Sunday afternoon saw one of the most tactically fascinating games of the 2012/2013 season with Tottenham coming out on top in a 3-1 victory over Manchester City at White Hart Lane. A crazy 6 minute stretch deep into the second half saw Spurs cancel out Samir Nasri’s early goal, take the lead and ultimately seal the deal with a delightful finish from Gareth Bale.
Tottenham showed their new found reliance under the leadership of André Villas-Boas at just the right time, hounding Roberto Mancini’s men into sloppy concessions of the ball which ultimately lead to their demise. Tottenham’s unwavering desire coupled with interesting tactical decisions from the manager decimated a lacklustre City side, whilst revealing hidden dynamics to this Spurs team, so what did we learn?
Spurs must shift to a 4-3-3 formation ASAP
In recent months we have witnessed the undeniable decline of one Scott Parker. Named football writer’s player of the year last season, Parker has looked a shadow of his former self this season.
Parker is slower, far less efficient in the tackle and is completing only 83% of his passes, not great for a player who more often than not opts to play simple short passes with little aggression or attacking intent. Parker has also shown a tendency to slow play down to walking pace and pirouette over extravagantly with the ball at his feet looking for options. A major catalyst in Spurs’ dramatic turnaround against City was the introduction of Tom Huddlestone and Lewis Holtby into the game on the 60th minute.
The fluidity of Spurs play picked up as the side transitioned into a 4-3-3 formation, with Tom Huddlestone moving into the anchor man role, flanked by Mousa Dembélé and Lewis Holtby on the inside channels.
This transition allowed Huddlestone to play the deep lying playmaker role and use his incredible passing range to pin City back, every ping of the ball from Tom forced the Manchester City back line to frantically shuffle from one side to another because of the vertical nature of these passes.
This also meant more room for Mousa Dembélé to exploit as the advanced playmaker, using his immense dribbling skills to commit defenders, creating 2 chances in the process.
Holtby used his clever incisive passing in a ball circulation role, spreading the ball around to players making useful runs; as a result he too created 2 chances, grabbing one assist.
Set up in this manner, Tottenham’s players were able to vertically penetrate Manchester City’s defence with direct passing and dribbling which the likes of Vincent Kompany in particular struggled to cope with.
Spurs morphed into a chance creating machine in the last 20 minutes of the game, chances which they have struggled to create on a consistent basis at home this season, but could this system be the answer?
Even with this formation’s perceived effectiveness, there are still concerns over the mobility of Tom Huddlestone, especially as the sole anchor man shielding the defence. He lacks the athleticism and tackling ability of a top quality anchor man and so a bigger emphasis will be placed on Dembélé and Holtby to get back quickly and provide protection for Huddlestone, in the form of energetic pressing. In the future, Huddlestone could combat this mobility problem by learning to read the direction of passes from the opposition effectively and becoming an interceptor of key passes, much like his former teammate Michael Carrick has gone on to do so well.
Did Gareth Bale just play in his future role?
The second half saw Gareth Bale and Clint Dempsey switch positions as Bale took up a right sided forward position in the 4-3-3. Although clearly not 100% fit, Bale flourished in this role, picking up a goal and an assist – Clichy and Kolarov were unable to track the intelligent runs of Bale as he carved them open time and time again.
Bale played the role of inside right forward, much like Hulk did in AVB’s famous Porto side, using pace, power and clever movement to drag the opposition full back out of position leaving the centre halves exposed to 1 killer pass.
That was Gareth Bale’s 23rd goal for the club this season, goal scoring exploits like he has exhibited recently make him the perfect candidate for the inside forward role, coming inside on his devastating left foot.
Jermain Defoe; Back to basics, back amongst the goals
Sunday’s match saw Jermain Defoe score his first Spurs goal since boxing day and it was all down to him going back to the basics and fundamentals of his game.
Jermain lacks the physical presence of a classic target man and therefore prefers short passes played into his feet to allow him to dribble at opposition defenders and unleash shots. That being said, Defoe did just that by pulling off of Kompany slightly to the left to give Holtby a passing option, he knew once he had the ball at his feet he could dribble directly at Kompany, who was already badly struggling to read the movements of the Spurs players. Defoe caught the centre back off balance and unleashed a trademark bottom corner drive which left Joe Hart helpless in the Man City goal.
In the 4-3-3 system, Defoe has the licence to shift out wide to receive passes, as he knows 1 of Gareth Bale and Clint Dempsey can make a darting run inside and occupy the number 9 role momentarily, this should lead to more goals for him in this manner.
The building of a wining mentality
Possibly the most impressive aspect of all though was the desire to win exhibited by AVB’s men. After going a goal down 5 minutes into the game against the run of play, it would have been easy for heads to drop, leaving the players in a demoralised state; this was not the case though.
Spurs showed their desire to fight for a top 4 place by beating last season’s champions of England in emphatic style. April onwards is historically around the time in which Tottenham always endure their worst run of form in the league, buckling under the pressure of the business end of the season. So in a way, this win was much more than a very useful 3 points for the club, it may point to the players being ready to put past failures behind them and write some history of their own and claim 3rd place.
Can they do it? Only time will tell.