Tottenham Club Focus – Does Stevenage draw raise questions over selection and loanee policy?

Tottenham Hotspur had an uncomfortable afternoon against Division 1 Stevenage Borough yesterday in the FA Cup. On a bumpy, narrow pitch Spurs gave a fragmented performance lacking in cohesion and fluidity, the match ending in 0-0 draw that earned Stevenage a lucrative replay at White Hart Lane for the right to a home tie against Bolton in the next round.

Tottenham started in an unexpected 3-4-1-2 formation with Michael Dawson, Ryan Nelsen and Younes Kaboul at the back to combat the expected high balls. The selection of the latter two may have had some sense to get towards match fitness after injury lay-offs. However, Spurs seemed uncomfortable with the formation and seemed to labour without the ill Luka Modric. Unable to play their normal passing game, Spurs resorted to route one, with Louis Saha and in particular Jermain Defoe struggling against Borough’s centre backs. Despite this, Spurs could have lead at half time.

Saha had a reasonable penalty appeal turned down and Dawson a header cleared off the line. The second half continued in the same vein, neither side really creating any chances, Stevenage mainly limited to long range shots. In the 64th minute, Niko Kranjcar was brought on for Kyle Walker and manager Harry Redknapp reverted to a 4-4-2 formation. In this set up, Saha did put the ball in the net, but an unfortunate deflection off of Scott Parker saw the effort ruled out for offside. Spurs had most of the possession after that, Aaron Lennon having a lively short cameo coming on for the injured Danny Rose in the 82nd minute with Spurs seeing out a disappointing match in a 3-5-2 formation.

Spurs may be expected to win the replay but this match may have raised questions. There is an old adage: change players or formation but not both; in doing so Spurs lost cohesion and fluency and now face a replay. Why change both? Redknapp hinted that plans had been affected by a training injury to Emmanuel Adebayor and a minor groin operation to Benoit Assou-Ekoto as well as an illness to Modric. Does this suggest that with the North London Derby and Manchester United the next two matches, the intention had been to play the strongest team available rather than rest key players? Again why? Redknapp fielded the fringe players against Cheltenham, won comfortably and the first team rested put on a strong display against Everton following that.

Redknapp has stated the importance of the FA Cup but the strong teams put out here and against Watford have performed below expectations. When Spurs fielded fringe and youth players in the Europa League they acquitted themselves well and with respect to Stevenage they were perhaps harder, albeit different games.

Was the selection and formation against Stevenage determined by the number of injuries – again possibly a by-product of a lack of rotation – and too many loanees? Tottenham have over 20 players out on loan with Simon Dawkins and David Bentley due to follow. Can a team pushing in the Cup and for the title afford this? Arguably greater rotation in selected matches before January would have encouraged some to stay.

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