On Sunday lunchtime, out of form West Brom and slightly less out of form Tottenham Hotspur will face off against one another at The Hawthorns. Spurs are winless in their last four games, West Brom winless in seven.
Both clubs were also in the news on Transfer Deadline Day, though neither for the right reasons. Tottenham were widely criticised for not signing a striker and again leaving their transfer business till the last minute. Daniel Levy’s strategy is akin to a man waiting at a bus stop and waiting till the bus is almost there before deciding to pop over to the shop across the road for a delicious bar of chocolate. By the time the man has exchanged money for a brief hit of chocolate gloriousness, the bus has gone and the man looks like a mug.
Levy has pulled off so many great deals in the past no one will accuse him of being a numpty. But frustration at his way of doing business is growing. João Moutinho in August and Leandro Damião in January, players who would take Tottenham to another level, have both slipped out of Spurs fingers’ when making those signings was eminently achievable.
One signing that Spurs did make in January was Lewis Holtby. His low transfer fee and three caps for Germany at the age of 22 had already excited fans, while his display against Norwich will encourage fans further. With Spurs trailing 1-0 to a surprisingly resilient Norwich, Holtby came on from the bench for the last 20 minutes and shone.
Two of his first touches were an excellent through ball for Aaron Lennon and a sumptuous twenty yard back flick to a teammate. Everything, from his chiselled Ryan Gosling-esque good looks, to his obvious technical ability, even the way he handed over a post-it-note to Mousa Dembélé when coming on to the pitch in the Norwich match, screamed “REALLY GOOD FOOTBALL PLAYER”.
West Brom didn’t sign a player in January, didn’t sell one of their big names either yet still managed to grab the headlines. That’s because Peter Odemwingie, the good-but-not-great forward with the funny name, was guilty of the worst escape mission since Louis XVI tried to escape Paris by hoping no one noticed him and Marie Antoinette travelling in a bastion of royal carriages carrying all of their possessions, children and servants.
At least in 1792 there wasn’t a Sky Sports News reporter on the scene, keen for a soundbite from the disappointed King and Queen of France, as there was when Odemwingie and his agent arrived at Loftus Road on Thursday evening to bemusement from all parties.
While his antics mean he won’t be playing on Sunday, his eccentric way of pursuing a mega bucks move to the only place in the world where money seemingly grows on trees (otherwise known as Queens Park Rangers football club) will at least take attention away from his employers. Press attention they could do without at the moment, as the home form that saw them start the season so strongly has disappeared recently. Five points in their last five home games, coming against poor away teams like Stoke, Fulham and the truly hapless Aston Villa simply isn’t good enough.
They started the season like a train. Steve Clarke, in name, dress sense and deed may be as dour as they come but his arrival in the summer after Roy Hodgson left to take the England job gave West Brom a new counter attacking edge. Good signings in Claudio Yacob and Romelu Lukaku on loan gave them an increased attacking threat, which added to the defensive discipline Hodgson had tried to implement, reaped an immediate dividend. Twenty-six points in their first thirteen games sparked talk of qualifying for Europe.
Alas, their form then disappeared like Adrian Chiles’ public image after he moved from the BBC to ITV. Eight points in the last eleven matches have seen them drop down the table. The fact they’re still 9th indicates just how strong they were for the first third of the season. A crippling injury list has devastated the team, with Yacob, mostly on the sidelines since mid-October due to hamstring and shoulder injuries, sorely missed. He and the constantly underrated Youssuf Mulumbu are one of the Premier League’s best midfield duos.
West Brom’s brittle confidence won’t be helped by seeing just how well Tottenham have played this season away from home. Andre Villas-Boas has made Tottenham a superb counter-attacking unit, never happier than when Gareth Bale and Lennon are allowed to use their pace to catch teams napping at the back with players out of position.
While too often this season Spurs have resorted to simply passing the ball out wide when unable to break through defences, Holtby should now be a conduit through the middle of the pitch. Jermain Defoe, out of form in recent months, should thrive on the improved service.
While West Brom have missed Yacob, Tottenham have missed another central midfield titan in Sandro. His season ending injury against QPR was a cruel blow that broke up a mighty midfield pairing in himself and Dembélé. In his absence, Scott Parker may provide a higher quality of haircut but otherwise is inferior to Sandro in every department. He neither protects the defence as well nor initiates attacks as quickly, while other possible replacements in Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore performed poorly earlier in the season.
With both sides favouring the counter attack and also struggling to win in recent weeks, a draw would seem likely. Tottenham have generally attacked from wide positions this season, but with Holtby likely to start and an improvement on Clint Dempsey in the position behind the striker, West Brom have another player to worry about.
Whereas until now teams have largely focused on stopping the irresistible Bale and neglecting the excellent Lennon on the other wing, they now have Holtby to worry about too. Double up on Bale and you leave space for the other two attacking players. Leave only one full back on each winger and both wingers will leave the full backs for dust, while Holtby will need marking from at least one defensive midfielder.
West Brom though will fancy their chances as well. Parker is a weakness in the Spurs team, while Benoît Assou-Ekotto at left back and especially Kyle Walker at right back can be prone to errors. Jan Vertonghen has been an excellent signing and is as classy and technically proficient a defender as there is in the Premiership, but can struggle against strong centre forwards, as he did against Grant Holt on Wednesday night.
Lukaku if given enough help could give him a thorough going over. James Morrison, who earlier this season scored an injury time equaliser in this fixture and played so well that a stupid football pundit suggested he should be picked for the England squad, will also be a threat, along with he of the ‘great left foot’, Chris Brunt.
Chelsea’s defeat to Newcastle and Everton’s draw with Villa make three points for Spurs all the more appetising, while West Brom will be desperate to get back to winning ways and end their run of poor form. If both sides can forget their usual counter-attacking tendencies then the game could be a cracker. If not, expect a tight fixture decided by the odd goal.