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Why have Tottenham collapsed?

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I write this hours after seeing my beloved Spurs lose 5-1 to Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final.
The whole game was just horrible. Horrible from the start when Chelsea fans who are the lowest of the low, scum of the earth decided to jeer and chant “Murderers” during the minute’s silence remembering the tragedy of Hillsborough. Horrible when after hitting the post and having a shot cleared off the line, Didier Drogba unleashed an incredible turn and volley to put Chelsea ahead.
Horrible when Martin Atkinson decreed that he’d seen a goal scored and had not seen the ball be cleared before it even touched the goal line, never mind went over it.Horrible when Petr Cech wasn’t sent off for bringing down Adebayor (penalty+sending off much better than no sending off+goal). Horrible when at 2-1 with not long left three Chelsea goals sailed into the Spurs net and made a fairly even game in large periods look like the mother of all thumpings.
Coming after the debacle at Arsenal where a 2-0 lead and provisional 13 point lead turned into a 5-2 defeat and a quickly frittered away 7 point lead, this is the nadir of Harry’s reign at Spurs. This article is simply asking the question, what the fuckety fuck has gone wrong?
Tactics

Tactically, we have changed their approach slightly since the turn of the year. In the heady days when we attained 31 points in 11 games, we played a 4-4-1-1 with this team:

                      Friedel

Walker     King        Kaboul     Assou-Ekotto

Lennon     Modric    Parker    Bale

              Van der Vaart

                Adebayor

This team worked very well, as well as I’ve seen any Spurs side work and was almost perfectly balanced. Friedel has been superb in goal, and a massive improvement on error strewn, clown-college graduate Gomes. At full back the pacey Walker had ahead of him the even pacier Azza, who does do a decent defensive job covering for attacking raids by the full back, and was also helped by Benny being more defensively minded and providing some protection against possible counter attacks.
In central defence the brain and positioning of King Ledley and the pace and athleticism of Kaboul proved a good combo after the Manc clubs put eight goals past us in those opening two games. Modric and Parker provided a great combination of skill, bringing great skill, passing, tackling and hair. Bale and Lennon caused havoc down the flanks and opened spaces for Luka and Rafa. Rafa flitting between defence, midfield and attack gave us fluidity and at times almost Total Football-esque switching of positions in attacking areas. Adebayor has on the whole been pretty good, despite poor finishing and a spell around new year where he seemed to have constant minor injuries and not be at his best.

That team had all sorts of qualities blending together beautifully. Had we scored in injury time against City, we would have been two points off United at the top of the table at the end of January. You could argue we’ve never recovered since that miss. Since then we’ve had intermittent injuries and the team has changed. Look for example at our team against Everton:

                   Friedel

Walker   King       Kaboul   Assou-Ekotto

Bale       Sandro   Parker    Modric

            Adebayor   Defoe

Now this team in comparison to the previous one is not at all balanced. The back five is the same, albeit with Walker exhausted from playing almost every game due to gorgeous Vedran leaving (more on that later) and Ledley looking closer by the second to retirement. The midfield is a scruffy mess. Bale’s on the wrong side, Modric in the wrong position, and Parker and Sandro two players who do the same job and offer little attacking impetus. And in this game Sandro and Parker had plainly been told to sit back and defend.

This meant our attacks stalled at the halfway line and the strikers had no service. Added to this if you look at how Norwich, Everton and Arsenal beat us, they pressed us heavily in midfield and found that when under pressure our passing really does deteriorate. We tend to lose possession in dangerous areas, or simply pass the ball to our defence, see them hoof the ball upfield and give possession away that way.

We have tended to play more of a 4-4-2 since Louis Saha replaced dear old Pav in January. This has been caused I think by Saha having a wonderful start by scoring twice against the Toon, and also through Rafa and Aaron having injuries. This system has simply not worked well. In five games where we’ve started with a 4-4-2, we’ve had one win and four defeats. More and more teams inspired by Spain and Barca are playing five in midfield and simply outnumbering us in that area. Switching from 4-4-1-1 to 4-4-2 has not worked well.

German football hack Raphael Honigstein suggested on Twitter not long ago that Louis Saha was the new Faustino Asprilla. He may well be right. Nonetheless the fact that we’ve reverted back to the successful 4-4-1-1 at home to Norwich and against Chelsea in the Cup indicates that though tactics may have been a problem, it is not the main problem as those two games have both seen embarrassing defeats.

Training Methods

Along with that, there has been the matter of repeated defensive capitulations, which from the stats I’ve found indicate a deteriorating of Spurs defending the longer Harry has been at the reins. Away to Inter, Arsenal, United, Real Madrid, Young Boys, Fulham and earlier today Chelsea we’ve collapsed defensively and conceded lots of goals very quickly. Six of those seven games mentioned have occurred in the last two seasons.

The first season of Harry’s reign saw only 5 goals conceded in 15 home games (this was after the ‘eight games two points’ start under Juande Ramos), which is superb. The next season, twelve goals conceded in nineteen home games saw a 4th placed finish in the league.

However the last two seasons have seen Spurs at home concede a goal a game at home, basically double the rate at which they conceded before. 41 goals conceded overall in 2010 has escalated into 46 in 2011 and 38 in 33 games in 2012, as well as the increase in complete defensive collapses. My opinion here (which may be nonsense) is simply that the tactical discipline instilled by Jol and Ramos, which we still had early in Harry’s reign has disappeared.

Harry was great for us when he arrived because he gave the players belief, which is all they really needed as they had the talent and already played an offensive, passing game with a plan and structure. However this plan and structure has disappeared the longer Harry has been in charge, as exemplified by the utter carnage perpetrated by Arsenal and Chelsea. Rafael Van der Vaart talking about us not doing tactics now sounds ominous rather than humorous.

Also worth noting is Ledley King. You may point to Ledley as the reason why Spurs have conceded more goals the last two seasons. However Harry has brought in Bassong, Kaboul, Gallas and Nelsen to shore up the central defence, and their performances and goals against tallies are his responsibility. Also Ledley has declined alarmingly in 2012, a sad end to a career of a genuine Spurs legend. Earlier this season, nine Ledley appearances saw eight wins a draw (and he went off in that game after 20 minutes).

In 2012 though, 22 goals in 10 games have gone past him, including five goals each by Arsenal and Chelsea. This started with the match against Man City, where Ledley brought down Balotelli in the dying embers of the game to hand them a win they should never have got. His 10 appearances in 2012 have seen 11 points from 9 league games. Seeing Grant Holt mercilessly just bully him around White Hart Lane in the home defeat to Norwich was almost tragic to watch.

Ledley, please retire mate before your legacy is severely sullied.

Transfers

A reason for our collapse that I think has not been picked up by the media is our transfer dealings in January. The acquisitions I’m quite happy with. Nelsen’s done OK in the odd game he has been needed, while Saha had a great start and has contributed more than Pav, though the aforementioned effect he’s had on us tactically has probably cost us. But I blame Harry and not Louis himself for that.
What was bad about what we did in January was the players we let go. Letting Pienaar and Corluka go out on loan was bloody stupid. They may have wanted to leave, and had hardly played up until then. Well that’s still no excuse for letting them go. A prerequisite for a team in the midst of a title challenge is to have a lot of depth in the squad. In the modern game, with such a hectic pace of play, you can’t just use fourteen players (like Villa did in 1981) in a season and win the title.

With Pienaar and Corluka leaving and no reinforcements being brought in, we were left with one right winger and one right back. Within hours of Pienaar leaving Aaron got injured and left us with Rafa or Gareth having to play out of position on the right, while Kyle has looked exhausted for a while now and can’t get a rest because there’s no one to cover for him except for maybe Kaboul, who’s needed in central defence. Even against Stevenage in the cup Kyle had to play, simply because Vedran was the only cover for him, and he’d been shipped out. Obvious errors in the transfer market that have cost us quite badly.

Lack of Squad Rotation

That leads to my next point, and Harry’s lack of squad rotation. This has been a problem for a while now and Harry seems too stubborn to change his ways. Looking at the appearances for our squad, nine of our players have played twenty seven times or more (this included starts and substitute appearances). Look at Manchester United, only two players have played more than twenty seven games. A stark difference that shows how little we rotate our squad. It’s not due to a lack of squad depth either, because at one point before the January window we could have put out a second team of Cudicini-Corluka-Dawson-Gallas-Rose-Pienaar-Sandro-Livermore-Niko-Defoe-Pav.
We reaped the rewards of playing almost the same team every week through that run of 31 points in 11 games, and are now duly reaping what we sowed as our season crumbles around us. Manchester City, who themselves looked pretty knackered after their blockbuster start, have only had six players make twenty-seven appearances. Not to mention only three of those players starting twenty seven times compared to eight for Spurs. Lack of squad rotation has had its wicked way with us.
Harry himself

Then there’s Harry. The press seemed to have concentrated on this more than the other factors, probably because it’s more interesting and easier to simply say Harry being linked with England has hit Spurs, rather than spend time looking at lists of appearances and statistics along with tactical diagrams. Well I’m not a psychologist, and I don’t know any Spurs players or coaches, nor pretend like those mugs who claim on transfer deadline day to know a friend of a friend of a second cousin of a player and claim some transfer that’s a load of baloney will occur (then it won’t).

What I will say is that a court case of the size, magnitude and length of the one Harry went through must have been exhausting. Being wracked for two weeks with anxiety, tension and the prospect of time in the nick must be hard. Mixing that with management of a Premier League football club is just brutal, and he must have been cream-crackered by the end.

Since the court case our form has gone off, Harry has appeared more emotional on the touchlines, and also more prickly with the press. After the Everton game he was in almost a Dalglish-like funk. After the Norwich debacle he had a minor pop at the fans on Talkshite.

When he says the players don’t care whether he leaves, I don’t know whether that’s true. The players appear to like him and in a normal office the boss leaving is big news. When your being paid incredible amounts of money though, I would guess a change of manager simply doesn’t have the same effect.

But to be frank, do I know whether the Harry for England has damaged the team? No. Do journalists know? I very much doubt they do either.

Tough run of fixtures

Lastly, there has been our fixture list. Our run of games through February and March was difficult. We went to Eastlands, Anfield and the Emirates along with home games to Newcastle and Man United in quick succession. We only got points in that run of games through a 0-0 at Liverpool and the 5-0 win against Newcastle. Our results in fixtures against top sides have been very poor all season, we’ve not won away to any side currently (as of 11/04/2012) in the top eight. In eight games at home to top half sides, we’ve only attained thirteen points.

We’ve not won away in the league in 2012 and are currently on a run of six points from eight games, including a home draw to Stoke and home defeat to Norwich not long after a home draw to Wolves who can no more defend than set up a space colony on Mars. At the end of last season we had a shocking run of form of nine points in ten games that saw us go from fourth to almost losing fifth to Liverpool. This season we’re seeing a repeat. Ally to this home defeats to Wolves, Stoke, Wigan and Norwich in recent seasons, inexcusable for a team of Spurs’s talent. Home losses to inferior sides, defensive collapses and end of season loss of form have happened more than enough to merely be coincidences.

The final verdict

Under Harry though, we have improved and had some splendid results while ending some hoodoos. We’ve won once at Anfield, once at the Emirates and twice at Eastlands, not to mention the glorious night at the San Siro when fair and square with half our team out injured we gloriously stuffed seven time European Cup winners AC Milan 1-0. This is progress on what we achieved under Martin Jol, but it’s still slightly disappointing not to win at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge. Also our win at the Emirates, fantastic as it was, was bloody lucky. We were annihilated first half, outplayed second half but through three of the worst defensive errors you’ll ever encounter won 3-2 and had our greatest day in years.

That said our wins against Milan, City to qualify the Champions League and at Anfield last season (pre their worst spending of money since the making of Cleopatra bankrupted Fox Studios) were superb triumphs where be we beat higher touted opposition away from home, and also showed some steel and evidence of a gameplan. The fact that away from home we’ve conceded fewer goals season upon season makes it surprising that at home and against top sides we’ve become far more defensively frail.

To sum up though, if you’re looking for reasons why Spurs have collapsed so spectacularly, look at the complete lack of squad rotation, look at the lack of squad depth due to our transfer dealings in January, and look at the unravelling of our defence that has become a more and more common occurrence the longer Harry has been in charge.

Written by Jack Howes; 19 year old Spurs fan who dreams of chocolate, Spurs success and Dobby from Peep Show. Blogger on football and Asperger’s Syndrome.

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Comments (8)

  1. i keep reading comments that the spurs players look tired,yet most of our first choice team did not play carling, europa and earlier rounds of FA cup and if you add appearances compared to chelse,arsenal ,city and utd when these teams played champions league games with mainly first choice players you will find our players had more breaks yet looking at these teams going into last 5 games of the season they seam to have more zest and energy eg.city scored 10 goals in last 2 games at a canter i wonder is it something to do with our coaching and fitness especially pre season which is very important,even the best thoroughbred horse will not win races if not trained properly.

  2. JUST THREE WORDS: GIOVANI DOS SANTOS!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Spurs have always had talents. When Redknapp came in, he found talented players who had not been playing well. In no time, being a good motivator, he got the players to play the way they knew, and Spurs began to move up the table. This was Redknapp in his own way, not the way of a Ferguson or a Moyes.

    Redknapp cannot make talents into a winning team. First, he does not see that a winning team is more than the sum total of motivated talents. Second, he does not have the know-how to manage the way a Wenger does.

    Repeated defensive lapses prove that Redknapp does not or cannot coach his players, while the release of Corluka, Bassong, and Khumalo to play King, Gallas, and Nelsen shows very poor judgment.

    It is not that Spurs have collapsed because things have gone against them. It is more that the inadequacies of the man have now been revealed.

    A character he may be, but Redknapp is not the manager that can bring the glory Spurs fans have longed for.

  4. Great article.

  5. Why not Fridel in the starting line-up versus Chelsea?

    • Cudicini has been our keeper in the cup competitions this year, and Harry kept that policy even though we were in the semi-final.

  6. For me the biggest problem is lack of width. We played all our best football with Bale and Lennon wide left and right. Their pace means the game becomes stretched and our ball players, Modric and Van Der Vaart, have more room to play. As soon as Lennon got injured, we had no natural replacement and adopted two holding midfielders. In recent games, Bale has been far too narrow and at QPR Lennon on the bench. Bale and Lennon’s pace is what made us better than most and without that and with the congested midfield we have had lately, we look ordinary at best. Get back to the formation that was successful and we might still make 4th!!