Misguided and Bewildered, Spurs Struggle Again

Football fans accept that defeat is part and parcel of the game, even if we never quite get used to it completely. We chunter over the recriminations, bellow at the heavens or kick the cat knowing that it’s an element of the unchanging natural order. If there are winners, it follows there must be losers too.

There are two types of defeat, however, that we simply cannot abide. One is where the players don’t try hard enough, and whatever you say about this current Spurs team, that doesn’t apply. The other is where the manager makes bewildering selection choices that fail to bring the best from the side because he chooses either the wrong individuals or the wrong tactics. Often it can be both.

Insiders tend to dismiss the fans’ knowledge of the game. Granted we are capable of spouting silage like geysers erupting in Yellowstone National Park but most have a sound feel for what suits their team. Yesterday, it felt like the manager got it wrong.

I’m a self-diagnosed sufferer from scepticemia, which means I seldom takes things at face value. I never believed Harry’s hype, the cuddly good ol’ uncle figure who just had to put his arm round a player’s shoulders to transform him into a star. I prefer evidence, and as I’ve said many times now in these pages he deserves enormous credit not only for taking Spurs from the bottom of the league to where we now are but also altering his tactics along the way, adapting to the strengths of the increasingly talented squad at his disposal and to the demands of top class football. All the more incomprehensible then why he should change things now.

Tottenham have demonstrated a few formations this season but they have the following in common. Parker and Modric form the core of the side, playing centrally. The movement of both is exemplary but Parker tends to stay deeper. Bale is an attacking left side man, latterly coming off his wing to surprise defenders in the middle. Walker overlaps down the right. This offers width even if Lennon is absent because that is essential to our style. Adebayor roams up front, saying in touch with the midfield. Someone works the space between the opponents’ midfield and back four, dropping back when we lose the ball and getting up into the box when we attack. Van der Vaart does this best, Defoe if he’s out. Thus we have width, pace and above all the ability to pass the ball at a high tempo.

I am therefore baffled as to the reasoning behind yesterday’s set up. Modric on the left is a total waste, just as it was last Sunday, just as it has always been since he came to the Lane. Whatever the injury situation, build the side around him. Shifting Bale to the right temporarily during a game might unsettle a defence but stationing him there for almost the entire 90 minutes nullifies his assets. He tried right footed crosses or the outside of his left foot but how much better they would have been if he had been able to hit it left-footed regularly. At a stroke we did Everton’s job for them and took two of our best players out of the equation.

Rather than stick to the flexible five in midfield, in the last three league matches Harry has decided to go for it with two up front. Yesterday Adebayor was detached from the rest, too far forward, and was rightly withdrawn but however well or poorly he performed, two strikers unbalances our midfield and left us outnumbered. Again this plays to Everton’s strengths, in particular their excellent organisation and effort in midfield. They lack creativity but once they were a goal up, they didn’t have to be. The onus was on us and we played right into their hands. Add to this Parker’s uncertainty as to his role – was he supposed to push forward, in which case he’s better starting from the back – Sandro’s lack of match fitness and Walker’s reluctance for the third game running to get forward consistently, you  have the shapeless mess that was Tottenham Hotspur for much of the match.

I’m struggling to work out why this is happening. Perhaps Redknapp feels sufficiently confident in his side to go with two up front and get at defences. He did the same at the Emirates, of course, and look what happened then. Bale has been criticised for coming off his wing but at least that’s produced some goals. He didn’t do much of that yesterday when we needed something different. Coleman and Neville handled Bale well last season at Spurs, which if I remember included kicking him repeatedly. Moving him right upset that plan and also blocked Baines’ attacking instincts. However, as I’ve said, we compensated by weakening his game and doing Everton’s job for them. Also, we should be confident in our abilities to break down a side rather than altering our tried and tested balance for the sake of their anticipated defensive set-up. We should be worrying about them: they should be worrying about us. Walker seems to have been instructed not to go forward as often as he was. He’s had injuries but this doesn’t appear what’s holding him back.

Defoe’s movement was generally good yesterday, operating as an out and out striker. Picking up balls into channels were our best opportunity of making and taking chances and he came the closest until Saha hit the post near the end. However, bright as he was, the old faults resurfaced, blasting away when passing was a reasonable option and that pesky offside law, just gets in the way of a striker trying to do his job, eh JD? Assuming VDV were fit, I would have started with him.

After a sedate opening period, we allowed Everton to come at us but dealt with their efforts until another piece of poor defending let us down. Kaboul has largely cut out his rash tendency to get sucked into a tackle but here he sold himself and Osman was away. The real problem is how suddenly and completely exposed our defence was. Yelavic took his chance well but we should not give him that time and space at the edge of our area. No midfield, Ledley came across to cover after Kaboul’s’ error, Benny was miles away. Once again, it’s defending that will shape our final position, once again we were found wanting.

This gave them a goal and the incentive to battle it out for the rest of the time, which they duly did. Credit to them for  restricting our opportunities with their two centre halves rock solid. However, we did little to move them around or draw them out. Everton seldom got the ball near our goal and when they did Kaboul did a fine job of sweeping up the danger. The second half was all Spurs in terms of possession but we achieved precious little. Conceding when not under pressure is proving to be a fault. It does wonders for the opponents’ confidence. It’s transformed A***nal’s season after all. We have to remember that we are the big side, there to be shot at, and opponents like nothing better than to mount a last-ditch defence of their lead.

By the finish we were treated to the undignified spectacle of our keeper going up for a late corner, such was our desperation. Friedel should know by now that all our set-piece routines are laughably weak. Even our current favourite corner, where Kaboul is the target, is designed to give their goalie as much time as possible to see the ball coming from about 14  or 15 yards out. Assuming it gets over the first defender that is. No team in the land, whatever league they are in, are as poorly prepared for set pieces as we are.

Baffled and bewildered, the fans can only look on, powerless. Despite this defeat, it’s still the case that the run-in of tough but winnable games after Chelsea will decide our final place. Being a sceptic, I’m not convinced that the England business is directly harming Redknapp’s decision-taking. If his mind were elsewhere, he’d allow them to carry on as before, which is basically what I’m advocating. Also, our best period came when he was under the intense pressure of preparing for a high profile court case. He handled that so should be able to postpone the less immediate and personal threat of the national team.

I suspect he’s trying too hard, feels a few changes are required because the league knows what to expect from Spurs. However, again this unsettles our pattern and the whole point of the pace and movement is that even if they know what’s coming, the opposition can’t deal with it for the entire match.

Or possibly he performs best under pressure, and when it falls away, he has too much time to think. Individuals create a strategy to handle intense stress. For many, this heightens their focus and levels of determination remain high. This can be sustained over short periods, during which time performance is enhanced rather than harmed by stress. However, once the external factors creating the pressure disappear, so does the motivation. The target of getting through a difficult situation has now gone, it’s been achieved. This is not a conscious process but it’s common. Maybe you have got through a bereavement or problem at work, you’ve coped and dealt with pressures others might succumb to and go under, but it only hits you once the funeral is over or work has been sorted. I wonder if that’s why Redknapp is trying too hard. Stick to what you and the players know, HR, and we’ll be fine. Like I said last week, hold your nerve. That goes for us too.

14 comments

  1. Andre5

    Spot on. I was both resigned and raging with anger at seeing us lose a winnable game. We have the players, the quality to take them apart and occasionally we saw glimmers of what could have been. But Modric on the left, Bale on the right…? Saha looked class when he came on and just highlighted that Defoe has reached his ceiling – good but not excellent.
    It’s so frustrating that we have the players, the teamwork and the effort. It only leaves the manager as the cause of the problems. Stick to what works and I still think we get 3rd. But I am looking at the next manager with more and more interest.

  2. bisonfish

    A side with Bale on the left, Lennon on the right, Modric and Parker in the middle is and has proved to be a fearsome side. They still have to get over the usual slow start, and have been doing so on the whole, and of course, this is Spurs, who can, as did General Burnside, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But still, a really good side. One of those matches this one hoever, like the FA Cup semi, where you just know they’re not going to score.

    So, back to earth then. Only half jokingly I told an Arsenal fan I work with recently that now he knew how it felt to be a Spurs supporter, never knowing whether your team was going to ship 5 or score 5, and to be honest I’ve been guilty of feeling like a glory hunter watching Tottenham, expecting nothing but victory every time the team came out on to the pitch. And do you know, shamefully, it actually felt rather nice ;-)

  3. Matt Rees

    Absolutely right. It’s quite simple really – play your best players in their best positions. Tactically we were a dogs dinner yesterday. Couldn’t believe there was no change at half time. VDV on the right, Modric and Parker in the middle and Bale on the left. Simple. Why a hamstring tweak to one player (Lennon) means we have to rework our whole midfield I’ll never know.

    And you’re dead right to pick up on set pieces. When was the last time we scored from a corner or a free kick?

    The defeat yesterday was particularly hard to stomach because it felt like a winnable game. I don’t have too many complaints about the Man Utd game and the Arsenal game was a psychological battle pure and simple – they are incredibly motivated by beating us and finishing above us, they don’t have anything else to play for. But we lost the game yesterday because of stupid tactical errors and it was infuriating to watch.

      • Alan

        They used to say there was a spike in the use of electricity right across the country during the ad breaks in Coronation Street. Now I have a vision that electric consumption leaps at the sight of Kaboul sizing up a blaster.

  4. Tom G

    I haven’t been following football/soccer for very long, but I’ve been following sports for my entire 38 years and I agree, you don’t play people out of position. Spurs should have gone with the standard lineup and put VDV in Lennon’s place. Simple.

    And if I can see it, why can’t Harry? There’s where your psychology of stress comes in.

  5. Ossies Dream

    Is it bloody deja vu again ? For my comments on this game, just see my comments from the Mancs game. Redknapp again messing up the side by playing people out of position. Modric is our main playmaker and we stick him wide left. It’s criminal what Redknapp is doing to the side now. If we blow CL this season then Levy should sack him. Last season we had a shout for 4th until we started drawing with all of the relegation candidates (because Harry didn’t purchase a striker which all of WHL knew we needed) – this was proved by the season we’ve had now with Adebayor playing. Now, after being 10 pts ahead in 3rd place, we blow it and end up 5th then it is down to Harry’s incompetent team selections. Make teams worry about what we will do to them with our players playing in their rightful positions. If we have injuries then put players in who play in said positions. Bloody pissed off !

  6. Canadian fan

    I said before the Arsenal game. I hope “The bubble will not burst,” Unfortunately, it has big time. Last year we needed a striker, this year is a winger to play on the right, Lennon when fit, does a half decent job, but he’s injured more times than he’s fit. Modric yesterday looked more like a 4 million player, I agree he is totally wasted where Harry Houdini is playing him. Bale’s a great left-winger and that is where he should be playing all the time. Yesterday’s game was very disappointing as in my opinion we never got underway properly, if we had played the whole game like we played the 5 min. injury time period, I am sure we would have got at least one point. I somehow felt they have lost the desire through losing to Arsenal and Man United. I hate to say this but I am very nervous that after next Saturday we will have kissed the F A Cup goodbye as well. If we do not land the players that are being mentioned for next season, they will not come to Tottenham, and that will be the case, if we finish out of the top four, I think every true fan believes that. The whole name of the game now is Champions league success. Anything less will be totally inadequate.

  7. IKnowAlanGilzean

    I certainly don’t know as much as Redknapp about football, footballers or the setting up of a team. Nonetheless, when so many Spurs fans identify the same problem in terms of the composition of the team on Saturday, perhaps we are on to something.

    We are not playing to our strengths, though I maintain that we were very good against Man Utd for the most part and “merited” what would have been a satisfactory draw at Everton, where Man City and Chelsea have lost. So I am not too concerned and believe in the talent and resilience of the side.

    Whatever the pop guns do tonight 3rd/4th remains in our hands.

  8. JimmyG2

    Moyes for Spurs looks a little more likely if Harry leaves.
    Parsimonious which will appeal to Daniel L.
    and handles his assets well.
    Actuall over on the ‘Musings’ we are making the case for Villas-Boas.
    Totally agree with the indignity of Friedel going up for the corner.
    Notice that Man.City did the same.
    Smacks of desperation to me.
    Restrained but heartfelt piece Alan

  9. Bobby

    My only disagreement is that I thought Sandro was everywhere and the main reason we had so much possesion. I think Sandro must play against Chelsea, but I don’t know how you fit him Parker and Modrich in the middle, without playing five in the middle.

    • Alan

      We played well with Sandro and Parker in a 4-2-3-1 kinda thing. The 3 are VDV, Luka and Bale, with width on the right coming from Walker, extra defence from either of the back two shifting along to cover. Works for me.

  10. Spurs fan

    Redknapp has turned Spurs around and the club will miss him when he leaves.
    The problem is that the players have noticed that he has gone before THFC have. All the extra that playing for Harry brought to the team has gone.

    To fix this Spurs should make a move: offer him a new contract as Alan Hansen suggests and if he refuses then move him out.

    Sure they can wait and hope to beat Stoke and turn the season around. But what if Spurs lose again, and at Chelsea too, does it just go on and on and the season dribbles away because nobody wants to act?

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