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.