This week has seen verbal grumblings between Rafael van der Vaart and Harry Redknapp played out in the media for all to witness. Essentially the argument is the position the Dutchman has been asked to play for the team. Van der Vaart insists he is best played in a central position, whereas Redknapp has asked him to play on the right wing – not only in the 2-1 victory over Arsenal but at various times during his spell at Tottenham Hotspur. Redknapp has now gone so far as to suggest he may have to make a choice between Van der Vaart and Jermain Defoe, the dilemma being that both have started the season in good form with Defoe a proven goal scorer.
Arguably, van der Vaart does not have the natural pace to play on the wing, nor the engine to get up and down the flank, tracking back to offer protection to the full-back. In the Arsenal match, right-back Kyle Walker was exposed at times by the Arsenal left, Ramsey’s equalizer coming from a cross from that side. Both the Dutchman’s goals this season have come when he has played or drifted into a central position, and maybe van der Vaart’s overall attacking effectiveness is diminished on the wing. During the Arsenal game, he had a 71% pass accuracy and 39 touches compared to an average 91% and 80 plus touches in his previous two matches in a more central position
Last season, van der Vaart was Spurs’ most effective attacking player, scoring 15 goals and nine assists overall. The majority of these from an attacking midfield role, behind a lone striker and his partnership with Peter Crouch was fruitful. However, was this to the detriment of both Crouch and Defoe who in the 2009-10 season combined in a standard 4-4-2 formation to score 26 goals between them in the Premier League and fire Tottenham into the Champions League?
Is van der Vaart a luxury player for Spurs? He appears to have limited instinct for defence, irrespective of his manager’s orders. Playing him on the wing, especially against better teams, could easily leave Tottenham’s defence exposed on the right. However, he is perhaps the player with the most charisma seen at White Hart Lane since Jurgen Klinsmann and established himself as a fans’ favourite. For Redknapp to restrict this skilful player with defensive duties, may ultimately limit Spurs’ overall performance.
There seems to be a perception, including from the manager, that this is an either or choice between the talented midfielder and Defoe for a starting role. However, could there be scope to play both in a 4-3-3 formation in certain games, with Bale, Adebayor and Defoe in front of a midfield trio of Van der Vaart, Parker and Modric? This formation might appeal to Redknapp’s attacking instincts, offering enough going forward whilst retaining possession, as well as having Parker’s excellent defensive shield to break up play in front of the back four.
In the end, perhaps Redknapp should select van der Vaart, Defoe or both dependent on the tactics determined for the opposition. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds during the season.
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