New user and all that. Have been reading the site for a few years and really enjoy it. I really wanted to post about stats and tactics, following on from Rob’s interesting squad assessments.(I wrote this before the win against Hearts).
As we all know our inability to score, turn draws into wins and break weaker teams down was the main cause of us not finishing in the top 4 last season: Wigan 1pt, West Ham 1pt, West Brom 2pts, Blackpool 1pt, Birmingham 2pts. Now, I know we actually got 4 pts against Brum but that was only because they were chasing a last minute winner in a must-win league game. If this game had been played at any other time of the season it would have finished 1-1. With this dodgy theory, that is 6 out of 30 points (20%) against those teams, without it, it is 8 out of 30 (27%). Either way, a poor effort. With a 67% points accumulation (20 out of 30 points) we would have finished 2nd.
Last season, we also had 14 draws compared to 7 when we finished 4th and our goal difference dropped from +21 to +9.
Man Utd win the league because they beat all the weakest teams at Old Trafford. They won an amazing 18 out of 19 league games (95%) there last season (Chelsea as runners up won a tidy 14 – 74%). Man Utd actually won the same number away (5) as relegated Blackpool and still won the league. Incredible! (We won a reasonable 7 away games).
In 2008/09, Liverpool finished 2nd under Benitez, doing the double over Man Utd and lost only twice (against us of course!), but still failed to win the league. This was because Man Utd won 16 of their 19 (84%) home games compared to a poor 12 (63%) from Liverpool. Benitez tried to solve this problem the following season by spending far too much on a good, but injury-prone Glen Johnson.
Man Utd consistently create space and chances through their full-backs and never struggle to break weaker teams down at Old Trafford. Liverpool finished 2nd by 4 pts because of their inability to do this – this included home draws with Stoke, Fulham, West Ham, a weak Man City and Hull City (10 dropped points). Sound familiar?
How many goals can you think of with Gary Neville,having bombed forward, receiving the ball in acres of space on the right hand side near the penalty area, taking one touch and then picking out a cross for Cantona/Cole/Van Nistelrooy/Rooney etc. to score?
This was seen last season for us when Alan Hutton came on against Wolves, scoring and winning a penalty in another game which was heading for a dreaded draw.
So much hype is put on the big games (by Sky mainly), and they are the ones as a fan you look forward to most, but in terms of winning the league and finishing in the top 4, they have less significance than is given.
I believe this team is good enough to win the league with a few ifs – if we sign a top striker (it’s looking like Adebayor, which I think could be excellent), if Gomes or Friedel have a great season and if we can get at least 25 league games out of Ledley…so, not likely then.
Also, if we change our mentality, as mentally I don’t think we believe we can win the league – as players, as a club, as fans.
If we can beat the big teams, then we should be able to beat the weaker teams and thus achieve that ever-elusive consistency essential to a sustained title challenge. But it’s not about beating the other big teams,it’s about winning the winnables, because this puts so much pressure on the other teams. If you’re chasing the title and Man Utd have Stoke at home, you know they are going to win. All the other teams cannot guarantee this.
So, tactics! We’ve got a great chance of winning the winnables through using our full-backs effectively. Watching Spurs play these teams last season was quite painful and often dull, especially at home, because the opposition just sat back, let us have the ball and play around with it in pretty circles with no penetration.
I do think the enigmatic VdV has affected this, through wanting to be involved in the middle of every move and thereby slowing the move down, rather than just being in the box waiting for a pass/cross at the end of the move. I don’t think he knows what he wants to be – a creative attacking midfielder or a striker. It doesn’t help. And by not keeping a set position, timing the same runs, operating in repetition it is more difficult for team-mates to know where he is going to be.
The end of 2009/2010 season saw some of the best football played by Spurs in my years of watching (since 86/87). Our 2-1 win against Chelsea was probably the best I’ve ever seen us play against a top team (beating eventual champions Blackburn 3-1 in 94/95 was also excellent): free-flowing, attacking football at its best, with Bale running riot. We never looked in trouble and could have won 5-0 with no complaints from them.
We started last season against Man City like this, only our season-long inability to score preventing the 3 points that day, but only showed flashes of it throughout the rest of the season (Inter Milan and Arsenal at home being notable exceptions). When teams open up against us we can hurt them, as our midfield is one of the best in the league, but weaker teams are not going to do this for this very reason.
Playing Corluka at home (or away, really) in these winnable games is a complete waste of a pick, in my opinion. He does not have the speed or guile to break other defences down. We’ve got the exciting Kyle Walker coming in at right back, and hopefully Harry will start the season with him, because he could make a huge difference in winning these games.
However, one of the other problems is Bale. He is always doubled-up on in home games against weaker teams. To solve this, I would play him at left back, specifically in these games. This is where Pienaar (Livermore/Townsend?) could be effective as a holding left-midfielder, who would allow Bale to break forward and cover for him. There is no way Bale could be marked as a left-back (Prem managers aren’t forward thinking enough to do this) and he is at his best once at full throttle, not receiving the ball with his back to goal and two men on him. He would be able to zoom past Pienaar into space and cause havoc. I know BAE has improved immeasurably and doesn’t deserve to be dropped, but it’s about winning football games not being nice to people.
If we play Walker and Bale as our full-backs in these home games, I believe we will win far more than last season and get back into the top 4…and beyond?