When AVB was appointed the boss, I had my reservations. Agreed he had a scintillating season with Porto FC but then that team contained the likes of Falcao, Moutinho, Hulk, Coentrao and Fernando. All players who could probably be considered the best-in-the-world (or close to it) in their positions. Spurs meanwhile seemed to have only two in comparison: Bale and Lloris (the latter just having arrived and with the usual questions about his ability to cope with the physicality of English football hanging around him). There was also the disastrous half a season at Chelsea where AVB seemed to falter every time he had to deal with the media and the players' egos with his inflexibility sticking out like a sore thumb. Now, after 21 league matches done, group stages of the Europa league navigated along with a handful of cup ties over, I believe that Daniel Levy couldn't have signed a better manager.
AVB has shown tremendous flexibility to work with the 4-4-2 formation that suits the current squad best and for that alone he deserves huge credit. Going forward I would visualize him switching to a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 (with two winger in the band of 3) to go with the midfield-heavy + lone-striker approach that is the norm now-a-days. With this in mind, let's look at the positions and the players suited for them.
GK: Hugo Lloris (1st), Brag Freidel (2nd). Although Freidel has been a great stopper for years now, Lloris is much better commanding the box and also more comfortable passing the ball out. Age too is a major tilting factor in the argument for Lloris. Once more, AVB deserves huge credit for the way he introduced Lloris into the first team. He didn't bow into the media speculation about Lloris being unhappy on the bench, using the Europa league and the cups to introduce him gradually into the team. The 2nd slot should be Freidel's for another two years (he just signed an extension!) with his quality, mentality and experience being vital to the team. The question of whom to replace him with is at least two transfer windows away
RB: Kyle Walker (main), Kyle Naughton (deputy). Currently Walker needs a rest and going by Naughton's composed displays even as an out-of-position LB (and benny's return) he can be given a nice run in the team. In the long run though Walker clearly looks like the first choice with Naughton being a great deputy. Their different traits can also mean that the position can be decided depending on the opposition. Walker is great going forward and putting crosses in but has a tendency to give the ball away. Naughton meanwhile is more composed and has a tendency to play more central passes towards a playmaker (though that fact is currently exaggerated because he is cutting in from a LB position). So, if a more composed posession play is required Naughton can be used otherwise there is the raw physicality of Walker to torment oppositions. Nevertheless the position looks safe.
CB: Dawson, Vertonghen, Caulker, Kaboul, Gallas in that order. Choosing Dawson and Caulker ahead of Kaboul is sure going to raise quite a few eyebrows but I have a rather convincing argument in place. Firstly, of the two CBs one has to be good on the ball and that's where Vertonghen is a no-brainer. He's also a real nuisance going forward. Now coming to Dawson/Kaboul. English football needs a classic body-on-the-line style CB though a good positional sense and consistency are also necessities. Dawson ticks all those boxes (and has shown in recent displays to be quite able to deal with AVB's high line tactics). Kaboul meanwhile is capable of great tackles though he is more prone to mistakes and getting caught out of position than Dawson and with Vertonghen being attack minded, a CB who is old fashioned and supremely reliable seems a better choice. Caulker is a great understudy and in a season or two should firmly entrench himself in the side (he's a great passer, a physical presence and also very reliable)
LB: Benoit Assou-Ekotto. This is a position that needs some attention. BAE is a great first choice though there's a significant lack of depth. Jan and Naughton have proven themselves to be able alternatives but there has to be someone who plays the position naturally. Danny Rose is in scintillating form at Sunderland but I have my doubts whether he can step up from being the best player in a relegation threatened team to a first slot competitor in what I hope will be a title challenging team. The signing of Ezekiel Fryers may be an attempt to address this though we are yet to see his game.
Midfield: A trio of destroyer, passer, creator seems to be the norm. We have three tacklers in Sandro, Dembele and Parkers (and incidentally all 3 are very hard workers too) which is great. As a passer we have Huddlestone (I really hope he'll get to cut that afro very soon) though his form after return from injury has been underwhelming. An alternative to the passer is the dribblerwe have in Dembele. This gives our team a different dimension and should be something which I hope we will retain though it should not result in an over-dependence on him (Fulham changed their style of play completely after he left and we fell into a rut when he was injured). A like-for-like deputy is also hard to find in this case. Coming to the hot topic, the playmaker. In procuring the services of Lewis Holtby, Levy has once again proven himself to be a transfer market ninja! And with reports now emerging of Schalke willing to negotiate a cut price fee of $2.6m, expect Levy to complete the deal this January (31st?). If Holtby can adapt to English conditions, he is going to be a perfect fit for Spurs. He great vision, a good range of passing and also an eye for goal. Depth in this position is an issue though probably not as big a one as the lack of a first teamer. Sigurdsson is someone who should step up in the next season or so (remember he's only 22 and has shown his quality in English football). Another thing that the Sig brings to the table is his dead ball ability (more on that later). Caroll also looks to be the next big thing although a good loan spell with a Premier League team as a regular starter looks to be the next thing in line for him (just a look at the impact Wigan had on Tom Cleverly's career proves it). All things taken into account, spending 25-30 quid on someone like Moutinho or Extebarria only to push Holtby or Sigurdsson down the order seems rather unnecessary at this point though if either or both fail to adapt at Spurs then there might be a problem. So these are our midfielders (by priority): Dembele, Holtby, Sandro, Sigurdsson, Caroll (if he's not loaned out), Parker, Huddlestone.
Wingers: Bale and Lennon are the most in-form wingers in the league today but there is a serious lack of depth with Dempsey the only real alternative. Naysayers will point out to the presence of Townsend on the bench but until he proves himself as a regular in another EPL club on loan, he doesn't have my vote. Though he has impressed this season, it's either against lower league opposition or as a substitute where his pace allows him to shine against tired legs. A proper left footed left sided player is needed. Probably someone in his 30s who doesn't mind warming the can be brought in until Townsend is ready.
Strikers: Jermain Defoe has flourished under AVB developing his all round game and adapting excellently as a lone striker. Adebayor's return should theoretically have helped both of them to play more to their strengths as strike partners but that has shown as much promise as Freidel has of retiring. Their link-up play has been non existent with Defoe playing in the same way that he was prior to Ade's return to fitness and Ade himself dropping too deep or to the flanks rendering himself useless as a target man. A prolonged run in the team for both should probably develop some resemblance of link-up play but then the best strike partnerships are instinctive and probably playing only one of them might be better (look at the case of Cisse and Ba: a prolonged run in the team only affected the confidence of the one who was not the main striker). This is why the striking department needs a quality add on real soon.
Substitutes: A healthy mix of experience and youth on the bench should be the aim. Already we have Scott Parker and Brad Freidel as the experienced ones. Promising youngsters who can also play full games if required include Steven Caulker and Gylfi Sigurdsson. These four also cover most of the basic positions (gk, cdm, cb, cam). Clint Dempsey also qualifies because of his utility across the forward line.
Major issues: The major issues with the current Spurs team is firstly someone to play incisive passes (this is highlighted by the fact that 55% of Spurs goals this season have come from outside the box) and set piece delivery. There have been plenty of column inches devoted to the first (and the arrival of Lewis Holtby is a step towards rectifying it) but the second one is really disconcerting. After the departure of Modric and VdV and Huddlestone's dip in form, our delivery from set pieces has been extremely awful. Walker can take an occasional mean free kick but he's definitely not the main man. Bale had a great reputation for his free kicks as a youngster (and he has taken a few good ones this season) but his delivery from the corners has been poor. In the few minutes that Gylfi has played, the importance of a dead ball specialist has really been highlighted. And with good headers of the ball like Dawson, Vertonghen, Caulker, Adebayor, Dempsey and Bale (and Sandro lurking on the edge of the are waiting to pounce on any loose ball) a good spot kick specialist is badly needed. An improvement in Sigurdsson's form or more practice from Bale looks to be the only solution as of now.
Although this is a team far from complete there is much promise. A few additions (creative midfielder, left back, striker) will go a long way in improving it. Credit to Daniel Levy for signing two players in the needed positions. With the necessary additions and AVB's tactics I'm sure Spurs can challenge for major honours very soon.