Spurs: Sherwood Can Only Work With What He's Got
Spurs might be just six points off Champions League qualification, but in reality they are miles away from being a real competitor for the top four – unless they can find consistency in their defence.
But they have never really been known as a defensively solid team, and whilst they kept several clean sheets under Andre Villas-Boas (nine in the 2012/2013 and seven this season until Sherwood came in), it could be argued that they were relatively lucky in keeping so many clean sheets this season, considering the capitulation against Manchester City and Liverpool.
Tim Sherwood, for the beginning of his Spurs tenure, played his defensive line slightly deeper, but in recent games against Benfica, Chelsea, Arsenal and Southampton, he has deployed his back line considerably higher.
To play this tactic, Spurs need to press from the front, something which has been lacking in the last four games - but without any real pressure on the ball, that’s a tactic that can make the fans feel uncomfortable, and it doesn’t especially suit this back four at present.
That was underlined as Benfica tore Spurs apart at the Lane just two weeks ago - and it also proved costly in the 4-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea could have, and should have, scored two in the first 10 minutes.
The second half was a totally different proposition - but then Jan Vertonghen bizarrely lost the ball high up, giving the ball away to Samuel Eto’o to score Chelsea’s first.
Against Arsenal, Tomas Rosicky lost Danny Rose on the right to score a goal inside the first 72 seconds, and then the back four looked incredibly awkward for the first 15 to 20 minutes of the first half. Indeed, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should have made it two when played through on goal.
Similarly, for Southampton, it was all too easy, as, time and time again, Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana found space behind the back four, only to be caught offside.
In some ways, this shows that Sherwood's plan worked - until Kyle Naughton made two defensive errors to put the Saints 2-0 up.
Another problem with the current Spurs defensive crop is the lack of consistency in the back four, and Sherwood has been somewhat hamstrung by having to regularly to shuffle players around in most matches this season.
Younes Kaboul, a fan favourite, and highly rated by the Spurs coaching and playing staff, has finally found some consistency in terms of games recently - but you get the feeling that he is only one setback away from another serious injury, and with his contract up in the summer, it seems the Frenchman is playing for his future.
Another fan favourite, Michael Dawson, has been a brilliant servant to the club, but simply put, he is not a Champions League quality defender, and not a defender Spurs can rely on if they insist on a high defensive line.
The same can be said about Danny Rose and Kyle Naughton. It is testament to Spurs' defensive woes that, whilst both players should really be seen as squad rotation players, rather than consistently playing for a club striving for Europe’s top competition, they have played 51 games between them this season.
Kyle Walker has arguably been Spurs’ stand out player this season, but the young English full-back’s ridiculous schedule of over 130 matches in all competitions over the last three seasons has burnt out the 23-year old, who is now recovering from injury.
Jan Vertonghen, on his day, is a world-class defender; but this season it seems his mind has been elsewhere, it would be no surprise to see him exit the Lane, despite being contracted until 2016.
If Daniel Levy is serious about qualifying for the Champions League, the first area of their squad they need to look at is the defensive department.
Follow Matt on Twitter at @mattywalsh8