North London Derby: Now Spurs have the taste for better things
Vertonghen wants to outshine local rivals as Eriksen becomes their latest signing for £11.5m
Friday 30 August 2013
Tottenham Hotspur is a different place this season. They have only played two league games so far and their squad is still in flux – and will be, presumably, until Monday night – but there is already a new feel, a fresh taste to work at Spurs.
While Arsenal, who finished one point ahead of their north London rivals in each of the last two years, have allowed themselves to drift, Tottenham have been increasingly enterprising and ambitious.
Spurs' new training facility in Enfield – this will be their first full season there – is rated by experts as Europe's best. And while the buildings and pitches are all very good, the true resource is the players, the improved recruitment of whom has enhanced the environment.
"There is a lot of competition," said the Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen at Tottenham's base this week. "The quality of the players is very high, so they train at a very high level." The contrast with Arsenal is obvious. "I think it's always good, whatever the result was last season, to have some freshness in the team, to be competitive with each other. I think the mood on the training ground is very good. I think everybody can feel that, especially because we won the first two games."
Spurs began their summer by signing Roberto Soldado, Nacer Chadli, Paulinho and Etienne Capoue. Vertonghen praised Soldado's pace and ability to win the ball back but was particularly impressed by the strength of the other three. "If you see those guys, they are all tall guys who have pace but physical power as well."
It was in midfield that Spurs lost fourth last year, after Sandro's knee injury in January, but there seems little danger of a repeat this time. Paulinho is the relentless goalscoring dynamo that they needed while Capoue is a remarkable player – an incisive passer who can control the tempo of a game but with the pace and strength to tear through the opposition. It is barely necessary to point out that they, like the rest of Spurs' signings, would have improved Arsenal this summer.
"They have just so much power," said Vertonghen of his new midfield. "I think the best example was the game against Swansea; they just run through people and they have good quality on the ball as well. They can give us some extra power to do better than last year."
Since then, Spurs have confirmed the signings of the Romanian Vlad Chiriches and Argentine Erik Lamela, with the Denmark playmaker Christian Eriksen also joining for €13.5m (£11.5m). When Vertonghen was asked on Wednesday about Eriksen, with whom he played in Amsterdam for four years, there was a very knowing smile. Little wonder.
All these new players give Spurs more tactical options than they had last year, when they often relied on Gareth Bale to win games for them.
"We have more opportunities to play more tactics," explained Vertonghen. "We have way more power than we had last year, I think, and we still have our pace, and we can play different kinds of games. We played Man U away with a lot of counter-movement and at home we want to make the game, so I think we can do both now."
This all means that this year's Spurs team – as well as those in future years – are already better equipped than before. They have started this season with two clinical 1-0 wins, an improvement on last season, when they lost at Newcastle United before throwing away winning positions at home against West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City.
"We are one year older all of us, we have a little more experience, and I think we know a bit more how to win," Vertonghen said. "Last year we conceded in our first two home games two goals in the last minute, and I don't think that's going to happen again now."
Of course, Spurs did improve last year – largely thanks to Bale – but again finished a point adrift of Arsenal, consigning them to another year of the long slow haul of the Europa League.
This is particularly frustrating for Vertonghen, who feels that his side were superior. "It was painful, yes, because we thought we were a better team than Arsenal at the end. We were all very disappointed, especially because we thought we were supposed to be comfortable."
Anything can happen on Sunday and throughout the season but the growing confidence at Spurs is very understandable. They have the momentum and Vertonghen is not worried about the expectations from fans and media.
"Of course, there is a bit more pressure if you bring bigger players in. I think it is good to have some pressure, it keeps us at a high level as well, so maybe it is a pressure that we need," he said. "We can handle that; we think we have to finish in the top four. Our goal is the same."
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