Monday Meanderings – Time to Take Stock

Time to take stock. Two defeats in 5 days against London rivals concentrates the mind wonderfully but the state of play is best judged over a longer period. As time passes, the fixture list metamorphoses from a series of randomly generated matches into little sequences that within the context and meaning of an unfolding season form intertwining patterns, our DNA of 2010-11.

Disregard our rivals from north London (I’m avoiding the A word as I’m not up to the massive interest from their fans that my last post created via newsnow). Our weakened team was worse than their weakened team – meaningless.

Our first little run was all the ‘W’s and it’s not worked out quite how we hoped. It’s not so much the dropped points – WH (doing it again, see) may have been down the bottom of the table at kick-off but they played really well – but the manner in which we lost them. This was supposed to be the time when, fuelled by the glory and passion of the CL, we kick on. Finished top four so play like a top four side. Instead, we’ve responded to the attention and pressure that success brings by allowing familiar faults to reassert themselves.

On Saturday we knocked the ball around well enough at times. VDV and Luka were creative, finding space and moving the ball on. However, this was undermined by a lack of graft and drive in midfield, a number of below par performances and above all the distinct lack of a cutting edge up front, a sentence that unfortunately also sums up the West Brom and Wigan game. We were pushed back in midfield too often.

I won’t dwell too much on the defence on Saturday. They did not do well, obviously, but we only conceded once, and no team in the country could perform well in the absence of their entire first team defence. Corluka is effectively our 7th choice centre back and Hutton had not started a league game for us for over a year.

What concerns me is the way we come forward with the ball. Crouch’s presence means two things. One, we hoist the ball forward too high and too early too often. As I wrote last week, when the ball is in the air, it’s the great equaliser. At a stroke the skill advantage is nullified. It’s pointless having this talent if all they do is watch the pretty spinning logos on the ball. If it’s neat patterns you want, get a Spirograph.

Two, our strikers are too far forward. Crouch loiters on the edge of the box and this dictates the pattern for the rest of the team. He waits, hangs around, occasionally jogging across the line. It’s easier to defend. Sure, he’ll always win a few but by and large our opponents know roughly where the ball is going to be played.

This isn’t about Crouch himself – I’ve whinged often enough about how easily he can be eased off balance or about his poor close control – it’s tactics. Pav does the same when he comes on, or at least he has done this season.

I’m no coach or master tactician. I simply watch other teams. When they gain possession, the top teams in this country do not push one or two men forward straight away. Rather, they begin their runs from a deeper position. The best aim for the gaps that appear in front of them. They don’t wait to be picked up by the defenders, they make it difficult for their markers to predict where they will go. Coming from deeper, attackers can come short, move across the pitch, run into channels, have the ball played to feet or into the space ahead of them. That’s five options right there, without the inclusion of passes from a wide man going to the byline. Normally we have one at our disposal.

Also, our style means it’s hard for midfielders to push on past the strikers. This is a powerful weapon against packed defences but if they have so little space with which to work – if the strikers are hanging around the edge of the box then they have only the narrow strip between the back four and an onrushing keeper – there’s no margin for error with the final ball.

Against Wigan, Wolves and WH, we made it too easy for our opponents. We’ve played like this all season and, more tellingly, last season as well. Versus Wolves we brought on attacking players who just joined the line dancing 18 yards out, rather than trying to move around, take defenders out of their comfort zone, to make space.

In VDV we have a top class midfielder. He’s so shrewd with his movement and his ability to move the ball on quickly is remarkable. Good control, looks up, one touch and it’s gone. On Saturday and against Wolves, so often that quick ball went in Crouch’s  direction. I think he’s been told to do that and it’s wrong. That’s not the best use of his massive talent.

Moreover, even if that is the tactic, leaving Crouch or Pav isolated renders it worthless. There aren’t enough players in the box to pick up on a header or knock-down. We have too many hanging around, instead we need strikers and midfielders to bomb on, hell for leather, get in there because that’s where the chances are.

Defoe looked sharp this year and his injury is a great loss. He’s been looking to shoot early, the old striker’s dictum of getting it on target, and it will be effective over the course of a season. Whatever my tactical rant, the fact is that we have missed a hell of a lot of good chances so far. Huddlestone on Saturday did just what I have been asking for, pushed on past the striker, made space, and missed.

Enough. Nothing about Corluka having all the spring of a tangled Slinky. Or Bale and Hud looking lost. Or Lennon and Keane struggling to find form. Maybe a word of gratitude to Cudicini for his saves. Spurs fans are often accused of having unrealistically high expectations, but the fact is, we have not progressed this season. I’m prepared to swallow the pain of a defence decimated by injury but not a fundamental flaw in the way Redknapp sets up the team and wastes the talent at his disposal.

To be fair, we have not had the full squad available and he’s not had the chance to work out how to play both VDV and Modric. However, pre-season fears that our strikers will not be able to score consistently against the best defences have proved to be accurate. Make that, average defences as well.

19 thoughts on “Monday Meanderings – Time to Take Stock

  1. Thud and JJ are not the CM required when a side comes at us like WH did, like Stoke did in the 2nd half, like Wigan did, like Bremmen did 2nd half. We looked good aganst City bevsuse they sat back. We have been sussed and need to fix it. We still need a tough tackling CM like scotty Parker, Roy Keane, etc.. Thud is too slow and bit stupid and JJ is too scared. Lets hope Sandro has the balls and the brains for this position. He can take me in any position.

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  2. Seeing Huddlestone and the other one in central midfield made me want to cry.

    You’re completely right about the tactics up front. Where are the through balls or players running into space? We’re so static and predictable that it’s making it easy for the other teams to defend.

    Makes you wonder what they’re doing in training.

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  3. i concur

    also we really dont have unrealistic expectations Liverpool do we earnt are expectations this seasons with many many prior seasons of shit

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  4. Shaky start to the season, but luckily all the teams around us are dropping points. Let’s hope we can pull it together in the coming weeks and then be at full throttle again whenever the injured boys make it back.

    COYS!!!

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  5. Spot on, Alan; attack being the best form of defence and all that…

    The lack of credible strikers translates into tortuous back and side passes from an increasingly frustrated midfield or, alternatively, long range shots. Crouchie on 18 on his own ain’t gonna work! And you can see it breaking down in other areas too: Lennon’s hesitancy in attack (albeit coupled with his light defensive stature) invites attack down the right and puts Corluka (not the fastest of defenders) under serious pressure.

    Harry, sort it out!!! Pronto!

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  6. There is a lot to be concerned about, insightful points well made Alan and others. I am trying to remain positive and trust in the manager and players, but I am wobbling I admit. Pace and strength up front are a must, we have neither at present. VDV and Modric look to be on another wavelength from the others at the moment.

    However I try to spin it, Saturday was far more characteristic of the season so far than the first halves vs Man City and Werder Bremen. Given how strong quick and lively WHU’s forwards were and the vice put on us for long periods in midfield and the makeshift pairing I thought Charlie and Bassong did OK. Still, quite early days and we have good enough players to do better. I hope the manager and his Busby Berkeley cast of a thousand coaches can do right by them.

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  7. Great article and spot on about our lack of attacking options. Unfortunatly this season we have been relying on Bale far too much. If he plays well Spurs play well. On Saturday with his deeper role we had no attacking option on the left and our right side has looked poor all season.

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  8. Yet, when Bale burst through after Xmas last season he was playing left back. Many felt he would do better from deep as he could build up more of a head of steam.

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  9. Don’t you feel we are too exposed when Bale attacks from the full back position. If Modric is playing LM he drifts inside and is then out of position to cover Bale when he gallops forward.

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  10. To be honest Block39, I don’t know what is best. I was making the point that many felt he was best starting from deep at one point. I would tend to agree that he is best at left mid, I think, partly for the reason you give and he has been dynamic from there. Moreover, if BAE is tuned in he and Bale are as good as left side as there is in the league. VdV’s impact on team shape is the elephant in the room at present. It needs solving and quick too.

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  11. Ta ever so for the comments.

    I wanted to focus on the one issue, about attacking. If we can keep scoring then we will always be in with a chance whatever is going on at the back.

    Bale is an example of the point I’m trying to make – he comes at pace from deep. Much harder to pick up.

    If he comes forward, at least one midfielder has to stay back. Either play a DM just for that purpose, these days many teams start with two, or, and this is my preferred option in theory, use their brains and one of them can decide who doesn’t come forward. Make sure the full back on the right does not advance at the same time. Using their brains…hmmm, it is asking a bit much, come to think of it…

    Regards,

    Al

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  12. ‘Spirograph’, ‘tangled slinky’ some nice touches there Alan, thoughtful stuff as always.
    It doesn’t matter what formation you play if the players are not playing well.
    But look for the positives: we succesfully defended 13 corners. Forteenth, Doh!
    Partly because we didn’t have a man on both posts. Elementary my dear Alan.

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    • Back to childhood, Jim. Perhaps I’m regressing, what with all the pressure.

      Re the defence, you’re dead right about the simple thing of not having a man on the post. The hammeroids were always dangerous because Corluka can’t jump any more. Bang the ball to the big bloke, get the big bloke on to Charlie and there’s the goal.

      Regards,

      Al

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