Aston Villa 0 Tottenham Hotspur 2: Plenty to admire in Andre Villas-Boas’s new side but Luka Modric still missed

To clinch the top-four place Levy demands, Spurs need to show more midfield guile

If the main worry for Tottenham supporters at the start of the season was how their team would cope without Gareth Bale, they should feel reassured. It is the man who left 12 months before Bale whose absence is still being felt at White Hart Lane.

Luka Modric joined Real Madrid for £33m in the summer of 2012 and initially, it looked a smart piece of business. The Croatian’s early displays were so insipid he was derided in Madrid, and Spurs chairman Daniel Levy had reason to congratulate  himself for selling the player at just the right time – or so it seemed.

Those who were scornful towards Modric had forgotten that, sooner or later, high-class players produce high-class matches. Little by little, Modric settled and, two months into his second season in Spain, he has been one of Real’s most consistent players. Spurs’ start to the season has been very solid, but how they could do with a midfielder of his talent and imagination.

Andre Villas-Boas wants Tottenham to evolve from a team who were devastating on the counter-attack – as 10 away victories in the Premier League last season demonstrated – to one comfortable with shaping the course of the match by dominating possession.

For this strategy to have maximum effect, though, you need a midfielder capable of controlling the rhythm of the game by finding space, and then creating it for team-mates with quick, clever passing. Spurs have considerable strength in depth in central midfield, but is any one of them capable of establishing himself as the heartbeat of the side?

Mousa Dembélé – left out of the starting XI yesterday – is quick, strong and skilful, but is far more effective carrying the ball forward at pace than he is at finding the runs of team-mates. Sandro is valuable for graft rather than craft, while Paulinho, another Brazilian, is adept at running into dangerous positions in attack, less so at creating them for others. Étienne Capoue, still absent as he recovers from an ankle injury, is another player who has more power than finesse.

Lewis Holtby and Christian Eriksen, one of the club’s principal summer signings, have characteristics most similar to those of Modric; time will tell if they can emulate him. Yesterday, Holtby replaced Eriksen in the starting line-up against Aston Villa and, apart from playing a crucial role in Tottenham’s second goal, was influential only occasionally.

Eriksen has shown at Ajax and in the Denmark team that he is a subtle, intelligent footballer. He has made a relatively promising start to life in north London and, once he has had more time to adapt, he will surely flourish. Whether the 21-year-old can become as magical as Modric is another question.

In order not to strike too negative a tone, we should remember that Spurs are a very competent side. They have an excellent goalkeeper, they are generally solid without the ball and – given the time and space – they have players who can do plenty of damage with it. Yet in allowing Villas-Boas, and technical director Franco Baldini, to spend the world record £86m for Bale on the players they had identified, Levy wants a return on his investment. This time, he is unlikely to be happy with a side who challenge for a Champions League place throughout the campaign, only to fall short in its closing days.

Make no mistake: a top-four place this season is Levy’s minimum  requirement, not least because he knows Champions League football makes his club far more attractive to investors, as he seeks the finance he needs to proceed with the construction of a new stadium.

Furthermore, this is a season where a dominant force has yet to emerge, with Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United yet to find top speed. The chance is there for Spurs to build a proper challenge. There is much to like about their style and many of their players – but how they could use a man capable of conducting the orchestra.

Luka Modric left Tottenham to join Real Madrid last summer Luka Modric left Tottenham to join Real Madrid last summer  


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album