Monday, January 19, 2009

Tottenham v Portsmouth, January 18, Premier League

This should be titled “Why Tottenham are not too good to be relegated”. Playing at home with two strikers against a currently struggling Portsmouth side in what was described by commentators repeatedly as a thrilling end-to-end game, they had as much attacking instinct in them as monks in meditation.

But to begin with, balls to all those football experts who called this thrilling end-to-end stuff. Just because the ball travels from one end to the other every forty seconds, never once threatening to cross below the bar, does not make the game thrilling. Poor quality football can be thrilling but only when all the shoddiness leads to chances and excitement. Here it was bad football with little end product with maybe five moments of going “ooh” over the ninety minutes.

Just to dwell on the game for a bit. There was not much happening when Sean Davis mis-passed to Defoe who had only the goalkeeper to beat when he shot wide. Some time later Lennon made probably the only inspired Tottenham run to reach the by-line and cross the ball for Defoe to head a ball which was well saved by James. David Nugent found himself one-on-one against Gomes as Ledley King limped behind him but he shot too close to the keeper who on his worse days would have conceded in this situation but did well to get down and save. Another James save led to a counter where Traore carried the ball across the length of the pitch (the best individual effort throughout the game) and saw Corluka tackle the ball into the oncoming Nugent who fired in his first Premier League goal thanks to a deflection from Bale. Tottenham equalized from a well taken shot from Defoe after he was set up by Modric on almost the only occasion the Croat got to the edge of the box. And then Spurs could have won if Bent would have scored the easiest of headers from a Bentley cross, but that didn’t happen so it ended one-one.

By description a standard premier league game between two typical English sides but I guess that’s why I don’t rate English football too highly. But not too much point discussing a very ordinary game. Which brings me back to my original point about Spurs not being too good to go down and here’s why I think so.

I think that for the players they have they have the formation and system all wrong. Then again for the formation and system they do have, they have the approach all wrong. After experimenting with a 3-5-2 which seemed like a 1-1-1-1-1-1-1…(11 times over) they switched back to a 4-4-2 but did it so pathetically. Playing at home against a team which is also in some shit, they chose to never let their fullbacks move forward and had their wide men bombing poor crosses as soon as they touched the ball without a thought of what the cross would do for them.

The central midfielders didn’t know what to do and for long periods, the strikers were hardly involved. That Pavlyuchenko still managed to pick up an injury would be maddening for Harry Redknapp, but given the intent his team has been showing recently I don’t think it should matter too much if it is Pav or Bent or the Queen up front, because there is very little for that guy to do.

The central defenders are ok, even though King got injured again and maybe out again for a few weeks. But between Dawson, Woodgate and King, if they can keep two fit, it should work. Bale and Corluka are also not bad individually (Corluka in fact has been known to be impressive) but unless they go out and support the attacks, their role is very limited and they will always struggle to create good chances, especially as their right and left midfield is so lacking in tooth.
Lennon has pace and can beat defenders but his crossing needs to improve and O Hara works very hard but does not have a clue about what he needs to do when he gets the ball. His solution is to cross it into the box no matter where he is and invariably all crosses are met by defenders because they float into the least lethal of areas.

But the biggest joke is the central midfield. Anyone who has seen Modric play at the Euros knows that he is capable of carrying a team on his own and is very very skilful. He is the sort of player who defenders find difficult to stop and when he gets into the box, he is bound to cause some confusion. For Spurs against Pompey, Modric hardly ever got close to the box until the moment when he finally was there to lay the ball up sweetly for Defoe. For Spurs, Modric seems like a show pony in the midfield who knows some tricks but adds little value. But I’ll blame that on Zokora. Zokora has strength, pace and on occasions works his balls off but he won’t get any life time awards for being a team player. There is no coordination between the two midfielders and it seems that there is no proper role definition done for either. Which is why you see Modric always stuck somewhere playing dribble against opposition counter parts when he should be in and around the box creating chances for his strikers.

What I would love to see Spurs do is move to a 4-2-3-1 making Modric the focal point of their attacks. Jenas or Huddlestone when fit, could partner Zokora with Modric playing behind Defoe. Two of Lennon, Bentley, O’ Hara, Bent, Pavyluchenko or dos Santos could play on either side of Modric and of course, with two men protecting the defense, Bale and Corluka would have complete license to join in attack. It is unlikely though that this will happen. In which case, here’s how they should prioritize:

1. Sell one of Jenas/Zokora and get a top-of-the-line holding midfielder
2. If Bentley is not good enough, sell him and get a better left sided midfielder
3. Sell Bent and get Peter Crouch. At least we know that Crouch and Defoe work well together

But Spurs hardly do what’s logical and though they are out of the relegation zone for the moment, only 10 points separate the bottom fourteen clubs! And on evidence of what I have seen of Spurs this season, I am afraid that when the Men get separated from the Boys, we are more likely to see Tottenham go to boarding school than the army.

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