Maximus Tacticus – Tottenham Hotspurs

In this feature, we analyze the strategies of top EPL sides. Debojyoti Chakraborty runs the ruler over Tottenham Hotspurs this month. You may contact him on @debojchak


This season has proved that Tottenham Hotspurs have surely arrived. From also-rans they have elevated themselves to genuine title contenders – at least till Christmas. Their strong run with virtually the same squad is a rare exception in an era where cash-rich clubs are focussing on buying a trophy rather than building a squad. Harry Redknapp, the man at the helm may not be around for long, as the national duty beckons, but he has surely made a huge impression at White Hart Lane.

Happy Go Lucky

A good team is built around a happy dressing room. This is where Tottenham has outscored other superpowers in the English Premier League. The summer started with the imminent departure of Luca Modric. Redknapp was able to hold on to him, but Modric was visibly frustrated as the prospect of multi-fold wage hike did not materialize. It did impact the first few games, but Redknapp was quickly in control of his midfield maestro and the results were there for everyone to see. Compare this to the unrest in the Chelsea squad and you will know why the Spurs are flying high these days. To partner him in the midfield, Redknapp brought in Scott Parker in the summer. He has been named England’s ‘Player of the Year‘ in an online poll on Football Association’s website and led the Three Lions in a recent friendly against Netherlands on the back of a fine season with the Spurs. He is the man to anchor the midfield, snatch the ball away from the opponents and initiate an attack. Tottenham have tried different players in that position in his absence – Niko Kranjcar, Jake Livermore, Tom Huddlestone – but none have shown the efficiency of Andy Marshall.

Tottenham is a typical English side who specializes on wing play and long balls. And they have been blessed with the wing wizard, Gareth Bale cutting through the left flank. Bale is perhaps the first player to enter any fantasy team. He leads the scoring chart among midfielders, is in top three for assists and lightens up a match at the crucial junctures. How dearly had Redknapp wanted similar services from the other wing! But Aron Lennon has been anything but impressive. His pace has gone down by a couple of yards, and his final delivery has also let him down in spite of being in good positions. This has sometimes prompted Harry Redknapp to deploy a 4-3-2-1 formation tucking in Modric in a slightly wider role.

There has been no problem though on the left flank. Bale has been ably supported by the overlapping left-back, Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Strong in defence, can take on the wide players from the opponent team alone and effortlessly assist Bale while going forward – Assou-Ekotto has been in lethal form this season. He has been part of a solid defence led by Younes Kaboul. This season Kaboul has established himself as the leader in the back four, which has been shuffled around him. Injuries have played their part and Kaboul has had to partner Ledley King, William Gallas and Michael Dawson at different times during the league so far. But he has remained a stalwart in the centre of defence. His concentration levels have gone up a couple of notches after the annihilation at the hands of Manchester City at the start of the season. He has been a constant aerial threat for Spurs and his brutal strength has helped Tottenham cope up with the physical aspect of EPL. Whenever a genuine ball-playing stopper like Michael Dawson has partnered him – and Tottenham have not lost a single game when he was playing – it has been the age old silk-n-still defensive pairing that every team would crave for.

Modern 4-4-1-1
Making most of the resources
Harry Redknapp is known to pick up players to suit his game plan and he has done precisey that for scoring and saving goals. Gone are the days when long balls were heralded for a certain Peter Crouch. Out he went and in came (albeit in loan, for even Manchester City cannot afford him warming benches with his astronomical wages) a player of similar mould, Emmanuel Adebayor. He is second only to David Silva in the assists chart, and not all of those are monotonous knock-down headers from long balls. He has a better sense of the overall movement around him than his predecessor and can often either finish a brilliant move or pick a player to lay off a final pass. Benefiting most from these passes is Rafael Van der Vaart – another recruit of Redknapp couple of seasons ago – playing in the hole in a usual 4-4-1-1 formation. VDV has been used wisely considering his injury-prone nature and Jermine Defoe – or Luis Saha, since he came on in the winter transfer window, has been used as his cover when Spurs have opted for two men up front.

Last season Heurelho Gomes performed beyond expectations. So much so, that Tottenham fans started to live with his inconsistencies, sandwiched with some brilliant performances. But the Gaffer did a shrewd business by bringing in the experienced Brad Friedel from Aston Villa. Even for shot-stoppers, who mature late and generally enjoy a lengthy career, moving to an ambitious club as #1 goalkeeper with Champions League in prospect is not very common. Many thought it to be a bad move by Spurs. But Friedel has silenced the critics with his agility, reflexes and some jaw-dropping saves in this campaign. He has brought in some much needed consistency to an injury-hit back line. Only thing missing from his game is his distribution skills. He is quite fond of kicking the ball out long – it would be great for Spurs if he can start making some short passes or throws to initiate a more constructive mode.

Man to Watch (1) – Scott Parker

Scott Parker was the Football Writers’ Association player of the year last season. That is some achievement playing for West Ham which was eventually relegated. He has continued his superb form pulling on the Lilywhite shirt and has galvanized the Spurs’ midfield. He has a well-defined role to anchor the midfield. His primary duty is to take the ball away from opposition and distribute it to more advanced players like Modric or VDV. It suits his hard hitting, fully committed style of play. He is happy to sit in front of his defensive line and dictate the play from there. Just a look at his heat map in home and away matches proves the point. He has not ventured into the opponent half 60% of the time against Queens Park Rangers. That statistic goes up to 70% away from home at Craven Cottage. This has helped Parker to improve his overall passing, interception and concentration levels. His calmness in the field has resulted in Spurs conceding only 22 goals in twenty-six matches after his arrival – before that they had conceded 8 in opening two matches. Also, his solidity in the midfield has led to Spurs creating more chances with more bodies made available in the attacking third.

Parker roaming in his own half

Man to Watch (2) – Gareth Bale

It took a while to realize what Bale’s best position would be – an attacking left-back or a genuine left winger? This season has seen him being deployed at various other roles also – at wide right position playing like an inverted winger, a more central role just behind the striker. But it has to be said that the Welshman seems at home as a wing wizard down the left flank. After a slow start to the season where he scored only 1 goal and provided zero assist in 8 games, Bale has set the stage on fire. He is the leading goal-scorer and the most influential player – according to the Premier League official website statistics – among midfielders. Besides hugging the touchline and getting chalk on his boots, this season, Gareth Bale has started cutting inside, getting involved in the play in more central positions and that has helped him and Tottenham immensely. He is getting more shots on target with better accuracy. Moreover, his overall movement has become so unpredictable – just look at the chalkboard below – that he is able to create more opportunities for his teammates now.

More shots at goal
Playing all over pitch

Blue Line – Successful Pass

Red Line – Unsuccessful Pass

White Line – Assist / Goal