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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Thoughts about Spurs

As we have analysed here in the past, Spurs have the worst head to head record between the the top 5 teams in the league, having managed only 1 win and 1 draw from their 6 games against Arsenal, City, United and Chelsea. It stands to reason then that they must have a fine record against the also-ran's of Premier League. We have seen the Londoners playing some very stylish football for much of the season with Modric, Bale, Van Der Vaart and Adebayor conspiring sweetly in most of the adventure. Behind them, Scott Parker has been excellent, helping to lay a foundation for the attackers to progress and allowing the full backs, Assou-Ekotto and Walker to get forward in support.

And yet thus far, Spurs have been unable to get results consistently against the top sides. They flopped alarmingly last week at Arsenal. They were hammered 5-1 at home by City. A 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford didn't reflect a decent first half by the North Londoners - but over the 90 minutes it was a fair result -  and they somehow allowed City to snatch 3 undeserved points late on at the Etihad in January. In fact their only points against teams in the top 5 were a win against a flaky Arsenal side at White Hart Lane and a home draw against Chelsea, currently in fifth place, all of which paints a picture of a team that is a cut above the majority of Premier League sides, but not quite up to scratch against the elite.
But why? On paper Spurs have a squad that seems more than capable of mixing with the best. Perhaps they lack belief or courage. Or maybe they have just been the victims of bad luck. They were certainly unlucky against City at the Etihad and they had their moments at Old Trafford too but could not take advantage. But then could luck really explain this consistently poor record?
We have already examined their games against United in a previous post so here we will have a look at two other games against top five opposition to try uncover the tactics behind their poor run and hopefully get a few pointers towards tomorrow's match between Spurs and United.
Firstly we will examine the match at White Hart Lane back in December when Spurs welcomed Chelsea.
From the player influence chart on the left (Click to enlarge) we see that, as is often the case, Spurs' full backs are prominent and provided the vast majority of the width for the North London team. The right and left midfielders, Van Der Vaart and Bale played quite centrally, particularly Van Der Vaart who made up a quartet in the middle of the park with Sandro, Parker and Modric all operating around the centre circle. And when Van Der Vaart was replaced by Pavyluchenko at half time, the Russian dropped in deep to preserve the numbers in the middle.
The key attacking influences on the match that night were Modric, Assou-Ekotto, Bale and Walker. This foursome created 11 chances over the 90 minutes with Bale accounting for 4 while Modric and Walker accounted for 3 each. In addition, Modric and Assou-Ekotto topped the charts of passes competed in the attacking third. Up front, Adebayor scored the Spurs goal and manged 5 shots overall despite having few touches of the ball.
At the back, we can see that King and Gallas were both prominent. Ledley king was second only to Modric in passes completed, misplacing only 4 of his 53 attempted. Meanwhile Gallas was third highest in terms of passes completed, 46 out of 49, and he topped the charts for clearances, successful with 6 out of 8 attempted.
We can conclude from these stats that the midfield area was quite congested and a great deal of the play went along the back four. It was the full backs who attempted the stretch the play across the park with the foward wide men tucking inside to flood the middle. Bale was the most advanced of the midfielders, essentially playing just off the front man in a role that Cristiano Ronaldo enjoys for Real Madrid and Wesley Sneijder for Inter. Interestingly, we have also seen Rooney occupy this area of the pitch quite often for United this season too.
Broadly, the tactic can be said to have worked. Spurs had the majority of possession, 54.8%. They attempted 71 more passes than Chelsea; won 7 corners to Chelsea's 4 and swung in 27 crosses versus 20 for the blues. The fact that more of the action was the Spurs half can be put down to the fact that the back four were involved in a lot of the passing which can be a valuable tactic, as we have discussed in this blog before. To use a cricket expression it is a tactic that can be described as batting 'time' as well as runs.
But there were flaws in the performance too. Chelsea manged 22 shots compared with Tottenham's 17; and this in spite of Spurs shading the possession. What it means is that the Spurs back four can be got at if you attack them in a direct fashion, which United do quite well - particularly breaking with pace. Nani and Rooney could be key players tomorrow for United, along with Welbeck who will stride along the front line causing problems. United's midfield will probably remain disciplined and sit patiently to combat the threat of Modric. The absence of Parker should help United in that endeavor.
Ideally, what the reds will be hoping for is something like this:

This is the player influence chart from the game between Spurs and City back in August when the blues ran riot. We can see from the chart that, once again against top five opposition, Spurs flooded the midfield and tried to push the full backs forward but it didn't work. Bale was much wider and Lennon struggled to make an impact on the right. That Parker was not involved in this match is hopefully significant. Kranjar and Modric played in the middle with Van der Vaart in the 'Bale' role we discussed above, but the Dutchman was drawn central behind Crouch up top. It is unlikely that we will see a similar formation tomorrow.
The Spurs fans that I have canvassed reckon that the following line up is likely: Freidel, Walker, Dawson, King, Assou-Ekotto, Kranjcar, Sandro, Modric, Bale, Saha, Adebayor.
If this is the actual line up, you have to fancy United's chances. Spurs might be better off playing Adebayor up front on his own with Bale dropping off and an extra man in midfield; a trio of Modric, Sandro and Kranjcar or Livermore.
As we speculated a few days ago, United should line up as follows (although the boss may go for Park instead of Young);

Lets hope for the right result. Come on reds!!!

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