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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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

Spurs vs. Stoke – The Premier League’s Detroit Pistons

This was a high quality win for Tottenham and gets their Premier League campaign started off well. Winning away at Stoke is a tough task, especially with Spurs playing with only one fit striker and employing a new formation and new central defensive and midfield parings.

While the first goal was fortuitously scored off Gareth Bale’s face, that shouldn’t detract from the move that got Bale in that position. In the first half Tottenham bossed the game and controlled possession and with Aaron Lennon and Bale on the wings they gave Stoke all they could handle. Bale’s second goal will be in the highlight reel EPL mashup at the end of the season. But Lennon’s threatening run from deep in the midfield and his well waited cross is one that should not be over looked. In the second half, Spurs were put under more pressure from Stoke. Spurs failed to spray the ball wide to Lennon and Bale and as a result looked less threatening.

It is no doubt that Spurs have quality and some depth, but they still lack a proper #9. Tottenham for the first time in recent memory deployed a 4-5-1 with Crouch as the lone striker. The thing with Crouch is that he is not a true #9. While he can hold up the ball, he is not a goal poacher. He lacks the pace and closeness of control on the ball to threaten defenders. But more importantly he is a player that can win aerial duels and knock down the ball to his fellow strike partner. Without a striker partner Crouch had no one to knock the ball down to and many aerial balls sent up to him resulted in turnovers.

Stoke’s dirty play.

This isn’t sour grapes, this is just stating the obvious – Stoke play dirty.

Lets start with the dirty goal mouth tactics. Any Premier League manager about to face Stoke should vigorously talk about the fact that Stoke intentionally seek to interfere with the goal keeper on set pieces. While Gomez was just marginally interfered with on Stoke’s lone goal – yes a call could have been made, but the referee wasn’t wrong for letting it go – but on almost every set piece Gomez was deliberately interfered with – and not in some “sporting” way of setting a pick. On one corner Gomez was tripped by a Stoke player who with his back to Gomez extended his leg straight back, merely to obstruct. On another Gomez went to punch and a Stoke player straight up pushed him. And on the controversial “goal” in which the ball was ruled not to have crossed the line, Robert Huth with two hands deliberately pushed Gomez preventing him from punching the ball over the bar. This was such an obvious foul that it was shocking it wasn’t called.
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Howard Webb Was Not Good Enough

Disclaimer: I hate Howard Webb. All Spurs fans do. When Webb officiates a Spurs game, often against one of the big four, the big calls always go against Tottenham. Harry Redknapp himself said “I never seem to get a decision out of Howard Webb.” Now it might be that Webb hates Spurs, but it also might be (and this is my Howard Webb theory – that he tends to err or lean towards the more favored teams.

Now both teams after the final can complain about fouls/cards not given, as both teams did vehemently after the game. They were right to. But in the end I think the Dutch got the worst of it and feel right to be aggrieved. Webb overall did nothing to distinguish himself, got some very big calls wrong, and on those big calls, as my Spurs experience attests, they went to the team that was favored.
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Spurs Top 4 Finish Is Good For Premiership – From Big 4 to Great 8?

Overall, I think the biggest winner with Spurs dethroning one of the big four and fending off Man City’s riches is that the Premier league will be even more interesting next year. After a decade of dominance by the big four this reign of terror or era of harmony – depending on your perspective – may have given way to a new era of actual unpredictability in the Premiership.

With no Premier league clubs making the semifinals of the Champions league, with Man United staying in the title hunt despite seven losses, the top sides are just not as good as they were in the previous years. The financial crisis has clearly taken its toll on Manchester United and Liverpool. Both with highly leveraged American owners are struggling to splash the cash.

Man United despite being in the tile hunt and narrowly missing out on the Champions league semis, have at many times throughout the year looked shadows of their past selves and appear overly dependent on Wayne Rooney. They are in need of a talent injection. Arsenal’s few big purchases maybe due to Arsene Wenger’s frugality, but it may also be a result of a significant stadium debt burden. Chelski are doing fine in the cash department and as a result were able to win the league with a deep and talented squad. Yet with the talent at their disposal, one would have expected Ancioliti to have the league wrapped up a while ago.
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Spurs In Champions League – How They Did It

Not to pat myself on the back, but I had predicted Spurs to finish fourth as the season started. Much of this was simply due to my own homerness, but looking at the Spurs squad at the start of the season, the thing that was most notable about it was its depth. Spurs didn’t achieve top four because of one particular player, they got there because their depth.

Prior to the Man City-Spurs game yesterday there was a lot of talk that if City did reach Champions League it was due to their deep pockets essentially buying there way in. Spurs, while lacking the cash and the prestige to attract the high profile talent that City was able to bring in last summer, had been anything but frugal. Spurs had sold a lot of players, but they had also spent a very significant amount over the last five years. Unable to attract that established high profile players (both due to profile and wage demands), Spurs have often shelled out substantial sums for that up and comer who is supposedly about to be a star – the Darren Bent’s (16 mil), David Bentley’s (16 mil), Roman Pavlyuchenko (15 mil), Luka Modric (16 mil), Younes Kabul (8 mil), Kevin Prince Boateng (5 mil), Gareth Bale (5-10 mil), Dmitar Berbatov (7 mil) [disclaimer: there figures are based off memory]. Some of these players have become stars, some haven’t, others have seen mixed results.
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In Spurs Injury Crisis – A Silver Lining?

Tottenham’s win over Everton yesterday was both impressive and nervy. In that way it was a typical Spurs performance – points in the bag almost thrown away. One of the features of the first half was the increased involvement of Luka Modric, who had probably his most impactful game since he went down injured last August.

Unfortunately, for Spurs their other midfield standout Tom Huddlestone went down with a bad leg injury the extent of which is still unknown. This was preceded by groin injuries to Aaron Lennon who will be out another six weeks, groin surgery for Jermaine Jenas, and groin tear for David Bentley. This meant defender Younes Kaboul had to come on as a midfielder against Everton. Someone has to tell these guys to stretch. So how on earth could there be a silver lining?
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Some thoughts on Liverpool v. Spurs

This was a game much more pivotal to Liverpool than it was to Spurs. Anything less than a win at home would have added to the sense of despair at Anfield and fueled crisis talks. A win by the Reds would bolt them right back into the mix, putting them just a point back from Spurs. For Tottenham, it was all about not losing – so as to not give a major top 4 rival any boost. That’s why it was so weird that team’s approaches were exactly opposite. Liverpool in the end out worked Spurs, but were very fortunate to get an early goal to put that game plan into effect. Spurs were also hard done to have a perfectly good goal disallowed – something that would have forced Liverpool to open up and change tactics. The race for top four just got more exciting after this one

Liverpool played like Stoke – little flash all heart. The crowd showed tremendous support for Benitez and that energy clearly lifted the players. But tactically Liverpool also adopted a Stoke-like approach. They started the game playing a 4-5-1, but the personnel was really 5 defenders and 5 midfielders. This was really a 4-6 at times with everyone defending. While Liverpool had some chances late in the game, this was a side that didn’t really seem to have a goal in it. What they did have is hustle and an early well-taken – yet flukish – goal by Kuyt off a clearance from Reina, allowed them to sit back and scrap and defend. They at times had all 11 players behind the ball, which greatly frustrated Spurs passing attack.

Spurs really missed Lennon and Huddelstone. Yes Liverpool clearly missed Lennon has been Spurs most important and valuable player this year, as his pace and improving crossing ability has been the largest contributor to Spurs’ goals. But what also became clear is how important Tom Huddelstone is to Tottenham. He has become to Tottenham what Xavi Alonso was to Liverpool – in fact he would have been a good replacement for Alonso at Liverpool and far cheaper than Aquilani. Huddelstone plays deep and pings the ball around the field to great effect. He also reduces the need for Palacios to be a creative player. Yesterday Jenas and Palacios struggled to take hold of the midfield. With Jenas playing further up field, Palacios was forced to play the role of distributer which is just not his strong suit. Jenas played well at times and is more effective at getting forward into the box then Hudd, but Spurs clearly missed his ability to control the flow of the game.
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Spurs Send a Message, Harry Plants A Flag

Yesterday Spurs sent a message to the league: we are going to be in this champions league hunt to the end. Despite a horrendous performance from Crouch, Spurs totally dominated the game and should have scored more. But this game also served as a coming out party a bit for Redknapp, who in his post game comments specifically called out his north London rivals.

“I’ve said since the start of the season that the champions will come from Chelsea or Manchester United but after that it’s up for grabs…Anything is possible this season. Look at Arsenal, you would have expected them to go up and win at Burnley after beating Liverpool, but they didn’t so that shows you how hard it’s going to be.”

Whether this amounts to the Guardian headline “Harry Redknapp claims Arsenal and Liverpool may drop from elite” is besides the point. The headline should please Spurs and is shot across the bow at Wenger and Arsenal. The Gunners drew with Burnley and according to reports didn’t really dominate the game. Arsenal had one brilliant moment against Liverpool – the Arshavin goal – other than that they were second best. Without Van Persie the Gunners look increasingly toothless and I think it is safe to say that they are more likely going to be closer to fourth than to first when all is said in done. Wenger’s lashing out at the fixture list is just the latest sign of frustration. Harry’s comments should only some pressure to the Gunners, who have some real holes to fill come January.
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