Following the frustration and disappointment of their draw at Queen’s Park Rangers, the bottom team in the Premier League, Tottenham find themselves in a familiar mid-January situation. The scoreless draw illustrated the problem which has been with Spurs for the past couple of seasons – the lack of creativity in midfield. When Tottenham are playing at their best with space wide on the wings for Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon to exploit behind the defence, they are a joy to watch and can create problems for the very best of teams. When a team, however, sets out to defend deep, Tottenham lack a plan “B”and while they work hard and show patience in their build-up trying to work a move and pick a pass, they eventually run out of ideas.
In previous January transfer windows, they have faced a similar situation and it usually occurs in the weekend after the 3rd Round of the FA Cup. Last season, Tottenham’s win at home to Everton took them to joint second in the League, level on points with Manchester United and only three adrift of eventual Champions, City. Following the mid-January win there was media talk of Spurs mounting a title challenged which would surely benefit from their next match being at home to relegation threatened Wolves. Four days later, on 14th January, Spurs slipped up against a Wolves team which came to defend. They snatched the lead midway through the first half and defended for the next 68 minutes, denying Tottenham on all but one occasion when Luka Modric scored a second half equaliser. Even with Modric in the team, Spurs failed to prize their way through a determined defensive set-up.
On 16th January, 2010 a resolute Hull City frustrated Spurs at White Hart Lane, holding out for a point in a scoreless draw. Spurs went on to claim 4th place and the Champions League spot but they had again failed to find away through a packed defence.
Such difficulties are not restricted to January. Wigan Athletic held firm against Spurs last November, to win 1 – 0 at White Hart Lane. Wigan were set up perfectly that afternoon to deny Lennon and Bale and when that failed to work Spurs had no alternative. The Wigan midfield five worked tirelessly and any time danger threatened on the wings, one of three centre backs moved across to cover. Stoke City who conceded four goals at home to Chelsea this weekend, held Spurs to a goal less draw in mid-December. They had one purpose and that was to defend and they succeeded in taking a point. Nor are they new to this season. Under Harry Redknapp, Spurs also struggled to break through well organised defensive plans set up by teams in the lower reaches of the League. Stoke, Wolves and Wigan in previous seasons have also caused difficulties and earned their reward for organisation and commitment.
Harry Knew the Plan
Harry Redknapp, as manager of Queen’s Park Rangers, knew exactly how to restrict Tottenham and in his club’s situation he was quite happy to take a point from the game. Speaking about the match Redknapp said,
“If we had opened up against them we would have been destroyed.”
Redknapp had previously witnessed, first-hand, how teams had frustrated Tottenham’s attacking options and benefited from Spurs’ lack of an alternative approach. He effectively used the defensive strategy that others had used against him while he was manager of Spurs. He selected a team of players who would work hard and be totally committed to a chasing, harrying game plan throughout the ninety minutes. The back four defended on the edge of the area with the midfield five putting pressure on every Spurs player as soon as they had possession of the ball. Spurs players had no time to dwell on the ball and if they tried to take a second touch, invariably they’d lost the ball. Any time a Tottenham player tried to take on their man, they were surrounded with two or three Rangers players, making it very hard to play constructive football on a difficult pitch. On the few occasions that Spurs did find a way through they found Julio Cesar in top form which was an additional bonus for Rangers and Redknapp.
After a disappointing performance like this during the transfer window, fans try to put an optimistic spin on the result and hope that the chairman will take note of the deficiencies in the squad and move to sign a player who would add quality to the team. Daniel Levy has two and a half weeks left to find a creative midfield player with the ability to play the perfect pass to open up packed defences set up to deny Spurs’ strengths on the wings. If he has really taken note of the problems, then an additional goal scoring striker would also be very useful for Andre Villas-Boas, especially as currently Spurs have only one-and-out striker.
Villas-Boas was hoping Tottenham would sign his former Porto play-maker, Joao Moutinho in the summer and talks are reported to have opened again. Spurs have been negotiating for Brazilian striker Leandro Damiao for a couple of seasons without success but again are reported to be seeking to bring the player to White Hart Lane. Will they be signed this time round? No-one can answer that question but if no-one is signed, we may start praying for the good health and fitness of Jermain Defoe and that he continues in the goal scoring form displayed in the first part on the season.