Spurs: Forget Playing 4-4-2 Ever Again And Revert Back To 4-2-3-1 Against Fulham
“Ladies and gentlemen, England will be playing four four f**king two,” is a phrase that is regularly recited by fans of Mike Bassett England Manager. It is in that one line, ahead of England's World Cup tie with Argentina in Brazil, that will forever be remembered as one of the finest quips from Ricky Tomlinson, regardless of his roles in The Royal Family, Brookside and Cracker.
In the end, a fictional England won the game with the Argies courtesy of a Tonka “header” and the Three Lions went on to secure a semi final finish in Brazil. Unfortunately for Tottenham Hotspur, head coach Andre Villas-Boas must've drawn inspiration from the film prior to the Europa League tie with Inter Milan on Thursday night.
Starting an encounter with two strikers who couldn't find the net even if they were caught in one for love nor money and a midfield lacking natural width in the enforced absences of Gareth Bale, suspended following a yellow card in the first leg, and a half fit Aaron Lennon meant Javier Zanetti and Jonathan capitalised on the freedom and expansive space in front of them to secure victory at the San Siro, albeit an Emmanuel Adebayor sending Spurs through despite succumbing to a 4-1 defeat - the most fortuitous of victories for the club.
Many a supporter had wondered why Villas-Boas had lined up in a 4-4-2 prior to kick, with the onus on defending a three goal lead, soaking up the pressure before hitting Inter on the break and adding a fourth.
It's fair to say that Spurs needed to hold onto possession in the encounter, especially with Brad Friedel requiring motion sickness tablets if he strays more than a yard off his line and William Gallas' defensive capabilities bearing a striking resemblance to that of Gary Doherty at his absolute worst.
Playing the high line against an Inter side intent on breaking out of the blocks to net an early goal to give them the impetus and confidence to take the game to Tottenham was the equivalent of footballing suicide and it's no surprise to have seen Andrea Stramaccioni's side almost pull off an amazing feat, having come from 3-0 down to take the tie to extra time.
Fortunately for Spurs, Adebayor's extra time strike, only his fourth goal of the season, was enough to take the club through to the quarter-finals of the Europa League, setting up a last eight tie with Swiss side FC Basel.
However, if any good comes from the 120-minute defeat to Inter, it's that 4-4-2 is a formation that Spurs must refrain from utilising in the foreseeable future. The visitors were carved open by a rampant Inter at the San Siro and without the extra body in midfield, it's no shock to have seen the club's Europa League dreams hang on a knife edge.
Anyway, enough of Thursday. Spurs are through to the next round and it's Fulham next as Premier League duties return to White Hart Lane. To say this encounter is must win would be an understatement.
It was around this time last season that Spurs absolutely capitulated, surrendered third place and ended out missing out on Champions League football as a result of Chelsea's exploits in the Munich.
While there is absolutely no chance of that happening this season, with no English teams left in the competition following Arsenal's exit at the hands of Bayern Munich on Wednesday night, to avoid the third round qualifiers at the beginning of the season, a top three finish is essential.
Following the defeat to Liverpool, Spurs may still be two points ahead of rivals Chelsea, but having played a game more. The loss may've stemmed from some cataclysmic defending from Kyle Walker and Jermain Defoe, Hugo Lloris and Benoit Assou-Ekotto culpable in the respective crimes, but Stewart Downing's goal completely swung the tie in the favour of the Reds and seeing them win came as no surprise.
Talk of succumbing to a finish outside the top four may be somewhat premature, but failure to win will only heighten talk of Europa League football returning to north London next season. Needless to say, Fulham won't pose the easiest of encounters for Villas-Boas' side on Sunday.
They will know Spurs are vulnerable. Martin Jol returning to White Hart Lane again, Dimitar Berbatov's first game at his old haunt since signing for the Cottagers; it's scripted for an upset and the beginning of the end of end of the clubs hopes of staving off the threat of relegation.
This is where the 4-2-3-1 comes into play. Rather than go Gung-ho against Fulham, ala Harry Redknapp, play the tight compact game and keep hold of the ball. Move Mousa Dembele back into the middle to partner Scott Parker in midfield and draft in either Lewis Holtby or Tom Carroll to retain and recycle possession, a facet that was evidently lacking against Liverpool, following Joe Allen's introduction, and Inter.
With the ability to hold onto the ball and instigate attacks from deep against a Jol side that regularly look to attack, flooding the midfield and solidifying the middle of the park once again will see Spurs return to winning ways which is, following Arsenal's 2-0 win over Swansea, an absolute necessity.