Harry Redknapp’s Brilliant Tactical Pragmatism

Lost in Stoke’s controversial win on Sunday, in which referee Chris Foy failed to award Spurs two clear penalties and a legitimate goal, was Harry Redknapp’s magnificent tactical switch to a 3-5-2 at halftime.

Redknapp is frequently described in the UK as an old school football manager that doesn’t really do tactics. He is credited with being popular among the players and of having restored solidity to Spurs (an expected trait of English managers), but overall he is widely considered a rather simplistic thinker when it comes to tactics and strategies. During Spurs Champions’ League run last year, UK journalists often expressed doubt that Redknapp had the tactical nous to cut it against the Europe’s best tacticians. With victories over Inter Milan and AC Milan that should have been put to rest. But the notion that Redknapp is more of a working class meat and potatoes football coach that is good for some great quotes in the press but lacks the intellectual sophistication to ever be elite – continues to hang around Redknapp. Some of this is that he has a Joe Bidenesque ability to provide the blue collar sound bite – exhibit A was Redknapp’s fantastic zinger this weekend at Mr. Foy, “But he’ll look at it tonight on TV when his wife’s making him a bacon sandwich and he’ll think ‘**** me, what have I done there’.” Interestingly, many of Spurs fans buy into this line of thinking and are only just now realizing that Redknapp is an internationally elite manager and can cut it tactically with the best of them.

What is different about Redknapp is that he is a pragmatist. He is not dogmatic about how his team plays. He doesn’t care if he plays route one or plays tiki-tak or plays narrow or with width. He is about finding what works with the players that he has. But just because he doesn’t have a style like Arsene Wenger or Barcelona, or is tactically obsessive like a Rafa Benitez does not mean he isn’t a master tactician.
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Dalglish should try Dirk Kuyt as Lucas replacement for Liverpool

Dirk Kuyt should be Lucas' replacement; photo by Danny Molyneux

The news that Lucas Leiva has been lost for the season with a torn ACL (something with which I can empathize as I am five weeks out from surgery to repair my own torn ACL, it sucks – best wishes to Lucas) will really test Liverpool’s squad as there is not a natural replacement for the Brazilian. The importance of the defense midfielder is one of the tactical evolutions of the last fifteen years. Charlie Adam is too slow, Jordan Henderson and the also injured Steven Gerrard are too attack minded, and Jay Spearing (who will probably get the job) has yet to prove himself. But Liverpool have a player with all the qualities you want in a defensive midfielder – quickness, energy, endeavor, discipline, and  the willingness to put in tackle after tackle – he just isn’t thought of for this position because he’s nominally a striker: Dirk Kuyt. 

It’s hard for me to say this, as I have long been down on Lucas – even last season when he was named the team’s player of the year, but Lucas has really come into his own and is one of the main reasons that Liverpool enter this weekend as the joint best-defense in the Premier League. He learned from a master when Javier Mascherano was at the club, and Lucas can now be seen breaking up play from sideline to sideline. He still struggles with his distribution, especially going forward, and he at times can get caught ahead of the ball. But there is no question that Lucas has emerged as one of the top defensive midfielders in the league and his presence in the Liverpool XI will be missed. Continue reading

The Dilemma of Jermaine Defoe: Why Redknapp Should Keep Benching Him

When Jermaine Defoe is on he scores goals and right now he is on. He has five premier league goals this season, despite getting limited minutes off the bench. Against West Brom on Saturday, Defoe scored a fantastic goal that gave Spurs a late lead. This seems to create a real managerial problem for Harry Redknapp over who to start. Past attempts to start Rafael Van Der Vaart out wide have exposed his defensive weaknesses and Adebayor isn’t going to be benched. So tactically there just isn’t room for both Defoe and Rafael Van Der Vaart. So who to start?

While the English press have made this seem a real dilemma, it isn’t. The fact is that it is hard to imagine Defoe starting for any of the other top 6 sides (City, United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool). This is because, besides scoring an occasional goal, Defoe does little else when on the pitch. One only has to look at the Guardian chalkboards. Against West Brom Defoe attempted just 22 passes, lowest of all the Spurs starters. Adebayor attempted 52. In just 70 minutes against Aston Villa and 66 minutes against Fulham Van Der Vaart attempted 62 and 42 passes respectively. As a substitute Defoe completed just 1 pass in 20+ minutes against Villa and just 4 passes in 25+ minutes against Fulham. The plain fact is that when Spurs play Defoe they are playing with a specialist – a goal poacher – who adds little to the team except when in the goal mouth area.
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Can Spurs keep it going to capitalize on City wobble?

Redknapp's Spurs keep pressure on City; photo by James Boyes

Manchester City have looked like Champions-elect since their strong start to the season was capped with the 6-1 destruction of the holders Manchester United at Old Trafford. But with Liverpool giving City their first real domestic contest after another disapointing outing in the Champions League, a Spurs team which has quietly taken 28 from its last 30 available points must keep their amazing run going as City deal with adversity for the first time. The Premier League title may not just be a Manchester preserve this season.

City had dropped only two points all year, an improbable give-away at Craven Cottage after dominating the game and even going two ahead against Fulham. But their form in Europe has been indifferent–two wins, two losses, and a draw–and they look likely to drop out of the Champions League at the group stage. But earlier European disappointments, even when coupled with controversy in the shape of Carlos Tevez, had not spilled over into their league form. Yet Liverpool really took it to City at Anfield on Sunday, capitalizing on a tiring City squad that hardly threatened in attack and can thank Joe Hart for several world class saves to keep it level. Continue reading

U.S. gets win and goals but defense looks porous against Slovenia

Carlos Bocanegra earned his 100th cap in the American's 3-2 win; photo by Paul Blank

Scoring more goals in one half than the team had in Jurgen Klinsmann’s first six games in charge combined was a welcome change, as was the resulting 3-2 victory, only the German’s second as manager. For the first time in his tenure, Klinsmann set out two dedicated strikers and the change in tactics certainly contributed to the increase in chances and goals. Getting the win ended a three-year drought for the US squad in Europe and sends the national team into its January training camp on a high note.

The news wasn’t all good from the Ljubljana, however, as the defense reverted the worst of the Bob Bradley era, poorly organized and conceding chances and goals at an unsustainable rate. A tactical shift also was a factor here, as Klinsmann deployed just one defensive midfielder to screen the back line. But the problems that plagued the U.S. defense in the past, which Klinsmann appeared to have left in the past, returned with a vengeance. The defenders struggled to keep a consistent line and the spacing was terrible, leaving huge gaps which were frequently exploited by the Slovenes. Continue reading

Five lessons from USA v France

Jozy's strong play best thing for US during France game

It is hard to find positives from the dismal performance of the United States during their 1-0 defeat to France in Paris. Yes, it was very disappointing and it would be easy to go the full Lalas and limit analysis to whining incessantly “where is the possession this Jurgen Klinsmann keeps talking about?” But just because it was disappointing doesn’t mean there is nothing to learn from this matchup on the road against a team that has just come through a year of competitive fixtures and is now unbeaten in its last 16 games. Here are five lessons from France pointing towards the next game against Slovenia.

Altidore looks more polished after strong start at AZ Alkmar

Jozy Altidore was excellent and it would be lazy to look at the score line and the minimal chances and say the striker failed to do his job and get a goal. But he was clearly the most threatening American player and more importantly, he displayed skill and class on a number of occasions to fashion the odd half-chance virtually single-handedly. In fact, while it didn’t look like much in real time, the replay clearly showed that Altidore was tripped in the box after a brilliant turn in the 20th minute. That could have been a penalty.

Read the rest of this column at Guardian Sports


Is Arsenal the best place for Brek Shea?

Arsenal not the best Euro destination for Brek Shea; photo by Albumen

News that Brek Shea will join Arsenal on a two-week trial following the USMNT’s games in Europe against France and Slovenia is big news and clearly an indication that the FC Dallas left-winger is likely the next American to make the leap to Europe. But are the Gunners really the best landing spot for Shea? I don’t think so, and that’s not because of this blog’s general antipathy to Arsenal (Max is a Spurs fan after all). Shea needs to play in an environment that is conducive to his development, and Arsenal just doesn’t fit the bill right now.

The lure of playing for one of the Premier League’s and Europe’s top clubs is obviously strong. And the Gunners are still in the Champions League and are climbing the table with four straight league wins after a rough start to the season. But you can’t shake the feeling that Arsenal’s restive supporters–having endured six straight seasons without a major trophy–are just a couple of bad games from returning to the mood of the early season when Wenger’s position seemed very much in doubt. Continue reading


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