Spurs’ top-four hopes rest on Parker filling Sandro’s shoes
Scott Parker was out injured for six months, but he was unfit for considerably longer. The second half of his debut season at Spurs was punctuated by constant niggling injuries: a knee problem, a hamstring strain and a calf injury.
By the time Spurs lost 5-1 to Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final, Parker was absolutely exhausted – unable to chase when Chelsea launched counter-attacks, simply not capable of his usual charging around in midfield. He desperately needed a rest but his determination to make Euro 2012 – at 31, his first major international tournament – meant he put his body through more pain. He soldiered on throughout England’s four matches but the quarter-final with Italy saw him departing, yet again out of gas – this time there was a troublesome Achilles’ tendon. With such an assortment of lower body injuries, it’s clear the root cause was simply too much football.
Parker has now been returned by necessity to the Spurs starting XI owing to Sandro’s season-ending injury. In fairness, André Villas-Boas deserves great credit for slowly integrating Parker into the side before Sandro’s injury occurred at QPR, with five substitute appearances in the league and one start in the FA Cup. A sudden return to first-team action could have been disastrous.
“I think the break has really done me good, and I feel fit and sharp,” Parker says. “In a weird way I think my body needed that rest because I’ve played a lot of football for many years now and that was probably the longest I’ve been out.”
Parker has been tasked with adapting immediately to Villas-Boas’ system, which is somewhat different to the way Spurs played under Harry Redknapp. Last season Parker played an all-action, combative role in front of the back four, but Sandro has performed a much calmer, more disciplined screening role this term.
In truth, that might suit Parker following his fitness problems, although there remains a question about whether he can adequately play in that role. Sandro is a classic example of the type of player allegedly performing very simple duties, but his positional sense and his reliability in possession were both crucial. Mousa Dembélé felt comfortable enough to slide forward and leave Sandro protecting the back four on his own, but since Parker has come into the side – particularly against Manchester United – the Belgian has stayed deeper, assisting Parker in his defensive responsibilities but weakening Spurs’ attacking potential.
There has certainly been a dip in Spurs’ performances. They collected 13 of 15 available points from Sandro’s last five games, but since Parker replaced the Brazilian have won just one in five – Sunday’s 1-0 win over 10-man West Brom. The balance of the side is not quite the same, and Sandro’s authority is already being missed.
The next four games will provide a big test for Parker: a battle against Newcastle’s new-look central midfield, the derby against Arsenal, a return to former club West Ham and then a trip to Liverpool. His performances could mean the difference between Champions League football in 2013-14 or a third consecutive campaign in the Europa League.
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