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Fan Focus: Tottenham Talking Points

Ahead of the final game of the season we spoke to Spurs blog Cartilage Free Captain, and in particular writer Ed Francis, about how their season has shaped up and to preview the big game on Sunday.

Matthew Lewis

So what's been the story of the season so far? Enjoyable? Depressing? Or about average?

Ed Francis: For me, it's very difficult to settle on one particular emotion which I feel summarizes this term. In the beginning, there was optimism that AVB's system would eventually take hold and the team would find its feet even when our early performances and results were dismal. Then we went on a stretch from the end of last year well in 2013 which exceeded all of my wildest expectations for what this team could do when fully fit and in harmony with one another. And then, almost inevitably, there's been the seeping disappointment of our recent collapse which has put our Champions League chances in jeopardy.

In general, it's been a total emotional rollercoaster - which I suppose in a sense does make it a pretty standard season for a Spurs fan.

Has it (so far) met your preseason expectation?

EF: Certainly. If you had asked me at the start of the season whether I'd take participation in a tight top four race possibly culminating in a strong fifth place finish, I would have bitten your hand off, purely due to the crippling personnel losses we suffered and the fact that AVB's appointment was clearly one for the long-term rather than immediate results.

I guess the only question is whether we should have readjusted our expectations during that incredible run of form, or whether a slight regression like what we've experienced in recent months should have been expected given how thin our squad is in some areas.

Is it unfair that some commentators have labelled Spurs a one man team?

EF: Somewhat. As a unit, Tottenham have played fantastically well for much of the season. Moussa Dembele has been a revelation of a signing, with our win record with and without him illustrating how key his powerful, proactive style of play has been to our chances this season. Aaron Lennon has been in the form of his life, and our defence has been incredibly solid and has adjusted to Villas-Boas' high-line system very well. So Spurs have been more than able as a team to put up a good fight against all manner of opponents. The only issue has been that we've been very reliant on Bale's goals to give us a decisive edge- even if we can press a team for a whole game and dominate in a statistical sense, the trend has been in recent weeks that without a Bale wonderstrike, we'll be unlikely to take home an optimal result.

So while I think it's unfair to say we've been a one-man team this term, I doubt whether we would have been in the position that we're in without Bale. But even having said that, you have to question whether Spurs would have simply played differently to secure wins if Bale had been out for longer spells this season. Sometimes, just letting the guy who can do what he does have the final say is just the easiest way to get what you want.

A player I've been intrigued by but not really had the chance to see much of is Lewis Holtby. Where can he go in the game, and how do you think he fits in?

EF: The case of Holtby this season has been a rather disappointing one because he was absolutely fantastic over the season and a half before we signed him from his former club Schalke. He's an energetic, hard-working attacking midfielder who links play well and has a certain creative flair about him- in this respect I thought he would solve a lot of problems for a Spurs side that had struggled to create in the face of goal, especially against parked buses.

The problem is that we've failed to find exactly the best way to utilize him this season. His primary position is in the No.10 role but with Bale on a tear as a second-striker he's obviously found chances in that spot sparse. He's claimed that he sees his future as being in the middle of the park, but even used there in recent weeks he's not been fantastic - his work rate has been terrific, but he hasn't really contributed much to our efforts going forward.

My hope is that having gotten the awkward adjustment period out of the way this season he'll find his niche next season and we'll be able to build to some extent around his very obvious talents.

There was some ill-will towards Andre Villas-Boas early in the season. Has this all gone now or do fans still have their reservations?

EF: I think the hostility towards AVB at the start of the season was largely seen from a vocal minority of boo-boys, rather than reflecting the true feelings of the fan base as a whole. I think most actually recognized that implementing his favoured style of football would take some time and were prepared to give him a chance, and I think after the heights we've seen him take us to this season that point of view remains widely unchanged.

I personally retain a few reservations about him, largely based around his failure to experiment with potentially useful younger players like Thomas Carroll and how slow he can sometimes be to change up his preferred tactics when they stop working. But again, I recognize that he deserves more time to show what he can do with a squad he had more of a hand in assembling before we can form a proper assessment, and appreciate the largely excellent work he's done for us this year.

Danny Rose - Can we keep him?

EF: It's a yes from me, because I don't personally think he'll ever bed in as well at Spurs as he has at Sunderland. As long as the fee is correct I'd have no problem with him being allowed to stay at the Stadium of Light.

What do you make of Sunderland's season, and has the appointment of Paolo Di Canio made you take any more notice?

EF: I feel like Sunderland could possibly have avoided slipping into the position that the team is in if transfer funds had been allocated somewhat differently. Though Steven Fletcher has been a really decent signing for you guys, a little more creativity in midfield and some defensive reinforcements/upgrades were things that Martin O'Neill should have invested in at January at the very least.

My personal views on him aside, I think it's been interesting to see how Di Canio has restored a measure of belief and attacking fluency to the side since his appointment, and I can imagine that the club would do well to retain his services no matter what the situation looks like going into next season.

What will be the key-battle this weekend on the pitch?

EF: It's difficult to predict exactly what the most important matchup will be in this game because Paolo Di Canio has been tinkering with the side so much to cope with your recent injuries, rotating a handful of players around a couple of different positions.

That said, I think the result of this game will be defined in how well Sunderland can cover that space between midfield and defence where Gareth Bale has been seeking to operate in recent months, as well as how efficiently they can circulate the ball from that area out wide to counter-attack.Kyle Walker, Jan Vertonghen and Benoit Assou-Ekotto all love to get forward, as result of both their individual preferences and those of AVB, so how Sunderland handle transitions and whether they can catch Spurs out on the break could be of vital importance in this tie.

How do you feel going into next season?

EF: Nervous and excited. AVB is at a real crossroads in his tenure with Spurs right now and how he and Daniel Levy handle the summer could end up being vital to the direction his career with us takes. First of all, he has some real decisions to make about the futures of some of our marginalized creative talents like the Tom's Huddlestone and Carroll - because whether we use them or sell them could be central to our how team plays next season.

We're also going to have to sort of the problem of who will be playing left-back next season as Assou-Ekotto looks set to go, as well as bringing in striker reinforcements, and (depending on what we do about the aforementioned Carroll/Huddlestone conundrum) seeking out some creative reinforcements in the middle of the park too.

Reflecting how things are in the League generally at the moment, it looks to be a crazy few months.

May I trouble you for a prediction for this game...

EF: I'm going to stick my neck out and say 2-1 Spurs, because that's been a pretty safe bet us for predictors pretty much all season. Though I'm currently bottom of CFC's Prediction League, so best not to take my word for it!

Great stuff from Ed, and you can read his work alongside many other great articles over on the fellow SB Nation site, Cartilage Free Captain.

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