Everton at Tottenham: Q&A with Cartilage Free Captain

Clive Rose

Ahead of Sunday's game, we caught up with Uncle Menno from Tottenham blog 'Cartilage Free Captain' and asked his thoughts on his team, ours and this weekend's fixture.

Royal Blue Mersey spoke with fellow SB Nation blog Cartilage Free Captain ahead of Sunday's game in London. Thanks to Uncle Menno for the chat.

RBM: What have you made of Tottenham's season so far, and what about Everton's?

CFC: Spurs’ season has been a weird one, no question. We’ve had massive squad turnover, we’ve fired our manager mid season, we’ve been on the wrong end of a number of thrashings from the likes of City and Liverpool... and yet there’s still a decent chance we can make fourth place and we’re a few points ahead of where we were at this point last season. The media narrative is that we’re underachieving, but it’s been a pretty good season overall, objectively, especially considering we sold Gareth Bale last year.

I confess I have a big soft spot in my heart for Everton. As an American, was not born into English football fandom, and indeed chose to support Tottenham over Everton when I became a football fan years ago. So I’ve been watching the Toffee’s season with interest. I think Everton supporters should be very, very pleased with how the season is going. Everton lost its manager and its (arguably) best player, and is competing for Europe while playing very good football. Everton’s a dangerous side and I like them.

RBM: What were the expectations of the Tottenham fans before the season started, and have these changed at all?

CFC: The expectation was Champions League football, though in retrospect I’m not sure how realistic it was. There were those among us who thought, after the reinvestment of the Bale money, that we should be title contenders. Optimism ran very high. But that certainly was over-ambitious. We sold our best player, whom we heavily relied on last season, and brought in seven new faces that needed time to adjust. With the benefit of hindsight, I think we’re probably right about where we should be at the moment based on all the factors leading up to this point. As supporters, we all still want fourth place, but we know now that it’s going to be an uphill battle to get there. Going to places like Hull and coming away with a draw isn’t going to cut it. I wouldn’t be HAPPY exactly with fifth place, but I wouldn’t see it as a travesty.

RBM: Andre Villas-Boas.. were Spurs right to get rid of him?

CFC: Gosh, this is a difficult one to answer. Personally, at the time I thought it was a harsh decision. I really expected AVB to get the benefit of the doubt from the board and last the season. But looking back you can see that things were just not working. AVB’s tactics were rigid, players were often shoehorned in roles that didn’t suit them (like pairing Paulinho and Dembele as a double-pivot), and the offense was absolutely anemic in the first half of the season. We know now that Spurs chairman Daniel Levy and AVB didn’t see eye to eye on a number of things. I don’t think he lost the locker room as most of the players (barring, obviously, Emmanuel Adebayor) liked and respected him, but there was obviously stuff going on behind the scenes that we weren’t privy to. I strongly questioned the decision to fire him when they did, because there weren’t many permanent good options available, but it seems clear now that AVB’s tenure at Spurs was destined to be a short one.

RBM: Tim Sherwood has been given the job for now, what makes him different from Villas Boas?

CFC: Tim Sherwood has been at Spurs for years now and knows the club well. So it wasn’t shocking to see him appointed as interim, and then permanent manager of Tottenham Hotspur. His style of football is much more "Tottenham-esque" than AVB’s ever was -- Sherwood’s tactics have implied faster, more direct football with fluid movement and pressing in the midfield, pretty much the opposite of what AVB was trying to implement. Spurs have gotten pretty good results under Sherwood thus far, and have looked less turgid. Sherwood has also given chances to youth players like Nabil Bentaleb whom he has personally helped develop, and brought Emmanuel Adebayor in from the cold to great effect. He knows the club and its players. Jury’s still out, though.

RBM: Is Sherwood the right man for the job?

CFC: Sherwood has worked extensively in developing youth talent like Harry Kane, Nabil Bentaleb, Andros Townsend, and Tom Carroll, and he has the respect of the entire club. It’s also been clear for a while now that he has been groomed as a future assistant manager or manager. He has come in, righted the listing ship, prevented player revolt, and been a steady hand at the tiller thus far. Nobody’s quite sure if he’s ready for an extended period at Spurs, and the 18 month contract seems to reinforce that.

The view of from the Cartilage Free Captain writer’s room is that the remainder of the season is an extended job interview for Sherwood. If he takes the club to fourth place, he’ll likely stay on and get a contract extension. If he doesn’t, and there are other interested and higher profile coaches available, he’ll probably get a firm handshake, a "thanks for your service, mate," a generous severance package, and he’ll land on his feet in a low-Prem or high Championship club. So it’s kind of win-win.

RBM: Spurs spent a considerable sum on reinforcements after the sale of Gareth Bale. One of the buys was Roberto Soldado. However, there have been certain observations in the media about his performances being below-par. Do you agree with this consensus?

CFC: I don’t think anyone would disagree that Soldado’s scoring output has been disappointing. I think it’s slightly unfair, since under AVB Soldado was played in a one-striker formation as a quasi-target man, which doesn’t always fit with his skillset -- he’s a goal poacher. And frequently in the games he’s played Soldado has done a nice job holding up the ball, bringing others into play, etc. There’s the old canard that says "strikers shouldn’t be judged on goals alone," but when you spend that much money on a guy who’s supposed to score goals, you kind of expect him to score goals. Soldado’s finishing has been abysmal this season, and he’s clearly lost confidence. At this point I just don’t know if he’ll suddenly turn around and start banging them in like Luis Suarez, or if we should just admit that we bought a donkey and move on.

RBM: Speaking of Bale, do you think the money was spent well once he left? Who were the good buys and who weren't so good?

CFC: When you sell a player for £85m, your purchases are going to get scrutinized in the media, and unless you buy all players like, say, Juan Mata you’re going to get your share of criticism for "wasting money." Of the seven players brought in -- Soldado, Vlad Chiriches, Nacer Chadli, Etienne Capoue, Paulinho, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela -- there are certainly ones that I think haven’t performed to the level of what we expected/hoped they would. But I’m not sure I’d say any money was wasted... at least not yet.  Eriksen has been fantastic for us, and has been a wonderful purchase, considering we bought him for under £12m. Chiriches has been a capable CB and has slotted in pretty well in the absence of Jan Vertonghen and Younes Kaboul.  Capoue has been injured (and there’s rumors that he’s out of favor already) but played well at the beginning of the season as a holding CM. Chadli has been... serviceable but not particularly exciting. Soldado we’ve talked about. Paulinho has been enigmatic but highly erratic. I’m not his biggest fan... yet, and I maintain hope that he can settle in and start to thrive as a box-to-box attack-minded midfielder like he does for Brazil. That leaves Erik Lamela, and the jury’s still out on him. Popular fan opinion aside, you don’t spend €30m on a 20-year old Argentinian winger and declare him a flop after less than a season. He’s young, has bags of talent, and has struggled with injury at a new club in a new culture where he doesn’t speak the language. He needs time, and I fully expect he will develop into a key player for Tottenham in years to come.

RBM: Sherwood seems to have breathed a new lease of life into Emmanuel Adebayor. Is it simply a matter of confidence and belief with the striker, or did Villas Boas just not know what he had?

CFC: I think Villas-Boas probably knew what he had in Emannuel Adebayor, but I think that, for whatever reason, he just didn’t like him. There was talk of personality conflicts between the two and it seems that AVB deliberately froze Adebayor out, making him train with the U21s when he came back from injury. Maybe AVB thought that Ade didn’t fit with the way he wanted his team to play, too, it’s hard to say. When Sherwood came in, he gave Ade his chance and he grabbed it with both hands. Having Ade back has been like a breath of fresh air. He’s been an exciting, dynamic workhorse, covering lots of ground and finding his nose for goal. I’ve never fully believed in the zombie narrative that surrounds Adebayor that suggests that he’s lazy, or only plays for a contract, or whatever. He has a tendency to drop out of some matches, especially when the team’s not playing particularly well, but this latest stint has proven that he’s definitely got a role to play. At this point, he’s our best striker.

RBM: Who else should we be looking out for on Sunday?

CFC: Christian Eriksen has been a dynamo of creativity lately, and I’d hope he has an impact on Spurs’ attacking fortunes. Also, we have a couple of players that are now coming back from injury and who might feature in this weekend’s match. Jan Vertonghen is finally healthy again and should give a bit of steel to the back line, and we’re hoping Sandro will return to the team shortly. Andros Townsend is also now training with the first team, though I’m not certain we’ll see him play just yet.

RBM: What shape and style of play can we expect from Tottenham on Sunday?

CFC: That’s the real question, isn’t it? Despite the much-ballyhooed early switch to 4-4-2, Sherwood has actually mixed it up quite a bit tactically based on the personnel he’s had available. Lately he’s been favoring a 4-1-4-1 formation with Nabil Bentaleb in a holding role, Paulinho & Dembele in front, two wide midfielders that like to cut in, and Adebayor alone up top. Although we have a few starters coming back into the squad, I’d expect to see the same this weekend.

RBM: Who are you fearing most and why?

CFC: I’m really anticipating the match up on Spurs’ right side between Kyle Walker and (presumably) Aaron Lennon vs. Leighton Baines. That right side looks like a particularly juicy match-up. Also, while I’m not sure if Seamus Coleman is healthy yet, starting Eriksen on the left (when he likes to cut inside) would presumably open up that side and make Danny Rose vulnerable to runs from Coleman (or whoever his replacement is?). That’s something to watch for. Ross Barkley’s not playing particularly well, but he’s still dangerous.

RBM: Finally, give us a prediction for the game.

CFC: Everton is banged up right now but has proven that it has impressive depth, and Martinez has them playing very good football. The Spurs pessimist in me thinks that Barkley will suddenly start channeling Andres Iniesta, Steven Pienaar will put a hat-trick past us, Martinez will tear us apart by putting Everton in a 4-6-0, and it’ll start a slow slide towards Spurs’ eventual relegation. However, this match is the definition of a six-pointer. No Romelu Lukaku, Arouna Kone, Darron Gibson, or Coleman means that I think Spurs squeak it despite our poor home record. I predict a nervy 2-1 win for Spurs, and an empty bottle of bourbon by game’s end at Chez Uncle Menno.

What do you think? Comment below.

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