What’s Going Wrong?

You know those people, older usually, who come out with the same old comments every time certain topics come up. The warning sign is a sentence beginning, ‘Well of course in my day…’ or ‘Kids today, don’t know they’re born…’. Delivered with deep gravitas, as if this is a totally fresh insight into the ways of the world, they have an effect opposite of that intended. This is signalled typically by groans and synchronised eye-rolling from an audience that has heard this one before.

Sad to say, perhaps I’m becoming one of these old codgers. Seen it all before. Nothing new under the sun. I know because I was going to use my pet line to begin this piece before I checked myself – what am I turning into? But here it is, something I heard once and stayed in the brain, crushingly familiar to colleagues and family:

For every complex, complicated problem, there is a simple, straight forward answer.

That’s completely wrong.”

After my health warning, you might find it useful. Handy for politicians – there’s an election on the way – or saloon bar bores and know-alls. In my experience their favourite recommendations are national service, castration or sack the lot of them. Perm any one from three and you can’t go far wrong.

It is easy to point the finger at certain individuals (many would include referees here) or formations but there is no single reason why we are not scoring netfuls of goals at the moment. Some of our play has been dazzling, some downright pedestrian, most somewhere in between, but more than good enough to earn more points than we have.

Early in the season I was fretting about our defence but it’s been clear for several months that our fate depends on scoring consistently. Although our defensive record is excellent, we are not able to organise ourselves as well as teams like Villa and so must play to our strengths – we will score one more than you. This season I am reliably informed that in the 13 league games we have drawn or lost, we have had 212 goal attempts, 122 of which were on target, yielding a total of 7 goals. Since Wigan we have scored only 13 times.

Some of this is down to the defensive fortitude of our opponents. Spurs are sussed. Massed ranks in front of goal, little ambition bar a possible sucker punch breakaway. This is one thing at the Lane but I suspect Wolves will try the same tactics at their own ground, emulating Villa’s second half at Villa Park.

A deep back four who stay close means there is no space behind them for Hud’s long passes nor room in the channels. Crouch’s flick-ons are similarly dealt with and JD’s speed is taken out of the equation. The midfield funnel our attacks into the middle where they founder on a mound of flying blocks and determined tackles. It’s hard to hit the byline too, especially without Lennon to keep a couple of defenders busy or left trailing in his wake. Villa, Wolves, Hull, all the same.

At the moment we do not have the wit or patience to break them down, although we tried hard enough on Saturday. The absence of a playmaker able to dictate the game leads to hurried efforts and rash decisions. We must maintain possession far more efficiently and keep both ball and man moving. Be patient, keep probing and something will come out of it. Modric and Huddlestone have the talent to fulfil this role eventually but their inexperience shows when the pressure is on.

One thing we could do more of is to have the midfielders making late runs into the box. Coming from deep or diagonally off either flank, defences cannot easily pick them up. Modric got into those positions early on Saturday but missed the chances and Villa then shut up shop. We could score more from midfield, something in favour of Krancjar’s place in the starting line-up.

Another tactic is more movement up front. We’re better away from home when we start attacks from deeper positions, unless Crouch is left isolated upfield and we hammer the ball forward to him, which is useless most of the time. Leeds left us the space for those through balls or byline crossing, and Defoe profited. Often however, Crouch and Defoe loiter at the edge of the box and move across it. They need to vary this and come deeper sometimes, to move up and down as well as laterally. This unsettles defenders who are uncertain about whether to remain in their comfort zone or follow the man they are supposed to be marking. Insert midfield runners into that space and we have more opportunities. That interchange of personnel up front is crucial. Crouch and Defoe can sometimes play their part by taking opponents away as well as scoring themselves.

Scoring, ah yes…both have decent records, Defoe especially, but frankly I can’t find a ready remedy for another blight that affects us currently – we keep shooting straight at the goalkeeper. Keepers must love playing us; their pre-match preparation includes planning where to drink the MOM bottle of bubbly. We have made it too simple for a succession of them to fly flashily across goal, arms and legs stretching, but the ball has been too close to them and (relatively) easier to save.

I just don’t know what’s happening – shooting practice? Modric needs it. No coincidence that Defoe broke his duck against Leeds with a mishit after striking previous chances hard, true and at the keeper.

Which brings me to Peter Crouch. The fact that he had his best performance for us on Saturday in retrospect highlights his limitations. We will find it extremely hard to be a top four team if he plays regularly. Again, there’s no single element to the equation. Some of it is not his fault. We don’t have to hit long balls to him so often if he plays, but we do. His presence is a refuge for players under pressure. One or two touches, nothing on, so wang and the pressure’s off. That is an option but not the only one. He can contribute to pass and move and is a target for crosses but our success will be founded on football played on the ground.

As an individual, Crouch’s distribution is generally erratic, Saturday being an honourable exception. He wins so much in and out of the box yet so little actually comes from it. It’s a percentage game that takes you so far but not to the very top. In the box, he is eased off-kilter, a little nudge, he’s off balance and the hard-won cross slides just wide. At the far post, he’s static and therefore easier to handle. Not easy, but at the top level defenders can deal with him and his bobbly little knock downs, vaguely directed across goal. Similarly, his reactions are poor and once the message goes all that way from brain to legs, the defender sweeps up the ball in the box just waiting to be hit.

The future requires a centre forward more mobile and versatile than Peter, but until we find one, sorry, make that find another one as Berba has come and sadly departed, just remember that we don’t have to kick it to him all the time and if we play the ball in front of him in the box, as he moves forward onto it rather than loitering at the back post, Crouchie can finish.

Any improvement requires collective resolve, something that has been lacking in the Marshmallow Men but promisingly on Saturday we kept going. I’ve said a lot about this lately (see ‘March of the Marshmallow Men’ in ‘recent posts’, so enough already. Wolves is a good place to test this is action. Try some of the above, add a bit of width and the win will come. Battle at the top is now well and truly joined so we must fight to the limits.


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21 thoughts on “What’s Going Wrong?

  1. I fully agree that our strikers lack sharpness. For this reason, we squander too many fairly easy scoring chances and drop valuable points. We are either slow to shoot or we shoot straight at the goalkeeper when there is an open goal space. Sometimes, we also forget to use that great technique of lobbing the goalkeeper when we come face to face with him. So, we have to improve on our finishing and on our striking technique. We have quality players who can do it. We must also try to be more consistent in our performance.

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  2. Reason one – Aaron Lennon – the lack of!!

    Reason two – Redknapp!! Don’t get me wrong I’m really enjoying the football we’re playing under him and he’s done well by us – to a point. There’s a reason he hasn’t managed at the absolute top level before, he doesn’t quite know how to win when it’s difficult because a team sets up not to lose (or possibly nick a break away) because they know they are way inferior. His substitutions are **** and his neglect of certain players, Pav is the obvious example, is just plain dumb.

    Reason three – yup referees…..

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  3. we do not have a midfield player that can think with his brain while playing or the will to push the team forward, by that i mean a scotty parker. We seem to lack that slide rule pass that splits defences in two or with one pass switch the play to the wings we seem to either look for crouch or pass the ball side ways in the midfield instead of looking for a opening pass that pulls players out of posistions that allow our own in with a chance.We seem to struggle to change the way we play when teams sit back and defend, palacios needs help in the middle of the park when we are trying to get a grip of the game and we don’t seem to have that type of player.And as the lower teams raise the game to stay in the league i just can’t see us making the top four as we will stuggle to break them down.I hope not but i think harry missed the chance in january to get a player of parkers ability.

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  4. Please take your dark glasses off. Then look at what Crouch does do. Count how many times he sets people up. We need to score more goals from midfield, and set pieces. A team wins or loses not an individual.

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  5. Good Article, I agree with much of the article, especially the fact about shooting at the keeper. On MOTD they go mental about the keeper, but how many world class saves have keepers made in our games against Hull, Villa, Stoke and Wolves? Not many! We do need to be a little bit smarter, perhaps playing Eidur and kranjcar inplace of crouch and Luka. Also giving Kaboul a game might work out, as from his spee 2 years ago I remember he wasn’t one for just lumping out of defence and definately liked to play it out. COYS

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  6. I think its probably as simple as a top central midfielder who can dribble, carry a significant goal threat and play slide rule passes. Of the teams above us it is no concidence that they include fabregas, lampard, gerrard. hudd isnt at that level (at least not yet). We do have plenty of options that we can try, if only to give variety and give other teams something to think about, ie Modric in the centre as an alternative to Hudd with Krank on left, Krank in centre with Mod on left, rest Crouch and replace with Krank or Eidur as a support striker/extra midfielder. Our flying start to the season was based on starting with two smaller strikers and Crouch as a sub. I’m not knocking Crouch – merely pointing out that in the absence of Lennon thinks are almost (but not quite) gelling and we have good players so why not use them?

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  7. was at the game on Saturday and the problem was clear- our inability to play through the middle of the park like say an Ar@enal can do. We rely to much on playing the obvious pass out to one of the flanks looking for the cross or cut back to come in when some clever inter linking play through the middle would have cut through villa like butter. The game was crying out for someone like gudjonsson to come on because although i like crouch it was embarassing to watch him jump like a pogo stick just to get a touch on the ball with his head- there is no idea of where the ball will fall to from him so how are his team mates supposed to read his play? how we could do with a Mr berbatov back!

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  8. When Lennon’s fit, I’d like to see Harry try a 4-4-1-1 lineup with Lennon, Huddlestone, Palacios and Krancjar in midfield and Modric in the “hole” behind Defoe. That would give most defences a nightmare and I’m sure the goal rate would increase significantly.

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  9. To Yiddo4ever
    Please do not talk rubbish. Look at the number of times Crouch set up both Defoe and Modric with chance that should have at least worked the goalkeeper. When tealms sit back you need to be able to by pass them. This is where Crouch comes in. Scoring the first goal is the missing key, then the other side have to come out and try to play. At present our finishing is letting us down. When did we last lose a game.

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  10. Why do Spurs pay all that money to ‘Arry and all his coaching staff when a know it all who spends his time sitting at a computer seems to have all the answers ????

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  11. hi DVC, yeah i hear what you are saying about Crouch and i actually like him as a player believe it or not. I just feel that the chances he creates are the majority of the time more luck then judgment. If you compare with a talent like a berbatov he had real intention in the passes he made to his teamates. I actaully think the problem lies in midfield- without Lennon on flank to stretch the opposing team we lack ideas in the centre of the park- this could be more through tactics then players though. If you watch a man u or chelsea for instance they can vary between playing the wings and playing through the middle- we seem to lack the latter. As for the lack of finishing you suggest i agree with you there. Defoe tends to lash the ball rather then place it and Crouch is definetly not a natural goal scorer! Anyways we wouldnt be tottenahm if we had nothing to moan about- to be in the top 6 is an achievement in itself i think and things will only get better i believe. And i must say this- Gareth Bale is an OUTSTANDING player- it will be like having a 15 million pound player added to the team now. I cant say enough good tings about this guy. World Class.

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  12. This would be and is a very good and well written blog,except you contradict yourself like all our fans are doing week in and out.Let me digress was a very good sportsman and one thing came naturally to all good Sport people was to win anything tennis Boxing Football games you used your skill to tire the opponents then skill would win the day. Well this way has gone and the less skillful has sportsman is winning th day,when i played rugby i was 12st 4 and fast could side step of either foot if i tried this today i would need to side step twice to get round a 15 st winger and center the reason is sadly steroids and less skilfully players cheating .When James Collins the Irish boxer fought Chris Ubank Collins was reported to have bean hypnotized, and was told Ubank’s punches would not hurt him and he stood on the ropes while Ubank hammered Collins but he refused to go down and the rest is History . This is the new way Sport has gone now not hypnotizing but using any method to get that competitive edge and this is why shocks are the new craze and skill is dying because cheats are prospering.Like the famous Baseball player hall of famer begging for forgiveness for taking Steroid for six years .A great role Model for Kids entering sport hope this makes you think how footballers can play with a very high tempo for all of the game and no matter how many chances you create Goalkeepers can spring of the floor and save a certain goal,and defenses can chase the ball and block shots even when there more Skillful opposition have battered them and its not just Spurs Derby 3 Newcastle o a few weeks ago would not have happened would it ?

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  13. Yiddo4ever
    agreed Bale is a good palyer developing into a great player. It won’t be long before he has a bad game and all the snipers turn out.

    To Ian Best. When you have coached at pro level and have been incvolved in football for over 40 years you may come up with some answers.

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  14. Interesting blog, agree with many aspects that the balance of the team and the personnel we have in place has not quite gelled in the absence of Azza who my bro bumped in to recently at Canary Wharf JD sports. He said he would not be ready to return for a while yet as he has not really started training. So interesting to read that he is lined up for Wigan return by Harry.

    Bents and Bale have stepped up, Pav is worthy of a run in the side you saw the sheer class of the finish at Leeds, what more does the lad need to do. How well we could have done if we signed ars shavin!

    As for Harry – he unfortunately is a top 8 man, not top 4, this is reflected in tactical changes or lack of them in crucial moments in a game. What I have seen we do not even switch men on the flanks to mix it up. I still think for his shortcomings Ramos was a tactical far superiour then harry.

    That said we have come on leaps and bounds, stability and resolve needs to be embedded with a more experienced quality midfield playmaker ala arteta.

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  15. I am glad that we have supporters who are able to see what’s right and what’s wrong with our team. What we miss ALL THOSE YEARS is to have such a president and managerial staff. Football is a simple game. All you need to have is some knowledge of it, some experience about it, common sense and some ambition too.

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  16. Stats on how many corners we’ve had since we scored from one would be interesting. We had a dozen or so against Villa and apart from Ledley’s header straight at the keeper didn’t trouble them.
    Our attacking play produces plenty, average say 10 per game but I think we have only scored twice this season.
    Modric is not a clean striker of the ball, his only goal this season was mishit, and Kranjcar might be better playing off the striker.
    Pavlyuchenko is the obvious replacement for Crouch if fit tonight.

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  17. i think…….

    missing lennon why? his speed and effect opens zones near the box…
    the previous modric…..still coming back mentally…so only a shade off mentally
    edge of box shot players .one twos and bang….why ….mix of attack style

    eg…..ball up to crouch flick on…….approach play at the moment needs a midfield
    player to beat the marking us out as was with villa……..

    as a game progresses we get a tendency to rely on crouch….

    great bale attacks and bentley has too….

    the periods were on top near the box has to result in strong goal attempts

    and high pressure attitude……..

    the will to win clinical and ruthlessnes……..we can do it

    and now the real test is on as we have dropped points….

    dont panic stay high focused and win mentality.

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  18. It be summed up in two words predicable and finishing. Team know what you do then change it or give tehem different looks to confuse them. Maybe Redknapp doesn’t have the killer instinct. He can only take a club so far. Yet it is a good season so far for Spurs. http://bobbygee.wordpress.com/

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  19. What’s going wrong ?

    Mostly it is quite simple. We do not have the depth or variety in our squad to cope with enough opponents in a season.

    If we had bought Bellamy, Barry, RSC, Vieira etc as Harry had wanted then we would be far stronger and better able to change games. But we have players like Jenas and kids on our bench. All well and good if you are winning but not really game changing players.

    Unfortunately we are the the type of club that sells players like Berbatov and Carrick rather than buys them. Largely down to economics but maybe a little lacking in ambition too. In the end that approach always comes back to bite you in the end – when you are doing badly as we were a year ago or doing well as we are now.

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