Spurs sacrifice shape in pursuit of fluidity

Back in early January I wrote an article on Tottenham discussing the change in their approach this season from last (https://nasher3230.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/wingers-take-central-role-in-tottenhams-title-challenge/). To summarise it seemed clear that Tottenham’s wingers, usually Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, were given license to roam across the pitch to help Rafael Van der Vaart support the lone striker Emmanuel Adebayor. However, since writing the article, Spurs have taken this strategy to the extreme and now look completely devoid of width, and in the North London Derby with Arsenal at the Emirates they turned a 2-goal lead into an embarrassing defeat through a lack of shape and positional discipline.

In the first half of the season the plan was extremely effective as opposing defences were faced with the duel threat of Tottenham’s wingers either attacking down the flanks and crossing or cutting inside to shoot. Both Bale and Lennon seemed to grow as players and provided more assists and goals. However, to emphasise the point, this was a case of specialist wingers given the freedom to occasionally move infield or switch flank.

Gareth Bale in particular has now seemingly adopted a central position that has ruined Tottenham’s shape and also nullifies many of Bale’s biggest attributes. Playing centrally neither Bale nor Lennon gets to use their pace as much as playing out wide (save for running on to the occasional through-ball such as the one Bale received from Luka Modric that earned Tottenham’s penalty against Arsenal). Both Bale and Lennon are also decent crossers of the ball but it is telling that Tottenham have not scored a headed goal in the league since September, despite having Adebayor to aim for in the box. Finally, when opposing teams crowd the central areas Bale and Lennon lack the ball skills to keep possession like Modric and Van der Vaart.

The worrying thing for Tottenham fans may be Bale’s attitude. Since becoming one of the team’s stars he increasingly seems intent on taking centre-stage, even at the expense of the team’s shape. Whether Harry Redknapp is encouraging this or whether this is simply a result of the winger’s ego is not certain.

To solely blame Bale for the Emirates debacle is unfair, and tactically Tottenham were awful. As already mentioned Bale won the penalty in the first half running between Arsenal’s centre-backs, despite starting wide on the left. This seemed to make his mind up and it is difficult to remember him running at Arsenal’s right-back Bacary Sagna again in the match. After half-time he drifted all over the pitch, at times dropping deep to collect the ball from the defence, but spent the majority of his time attacking the inside-right channel and running into Arsenal’s midfield. If Arsenal were concerned with how to neutralise Bale they needn’t have worried – Bale neutralised himself with his positioning.

Elsewhere, Tottenham’s midfield lacked any sort of balance. In the first half, Modric and Scott Parker sat very deep to watch Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta, with Louis Saha dropping onto Alex Song. This largely removed Saha as an attacking threat, despite his opening goal. Modric and Parker’s positioning gave Arsenal lots of possession which allowed them to go in at half-time level.

At half-time Redknapp rejigged the midfield, bringing on Sandro and Rafael Van der Vaart. His wholesale changes were a surprise – Arsenal lined up exactly as they have done for the last few years, yet Redknapp was happy to completely scrap a pre-planned strategy that had initially put them 2 goals ahead. Sandro was supposed to provide extra midfield protection with Parker, and Van der Vaart was deployed wide right. Unsurprisingly Van der Vaart provided no width down the right, and with Bale attacking through the middle Tottenham became extremely narrow. Sandro and Parker both lacked the discipline as defensive midfielders, often leaving Modric as the deepest Tottenham midfielder by charging forward themselves, and Arsenal ran riot.

Ironically losing shape is usually Arsenal’s biggest fault. Theo Walcott is often criticised for not playing his wide-forward role effectively, and Alex Song is prone to charging forward from his holding midfield position leaving the defence horribly exposed. Arsene Wenger trusts his players to make the right decisions and refrains from giving them individual instructions, often to Arsenal’s detriment, but Redknapp will want to rethink his strategy and convey that to his team quickly.

In the last few weeks the individual qualities of Tottenham’s attacking players have often masked some disjointed team performances, although the tepid draw against League 1 Stevenage in the FA Cup demonstrated that they wouldn’t get away with it forever. If Harry Redknapp is looking to distance himself from the England job, then he is going the right way about it.

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4 comments on “Spurs sacrifice shape in pursuit of fluidity

  1. Yeah, spot on mate. I can’t add too much really. With 4 effective CMs, 3 of whom who showed virtually no defensive discipline (Luka being the only exception), we had too many people doing the same thing in the same area of the pitch. Then you got Bale, who did his shit Messi thing, providing zero width… when on the odd occasion he did pull wide, it was on his weakest side, the right. Left to much to BAE and Walker to provide width – but with them advanced up the pitch, plus 2 of our CMs out of position, we left ourselves open as hell and so exposed to the counter. Woolwich duly destroyed us. I feel sorry for Ledley and Kaboul, who were left horrendously exposed.

    I genuinely don’t know what ‘Arry was doing at any point from 2-0 up onwards. He is the poster boy for “putting round pegs in round holes”, but he over-complicated things today. A complete and utter shambles. Oh well, only Man U next…

  2. What ‘Arry desperately needed to do was keep it FUCKING SIMPLE. Give it 10 minutes second half, see how we go. If he didn’t like how it was going, do this:

    Keep Saha & Ade up front. Lennon on for Niko. Tell Parker to fucking SIT, with Luka pushing if and when he can. Bale and Lennon do your wing shit, occasionally swapping or whatever. Both of you wide boys, move in when you feel it is best to do so. Tell the whole team to sit relatively deep and counter the Scum to death – their weak arse defense was there to be shot at.

    Or if he wanted to match up a bit more central areas… Lennon on for Niko, VDV on for Saha. More pace and balance in wide areas, with VDV sitting in on Arteta/Rosicky plus able to thread balls through still.

    Really fucking simple. Not rocket science ‘Arry!! Hope he learns serious lessons from this match.

  3. Hi Richard

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  4. Pingback: Tottenham 12/13 Season Preview | Catch 442

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