Tottenham lack creative spark as defensive discipline pays off for Wigan
Here we go again! The Tottenham rollercoaster is off and running. From the euphoria of Wednesday night we came crashing down to Earth and suffered one of those nil-one results that blighted our home record last season. However, there is much more to worry about than just the result.
The losses to Stoke and Wolves last season, and the goalless draw against Hull, were dropped points that, thankfully, did not cost us too much in the end. The same may be said of the Wigan game at the end of this season but the difference between those games last season and yesterday was that our performance against Wigan deserved nothing.
On the positive side, the players may have learned a lesson in the game against the team from Lancashire, just like they may have learned a lesson in the game in Bern against Young Boys. But I am getting sick and tired of learning lessons.
Pre-match talk in the pub was about how we would win the game – would we get an early goal and see Wigan cave in, like they had in their two previous games, or would we have to grind out a win? Turns out we did neither, and in all honesty based on the quality of the chances created we were lucky to only lose by a solitary goal.
In one of more prophetic moments, I suggested to my two drinking buddies in the Bricklayers that this was a game for squad players to shine. Specifically, I suggested dropping Crouch despite his hattrick in the Champions League. Continental teams will struggle to deal with him not only because you do not come up against a 6’7 striker every day of the week, but because the style of football they face is far less physical and aerial than that in the Premiership.
On the flip side, Premiership teams are generally better prepared to deal with Crouch. Wigan totally nullified any threat from Crouch by planting a defensive midfielder in front of the striker, much like Portsmouth did in the semi final last season. Strength is not Crouch’s strong point but even a Didier Drogba would struggle when outnumbered 2 to 1.
Naturally, Wigan had worked hard on their defensive setup so it was not surprising that their wide men and full backs doubled up on Bale and Lennon, their lone striker was nearer his own goal than our goal and their central midfielders were happy for us to have the ball forty yards out as long as we didn’t get any nearer.
A shaky start from Benoit Assou-Ekotto was followed by an unmarked Steve Gohouri smacking the bar from four yards after a corner had been headed back to him. The first half was largely unremarkable in terms of chances created – a Defoe snap shot on the turn forced a good if not spectacular save from Al Habsi, while the England striker poked wide after making a strong run past the centre backs.
However, the main point of interest was our lack of movement of the ball. The 4-4-2 gets much criticism, but it was not the system but the rigidity of our players that was the problem, and it all stems from the strikers.
As mentioned above, Crouch was neutered (no quips about his private life!) and Defoe offered very little off the ball. Pavlyuchenko offered even less, and the unwillingness to get involved in our build up affected the rest of the team.
With the strikers holding central positions, unwilling to move out wide or dropping deep, there was no space for the wingers to move into or the central midfielders to attack. The lack of fluidity made us predictable and gave the Wigan unit little trouble. With both wingers sticking to the wings, there was no room for the full backs to overlap, not that they looked interested in reaching the byline. This contentedness in their performance was troubling, and at half time changes needed to be made.
Crouch came off with a suspected broken rib, but this revealed another problem with starting him over someone else – the lack of a plan B. This is not an attack on the big man himself, I’m sure he tried his best, but with his removal we no longer had the desperate option of hitting it long and too often we resorted to this desperate option. The narrow White Hart Lane pitch makes it easy to park the bus and our lethargic movement meant our passing game was lacking creativity.
Kranjcar came on for Assou-Ekotto and offered something different but his runs inside found the barrier of the five man midfield of the visitors. Bale overlapped but could not escape the attentions of the Wigan players and never managed to produce a quality ball into the box. Gio came on for Lennon but hardly had a touch.
Some have pointed fingers at Palacios for not offering a forward thrust from midfield but while his defensive abilities did not help our goal scoring needs, even the most inventive and attacking of midfielders would have found it hard to create anything with our strikers happily cowering in the defenders’ pockets.
The second half continued much as the first and it was a Wigan substitution that changed things. Boselli, rugged but slow, came off and the lively Rodallega was pushed forward. Ten minutes later, Wigan should have been two up and when they finally scored, the Spurs defence could not complain they had not been warned.
With Bale caught up field and no offside, the Columbian striker Rodallega ran down the right flank and delivered a ball that amazingly Alcaraz blazed over. Staggeringly, forty seconds later the same thing happened again with Gomez smashing the ball over the bar. Then thirty seconds later Rodallega ran onto a long ball down, you guessed it, Wigan’s right flank. This time he was more central and shot across Cudicini into the corner of the goal. Wigan deserved it.
This was a terrible performance, and the fault lies, ultimately, at Harry’s door. The one striker we have who wants to get on the ball and create was left on the bench, and it looks like Robbie Keane will soon be departing. Luis Fabiano may replace him, but is he not another striker who will look to get on the end of balls, not create chances for others? A switch to a 4-3-3/4-5-1 could be the answer. Bale and Lennon showed at Stoke that, when given license to roam forward with abandonment, rather than confined to one wing, they can create chances and provide goals. Modric and Kranjcar will show plenty of movement that may create openings against teams sat deep in their own half. As the legendary Bill Nicholson said, “It’s the man off the ball who wins you the game”.