Sunday, 26 February 2012

Thoughts on Spurs, after watching Spurs beat Newcastle 5-0 at White Hart Lane and the draw away at Stevenage

A crucial North London derby is underway and to complement the event, a guest blogger has decided to contribute to the site which I always encourage . JK Saturnine has focussed on Tottenham Hotspurs and the different elements which have contributed to the club's success this season. So here it is, enjoy:


On signing for Spurs, Adebayor, it was said, would start brightly before petulance, laziness and indifference would rear its head.  He would lose interest and form; and prove, once again, that he is a mercenary, a passenger at the club.  Adebayor has, indeed, shown many facets but more so of his tremendous ability rather than his ability to alienate himself from popular support

Redknapp has played Adebayor predominantly as a target man, though he is not a classic ‘number 9’.  He often moves and stays wide, happy to link play and create space for the attacking midfielders to move into. 

In this game, against Aston Villa, we can see Adebayor picking up the ball frequently in wide positions in his own half as well as the opposition half.

Against Newcastle, in a match equally dominated by Spurs, Adebayor partnered Saha in an orthodox 4-4-2.  He continued to work the channels and link play neatly; although this time Adebayor turned and ran the channels almost like an orthodox winger.  Notice, in the heatmap, below how much closer to the by-line Adebayor operated this time round.

Adebayor ran the right flank frequently in the early stages of the game, helping to compensate for the lack of pace and natural width when Kranjčar replaces Lennon.  
Contrast Adebayor with Spurs’ last target man, Peter Crouch, who offered less lateral movement and speed.  Judging by the heatmaps below, the concentration of Crouch’s touches are very localised, showing that Redknapp used Crouch as a pivot to gain ground territorially and progress up the field.

Crouch’s heatmaps show that when he is involved in the game, his touches are consistently concentrated to the same area of the pitch. 
In order to maximise on Crouch’s flick ons and passes Spurs played more rigidly, which had the side effect of making Spurs’ movement predictable and easier to anticipate.  Notice the space between when Crouch touches the ball near the halfway line and in the box.  This is consistent with Spurs’ approach of hitting Crouch to gain ground up the pitch– the pass to a pacy winger to progress down the flanks and then trying to cross to Crouch again in the box.  Adebayor’s touches are dotted across the opposition half, showing Spurs’ approach has changed in that the target man moves far more variedly.


Zonalmarking made a great point about how Scott Parker is much better at marking space than tracking a particular player.  This only confirmed my suspicions, as he was, in my opinion, at fault for the second Stoke goal by not tracking Mathew Etherington closely enough; and you do tend to see players ghosting in unmarked when they score against Spurs.

Parker is committed and hard-working; and thoroughly deserves credit for playing without ego in this Spurs midfield.  I do think the praise he is getting, is however, slightly excessive..  While his passing can be good, his passes are sometimes inaccurately or underhit; and he takes longer than Spurs’ other midfielders to decide what to do with the ball.  You can also tell he’s the water carrier in Spurs’ team rather than the box to box dynamo he was at West Ham and Charlton, as his first touch is less refined and he looks slightly more hesitant on the ball.  Parker has, nonetheless, been a tremendous signing for Spurs, offering energy, leadership and anticipates danger excellently.

Lennon and Bale

Towards the end of last season, I was frustrated at the constant sight of seeing Bale and Lennon blitzing down their flanks, flashing crosses across the width of the goal, only to see the ball trickle harmlessly wide, over the bar, or into the keeper’s arms.  Spurs’ approach was too predictable; and with underperforming forwards, the outcome was predictable too.

I’ve wanted Spurs to play Lennon and Bale as inverted wingers for some time now.  My default formation in FIFA 11 was a 4-3-3 with Lennon and Bale on their opposite flanks with van der Vaart playing as a False Nine, not trusting the prosaic abilities of Crouch and Defoe.  My thinking was that Lennon didn’t have to resort to inconsistent crosses and Bale could cut in to shoot with his stronger left foot.

This season that change has largely occurred.  Lennon and Bale have played more like wide forwards than orthodox wingers.  As outlined above, Adebayor’s movement has been a large contributing fact why Bale and Lennon move to fill the centre space he has vacated.  Adebayor has been good for both players’ development.
Both have probably improved for the better in the long term.  Lennon is genuinely comfortable on either flank now– he came on as a substitute versus Newcastle and immediately took to the left rather than the right flank.  But similarly, his left-footed goals against Everton and Fulham also demonstrate his confidence finishing with his weaker foot.  Notably the goal against Everton saw Lennon finish after cutting in from the right flank, whereas his goal against Fulham came from a raid down the left.

Giving Bale the licence to roam means he can shoot from central positions as well as whip in dangerous crosses.  He has undoubtedly become a more rounded player this season.  Although I think his short passing is still fairly weak and he telegraphs his intentions to shoot from distance too easily; Bale’s highlights this season are far more varied than that of last season.  The overriding memories of Bale from last season were skipping past fullbacks down the left flank, or his hat-trick of 3 very similar goals against Inter.  This season there have been long shots, runs through the middle and intricate one-twos, to compliment his ability to beat a man on the outside.

There is debate that Bale can only develop further by moving to a bigger team – but is that necessarily true?  I have the nagging suspicion that if he joined Manchester United, he would be a more physical but less profound Ryan Giggs orthodox left-winger.  If he joined Barcelona, he would be there to provide thrust and dynamism from left back in the manner of Dani Alves.  The opportunity and liberty to explore his own talents would, sadly, be lost for everyone to see.  I distinctly disagree with this article

Full backs

Walker and Assou-Ekotto give Spurs the advantage of building attacks from the back.  Both are comfortable on the ball, which diminishes the impact of pressing Spurs’ back line.  Notably when Spurs played Manchester City, Ćorluka started in place of Walker, who was injured; and City pressured Spurs’ backline into hitting longer passes up the pitch.  Both are adept in attack by providing width when Lennon and Bale have moved inside; but also in defense where they can recover their own mistakes or cover for others’.

I’ve debated with a friend on the merits of Kyle Walker over Micah Richards.  I think the debate is similar to deciding between Maicon and Dani Alves.  I don’t doubt that either player is as good as either Brazilian, but it’s a stylistic choice of who you prefer.  Maicon/Richards are big, strong, almost brutish, whereas Alves/ Walker are impish, agile and anarchic.

Double pivots

Due to the strength of the partnership of Parker and Modrić, it was argued that when Spurs met the bigger teams that Sandro could slot in alongside Parker to make them more defensively solid.  The rationale was that the double-pivot would make Spurs’ more defensive secure.  But does it?  I think the games against Liverpool and Chelsea; and the game against Stevenage show that when the double-pivots comprise of two midfielders, who’s main attributes are effort, work rate and energy that in fact the impact is more detrimental.

At the heart of it, Parker takes too long on the ball and Sandro, while defensively excellent, plays safe square balls.  Livermore, another option, is the better passer and tidier of the three, but is not the same calibre of player.  He does not set the tempo of the match as registas should; and his range of passing is too limited to be the metronome of the midfield.

Because the midfielders cannot feed the Spurs’ attack quickly enough, Spurs look defensively vulnerable to counter-attacks.  When in possession they can be pressed into making mistakes and the Tottenham back-four can look over-worked, as a result.

All of which proves how central Modrić is to the Tottenham midfield.  Not only does Modrić initiate Tottenham’s attacks, he’s also surprising strong in defence:

Harry Redknapp, Tactics and England

Against Stevenage, Harry Redknapp anticipated the game would follow a similar pattern to the away loss at Stoke.  He chose a 3-4-1-2 system, which was a key factor for getting Spurs back into the game against Stoke.  The selection of three physical centre backs and two defensive midfielders, while understandable, was also rather negative against opposition two divisions lower.  Nonetheless it actually shows that Redknapp does do tactics, despite doing his best to live up to his East End Cockney stereotype and this van der Vaart interview:

Redknapp is the hot favourite to take over as the next England manager and there is little evidence to suggest he wouldn’t be a good appointment.  Much has been written, already, how club football has overtaken international football in terms of drama, quality and tactical innovation and so there is little risk of any manager out-thinking Redknapp except, perhaps, among the very strongest international sides. 

Surely, if there is any manager capable of managing a group of highly-strung individuals, Redknapp is that manager.  And, though Redknapp has a reputation as a ‘wheeler dealer’ and it is stipulated that he would struggle to ‘buy’ the squad he would want for England; he nonetheless understands what he has at his disposal and builds accordingly.  He has arguably built 3 different sides at Spurs in his 3 years, each exploiting the talent available.  The orthodox 4-4-2 of Crouch and Defoe, metamorphosed into the 4-4-1-1 with van der Vaart scheming behind Crouch; and now the 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1/4-3-3 hybrid that Adebayor currently spearheads.

I, for one, hope he stays at Spurs.  You get the feeling that the fates of a number of Spurs’ players are tied to Redknapp continuing as manager.  This is the best side I’ve seen in 21 years of supporting them; and I can only thank Redknapp for his influence on the side.

By JK Saturnine


  1. Gimme 5 Spurs supporter! Lol. i like the tactical side to things in the article which is funny because not many tactical articles have been on a so called football site. Maybe another team in the future?

  2. Saw a link on another site. Good post!

  3. Nice one. What application or programme did you use for the heatmaps?

  4. Firstly thanks for your positive comments and I hope you all enjoyed reading it.

    @ Anon 1
    Regarding analysing other teams – thanks for the idea. I’m quite happy to give it a go, although, as you rightly point out, I’m a Spurs fan and I don't really get the same enjoyment watching or moaning about any other team!

    @ Anon 3
    ESPN have a tool called Gamecast, which is handy for the heatmaps and average positions of players. You can find it under the match reports. Here’s an example for you.

    I can’t stress how good the Iphone App FourFourTwo Stats Zone is. I bought it recently and will be using it in anything I write in the future.

    Thanks and best regards


  5. Great post, hopefully we'll see another tasty tactical tome in the future.

    A few points/questions.

    You've pointed out that the variation in Adebayor's play has been beneficial for other players at the club. Would you keep Adebayor and how far do you think Levy should go to keep him? Given Spurs' wage structure, are there any viable alternatives to Adebayor considering Spurs' tactical and mental approach to the game?

    I've always been a big fan of Louis Saha. How would you assess Saha's impact as a spearhead and attacking partner so far?

    Any thoughts on who would able to continue the progress made at Spurs if Redknapp does come to England's rescue?

  6. I wouldn't go too far to keep Adebayor. There's many reasons why. Firstly it would be at substantial cost to sign Adebayor permanently; secondly, question marks on his temperament continue; and thirdly, there's question marks, whether Redknapp will be at Spurs next year and whether he and the new manager could get on.

    There are many good strikers available that I don't think his absence would be too sorely missed.

    Saha has not played as a lone striker for Spurs yet but he looked good with Adebayor against Newcastle. I really think it's too early to assess him just yet; and being a free transfer and 33 years of age, I won't have too high expectations. He doesn't look old or move like a senior footballer, who's had severe injuries, though.

    Won't speculate on the Spurs management situation until things are much clearer!