone was fit?