After a successful festive period, there is plenty to be cheerful about at White Hart Lane as 2009 makes way for 2010. Occupying a Champions League spot and with the joint top scorer in the Premier League on board, things look rosy for Tottenham. The FA Cup is still to play for, with a Third Round tie against Peterborough approaching. Ledley King is fit – for now.
King returned to the fold for the first time since the win over Sunderland in early November as Spurs enjoyed a post-Christmas triumph at home to West Ham. Playing alongside Michael Dawson, he was part of a back four that earned a fourth successive clean sheet for the team. King’s positive qualities, as well as his injury setbacks, have been mentioned on this page before, but the bottom line is that Spurs will never have a stronger defence than when a fit King is present. King’s return would have been timely had Bassong been called up for Cameroon’s African Nations Cup squad. It came as a great surprise that the former Newcastle defender was omitted by The Indomitable Lions’ manager Paul Le Guen but the news will have gone down very well with Harry Redknapp. With Benoit Assou-Ekotto included in the Cameroonian travelling party, Harry will be glad that his defence has not been further depleted. Having King fit and Bassong present gives Redknapp valuable options in a busy January.
It is not just King who has returned to boost Spurs. Luka Modric has been easing himself back in to first team affairs in recent weeks after his leg break and he signalled his return to form with the opening goal against the Hammers, his first strike of the season. Modric has watched on as his compatriot Niko Kranjcar has established himself as Tottenham’s creative hub but he will be confident of taking over the mantle now that he is fit. At his best, Modric should be an automatic choice on the teamsheet of virtually any team. With Kranjcar in such a rich vein of form of late too, Redknapp must work out a way to satisfactorily rotate the pair or alter his tactics to incorporate both on a regular basis. Both Croats by preference occupy the area between the midfield and attack. Redknapp generally prefers a variant on 4-4-2 and could opt for a lop-sided diamond. One player would be at the tip of the diamond with the other tucked in on the left. With Aaron Lennon playing wider on the right, both Kranjcar and Modric would look to occupy the space created, as seen when Kranjcar ran riot against Manchester City.
There are problems with such a system. With two strikers in advance of the two attacking midfielders and Lennon, there is a danger of one part of the field becoming congested. The lack of defensive qualities in the advanced midfield trio would increase the risk of conceding, with Wilson Palacios left as the only screen to the defence. Having five attacking players in the same side has been seen at the club in the Premier League years under Ossie Ardiles. A team featuring all five of Jurgen Klinsmann, Ilie Dumitrescu, Teddy Sheringham, Darren Anderton and Nicky Barmby was not a rare sight, but did not prove successful. Ardiles found his team languishing in the bottom half of the table and himself out of a job. Playing one striker is another option, with Modric playing off the lone man and Kranjcar continuing on the left hand side but still playing narrow. Jermain Defoe would be the prime candidate for the role having gathered 14 goals already in the league but is not a natural at holding the ball up. Playing Defoe alone up front would require the ball to be played through the midfield rather than being lumped up field as often happens with a lone front man. Peter Crouch played on his own in attack for England in the 2006 FIFA World Cup due to injuries, a move that was not successful.
Getting the balance right is the key. Spurs flow of goals this season has come playing with two up front and there should be hesitancy in changing this system. Being a top side in the modern game means having a large squad and the best managers like Sir Alex Ferguson have learnt to rotate at the right times. Redknapp must choose whether it is best for the team to play all his attacking trump cards at once or make the tough choice of who to leave out. Without European football, there are not the massive amount of games for Spurs that some clubs are blessed with, allowing them to give bountiful appearances to every player. It is vital that Redknapp makes a wise decision as to how to fit both Kranjcar and Modric in to his team. Against some teams it will be highly possible, but against others he will need to err on the side of defensive caution.