Wake-Up Call for Spurs

18 08 2010

Half an hour gone and 10 months, or arguably 40 years, of Spurs’ hopes, dreams, money & ambition looked to have gone up in smoke. 3-0 down to Young Boys of Berne in their Champions League qualifier was a pitiful start and in clawing their way back to 3-2 many will wake up with this morning feeling Spurs are off the hook. The truth is that Harry Redknapp’s tabloid allusions that ‘tactics aren’t that important in football’ leave him open to criticism after games like this.

Ghostgoal wrote a piece back in May praising how Spurs had been able to overcome their difficulties putting away defensive opposition by retaining 4-4-2 but deploying Luka Modric in a central position. However, it is the conclusion we came to that resonates even more this week:

“The conclusion therefore is that of a qualified success for Spurs. They have shown 4-4-2 can still bring some Premiership success, they possess talented players in abundance and their achievement this term could give them a platform to become even better. However, the suspicion remains that one of the keys to success at the highest level is being adaptable. This is a trait Spurs will need to learn should they find themselves negotiating a tricky Champions League group come the Autumn.”

As it has turned out, the European examination came even before the group stage. The warning signs were there in the opening Premiership encounter against Manchester City. In truth, Spurs were unfortunate not to win that contest. The tactics guru Jonathan Wilson rightly praised Spurs’ ‘boldly attacking pairing of Modric and Huddlestone’ but the relative success of ther line-up in this match owed much to a dysfunctional City team selection. Mancini’s side were unable to pressure Tottenham’s midfield two and allowed them enough time and space to pick out the forwards and the wide men at will.  As an attacking force, City failed to get their full-backs forward and Yaya Toure, Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry (playing tucked in off the left) could not expose the potential weaknesses of Spurs’ attacking formation. That is not to say the weaknesses were not there:

Spurs vs Man City - Yaya Toure breaks untracked before firing wide

This run from Yaya Toure was a rare example of City midfielders driving forward into the wide open spaces that can be available when facing an attacking 4-4-2. Although David Silva did drift into the area that could expose Tottenham, he struggled to make an impact on Premiership debut. Against Young Boys, the North London outfit were not so fortunate. This time around, Spurs were up against a side prepared to play a high tempo pressing game that denied Modric the time on the ball to bring the attacking players into the game. In contrast, with just Palacios for support in the centre and only token defensive contributions from Pavlyuchenko and Defoe in the first half, Spurs were simply ripped to shreds. Moreno Costanzo, the bright young Swiss-Italian No.10 was afforded the freedom of the park which was more than he needed. As it turned out, he played little part in Young Boys’ opening goals but the warning was there to see in the build-up to the 2nd:

Young Boys' 2nd goal. Pavlyuchenko (circled) is closest to Costanzo who is about to run clear on goal.

As the Spurs defence gets sucked towards the ball and inexplicably lose out anyway, space is afforded to Young Boys’ playmaker Costanzo. The closest man to him is actually Pavluychenko but his tracking back is no more than a gesture. This space is more of a direct factor in the beautiful 3rd goal:

Costanzo is about to receive the ball in acres of space and thread a beautiful ball through for Hochstrasser to make it 3-0. Defoe is the nearest player to him.

As Tottenham’s midfield pairing reacted to the pressure they were under by dropping deeper, this just made it easier for Costanzo to find the space in front of them rather than behind. Again, the efforts of the Spurs striker (Defoe in this instance) are no more than a gesture. After the half-time interval it was clear that a conscious attempt was made to address this problem as the front two played much more as a split pairing, sharing the tracking back duties. When Robbie Keane came on he even came so deep as to receive the ball from the centre-backs but was still involved enough further upfield to provide the assist for the potentially crucial 2nd away goal.

Conclusions:

This could really go one of two ways for Harry Redknapp and Tottenham Hotspur. You may take the view that their team is unsuited to the more unforgiving nature of the Champions League given the fact that far tougher challenges lie ahead. After all, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United team of the 90s took years rather than weeks to adapt to the tactical demands of European football. On the other hand, a 3-2 result means they have an excellent chance of progressing back at The Lane and it may be that this was a lesson they needed to learn sooner rather than later. Should they reach the group stages there will be a need to operate with different formations, particularly in the away matches, and events on the plastic in Switzerland may have served as a timely reminder that Spurs can ill-afford to defend with two men out of the game up front.

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8 responses

18 08 2010
Sam Wanjere

Well done. (y)

18 08 2010
Kwolf

Is this really a European thing though? United struggled because imo they couldn’t keep the ball well enough in their early European efforts. Ince, Keane, Kanchelskis, Giggs compared to Scholes, Keane, Beckham, Giggs. Not a great suprise the latter was more successful.
I think the EPL has moved on enough that the difference between it and European competition is much smaller. I think it’s simply a case here of Spurs being out-thought and out-performed. The European factor is perhaps a red herring. In fact in you other blog you mention that Wolves were able to gain a tactical advantage over Harry last year. If Mick can do it, anyone can!

18 08 2010
GhostGoal

I think that’s a fair comment. The differences are definitely less pronounced these days and, of course, this could happen to Spurs in an EPL game. I still feel there’s a point to be made about Europe in that it exarcebates the differences – a team you aren’t used to playing that is successful in their own country, and in conditions you are unfamiliar with. In an away leg where a draw is a good result, I think it was a mistake to leave themselves so open. There is a good reason why sides often take a more cautious approach in Europe and Tuesday night very nearly exposed Spurs.

19 08 2010
Jonathan

Enjoyed that, good piece.

Sums up a lot of what I was thinking during the game – Spurs’ naivety at this level left them completely exposed in that opening 40 minutes. Having 2 strikers in an orthodox 4-4-2 away from home in the CL is all well and good, but they have to be workaholics when you lose possession. Pavlyuchenko and Defoe patently are not.

I’m not sure if you can attribute the switch to Redknapp wising up though, or luck? As far as I can tell both Assou-Ekotto and Modric went off injured – according to Redknapp anyway – and the resultant change in shape and tactics was perfect for them. Luck or good management?

19 08 2010
GhostGoal

Harry doesn’t really do tactics does he? To be fair, he did a great job last season. Like you say though, the team selection just felt like an error – all the more amusing given that Redknapp had spent the World Cup moaning at Fabio Capello and saying he’d have played 4-5-1 at the highest level!

21 08 2010
Jonathan

Yeah exactly. He does seem to talk down tactics, maybe to try and maintain his everyman appeal, but in fairness to him he does have his moments (City away to clinch the CL place last year he basically outthought Mancini for example).

2 05 2011
Jorja

I thank you hbumly for sharing your wisdom JJWY

4 05 2011
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