Just one of those weeks, things conspire to make it a time of thought and reflection. Work overflowing with problems, unsettled elsewhere. The game is as enticing as always, it’s just that sometimes the mind dallies along the way.
‘Glory glory hallelujah’ rolling out from the east upper (so it seemed) threw me. I had a vision of the East Stand, old school, battle hardened veterans but never weary of good football, the old fashioned song had to return. That was ours once, you know. No one else dared sing it. No ‘glory glory Man Utd’, just us. Time for a comeback.
Thoughts too of John White, a hero of a bygone age brought to life in a terrific book ‘The Ghost of White Hart Lane’ by his son Rob and Julie Welch, reviewed here last week. Frail, deceptively influential, superb passer of the ball, tireless in his energy and capacity to support team-mates. Sounds familiar? Surely his spirit lives in another Tottenham great, Luka Modric, a peerless display of the midfield art. Gliding over the turf, he’s involved in a scuffling tackle to regain possession, lays it off, your eyes stick with the ball yet suddenly a few moments later, he’s there, 40 or 50 yards, in attack now, scheming, touching it on, looking for the shot. String theory. Particle physics. There’s an idea that the fundamental particles that make up all matter, some of them have a property of being in two places at once. Luka’s made up entirely of those.
It’s odd how you can be alone with your thoughts amidst the bedlam of a London derby. Like the mascot. No older than 4, he stands for the minute’s silence. 36,000 thousand people, still in mournful respect, he starts to practice his moves. The kick, a stretch forward, like a slow motion robot. Delightful, bless him, totally oblivious to the world outside his imagination.
Back to reality with a bang. Harry’s imagination has been working overtime in the break since our last game. The climax of the season, playing a relegation threatened team, totally new formation. That’s the thing with Harry: even after all this time I can’t quite figure out if he’s brave or barmy. Sure I admire him for trying something new, a different way to both utilise to the full the talent in the squad and do something about our lack of goals, but now, at a time like this, when we needed a win against a team down the bottom, not now, surely.
Let’s start, as always, in centre midfield. Redknapp’s selection of Sandro on the face of it does not seem too surprising, given his masterful performance over two legs against Milan. However, he’s been uncomfortable for the most part in the league, taking time to adjust to the pace and particularly the pressure of the Premier League. Teams have sussed this, pressing him as soon as he gains possession even if it meant pushing a man right out of midfield to do so.
On the basis of this game, Sandro has passed another milestone in his development towards what I believe will be a highly successful career. He proved he’s adapted. Strong in defence, fearless in the tackle with the stamina and awareness of a genuine defensive midfielder. Luka was outstanding: he’s a truly wonderful footballer, a privilege to see him play in our colours. As good at this age as any since Gazza and if he keeps this up, he’ll become one of the great Spurs midfielders of the last 30 or 40 years.
The change was of course Defoe up front on his own with Rafa allowed even more freedom than usual to rome, actually make that, allowed less freedom because he was told to drop deep and pick up the ball. Advantage: we have an extra body in midfield, that allows Bale and Lennon, wide men key to our attacking formation, more leeway to get wide and stay there, covers the space against opponents also playing 5 in the middle with a strong middle three of Hitzlsburger, the excellent Parker and Noble.
Disadvantage: he’s not up front. Where we need goals. Where JD is isolated. Can’t be in two places at once, unless you’re a subatomic particle (theory unproven) or Luka Modric (fact).
Defoe up front on his own was an odd one, because although his positional play and movement is much improved this season, there’s precious little evidence to show that he functions well in this role. If anything, he’s the classic ‘little man’ in the bigman/little man partnership, which in the modern game has become one striker playing off another. He needs someone alongside him to put him in.
Also, Bale and Lennon are there to provide the crosses, but to whom? On Saturday, most of the time, to no one. With no target in the middle, their effectiveness is diminished regardless of the opposition’s tactics, and on Saturday Bridge handled Lennon very well. We looked brighter when Pav came on, went to 4-4-2 and the Whammers were tired. He had space to do that thing he does, you know, knocks it a metre in front of him, moves onto the ball and wangs it, like the goal he scored against Chelsea.
JD as lone striker smacks of desperation rather than sound tactical planning. It may be new but underlying it is the same old problem – none of our three strikers are good enough at the highest level.
Rafa has been on the end of some hefty criticism around some of the boards and sites. Already people are saying he’s a luxury, that he doesn’t fit in. Mine is only the ‘hefty’ bit: he needs to shed a few pounds, it seems to me, and to get fully fit again so he can trust his legs and lungs for 90 minutes.
The thing about Rafa coming deep is not just about what he does, it’s what everyone else does in response. Modric was able to push on past him, as was Bale. Lennon should have varied his position when he did not have the ball, should have got in the box more. This movement has to be part of the system if this is how we’re going to play. Rafa deep gives us more options but only if other players not only get past him into the box but have the ability to do some damage once they get there. This goes for Rafa himself: he’s got to be more mobile with the stamina to last the game, including some lung busting runs to get right into danger areas. If this is the way to go, we need to have that commitment and awareness from other players to be flexible and to move well.
Certainly it produced some excellent flowing football. Our movement was a joy to behold at times, we always had a spare man, the width and a series of long crossfield balls from deep meant an expansive game and we held onto possession well for three quarters of the game, the exception being the first twenty minutes of the second half where our opponents not only took the game to us, they could so easily have scored a goal that might have proved to be the winner.
No punch up front to finish, all our good work put to waste. And yet the chances were there. Defoe missed three good ones and a couple more. I thought he had the measure of the defence when he twice early on got to the near post first, in front of his marker. Showed he was sharp and thinking about the game, but there was no sharpness when the easier opportunities came his way. Not the most emotionally intelligent of individuals, scoring against his old team probably meant too much, which got in the way of his instincts.
Whatever, no use Harry getting ratty with the MOTD interviewer. Three games against teams we could have beaten, two points. 4th is receding as fast and as far as my hairline. I liked the formation, with the proviso that VDV uses this break to return to fitness I’d like to see it again sometime, maybe with Pav up front, but then again…I know, none of them are quite reliable enough. It makes good use of Rafa and Luka, gives Bale the chance to get in the box and if JD had taken just one of those opportunities… but it requires polishing, so leave it for now, or for when we are three up away from home, certainly back to 4-4-2 against Wigan.