Tottenham Club Focus - Getting the balance right should prevent a blip becoming a slump
Tottenham Hotspur’s loss to Everton means they have lost three league games in a row for the first time since 2008 when managed by Juande Ramos. Tottenham may have registered no points from the last three games but being still in third place by four points as at this morning signifies how good Spurs’ season has been to date. This run should represent a blip rather than a slump, after all Spurs still have a top quality first choice eleven, complemented by some good squad players that, on their day could beat anyone. Is the question how does manager Harry Redknapp prevent the blip becoming a slump?
In this Redknapp will be helped by an easing fixture list. Playing five of the top teams and an in form Everton in a concentrated period was always going to be testing. Their remaining fixtures see only one match against a current top six team – Chelsea. There is also the spectre of the England job hovering over the club; the uncertainty appearing to affect the team and manager. Hopefully for fans, Daniel Levy can force the issue with the rumoured contract offer and war chest. This should at least create some sort of stability. Most importantly, perhaps Redknapp needs to look at tactics, especially when considering player availability.
Against Everton in January when Spurs won 2-0 at White Hart Lane, possession was the same – 62%; pass accuracy was similar as were shots and shots on target. This though looked a different team. The formation was 4-4-2 compared to the 4-4-1-1 that was the basis of Spurs unbeaten run. Spurs midfield strengths has been based on pace on the wings and the centre silk and steel combination of Luka Modric and Scott Parker. However, with an injury to Aaron Lennon, Redknapp switched Gareth Bale to the right wing – according to Redknapp to push Leighton Baines back.
Luka Modric, who has been outstanding as the heartbeat of the Spurs team, was pushed out to the left wing – not for the first time; Sandro was brought into the centre alongside Parker with Jermain Defoe – perhaps after his brace against Stevenage – brought in alongside Emmanuel Adebayor. The set up created several problems. Rather than keep Baines back [his key pass was instrumental in the only goal], the canny full back working with Seamus Coleman prevented Bale from cutting in from the right, leaving the sight of the Welshman attempting accurate crosses with the outside of his left foot [he managed 2/13 accurate crosses in the match]. This resulted in Bale dropping narrower. On the left, Modric to influence the match, dropped inside to the centre leaving no width on the left and full back Benoit Assou-Ekoto isolated.
With one of Spurs strengths being the through ball from centre, was too much expected of Parker and Sandro to be defensive and creative? The midfield looked unbalanced against what was always going to be a hard working Everton. This imbalance led to five Spurs players having an average match position of in or marginally ahead of the centre circle. Only the two full backs had an average position on the flanks, an incredible notion considering one of Spurs strength is width. Arguably this imbalance could have been avoided by simply replacing Lennon with another wide man such as Niko Kranjcar, Giovani or even Rafael van der Vaart leaving others in their natural positions. Perhaps the testament to the quality of the team is despite this, and with some late substitutions, Spurs should have taken something from the match.
Modric is perhaps the best central midfielder in the league; Bale has been feted as a world class left winger. To prevent the current blip becoming a slump may be Redknapp needs to return to the balanced formation and players in the most effective positions. Doing so should return Spurs to the form needed to ensure third place is theirs.
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