Emmanuel Adebayor has been disappointing this season. After impressing while on loan at Spurs, he hasn’t hit the ground running. Again - this pattern seems to follow him around. He goes on loan somewhere, works hard, gets a nice contract then goes missing.
He’s obviously a good player but you wonder about his motivation. Spurs, meanwhile, are playing well, winning games but they’re not winning comfortably.
That means they’re not scoring enough goals relative to their play. And now Jermain Defoe is out for a few weeks. There will be a temptation to bring Adebayor back into the side as soon as he gets back from Africa.
However, coach Andre Villas-Boas could be tempted to continue what worked so well for him after Defoe went off against West Brom – playing without a fixed central striker, but having his three attacking midfielders rotate the position.
He has the players to cope without a recognised number nine but Villas-Boas has not played that way at previous clubs, always using a central striker, and indeed often preferring wide players who are capable centre-forwards themselves, such as Hulk at Porto.
There is previous success with this formation – Roma popularised it a few years ago, and Spain won the European Championships without a number nine – but you need to have the right players. I think Spurs have the right players.
Clint Dempsey can and has played as a number nine before, even if he does prefer to operate deeper. He has the discipline and work-rate to switch positions, and he did that well enough against West Brom. Lewis Holtby is just a good footballer, who always gets a lot of touches on the ball, so he can also work in this formation.
And, of course, you have Gareth Bale. He is continuing to improve as an all-round footballer, so allowing him to spend more time in the middle can only help get the best out of him.
His natural game is to move away from people at pace, to cut inside and wreak havoc from the flanks. And I think his future lies in that Cristiano Ronaldo role of starting out on the left or right but having the greater impact through the middle.
Touchline-hugging wingers getting to the byline and putting in crosses is a bit 20 years ago - it’s a fanciful position these days. Wide men now have to score more goals after the bar was raised by Ronaldo and Messi, and to have the maximum impact they need to do a lot of defending from the front. And Bale is capable of that.
Bale’s main strength is his movement and pace, and how quickly to gets into central areas; subsequently, the 4-6-0 formation can only further showcase his skills, as he will be able to spend a greater part of the match in goal-scoring positions.
But it’s a tricky time to play Newcastle after their new players settled in so well and so quickly. They’ll go to White Hart Lane and have a go, they are full of confidence and will feel they can outscore Spurs.
Aside from the new signings, you should never underestimate Yohan Cabaye’s influence. He’s a very important player who has a great range of passing. I understand why they were playing longer balls earlier this season because of Demba Ba, as he is more effective with quick deliveries. However, it affected the whole team and, as it went on, they lost confidence.
They’ve regained that confidence quicker than anyone would have thought with the signings they’ve made. I think Moussa Sissoko is obviously important – I thought he’d play as a defensive midfielder, but with his advanced role they are more dynamic going forward and, crucially, Cabaye is able to focus on dictating the passing instead of making runs to support the strikers. I didn’t think any of the signings they made would have a significant individual impact, more overall, but Sissoko has been a standout signing, as much for what he’s done for Cabaye as anything else.
Another match this weekend that stands out for me is Southampton’s match against Manchester City.
Saints chief Nicola Cortese has alienated some of the fans by sacking a popular British manager and bringing someone in from abroad, someone who doesn’t really speak English and will almost certainly bring in his own players. Sound familiar?
But this is nothing new for Cortese, who is not scared of going for players who you would never think Southampton would go for – such as Gaston Ramirez, who is very highly rated but took time to settle and is probably capable of even better.
While it is a strange sacking because both Mauricio Pochettino and Nigel Adkins have similar coaching pedigrees to an extent, the Argentine has already done quite well and I think he will be able to move them on. The way they played against Manchester United was very impressive and, going forward, he will find the players to fit his system, while bringing in the types of signing Cortese clearly wants.
The contrast with Manchester City is that they had the players before the system, and I think Cortese realised that he had to establish a certain style of play, through the head coach, before he could start to bring in more players like Ramirez.
The title is over for City because the way United are winning, not playing, is ominous, while City don’t get enough out of their best players.
Nine points is too much this time – last season United didn’t have Robin van Persie, for whom it is a matter of when, not if, he scores or picks out a team-mate for a goal. His ability to win matches at any time is vital, while on the other hand the likes of Sergio Aguero are not scoring as many goals for City.