There is one player who Andre Villas-Boas should have selected for his Tottenham team at Leeds in the FA Cup 4th Round tie. The manager has a difficult task keeping all the players fresh and fit and so must rotate the squad when the opportunities present themselves. Tottenham have a busy schedule of matches ahead of them, starting with the Premier League at Norwich on Wednesday evening. The FA Cup tie at Elland Road, therefore, was obviously one of those occasions and Brad Friedel replaced Hugo Lloris for only his second game since early December. Kyle Walker was rested as was Mousa Dembele – all very sensible decisions. The lack of striking options was an added difficulty for the manager but the team’s problems against Leeds weren’t solely about a shortage of forwards.
- Leeds United Style of Play: Leeds played in a style similar to that of every team which Neil Warnock has managed. They were combative, with Michael Brown leading by example. They were totally committed, giving 110% for the full ninety minutes. They were first to nearly every ball, they pressed a Tottenham player as soon as he received the ball and suddenly there were three Leeds shirts around him and there was nowhere to go.
- Elland Road pitch: The pitch was heavy and bumpy and not suited to passing football and the Spurs players never got to grips with it.
- High Ball Out of Defence: the Spurs defence struggled all afternoon with the high ball played out of defence by the Leeds goalkeeper and defenders. Even when they did win it, Leeds were quicker to the second ball and were able to release their strikers. It was from that situation that Leeds created three clear scoring chances, taking two.
- Spurs defence: the defenders were all over the place throughout the afternoon. Steven Caulker and Jan Vertonghen were not at the game, making mistakes, poor clearances which brought more pressure on Spurs and they were generally bullied all afternoon by the Leeeds tactics.
- Lack of Endeavour: There was a lack of endeavour and desire among the whole Spurs team. Only Scott Parker matched the combative nature of the Leeds players as he became drawn into his own personal battle with Brown.
At no point in the afternoon were Spurs comfortable or look like winning – from the first misplaced pass which led to a Leeds corner after 35 seconds to the final throw of the dice with Friedel up for the free-kick. Even the Spurs’ goal which came out of nothing failed to lift the team for a concerted effort at getting into the game during the last thirty minutes.
One Man Made for Leeds
In my opinion, Villas-Boas made a mistake in his team selection. He had a player available who is ideally suited to the combative style of Leeds United. He wouldn’t have been put off by the physical aerial battle to win the long, high ball pumped forward by Leeds. He would have relished such a challenge and would have brought some organisation to a team lacking leadership and commitment.
Step forward, Michael Dawson. The Cup tie at Elland Road was his type of game. He may not be the world’s greatest defender but he could have done a job for Tottenham. His presence in central defence would have steadied Caulker or Vertonghen and given them support. He would have been totally committed and given everything in the Spurs’ cause, back in his native Yorkshire. At half-time, I had expected his introduction, so uncertain was the central defensive partnership and as the game progressed it only deteriorated. If the defence had been settled at half-time, there might have been an opportunity for Spurs to improse themselves on the game. As it was, Leeds dictated the style of the game and Spurs couldn’t or didn’t want to match them.
Hindsight is a great thing – but Tottenham should have had the foresight to predict the type of game they were going to face at Elland Road and ensure they had the players who were going to give their all to earn the right to play their game and not just expect it to happen.
Last weekend, the Spurs players were being applauded for their togetherness to keep battling away to score a late equaliser against United, but this week they have come up short when faced with another United.