Walker has Bale and Lennon for reference as he looks to rediscover form of last season

On one flank, Tottenham had two established internationals neatly interchanging, working in patterns and flying up and down the pitch. On the other, two international hopefuls, trying to further their cause, building their form for Andre Villas-Boas’ team in a 2-1 win at Southampton.

Gareth Bale and Jan Vertonghen have the makings of a fine full-back and winger combination. The benchmark in the Premier League these days is the marauding duo of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar at Everton and there is every chance that Tottenham’s left side could be as productive but for the Belgian’s preference for a central role.

Kyle Walker and Aaron Lennon are a slightly different case. The latter is nearing his greatest spell of form for Spurs – somewhat running against the presumption that he would struggle to adapt to Villas-Boas’ preference for inverted wingers (or at least wingers capable of threatening in the middle of the pitch).

His career thus far has been built on the jet-propelled heels that have sent opponents in a spin as he scurries outside them. On Sunday, Lennon created the game’s second goal doing exactly what the management would have wanted; cutting inside his marker and attacking the centre-backs. It was yet further encouragement that Lennon is a far more intelligent wide man than some give him credit.

Walker on the other hand has endured something of a rough ride this campaign. Since bursting into the starting XI at the beginning of last season, ousting Vedran Corluka, a reliable right-back and someone who regularly linked well with Lennon, Walker pushed his way into the England reckoning. There is a myth that his form endured the span of Harry Redknapp’s final season, though.

Whether through fatigue, a collection of niggling injuries or simply a change in the way opposition teams set out against him, he tailed off and was no longer the explosive force he was on his introduction. Despite missing the summer’s European Championship, Walker’s pre-season was patchy before his first-team performances underwhelmed in the opening few games of the Villas-Boas reign.

His mistake for Juan Mata’s second goal and the soft concession of the ball in the build-up to Chelsea’s winner one week ago highlighted the plight of the 22-year-old. He has cut a frustrated figure, bewildered at his loss of form and even made the ill-advised error of responding to a smattering of abuse he received on Twitter following the game.

He later spoke of the incident, telling The Times: “I have seen with Ashley Cole and Ryan Bertrand what has happened and I don’t want to be in that category. I thought I needed to concentrate on my own performance for a few weeks.”

The initially puerile reaction belies his fierce determination to rediscover the form that saw him named the 2012 PFA Young Player of the Year. The self-restraint he demonstrated in deleting his account is admirable, as is the work he is putting in on the training ground.

“They [those on Twitter] did not know how much work I was putting in, not just on match days but throughout the week. I am probably the first one in and the last one out every day. If that means doing gym or some extra swimming, I am prepared to do that to make me a better player.”

The faith shown by Villas-Boas should also contribute to an upturn in fortunes. Some expected to see Kyle Naughton at right-back, or even Adam Smith for the Thursday night game against Maribor, but Walker was afforded 90 minutes to make amends for the display against Chelsea.

Unfortunately, the overall display from Tottenham in their insipid 1-1 draw with the Slovenian champions made it difficult for Walker, or indeed anyone, to make a noteworthy contribution. Still, his performance appeared more fundamental, less eye-catching, perhaps a conscious return to getting the basics right.

At Southampton, Walker gave a diligent, if patchy display. There were encouraging signs – most notably in the quick, incisive one-two with Lennon that left Danny Fox in a daze and Walker in space to attack the byline and find Jermain Defoe. It really should have been an assist for the right-back had Defoe not uncharacteristically smashed his chance from 12 yards the wrong side of the post.

He wasn’t overly troubled by Adam Lallana, Saints’ captain, who only really found joy when he drifted into central positions, though Walker was caught in possession on a couple of dawdling moments in the second period. There was also the wasted chance to get his name on the scoresheet as he sliced his shot from just inside the box wide of the near post.

The signs are there that he is coming through a difficult period, however, and indeed Walker appears aware enough to understand what he must do.

He explains: “When people know what you are about, it is difficult. They know your game whereas last season I came as a bit of a surprise to everyone. I will keep working and training – doing the extra bit I need to. Hopefully, my form will come back.”

The element of unknown helped Walker build his reputation, now it will take further education to sustain it.

Fortunately he has a couple of players alongside him who have had to go through the very same self-analysis. Lennon and Bale have both had spells where opponents would send two or more men out to mark them and have had to reinvent aspects of their play.

The road may be longer than he likes but Walker is slowly coming out of his slump and adding the strings to the bow that would see him justifiably return alongside Lennon, his partner in crime, to the England team.

Spurs reserves miss their last chance to impress Villas-Boas

Sometimes the most tedious of games can tell a manager more about his squad than the better days and in Tottenham’s below par showing against Watford on Sunday, Andre Villas-Boas will have gleaned further information about his squad.

With the Premier League season just under two weeks away, Spurs’ laboured first-half may not have concerned some observers, but perhaps it may have worried the Portuguese Head Coach as he continues to familiarise himself with the players at his disposal.

The starting XI gave a chance to Tom Carroll, the club’s 20-year-old midfielder and he equipped himself reasonably well without ever imposing himself – a running theme in his outings so far – and though it is not meant as a criticism, the academy product is still some way from claiming a regular first-team spot. Talk of him replacing Luka Modric as the hub of the midfield looks absurd at this stage of his development.

Alongside Carroll, one of the club’s forgotten men, Jermaine Jenas was given a start but should look back on his 67 minutes with a sense of frustration. Jenas has spent his career threatening to emerge as a top-class midfielder but those occasions in which he has driven Spurs to important performances – many of them against Arsenal – have been far too sporadic to take seriously.

A first-half littered with misplaced passes and flimsy tackles only served to show Villas-Boas the weaker side of his game, further lessening his argument for a starting, and indeed, squad place.

Progress in the transfer market has slowed since the completion of Gylfi Sigurdsson and later, Jan Vertonghen – both named on the bench on Sunday – and with just less than four weeks remaining, the strength of the squad Harry Redknapp left for Villas-Boas is becoming further scrutinised by the day.

Of course, the under-par performance could well be down to the after effects of a gruelling US tour that encompassed matches in Los Angeles, Baltimore and New York and undoubtedly fatigue from the journey home may have had an effect.

And granted, Villas-Boas was without a number of first-team players expected to take the field against Newcastle on the opening day. Rafael van der Vaart missed the game but is expected to be fit for the trip to the Sports Direct Arena while Kyle Walker was introduced at half-time for the underwhelming Kyle Naughton.

The full-back spent last season on loan at Norwich and by all accounts put together an impressive campaign at Carrow Road. However, he hasn’t appeared comfortable in his new surroundings and looks very much the back-up player to Walker and indeed Benoit Assou-Ekotto, should he be sidelined.

The lack of creativity and ideas when in possession was more troubling, especially to Gareth Bale who was left visibly exasperated at Jenas’ inability to find him out wide on more than one occasion, while Jermain Defoe cut a lonely figure leading the attack, a role he is simply not suited to.

Though he got on the end of Walker’s precise cross thanks to some sharp movement to score the only goal of the game, his overall game lacked distinction. An area that Defoe has notably improved upon in his time at White Hart Lane, has been his hold-up play. For such a small frame, he can retain the ball and win his fair share of duels better than most others of his stature. Yet, on Sunday he appeared isolated from the start and did what Defoe tends to do – vanish for large periods.

It appears he will be told to stay at the club, despite hinting at his frustration last season for a lack of minutes. But with Harry Kane, the prodigal 19-year-old who has yet to show the form that had him labelled as a future first-team player, as the back-up striker and Emmanuel Adebayor’s transfer seemingly drifting away, Spurs are alarmingly short in attack. For the 4-3-3 formation Villas-Boas prefers, it is hard to envisage Defoe providing the all-round qualities needed for the role.

There are positives though: Villas-Boas will welcome Steven Caulker and Danny Rose back to training following Team GB’s elimination from the Olympics while Sandro and Giovani Dos Santos will also add depth when their tournaments conclude.

And as bizarre as it may seem to consider Dos Santos a valuable member of the Tottenham squad, his favoured role on the right of an attacking three may prove to be the back-up wideman Spurs need to cover Bale and Aaron Lennon. Andros Townsend’s cameo appearances on tour and at Stevenage and Watford showed promise but he will likely remain a back-up option.

Where that leaves the perennial underachiever David Bentley is anyone’s guess. He has spoken of his relief at being given a chance by the new management but the former England international has yet to stamp his authority on any of his appearances, instead rather coasting his way through matches. It will be a surprise to see him feature for the first-team this year.

Ultimately on a day set-up for the fringe players to press their case to Villas-Boas, only Jake Livermore made an impression. The central midfielder featured heavily last season and although he now has to compete with fit-again Tom Huddlestone, Carroll and Jenas, he will walk away from Vicarage Road feeling in better shape than most of those around him.

Villas-Boas made the assertion in his post-match assessment that the game “was like another training session” and this was a fair comment about a game that lacked tempo and conviction. Unfortunately for many of Tottenham’s squad members, it may be their last chance to prove to the new manager that they are worthy of a place in next year’s squad of 25.

Tottenham players face uncertainty as Villas-Boas aims to show his true colours

It is fair to say July has been far more agreeable for Tottenham supporters than the last couple of months. They can boast a new manager in the form of Andre Villas-Boas as well as their first signing in Gylfi Sigurdsson.

But while forums and pub conversations may revolve around the merits and limitations of incoming players, Villas-Boas’s arrival heralds a much more uncertain time for the Spurs squad.

Under Harry Redknapp Spurs predominantly played 4-5-1 last season in a relatively fluid, positional free-for-all. Though Villas-Boas is primarily referred to as a coach who prefers 4-3-3 there are small tactical nuances that, if he communicates well enough, will render Tottenham a more polished outfit.

At this early stage, the questions are: Where do Spurs need to strengthen? Who is likely to be deemed surplus to requirements? How will Villas-Boas mould this team into his own?

With the club’s summer transfer window finally kicking into gear, I analyse the five key issues Villas-Boas will need to consider and identify how the current crop of Tottenham players will fit in.

The effect of the high defensive line

The high defensive line; a cocktail of the courageous and the downright suicidal. As seen at Stamford Bridge last season, Villas-Boas’s insistence on a back-four pressing the opposition to the point of lunacy, was Chelsea’s (and his) undoing. It seems more sensible to avoid the debate surrounding the rights and wrongs of that particular ploy and focus on why it relies so heavily on the personnel.

If, as expected, Jan Vertonghen completes his move to White Hart Lane, replacing Michael Dawson at centre-back (though conceivably Steven Caulker could be trialled too), Villas-Boas would preside over one of the quickest back-fours in the league. In Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto, he would have the athletic full-backs so key to his system, while Vertonghen, Caulker and Younes Kaboul both offer reasonable pace for centre-backs.

The high line does require a ferocious pressing game further upfield as well, and the midfield and forwards will be asked to push on and deliver the high-intensity defensive work needed to ensure the opposition do not have time to play balls behind the backline.

Of the first-choice rearguard under Harry Redknapp, Assou-Ekotto seems the only potential casualty of the new regime. Though a genuine cult figure at White Hart Lane, he has been singled out as the weak defensive link for Spurs. With his laissez-faire attitude to the game and a dubious attention span, the high line could pose him questions.

The wide forwards

It is highly likely Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon will need to adapt their game next season. The role of out-and-out wingers they were assigned under Redknapp looks set to be a thing of the past with Villas-Boas. His time at Porto saw the left-footed Hulk operating on the right flank and the right-footed Silvestre Varela from the left. Rather than attempting to hit the byline and cross for the awaiting Radamel Falcao, the two forwards were deployed as genuine goal threats.

It could work in Bale’s favour but it is unclear if Lennon will fit the system. Chants of “he plays on the left” may finally be rendered futile for the Welshman and his penchant for drifting to the other wing could become more than mere cameos next season.

The Lennon question is harder to solve. He has been known to occasionally move to the left and has shown he is capable of nipping inside and scoring with his right foot. Yet much of his career has been spent attacking his opposite full-back and making inroads in the space outside them. Villas-Boas’s biggest challenge could be moulding Lennon into the wide forward he needs.

Alternatively, the rumours surrounding the interest in Oscar, a 20-year-old attacking midfielder with six full caps for Brazil suggest Villas-Boas may already be sourcing a fresh approach.

The striker situation

There is a dearth of striking options at Tottenham following Louis Saha’s release and the expiry of Emmanuel Adebayor’s loan, leaving just Jermain Defoe at the club. Unfortunately for Defoe, it appears he is unlikely to fit Villas-Boas’s system – a set-up that requires a striker capable of occupying two centre-backs – something he has shown he is incapable of doing.

Adebayor is believed to be Tottenham’s main target and although his worth is a topic of much debate between fans – his all-round game outweighs his penalty box profligacy – realistically for a team without Champions League football, he is probably the best available, proven striker the club could sign.

The advantage Adebayor brings to the team is an ability to move into channels and vacate space for the other midfielders around him. This was often an under-valued part to Adebayor’s game and indirectly led to a number of goals over the course of the season. Though critics would often wonder just why the only striker on the pitch was fleeing his natural territory – the penalty box.

Even putting that aside, he is a fine footballer and one who has caused Premier League defences a torrid time over the years. His link-up play is good and he seemed to be a well liked individual, despite having embarked on a difficult career move.

The midfield trio

The central midfield three will be key to Tottenham’s style next year. As alluded to earlier, much of the defensive side to Villas-Boas’s system relies upon a midfield taking a proactive approach to putting the opposition under pressure. Therefore, a hard-working, technically proficient and quick midfield trio is essential.

At present, Luka Modric’s future is uncertain and although losing the Croatian would be a bitter blow, it is not to say the Spurs midfield would be lost without him.

In the past Villas-Boas has employed an anchorman sitting deeper than his two partners in crime. Sandro has shown in his two years in north London that he is an excellent destroyer and the same can be said of Scott Parker. However, the latter offers less craft on the ball and could well be a victim of the managerial change. He is also dealing with a troublesome Achilles injury that may curtail part of his pre-season.

Sigurdsson has been signed to add a much-needed goal threat from the midfield and alongside either Rafael van der Vaart – whose future is also uncertain – and the return of Tom Huddlestone, Spurs look to have strength in the middle of the park. Huddlestone’s ability to pick a pass was missed at times last season and welcoming him back to the first-team will feel like a new signing.

The lack of pace, however, could hamper Villas-Boas’s pressing style and it would not be a surprise to see another central midfielder added – particularly if one of, or both, Modric and Van der Vaart depart.

Shedding the trouble-makers

Perhaps the biggest change for Villas-Boas will be casting off some of the more outspoken players. His downfall at Chelsea largely came about because of the disharmony perpetuated by the influential characters in the dressing room, and if he has learnt a lesson from his Stamford Bridge nightmare it may spell the end for players such as Van der Vaart.

William Gallas, another player with a history of trouble-making looks set to depart Spurs but it will be the loss of the talismanic Dutchman that may be Villas-Boas’s most controversial move.

Of course, it is entirely understandable that he would want to enter a new season with a group of players receptive to his methods and with the patience to adopt what is asked of him. There is little doubt a player of Van der Vaart’s quality could evolve and be part of a new system. But it is his candid nature, prevalent during Euro 2012 that may convince Villas-Boas to cut loose.

It would be a far from popular move, but is something that comes within the remit of managerial change. If Tottenham are to afford Villas-Boas the time he was not given at Chelsea, decisions such as this will need to be tolerated.

This article originally appeared on Goal.com