Spurs' Formation Has No Cover, No Symmetry But A Great Style
Champions League dreams can no longer be satisfied by a standard 4-4-2 formation. The best teams prefer 4-1-3-2 or 4-1-4-1, for example, to give their defence an extra shield. The importance of players such as Claude Makelele, Daniele de Rossi and Nigel de Jong to their teams can’t be emphasised enough. Spurs have struggled in that position in the past but now have the personnel to do the job they hoped Tom Huddlestone could do.
Spurs have been fielding asymmetrical midfields since we benefitted from Luka Modric and Rafael Van der Vaart in the same line-up. The challenge was always to do so with a defensive anchor that didn’t leave a gaping hole between himself and the attacking midfielders, who often piled forward in a wave of four; Modric, Van der Vaart, Bale and Lennon all pushing Defoe higher and higher up the pitch. As exciting as that was to watch, none of them were the best when it came to defensive responsibilities and that led to unexpected defeats.
Some important squad players have left over the past 12 months which means that they are more and more reliant on the first XI staying fit. Whilst other clubs have suffered with long-term injuries (Van Persie at Arsenal, Essien at Chelsea, Vidic at Manchester United), aside from Ledley King, Spurs have managed their knocks pretty well.
Sandro was out for a while but Scott Parker could cover capably well. Younes Kaboul missed all but one game last season but William Gallas was an excellent and reliable replacement – okay, perhaps that’s an exaggeration; he was a replacement. Tottenham’s fringe players have been farmed out and whilst the starting team looks stronger for the investment, long campaigns in Europe and domestically could reopen old wounds.
Walker - Kaboul - Vertonghen (c) - Rose
Lennon - Paulinho - Lamela - Chadli
Starting at the back, Hugo Lloris has established himself as one of the best of a new wave of potentially great Premier League goalkeepers, alongside Simon Mignolet and Michel Vorm. They may not be up there with the older generation (Schmeichel or Given, for example) but if they can go the distance, they might be considered in the same bracket.
Rose has impressed me – as has Andros Townsend – after successful loan spells and, without any cover at left-back, the position picks itself. Perhaps, in January, Villas-Boas will need cover here. Vertonghen can play at left-back but he is such an effective centre-back it would be churlish to move him wide. His ability to play the ball like a midfielder is crucial to breaking up attacks and building a counter. Kaboul is a battering ram of a man and it’s great to partner a physical, enthusiastic and intimidating player alongside one with more craft and nuance. Chiriches has arrived at just the right time to bolster the centre-backs and how he fits in will become evident when he has a chance to play.
He has his flaws but at right-back, Kyle Walker has an opportunity to establish himself at Spurs but also at England. Glen Johnson divides opinion (personally, I think he is one of the best all-round full-backs in the league) but is pushed for a place by Andre Wisdom and Martin Kelly. With no real replacement for Walker, he can bed in. That could mean he loses focus without the fear of a teammate competing for his place but there’s little to be done about that.
In Spurs' traditionally weakest position, Capoue, from a handful of games, looks like a superb improvement. Whilst Sandro is a beast in the tackle and Paulinho is an all-energy intercepting machine, Capoue marries the two together. The one thing Spurs have in excess is players who can play a neat, threaded pass. By pushing Paulinho further forward, Spurs can intercept the ball in the opponent’s defensive half more and counter-attacking faster over a shorter distance; a sure-fire way of increasing the pressure and the chances to score. Erik Lamela, as a record-signing, must be worth a start, on his price tag and reputation alone. With Christian Eriksen, Siggurdsson, Dembele and Holtby on the bench, the midfield is very competitive, although critics will suggest a Bale-shaped lack of spontaneity.
Lennon has earned his place on the wing with Townsend contesting his spot. The good thing about two carbon-copy, rapid wingers like them is that one can expend a burst of energy over 45 minutes, drawing fouls, firing in crosses, before being replaced by the other. Fresh legs at 60 or 70 minutes can bring about even more chances to get goals during a vital phase of the match. Chadli seems to have the pace but it’s his physicality that provides an exciting contrast but he needs to play a little deeper than Lennon. Rose needs to learn not to be too cavalier and by forcing him to play into Chadli he will be compelled to release the ball sooner. The Belgian, who has played in a deeper role before, can shield the more inexperienced full-back and hopefully build a strong partnership. Again, there appears to be little competition for his starting place.
As Soldado finds the runs and turns that will enable him to create more chances from the talented supply line behind him, he will score more frequently. His footwork in the box and his finish is reminiscent of Robbie Fowler or Ian Wright when they were at their best. The pecking order behind him is short; Defoe needs games to get his rhythm but may not find them easy to come by. Adebayor is unwanted but offers a different dimension so could find himself on the bench once in a while.
For Spurs then, that imbalanced midfield can help them patiently build up possession and launch rapid counter-attacks. The challenge will be how they adapt with limited back-up players in all four wide positions. If injury strikes, can they win with a narrow 4-2-3-1 line-up? Time will tell.