Tottenham’s Villas-Boas has shown tact in Friedel/Lloris dilemma

Lucas Howe analyses Andre Villas-Boas' current selection headache at Tottenham involving Brad Friedel and Hugo Lloris

By Lucas Howe
Hugo Lloris
Hugo Lloris moved to Tottenham Hotspur in August Photo: Football.ua, via Wikimedia

Hugo Lloris

Hugo Lloris has endured a difficult start to his Tottenham career since signing from Lyon for £8m on transfer deadline day.

He has struggled to usurp veteran keeper Brad Friedel, and has apparently become somewhat disillusioned with his role at the north London club – although this claim has been heavily refuted by André Villas-Boas.

The French shot-stopper had been asked to prove his worth in Europa League games against Lazio and Panathanaikos, while Friedel kept goal in Premier League games.

Despite failing to keep a clean sheet this term, Friedel’s performances in league games had made him near un-droppable. This, however, seems to have changed.

On his arrival at Spurs, many considered Lloris to be one of the world’s premier goalkeepers and believed the move to be a huge coup for Spurs – albeit strengthening in an area where they arguably didn’t need to.

Lloris was reportedly unsure about moving to Spurs, considering their lack of Champions League football and with his huge reputation – he would walk into most teams, with only Manchester City, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich having goalkeepers who would lie ahead of him.

Most presumed he would become the north Londoners’ first-choice goalkeeper on his previous form alone. Everyone, that is, other than Spurs supremo Villas-Boas.

Many considered the provocative Portuguese manager to have forced Lloris out through his steadfast and unwavering support of Brad Friedel. This stance divided opinions.

While some backed the notion that Lloris should work for his place in the squad, many believed that, because he had proven himself in the French Ligue 1 and on the international circuit, the Frenchman warranted a starting place week-in, week-out.

Villas-Boas calmed any of Friedel’s nerves by backing the American goalkeeper to continue his consecutive spell between the sticks in Premier League games: a well-documented run that lasted 310 games over an eight-year period.

Friedel’s performances so far this term made the difficult task of inserting Lloris into the Spurs first-team even tougher, and the topic became a much-debated subject within the footballing world: should Villas-Boas drop the in-form old-timer for the reputable French new-boy?

This topic seems to have found its conclusion following Lloris’ induction into the Spurs starting eleven against Aston Villa on 7 October, seeing Friedel forced to watch his team face-off in the Premier League from the bench for the first time since he was in his early 30s.

Because of Aston Villa’s limp attacking display, Lloris had very little to do and, other than a wayward throw to Jan Vertonghen, was more-than-reliable when called upon. His performance saw Tottenham keep their first clean sheet of the campaign – a feat that will be sure to worsen Villas-Boas’ selection headaches.

So did the Spurs boss adopt the right tactic when it came to solving the Lloris/Friedel dilemma?

He ensured that Lloris’ reputation would not simply be enough to budge the evergreen, ever-reliable Friedel. Lloris would have to wait for his opportunity, perform well in the Europa League and hope that the current first-choice keeper would slip up – something he has not done too often in his career.

Lloris did not deserve to immediately obtain first-team status – that would send out the wrong message. Each player, regardless of stature, should have to work for their place: it acts as a reward and ensures all players are working to their limit.

His performances in the games against Lazio and Panathanaikos certainly warranted reward, and so his promotion into the starting line-up for Premier League games comes as no surprise.

Friedel has been criticised for his wariness when faced with crosses, whereas the former Lyon and Nice goalkeeper is more than confident.

Although it is easy to feel sympathy for Friedel – if Spurs had signed Lloris earlier in the transfer window, the American may have moved on as was the case when Villa signed Shay Given – his lack of agility, tendency to stick to the line and slow rushing were his downfalls.

Villas-Boas is a manager not known for his man-management proficiency, but with this, he was spot on.

Lloris is certainly the better goalkeeper of the two, but by forcing him to prove himself it shows that his place in the first-team is by no means guaranteed – he has to continue to perform.

Competition for first-team places confirms full-commitment. Had Villas-Boas simply installed Lloris, and forced Friedel out, he would have given the impression that the position was Lloris’ for the keeping, under no threat.

But what does AVB do now? He has two top-class goalkeepers who are performing at the highest level. Does he rotate the two and risk losing any continuity within the defence, or does he stick with Lloris for league games and Friedel for Europa League games?

With the increased physicality in the Premier League, and Lloris’ performances thriving in high-pressure situations – he is more suited to the league games. Friedel’s positioning prowess will be far more suited to the Europa League games.

All in all, Villas-Boas has a more than welcome selection headache between the sticks. Lloris is the future of Tottenham – one of many players in the current squad that could become a Spurs legend.

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