Thursday, 21 March 2013

Will AVB stop tinkering?

Being a Tottenham fan myself, I do try to not write damning pieces about our side and reserve my judgement to a sobering reflection across a pint or two with similar fans.

Over two weeks ago, Tottenham won the North London derby at White Hart Lane against rivals Arsenal 2-1 thanks to two goals in three minutes from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon.  Although they held on to the three points thanks in part to a solid rearguard led by captain Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen playing at centre back - the warning signs were there in the first half against the Gunners.

Until Gareth Bale scored the opener, it could be argued the lead came against the run of play with Arsenal enjoying the majority of possession and territory in midfield, albeit without engineering many chances of note.  The trio of Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla over ran the midfield duo of Scott Parker and Moussa Dembele of Tottenham, until Spurs engineered a sleek passing interchange which led to Bale's neat finish.  Two minutes later, a defence splitting pass by Parker met Lennon on a run where he rounded goalkeeper Wojech Sczezeny to give a two goal cushion.

However, with Tottenham things are never easy or as easy as they should be.  Having gained a 10 point lead over Arsenal, Tottenham should have been aiming to catch Manchester City in second place and yet in the last two league games away at Liverpool and home to Fulham, Tottenham have contrived to lose six points when at least four were there for the taking to cement their position in third place and secure Champions League football.

Leading 2-1 away at Anfield with 20 minutes remaining, Spurs conspired to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory thanks to two lobotomised moments of defending.  Kyle Walker suffering from 'second-album syndrome' played an ambitious across the pitch backpass that left Hugo Lloris somehow attempting to clear the ball, which he missed and Stewart Downing easily converted.  Then Jermain Defoe toe-ended and skied a clearance twenty-five yards from his goal back into the penalty area, landing at the feet of Luis Suarez who was fouled allowing Steven Gerrard to convert the winning spot-kick.

After giving up the lead, Spurs struggled to create any noteworthy chances.  Then they lost at home to Fulham, thanks to a winning goal by returning Dimitar Berbatov.  In this goal, Tottenham again failed to create chances and met Mark Schwarzer in inspirational form in the Fulham goal.

What was most striking about the Fulham defeat was the bizarre formation and team selection employed by Andre Villas-Boas.  Having just survived a Europa League tie at Inter Milan on Thursday night after extra time from a seemingly comfortable position (see how it is never easy for Spurs); AVB started five players who played the entire 120 minutes of the Inter game.  And then seemingly played a hot-potch of the best available players in an eleven seemingly there to go and get the job done before the international break.

AVB might have been responding to Arsenal's 2-0 win away at Swansea on Saturday afternoon, yet Spurs are the form team and yet played in response to the team Fulham played.

AVB played Steven Caulker at right back to probably nullify Damien Duff or the running of Giorgios Karagounis or Bryan Ruiz; whilst Dawson and Vertonghen could contend with Berbatov.  Then he played Kyle Naughton at left back with Benoit Assou-Ekotto at left wing.  This strikes you as bizarre given how Naughton's form this season has been less than impressive and he is predominantly right footed also the positioning of Ekotto at left wing left him rather exposed and wasted, is he meant to supply cover for the youngster or be an out and out wide threat which he is not.

Elsewhere, Parker and Dembele played in front of the back four with Bale and Sigurdsson behind Emanuel Adebayor who played up front on his own.  This left Tottenham shorn of creative wing play; whilst Bale has been on fire, he needs to play on the left wing to terrorise whichever poor soul is playing right back.  Yet the absence of him, has led many to suggest and correctly that Aaron Lennon has been more important to Tottenham's great undefeated streak than the Welshman.

Lennon has been playing better in recent months, yet again though he has succumb to a niggling injury and his invention on the right wing in parallel to Bale on the left had led to many chances being created.  On Sunday, the idea was seemingly give Bale the ball and something may happen, clearly something did not.  Tottenham were too narrow and constricted which played into the hands of Fulham whose midfield was marshalled by Steve Sidwell and Ashkan Dejagah whilst Sascha Reither bombed forward when possible on his right wing, his run and pass set up Berbatov's winner.

AVB must have felt that Fulham could be defeated by simply turning up, which is unfair to under-estimate a Fulham side whose away form whilst poor belies the football they try to play under Martin Jol - quick passing, counter-attacking which Tottenham allowed them to do in the first half which gained them confidence.

An observation aimed at AVB would be why play Adebayor whose still is even more laid back than Berbatov, but who looked even more lethargic on Sunday after having played two hours on Thursday.  Although he scored the vital away goal, his form has been woeful and Sunday demanded a start for Jermain Defoe who is coming back from injury.

Also, why has Lewis Holtby been used less and less in the Premier League yet more in the Europa League.  Holtby has the industry to unbreak many defences yet he was an unused substitute on Sunday (three strikers were brought on instead - Defoe, Thomas Carroll and Clint Dempsey) in search of an equaliser and played only six minutes as a substitute at Anfield, again in search of an equaliser.

The loss of Michael Dawson at half-time to a hamstring injury was unfortunate and led to Caulker joining Vertonghen in the centre, yet the substitute was Clint Dempsey. The correct change would have been move Naughton to right back, Ekotto back to his preferred left-back position, Bale to left wing, Sigurdssson to right wing and Holtby in behind Adebayor or Defoe, yet AVB felt more forward power would overcome Fulham; a hard task against a veteran backline of Hangeland, Senderos and Schwarzer.

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