x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Spine surgery aids Spurs' recovery

The return of Ledley King and signings of Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor have added much-needed steel to Tottenham Hotspur.

The signings of Emmanuel Adebayor, left, on loan from Manchester City, and Scott Parker, right, from West Ham, have given Tottenham a much more solid look, evident in recent performances.
The signings of Emmanuel Adebayor, left, on loan from Manchester City, and Scott Parker, right, from West Ham, have given Tottenham a much more solid look, evident in recent performances.

On a day when the Premier League's most prominent 100 per cent record came to an abrupt end, other, increasingly significant ones, were extended. After a 1-1 draw with Stoke City, Manchester United have no longer won every top-flight game they have played this season. Ledley King, Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor have, however.

Thus far, Tottenham Hotspur's has been a season of extremes.

The two matches before Parker joined from West Ham United, Adebayor was eligible after being borrowed from Manchester City and King was declared fit were heavy defeats.

The three the trio have played in have brought the maximum return of nine points out of nine.

It would be an exaggeration to say any individual is the sole cause of the turnaround but, collectively, they are a major factor. The spine of the side has been strengthened.

It is a sign of King's importance to the cause that Tottenham have won each of his last eight games. Harry Redknapp, the Spurs manager, habitually describes the centre-back as a Rolls-Royce, but smoothness is allied with solidity.

Sadly, it is accompanied by fragility, his long-standing knee injury meaning there is the perennial concern of further injury. His record, though, is outstanding and his presence all the more vital when William Gallas and Michael Dawson are absent.

Like defenders, defensive midfielders can be judged in part on the goals against column. Tottenham let in eight without Parker and only one since he has taken up his station in front of the back four.

Last week's 4-0 demolition of Liverpool suggested that, with their blend of silk and steel, Luka Modric and Parker could prove the division's outstanding central-midfield partnership. On Saturday at Wigan Athletic, Modric was shifted to the right flank, albeit nominally, with the Croatian wandering infield to create room for the overlapping right-back, Kyle Walker, and to assist Parker and Sandro in the middle.

Despite the tactical tweak, there were common denominators. For the second successive week, Tottenham dominated the early exchanges, laying the platform for victory with a demonstration of authority. It is that control, as much as anything, that Parker gives a strong team.

There is a temptation to think of Redknapp as an incorrigible assembler of attacking talent who sends his sides out in a free-form arrangement. When Modric and his fellow Croatian creator, Niko Kranjcar, were the midfield pairing against Manchester City, it was far too cavalier a combination. Parker provides the balance that was lacking in Tottenham's two losses.

After his heroically futile efforts in an increasingly shambolic West Ham United side over the past couple of years, his reward is to see his excellence mirrored elsewhere. Spurs's resurgence in September has been aided by an easier fixture list - after facing the two Manchester clubs in August, it could scarcely have been harder - but also by Redknapp resolving his long quest to find a striker. Since Rafael van der Vaart's arrival last year, the Dutchman's fondness for a free role behind the attack has highlighted the need for a forward capable of leading the line alone.

Few combine height and pace with an ability to link play and be prolific, but Adebayor is an exception. The questions about him have been more mental than physical or technical, but Redknapp can specialise in man-management.

He has a track record of giving loose cannons a sense of direction; at Wigan, that entailed pointing Adebayor, who had set up Van der Vaart's opener, back on to the pitch when an eye problem prompted the Togolese to think he could not carry on. With a potent striker aiming for goal once again, an elegant leader at the back and a little general at the base of the midfield, three wins show the difference three players can make.

Warnock has his say

Utterly undiplomatic as it was, there was something refreshing about Queens Park Rangers' Neil Warnock branding his own left-back, Armand Traore, "an absolute disgrace" for his dismissal in Sunday's 1-1 draw with Aston Villa.

It may have been excessive to add that the Senegal international was "a bit thick and naive" but at a time when footballing omerta seems to prevent many managers from criticising their players, Warnock is a welcome exception.

The contrast came at St James' Park where Blackburn Rovers' Martin Olsson, was sent off and his manager, Steve Kean, blamed referee Martin Atkinson, though the Swede's first caution came for a particularly blatant display of dissent.

Time will tell which response is more effective, but it is to be hoped Warnock's public censure teaches Traore a lesson.

Record-breaker Dunne

Record breaking is not always a pleasurable process. Just ask Richard Dunne. The Aston Villa defender extended his own landmark by scoring a ninth Premier League own goal to gift QPR a point at Loftus Road.

It was unfortunate, not merely because there was little Dunne could do to prevent the ball from bouncing in off his right leg. He had been arguably the outstanding player on the pitch and without his desperation to get back and prevent an equaliser actually put him in the position where to apply the finishing touch. Some of his own goals have had a comical element, but this was simply cruel.