At the start of the season I remember a discussion about what our first choice XI would be once all the new signings had bedded in. I made the point then that with a squad this deep there's no need for a best XI, the team can fluctuate depending on who's in form and there needn't be such an obvious divide between the preferred starters and their backups as we're used to.
Other people may well have made this point too, I don't mean to blow my own trumpet, it's just that I secretly think slightly less of anybody who isn't me so I don't remember who else said what.
More pertinently I also posted the following:
Last year we could probably all pick an ideal line up with only one or two differences. I know we’re only 4 games in and things will settle down but I expect there to be a lot more diversity of opinions about it this year, and hopefully a lot more "yes but you can’t drop so-and-so on this form" s.
Man do I now wish I was wrong about that. Diversity of opinion is a good thing, in all walks of life we should be constantly exposed to counter arguments, in this particular instance even it directly points to the quality of the team. And yet here I am writing my first fan post from a position of exasperation.
First of all there was #TeamTownsend and #TeamLennon, now it's Soldado or Defoe, pretty soon it'll be Dembele vs Paulinho. I've waded into each to the arguments in turn, like the sucker I am, hoping to preach reason only to end up spitting bile, trying to point out the wood by praising individual trees; so before the Liverpool team sheet is announced and I inevitably trip over the latest battle-line to be drawn, I thought I'd present some good old fashioned fuchts.
Why We Need Rotation
Spurs have played 25 competitive games already this season. By my logic (I didn't bother checking, hell, this is only a fanpost) that's more than any other Premier League team except Arsenal, who also had to qualify for Europe. They're out of a cup already though so we'll overtake them on Wednesday, and if all goes according to plan we'll remain ahead of the rest on this count all the way until May.
Doing some simple maths (the season ends on the same date for everyone), that also means not just extra effort on matchdays but less rest between games too. This shows itself most in the Thursday to Sunday cycle as park_warfield worked out the other day - hopefully he won't mind me stealing his post:
Spurs have played after a midweek game 9 times, 7 times on 2 days rest and 2 times on 3 days rest. Average of 2.2 days rest.
Arsenal have played after a midweek game 9 times, 2 times on 2 days rest, 5 times on 3 days rest, and 2 times on 4 days rest. Average of 3 days rest.
Chelsea have played 7 midweek games, 2 on 2 days rest, 2 on 3 days rest, and 3 on 4 days rest. Average of 3.1 days of rest. Both of their games played on 2 days rest were after midweek home games. All three of their Champions League away games have been followed by 4 days rest - Steaua, Schalke, and Basel.
Clearly there's a need to keep players fit and fresh and so surely it's a good thing that we have enough quality that every rotation will upset some portion of our fanbase or another. It 's also worth noting that despite having one of the largest squads (only 4 teams have used more players in the league) the only youngster we've had to draught in to a league match so far has been Harry Kane for his solitary sub appearance. Even with our left back Lol problems, Zeki Fyers has as yet only been used in the cups.
Why We Need Competition
Rotation is all well and good, I pretend to hear you say, but why not just have a cup team and a league team? Well, my imaginary audience, I'm going to answer that in two ways.
Firstly there's the issue of morale - after the Chelsea Project, AVB seems to be trying his damnedest to keep (nearly) the whole squad happy at Spurs. If you're a member of the 'cup team' but know that playing well won't get you into the 'league team' then why try so hard? Likewise if you've no legitimate concern for your place in the first team then there's every chance complacency may creep in to your game. It seems obvious to state it but the more important matches should be played by those who are in the better vein of form, regardless of age, price or nationality.
Secondly there's the gelling issue. MCofA once noted that over the whole of last season that there were only three starting XIs that were ever duplicated, once each. This says to me that focussing on getting one set of players to gel with each other is not a worthwhile approach. Everyone is going to play with everyone else over the course of the year so they may as well get used to it. It also quashes the argument that 'Player X should be in the first team squad because they need time to get used to it.'
We should abandon this idea of a first team squad and a second team squad and that way we'll see that every time someone plays, regardless of which competition it's in, they're getting the chance to gel further with their team mates.
Here some stats from the season so far:
|Player||Matches Started||League Appearances|
These players are not stealing game time from one another, they're all playing plenty, and they're all getting a chance to both show what they can do and to learn each other's games at the same time.
One more interesting thing I noticed. Despite the increased size of the squad, despite all I've been saying above, this season we've already matched last's record of duplicating a starting XI three times. Each one has been AVB keeping the team the same from one league match to the next but rotating for a cup game inbetween.
The Cardiff team was the same as the Chelsea one, the Swansea team was kept on to face Arsenal and the team that beat Hull got to play against Everton. All three times that we put out the same lineup as the week before we dropped points (this is probably just coincidence though - what am I Brett Rainbow?)
We Need to Talk About Jermaine
Alright, so I've rambled on for over a thousand words already and not said anything interesting. It's time to get to today's point:
Jermaine Defoe has a role to play in this team. Until we sell him.
That role isn't super-sub, nor is it Europa League striker, it's to provide genuine competition to Bobby and to make us stronger as a team on account of there being that competition. Until we sell him.
Full disclosure - that post of mine that I quoted earlier, when looking for it I found one in the same thread stating:
Lloris, Walker and Soldado are in my mind the only ones who could expect to play every game.
But then the penalties stopped flowing, and Defoe was scoring for fun against Transnistiria's finest so I wasn't distraught to see him get a chance in the league. West Ham happened and it was then entirely reasonable to see Soldado back in for the next game. I don't blame AVB for this at all. It's also worth remembering among all the calls for Defoe to never see the pitch again at that point, it was oft stated that the Europa opposition clearly can't be used as a barometer for Premier League readiness.
November was shitty for us, there's no getting away from this and for those of you who dislike AVB, this is where you should target your attacks. Only we seem to have pulled it around again. And we seem to have done that with Defoe in the team.
I'm not going to say Defoe was instrumental to these successes, I'm not going to say Soldado couldn't have done better. My point is that Defoe did fine, and we won. Why are people still complaining so much?
Against West Ham, Defoe touched the ball 18 times. He had 2 shots (both on target) and made 5 out of the 6 passes he attempted in the final third. Against Sunderland he had 35 touches, his 6 shots were all blocked or off target but he also made all but one of the 19 passes he attempted in the final third. Against West Ham we lost, against Sunderland we won!
I don't intend to compare those stats to Soldado's because I really want to get away from the idea that one or other of them is objectively, permanently 'better'. Suffice to say though, Bobby too has had good games and not so good games already this season. I'd suggest against Anzhi was the best he's played for us - this could be because he realises he has to fight for his place in the team, or it could be because Europa League opponents are not a representative test for Premier League challenges.
It was great to see him get amongst the goals again, it was great to see him increase his understanding with our AMs. If he starts against Liverpool I'll be happy and rooting for him. If Defoe keeps his place against Liverpool I'll be happy and rooting for him.
The point is it's great that we don't know our best XI. We hopefully never will. Some players may have bigger reputations, bigger estimated ceilings, bigger facebook fanbases, but we need to keep rotating the squad. This isn't about Defoe or Soldado, it could be Lamela, Eriksen, Sandro even Lloris - if they're being kept out of the team by a player on form and we're still winning, what's the problem?
Ideally there will regularly be people on such good form that one of our record signings will have to spend some important games on the bench. And of course ideally there will be times when all our record signings are on such good form that they slam seven goals past a bewildered Wojciech Szczęsny on their way to a cup treble.
At the end of the day, isn't that what we all want? Do we have to be at each others throats because our preferred lineups differ? And so long as we're winning can we please refrain from attacking the manager, and our own players, just because we have our own favourites who are still getting plenty of game time in other competitions?