There’s a well-known footballing cliché which states “games aren’t won on paper”. That said however; Tottenham Hotspur vs Swansea City may well be a game that’s won and lost on the tactics board. Both sides share similar philosophies in terms of the way football should be played and they have the managers and playing staff to effectively implement them. Both are hindered by chronic unpredictability and inconsistency, so the betting man would do well to keep his pennies in his pocket; unless he’s betting on both teams to score, of course.
Swansea’s last premier league outing was a narrow 3-4 home loss to currently in-form Norwich, but the score line flatters to deceive. Norwich’s basic tactics to play a high-pressure defensive game in order to ‘get in’ Swansea’s proverbial faces more than paid off; highlighting the Welsh clubs frailties when not in possession. Much improved in the second half, the Swans players showed their willingness to play for new manager Michael Laudrup and used their new found offensive directness to get themselves respectably back in the game.
However; Laudrup has evolved the total passing game that earned Swansea a barrage of accolades under Rodgers last season. Through his knowledge of La Liga, the manager added a handful of Spanish talent to the Swansea ranks over the summer, helping the team to adapt a slightly more direct attacking approach and ruthlessness. Rodgers’ Swansea, much like Rodgers’ Liverpool, were often sidetracked by their obsessive pursuit of impeccable possession statistics. By removing the leash from players such as Michu, Hernandez, Dyer and Routledge, their overall effectively in the final third has greatly improved, leaving them five points better off this season than at the same stage last year.
Their sacrifice of possession has also had a detrimental effect though, creating a direct correlation between that and their somewhat more susceptible defense. With an emphasis placed on wing play and encouraging their full backs to push further forward, they’ve often left themselves open to counter attacks, leaving their centre halves completely isolated. Should they wish to get a result away at White Hart Lane, Swansea will need to find a happy medium between attack and defense; much like they did in their recent victory over Arsenal.
Tottenham Hotspur also come in to today’s game on the back of a disappointing result, surrendering two goals in 88seconds during the dying embers of a hard fought game at Goodison Park. Andre Villas-Boas has often discussed his desire for his side to be able to win both playing attractive attacking football and when under the cosh too, but their knack of conceding late goals is becoming a thoroughly unwelcome habit. Furthermore; it’s a telling statistic that if all premier league games had finished after 80mins this season, Spurs would currently be top.
That said, Tottenham might well be looking forward to the Christmas period given that their currently crippling injury list looks likely to greatly improve over the coming weeks. Essential first team players such as Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Younes Kaboul, Scott Parker and recent omission Gareth Bale should all be in contention for competitive action sooner rather than later. The often criticised defense would benefit the most, the reinstatement of Kaboul and Assou-Ekotto would hopefully see Vertonghen regain his preferred central role and the season-long wait for Gallas to be dropped become a much overdue reality. Midfield hatchet-man Sandro would also earn a well-deserved rest, allowing Scott Parker to hopefully pick up from where he left off last season.
Possible Swansea starting XI:
With Hernandez doubtful again, but both striker Danny Graham and captain Ashley Williams available after absences, the Swansea team could look something like this come Sunday lunchtime. Lining-up in a fluid 4-4-1-1, Swansea allow themselves to flood midfield allowing their possession to flourish, while giving top scorer Michu a free reign over his position in the final third of the park. Both Britton and de Guzman tend to sit deeper in midfield, creating the play around them recycling possession, breaking up opposition play and providing a link between defense and attack.
Possible Spurs starting XI:
On the left hand side is the team I predict that Villas-Boas will select in reality, and on the right in the team I would be picking were I the Tottenham manager. The main difference is the formation; given Swansea’s ability to pack midfield, I think if AVB sticks with his new media dubbed 4-4-2 (which in reality I believe is more a 4-4-1-1 given the work Adebayor does deeper down the field) than Tottenham Hotspur could find themselves without the ball for long periods and losing the midfield battle of supremacy.
In my preferred 4-2-3-1 however, Tottenham Hotspur can, like Swansea, adopt a five-man midfield without the ball in order to win back possession more efficiently. Personnel wise; I’ve opted for Adebayor where Villas-Boas would keep faith with Defoe, and included both Michael Dawson and Tom Carroll, who I feel would be perfect fits in the team for this particular game. With the ball likely to spend much of it’s time on ‘the deck’, Carroll will feel completely at home; providing a role much similar to Britton’s for Swansea, and much needed dynamism in around the box.
Tottenham Hotspur won the corresponding fixture last season 3-1, and I expect home advantage to take its toll again this time around. Should Villas-Boas select the correct team and focus than it’s well within Tottenham’s powers to take advantage of Swansea’s often leaky defense. However, the Swans have the ability to nullify Spurs’ threat should they be given the chance, and the longer the game remains goalless, the more chance Swansea have of stealing a result. Expect tactical exchanges from the managers, lots of shots on goal and an abundance of possession changing hands in midfield; also, it might be an idea having your copy of ‘Inverting The Pyramid’ at the ready for this one.