December 29, 2013

Hate the game, not the player

As Spurs prepare to face Stoke City at White Hart Lane, some fans seem to be almost be wishing for Tim Sherwood to fail.

He’s a Gooner.
4-4-Tim.
Glorified PE teacher.
Not qualified for the job.

So angry are they with his appointment, that they are critical of every decision he makes: too many strikers, no balance, no defensive midfielder, no striker on the bench, no tactics, no clue, etc.

Tim Sherwood has been working with our first team squad for two weeks – two weeks – and yet he seems to be mostly being judged on the same criteria that AVB was after nearly 18 months.

Sherwood needs time to implement his ideas, time to work out what system he wants to play to get the best out of our players and, crucially, our best players back from injury.

Against West Brom we were missing, due to injury or suspension:

Jan Vertonghen
Younes Kaboul
Sandro
Paulinho
Mousa Dembele
Aaron Lennon
Andros Townsend
Jermain Defoe
Harry Kane

Not far off a full team, and a decent one too.

His options were limited, his team pretty much picked itself. The only real decision was whether to slot Lewis Holtby or Etienne Capoue in alongside Christian Eriksen.

Much has been made of the decision to play the ball-playing Holtby, rather than the defensive-minded Capoue. Personally, I think there were two issues:

Firstly, whilst Capoue has put in a couple of performances of note, I don’t think he has been consistently impressive so far, and I had no problem with the idea of having two players trying to get on the ball, move it quickly, and put us on the front foot.

Secondly, since returning from injury, Capoue has looked sluggish and unfit, lacking his previous sharpness. And that has been from central defence – a less ‘energetic’ position than central midfield. If he’s looked rusty at centre back, why would we play him in midfield until he’s back to his previous sharpness? In playing him for 45 minutes for the Under-21s, Sherwood seemed to suggest that he felt Capoue needed the game for fitness.

I personally I think that people are jumping on the central midfield conundrum in the same way that they were jumping on the inverted wingers under AVB; it’s a concept that doesn’t require much tactical knowledge to understand, and so stands out to the every day fan. In truth we’ve not exactly been ripped to shreds in our last few games despite having most of our best defensive players out injured. In fact, our main failing has arguably been our wide players failing to get good enough balls to justify starting two strikers… except against Southampton where we provided some decent crosses, and scored three for the first time since April.

And whilst I’m on my hobby horse, I’d just like to reiterate that 4-4-Tim is not 4-4-2 obsessed – it wasn’t a formation he used for the Under-21s in the U21 Premier League or for the Under-19s in the NextGen Series. He mostly preferred 4-3-3.

Sherwood generally used a natural holding midfield player for the Under-21s; often either Giancarlo Gallifuoco or Milos Veljkovic (who also plays as a centre back). Sherwood was a holding midfield player himself in a Premier League winning side so knows the importance of the role. I also saw Sherwood utilise Dean Parrett as a false 9 as we beat Arsenal 4-2 in the U21 Premier League last season, which illustrates that he’s not the ‘old fashioned’ type that some will have you believe. In terms of tactics generally, Chris Ramsey (as an FA coaching assessor) failed a young Villas-Boas when the Portuguese was taking his Uefa B license. There is tactical knowledge within the setup.

But I digress. The point I mostly want to make is that, whatever you think of him, Sherwood has not appointed himself. Daniel Levy has deemed Sherwood an appropriate choice and, until the end of the season at least, he will be our Head Coach/Manager. If you’re angry with this appointment, then surely Levy is the man to direct your anger towards – not Sherwood himself.

As I wrote in my ‘What a difference a week makes‘ article, though, there is a sense of continuity to the appointment of Sherwood, if nothing else:

There is a sense of continuity about the appointment, which I like and admire. Just as much as it gives a sense of satisfaction when a youth player gets a game for the first team – and I was very proud to see Nabil Bentaleb come off the bench on Sunday – there is a good feeling associated with an internal promotion. Sherwood might not have top-level management experience, but he clearly has a skill set which Levy has deemed transferable.

But – regardless of where you stand on his appointment – it would, surely, be best to put your tactical differences to one side. To accept that it’s going to take him time to work out a winning formula. To give him a chance to get his ideas across to the players. To wait until he’s got a fully fit squad to pick from before judging.

To unite behind our manager, and not give up just yet – there’s still plenty left to play for.

COYS.

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December 27, 2013

Analysis of the goal conceded against West Brom (26/12)

Olsson’s goal – a free-kick causes panic and the unmarked Jonas Olsson lifts the loose ball over Hugo Lloris.

1

After a cheap foul by Christian Eriksen, Morgan Amalfitano sends in a free kick. Vlad Chiriches seems to have picked up danger-man, Jonas Olsson, and has an arm out feeling for him.

2

As the Spurs defenders are sucked to the ball, West Brom’s players hold their positions.

3

Chiriches has completely left Olsson unmarked. He, Dawson and Adebayor are essentially all in the same position, marking nobody. Lugano challenges for the ball, but doesn’t make contact. This seems to distract Adebayor who is unable to make a clean contact either.

4

The ball hits Craig Dawson and falls kindly for Olsson to delicately lift it over Lloris.

 

This was a poor performance from Spurs, who failed to get the ball into good areas for the two strikers throughout. Neither Sigurdsson or the disappointing Chadli seemed suited to playing wide in a 4-4-2, and Spurs only really looked threatening once Bentaleb and Lamela entered the fray.

With Lennon and Townsend expected to be out for the Stoke game, Tim Sherwood will seemingly either have to abandon the 4-4-2 or look to the Development Squad for players more suited to playing wide.

Soldado worked hard but looks short of confidence in front of goal. Dropping him will not help to build his confidence, but it might help the team to add another  more defensive-minded player (Capoue?). The other option would be to play Adebayor from the left, and shift to a 4-3-3, with Lamela on the right.

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December 24, 2013

What a difference a week makes

Just eight days ago, André Villas-Boas departed. Dignified to the end of his tenure. Well liked within the club, well-respected by most. I wish it had worked out for AVB.

He was a Head Coach (or manager, in old money) that made me proud. He was a gentleman who was always professional in his dealings with the press, a man who had quite literally studied the game (writing dossiers on opponents, etc) and who had a fixed idea of what he wanted to achieve on the pitch. In my opinion it was ironically these ideals that eventually did for him.

Squeeze the pitch with a high line. Play at least two high-tempo pressing players in midfield to win the ball high. Transition quickly from back to front, mostly feeding wide players who are able to cut in and score goals. What this ended up looking like for much of his tenure was: squeeze the pitch, keep things tight, don’t take too many risks, and score from range. Mostly through Gareth Bale who, incidentally, became truly world-class under André.

And it was sort of working. Last season, famously, we amounted our highest Premier League points tally. This season we were only five points behind Manchester City in 4th place despite not (yet) playing well. We were only one point worse off than the corresponding fixtures in 2012/13.

The problem seemed to be that the ‘keep things tight’ approach meant that goals were not flowing. And when goals are not flowing, and things are suddenly not as tight as they were, there are not too many positives to take. There was no obvious pattern to our attacking play – it was not at all clear at times what he ideally wanted to achieve in the final third other than encouraging wide players to get shots away. There were no signs of growing cohesion or a plan slowly being established over time.

When things got a little desperate, André started to tinker with his methods. Lack of flexibility was cited – by me and others – as being an issue for AVB, but as soon as he showed flexibility, things went badly wrong. He tried Paulinho as a 10 – it was hit and miss. He tried traditional wingers away at Man City; we lost 6-0. He tried Capoue as last-ditch central-defensive cover, and he was exposed by Liverpool.

He had – sort of – a sense of control when he had the inverted wingers cutting inside and congesting the midfield. There was limited space for us to work in, but there was also limited space for the opposition to spring from. In trying things – doing what many of us wanted him to do – he was almost showing that he’d given up on what he had previously stuck to so rigidly. Perhaps his stubbornness should have continued? Perhaps his plan would have eventually become clear?

The reason I was sad, but not tearing my hair out when AVB was let go, was that whilst we saw him as a long-term project, I never truly felt like he saw us the same way. He had said at the end of June: “For me, there is a limit and, in the next five to 10 years, I will quit coaching.” And, of course, there was his ambition – “a destination of life” in his own words – to compete in the Dakar Rally”. Maybe he’d have stuck around for three years or so, we’ll never know.

One week on – Sherwood

The Club can announce that Tim Sherwood, Chris Ramsey and Les Ferdinand will take charge of the First Team whilst the Club progresses discussions.

The appointment of Tim Sherwood into this caretaker role was met with raised eyebrows from many Spurs fans, and an absolute meltdown from a few. He’s an Arsenal fan. He spoke out against Hoddle all those years ago. He’s a snake in the grass who told Keys & Gray that our players were over-trained under AVB.

And yet it sort of seemed a logical step. Sherwood is – or was – our Technical Co-Ordinator, working with the Development squad, arranging loan deals for our young hopefuls, and liaising with the rest of the coaching team to keep them updated on progress. He also, it seems, had some sort of sway with Levy – impressing him with his professionalism and knowledge, culminating, if you believe what you read, in him being a part of the THFCTC – the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club Transfer Committee.

I’ve oft spotted Sherwood watching the Under-18 games, despite him not having the remit to look after that age group. He looks the part – suited and booted – and parents have told me that he’s approachable, open, honest. He seems to have an aura.

As the main voice in the dugout at Under-21 matches he seems to command respect. I stood behind him at the pre-season friendly against Kingstonian, and wrote the following post-match:

I stood behind the dugout during the second half, and it was fascinating to hear the vocal input from Sherwood, Ramsey and Ferdinand. Whilst all three were quite critical of their players – Ferdinand especially with Coultirst (“don’t be a midfielder”), Sherwood with Gallifuoco, and all three with Ceballos (Sherwood: “Cristian, we need you”, Ramsey: “Cristian – you have to pass that”) – the feedback was all constructive, with instructions given of what they expected. This was very refreshing, as I can clearly remember the days of Clive Allen just yelling constant expletives.

Sherwood was also described by Swindon’s Chairman Lee Power as “one of the most knowledgeable and forward-thinking men currently in the game.” It’s worth pointing out that Power and Sherwood are good friends and have an excellent professional relationship (hence the Swindon loans), but it’s the choice of words that stand out.

Sherwood’s an Arsenal fan – there’s no getting away from that. But he seems to be trying to show that he’s committed to his role at Spurs. Three days ago he told the media “I know all about the football club. I played here, it’s my club. I know what the supporters want.” Professionalism or genuine affection? Who knows, but he’s making the right noises. And, frankly, he’s spent more than a fifth of his life at Spurs in one way or another, so why wouldn’t he care?

He’s resented by many because he criticised Glenn Hoddle after he (Sherwood) had left Spurs. He was not the only one who felt that way about Hoddle though – in fact, Ledley King was relatively outspoken about Hoddle’s “methods” in his autobiography – and yet there doesn’t seem to be any noise about this.

In an interview with The Guardian in 2008, Sherwood was asked “You didn’t get on very well with Glenn Hoddle, though, did you?” He replied:

‘I love what he’s doing at the moment with his academy, not that I want to give him a plug.

As a manager, though, he loved the game and he loved Tottenham but we clashed. I had an opinion and he obviously didn’t want to hear it.’

To me that showed a level of maturity – he still had an opinion, but he was polite enough to put it to one side and respect what Hoddle is (was) doing elsewhere.

On the pitch

In the two matches that Sherwood’s taken charge of so far, he’s gone with a 4-4-2 formation with two strikers, two wingers, and no holding midfield player. In the West Ham game he was hamstrung by not having the returning Rose and Adebayor for the whole game. He set us out to get lots of crosses into the box, and was reliant on the team getting ahead while they were full strength. They didn’t manage to take their chances and we were only ahead by one. West Ham went for the opposite approach, starting a weaker team but bringing key men on. As soon as Adebayor and Rose came off, West Ham took control of the game and brought on Maiga, Diame and Morrison. Allardyce smelt blood and his team, unlike Spurs, managed to get goals when they were on top.

Against Southampton, as I wrote in my goal analysis blog, Sherwood took a calculated risk. By setting us out in a 4-4-2 without a dedicated defensive midfield player (albeit Dembele mostly held, and his average position was essentially the same as Schneiderlin’s), Sherwood ensured that we had bodies in the box far more than we had seen in our other matches this season. It paid dividends, and we scored more than twice in the league for the first time since April. We also conceded two but mostly these goals were down to individual errors rather than specific failures within the system (although it could be said that Chiriches was unsure whether to stay with his man or drop off for the second goal, due to not knowing the system well enough).

Note: The Under-19s (NextGen Series side) and Under-21s tended to play a free-flowing 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 under Sherwood, so there’s no indication that he favours 4-4-2 as a system per se. Many have said that this was at the insistence of AVB, but we’d been playing the same system(s) pre-AVB, and I personally never saw AVB at one of the matches, so I find that unlikely.

Off the pitch

It’s unlikely that it was the performance on Sunday that made up Levy’s mind to give Sherwood the manager’s role on a permanent basis (at least for 18 months). More likely it is the work that he has done in the background over the past five years.

Whilst the decision to appoint an inexperienced manager – one who does not even have the UEFA Pro Licence – has not gone down well, generally, I can see the logic.

There is a sense of continuity about the appointment, which I like and admire. Just as much as it gives a sense of satisfaction when a youth player gets a game for the first team – and I was very proud to see Nabil Bentaleb come off the bench on Sunday – there is a good feeling associated with an internal promotion. Sherwood might not have top-level management experience, but he clearly has a skill set which Levy has deemed transferable.

He’s naturally confident in front of the cameras or behind the microphone – to the extent where many have called him arrogant. I particularly liked this TalkSport interview in the summer here he was very positive and backed the club over Bale. He came across as being ‘on message’, and whilst his thoughts on Bale didn’t come to fruition, the positivity was to be admired.

Qualifications

I’ve seen plenty of comment about Sherwood being literally (in the words of Jamie Redknapp) unqualified to do this job. This is due to the fact that he does not possess a UEFA Pro Licence. This is the final UEFA coaching qualification (following the A and B Licenses, which Sherwood already possesses). The course is generally carried out over a year, and the club will need to ask the FA whether Sherwood can continue as manager without it in the meantime. The precedent (set with Paul Ince at Blackburn, for example) seems to be for the FA to give the manager the time to earn the qualification. Glenn Roeder, Gareth Southgate and Avram Grant have also all managed in the Premier League without the license.

In the meantime, if people are worried about unqualified coaches, they need look no further than Chris Ramsey, who has now moved up with Sherwood and Ferdinand to the first team coaching setup. Ramsey has achieved a lot in a distinguished coaching career – he has coached the England U20 side to the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship. He has worked for the FA as a Regional Director of Coaching. He was a scout for the England team under Keegan. As well as the UEFA Pro Licence, which he obtained in 2004, he has an FA Coach Education Diploma, a diploma in Treatment of Sports Injuries and also a first degree in Education, and Masters in Science. He was recently asked by Peter Taylor to be his Assistant Head Coach for the England Under-20 side for this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Turkey. He’s insanely qualified.

Sherwood might be a Gooner, might be a snake in the grass, might be seen giving a Sky Sports interview whilst hanging out of a Land Rover… but let’s wait and see before writing him off as such.

We’ve got a huge squad, with plenty of attacking players with flair. In the likes of Lloris, Vertonghen, Sandro, Lamela, and Soldado we have some very talented players who would be wanted by the majority of clubs around Europe. Given that Sherwood has to make things happen relatively quickly, he is likely to focus on keeping it simple, letting his side build their confidence. To me, this seems to be exactly what they need. They need their fragile confidence rebuilt, and if that requires him to be more Harry Redknapp than André Villas-Boas in the short term, then so be it.

As an aside, in Adebayor we have a talent who needs to be managed carefully. Nobody knows the ins and outs of what has gone on since the death of his brother. Was AVB heartless in making him train with the reserves, or was he trying to give him the space and time to get his head right? Was Ade fit and available but not picked, or still getting up to speed? In fact, nobody knows the ins and outs of the whole of last season – a lot of assumptions are made about Adebayor’s character, which his obvious popularity within the squad seem to contradict. What we do know is that in the last two matches, he has played like he really wanted it; he was a joy to watch and made us realise what we’ve been missing. Long may Sherwood continue getting the best out of him.

Development Squad

And finally, to the Development Squad. It seems a shame that the Development Squad has lost their figurehead. But the players currently in that squad will surely be filled with confidence that they’ll have opportunities – especially after seeing their teammate, Bentaleb, brought on ahead of Holtby and Capoue, and playing so well – in fact, being instrumental in the second goal.

I wrote back in October about the lack of opportunities for youth players under AVB – this should change under Sherwood. He knows our talented young players so well, and is clearly not concerned about putting them straight into the first team squad. There has to be a chance that Tom Carroll will be recalled in January, and I would also expect to see Harry Kane involved more as the season goes on.

As for who takes over as the manager of the Under-21 side, who knows. There is a whole coaching team to replace, and it will presumably take some time to do so. In the interim period, perhaps the coaches will split their time between the first team and Development squad, or perhaps the Academy coaches will have to be involved. It will be interesting to see how it pans out.

COYS

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December 22, 2013

Analysis of the goals conceded against Southampton (22/12) and some thoughts

Lallana’s goal – Danny Fox charges forward, and finds Lallana, who outwits Chiriches and finds the bottom corner.

1

Danny Fox has the ball on Southampton’s left, as Spurs regroup.

2

Spurs have plenty of bodies back to deal with this situation so, for me, the criticism about the lack of defensive midfielder causing this goal is not relevant. Chiriches – towards the bottom left of this shot – takes a huge gamble as the ball is slipped to Lallana. He tries to be clever, read the pass, and nip in to get to the ball first.

3

Instead, he is caught out by Lallana letting the ball run across his body.

4

Lallana finds the bottom corner with his shot. Lloris has little chance.

Lambert’s goal – Lallana runs behind Dawson to get onto Cork’s pass, before squaring to Lambert to tap in.

1

Southampton have possession, and Spurs are in a relatively good defensive shape. Sigurdsson is tucked in to make up the numbers. Notice Lambert, who has pulled into the space between Rose and Chiriches.

2

Chiriches tries to make up the ground to get close to Lambert, but doesn’t stop him laying off to Cork.

3

As Lambert drops off, Lallana is on the move – he runs into the space that Chiriches has vacated, leaving Dawson in his wake.

4

Lloris is caught out and is unsure what to do. He starts to come, but doesn’t really achieve anything. Lallana’s vision to pick out Lambert is really quite special.

6

Lambert is left with the simple task of slotting home – untracked by either Eriksen or Bentaleb.

 

I was very impressed with Spurs’ attacking intent today. Much has been made – and certainly was made on the various social networking sites – about Spurs 4-4-2 formation and lack of a defensive midfielder.

When you have a team full of confidence and playing at full tilt, you can afford to have one fewer player in attack because the other forward-thinking players will compensate and take players out of the game with movement, trickery and ability. When you’re struggling for confidence and goals, though, you either have to take a few more risks, or go ultra-pragmatic and try to grind out results. AVB was attempting the latter, Sherwood has so far attempted the former.

It’s a calculated risk, but today it worked well. We are still a million miles off our best and some players are still clearly desperately short of confidence. We also have a lot of injuries. But that is why, in a nutshell, Sherwood made the call he did to go with two up front, and to get players into the box.

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December 19, 2013

Analysis of the goal conceded against West Ham (18/12)

Jarvis’ goal – Maiga beats Chiriches in the air from a goal kick, and flicks on to Taylor. He brings the ball down, and intelligently finds Jarvis, who finishes well.

Goal1

2

Adrian’s punt upfield sees Maiga beat Chiriches in the air – not for the first time after his introduction.

3

Capoue drops off Taylor far too much, leaving him room to assess his options.

4

Sigurdsson tracks Jarvis’ run, and then passes him onto Walker.

5

Walker doesn’t really read Taylor’s excellent pass, whereas Jarvis does – and he finishes it superbly.

 

Maiga’s goal – West Ham keep the ball alive after an overhit cross seems to be going out, and Morrison works the ball wide to Diame. Maiga gets up early and powers above Capoue and Walker to find the corner with a header from Diame’s cross.

Goal2

1

 

Jarvis retrieves an overhit cross brilliantly…

 

 

2

 

… and lays off to Morrison. Notice West Ham’s three against two advantage at this point.

3

 

Morrison’s fresh legs mean that he is able to skip away from a tiring Sigurdsson.

4

 

He gets the ball wide to Diame with a clever pass.

5

 

Spurs are still very disorganised from the resultant cross, with Capoue left marking two, and Walker therefore having to make a difficult decision.

6

 

Maiga, in between Walker and Capoue, gets up early.

7

 

His header finds the corner.

 

There was lots of knee-jerking post match. Spurs picked what they thought was their strongest possible side, and could have put the tie to bed early, missing a host of chances in the opening few minutes. West Ham started with a weakened side, but as Spurs’ barely match-fit players tired (or went off injured in Townsend’s case), Allardyce smelt blood and brought on his key men (Diame and Morrison).

As Spurs’ energy was sapped, West Ham were rejuvenated. Maiga bullied Chiriches in the air and it was no surprise that his knock-on led to the opener. He then got a deserved goal when he got above Capoue and Walker to meet the ball.

It’s far too early to judge what Sherwood may or may not do over the Christmas period. We were playing without key men, with Rose and Adebayor not match-fit and unable to last the match, and lost Townsend through injury.

His team selection was a bold one, with Adebayor used to drop off and create triangles, and Sigurdsson spreading the play nice and early to bring the wide men into the game. Had Defoe converted a chance or two, Sherwood would be being lauded for his “gung ho” (in his own words) approach. Unfortunately, we were left to rue missed chances, and have to pick ourselves up for the weekend.

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