Tottenham Hotspur emerged from The Hawthorns on Saturday with three goals, three points and third place intact. Manager, Harry Redknapp had been forced into two changes to his main eleven, with Sandro coming in for the ill Luka Modric and Jermain Defoe for the injured Rafael van der Vaart.
Despite having two of the best wingers in the Premier League, Spurs looked to be playing with less width than usual – the average position of Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale being centre midfield in the Baggies half, the same as Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor. Sandro sat slightly deeper than Scott Parker, and these two were being out-battled and outnumbered by a Baggies midfield trio. With the missing creative players, less width, Jerome Thomas sitting on Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekoto facing Steven Reid and Chris Brunt, there was little outlet to relieve the pressure.
The Baggies took the lead from q cross on the left of Spurs defence, Youssef Mulumbu finding space between the two central defenders to head past Brad Freidel. Whilst Spurs were under pressure, the pace within the team ensures there is a threat going forward. On one attack, Lennon used his speed to entice a penalty, put away by Adebayor on the rebound. However, Spurs’ attacks were few; they managed nine shots in the first 45 minutes and only completed 214 passes – 58% of which were in their own half. Spurs were perhaps lucky to be drawing at half-time.
Redknapp made tactical, if not personnel changes for the second half. Lennon and Bale switched flanks, Sandro pushed further forward – he made 24% of his passes in the Baggies defensive third compared to 4% in the first half – and overall Spurs upped the tempo. The changes appeared to work, pressurizing West Brom in their half. Spurs made 39 tackles in the 2nd half, twice that of the first, but 64% of these were in the Baggies half. They completed 279 passes – the majority again in the opposing half and ultimately the Lilywhites managed 20 shots, Defoe and Adebayor scoring one each.
Spurs appeared to take a half to adapt to the lack of both creative players. Modric and van der Vaart keep possession, create space for others and control the team’s rhythm, something not necessarily offered by the two defensive midfielders. Also, Defoe presents a different dimension altogether to the Dutchman. An out and out striker he touched the ball only 33 times, made only 20 passes – all successful – but had five shots.
The higher tempo, building up pressure paid dividends in the second 45, but Spurs arguably could have played Jake Livermore from the start to keep possession more. However, Spurs are a much tougher proposition these days and a team full of confidence hung on in the first half and improved to take the game. The old adage that the best teams can win when not playing well may certainly apply to this Tottenham side.
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