Tottenham Club Focus – Hard fought win and injuries pose selection questions for Chelsea match

Tottenham Hotspur returned to winning ways on Sunday with a hard gained 1-0 victory at home to Sunderland. The win saw Spurs reclaim third position in the league from Chelsea, this Thursday’s opponents. Tottenham have now won 11 and drawn one of their first 15 matches this season, equalling their opening sequence of 1956/57 when The Lilywhites finished the season second to a Manchester club – United.

With Younes Kaboul suspended and Gareth Bale [and Jermain Defoe] injured, manager Harry Redknapp was forced into changes. Ledley King returned to partner William Gallas in defence, whilst Sandro came into central midfield alongside Scott Parker with Luka Modric moved wide left. Without Bale’s width and pace and without Modric’s control and creativity in the centre, Spurs appeared flat in the first half. This lack of pace was compounded in the 27th minute, when Aaron Lennon was forced out of the game with a hamstring tear. Roman Pavlyuchenko came on up front, moving Rafael van der Vaart out wide right. With both Spurs main creative forces now operating mainly on the flanks, Sunderland probably finished the half the stronger team.

Sunderland may have also started the second half stronger, but Spurs started coming in to the game more and more with both the Croatian and Dutch midfielders increasingly playing more narrowly in their favoured positions. They were able to do this by a slight change in tactics. In the second half Benoit Assou-Ekotto completed only 13% of passes in the defensive third, Kyle Walker 51% in Sunderland’s half, perhaps both effectively moving to wing back from full back. This gave Spurs their natural width. Parker and Sandro dropped a little deeper to protect the centre backs or cover when they pulled wide to defend in the space left by the now wing backs.

This change looked to have led to the only goal of the match. Parker’s won the ball, before Modric passed to van der Vaart. The Dutchman released Pavlyuchenko to shoot into the lower left of the goal. Spurs appeared to up their tempo and roared on by the crowd, pushed forward. Modric should have scored, missing an open goal when the ball came to him too quickly after an Emmanuel Adebayor shot rebounded in his path. Pressing for another goal left Spurs open to the counter attack.

Parker and in particular Sandro breaking up the attacks, with the Brazilian arguably man of the match, not only because of his four interceptions and seven tackles, some of which were impeccably timed, but also his general disruption of Sunderland’s game in out-muscling their players. Spurs, unable to add to the Russian’s goal perhaps welcomed the final whistle.

For Chelsea’s visit, both Lennon and Bale maybe missing. Moving Modric and van der Vaart out wide disrupts Spurs own rhythm and control in the centre and limits the pace on the flanks. The Dutchman made only 38% of his passes on the right against Sunderland suggesting he may wander. Perhaps more positional discipline is required to keep Ashley Cole quiet. With Chelsea’s defence perhaps susceptible to speed, there may be an argument for bringing Vedran Corluka in at full back, moving Walker to right wing, with Andros Townsend on the left to keep the width and pace on both flanks. Interesting questions for Redknapp.

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