Bothroyd’s goal – a Barton corner is helped into the danger area by Helguson, and Bothroyd heads home at the back post.
As Joey Barton floats a deep corner across, Spurs have adopted a strange zonal/man marking hybrid – there are some players man-marking (King seems to have Helguson, Parker has Wright-Phillips), but some players are just in general areas – Kaboul is one such player who has the job of making it difficult for players to find space, but is not marking anyone in particular.
As the ball lands in the area, first notice how Wright-Phillips has got away from Parker, and now stands totally unmarked in an area similar to the one from which Formica scored against us last week in similar circumstances. Also note how Kaboul has come across to attempt to get under the ball. King is beaten by the flight, but has attempted to block Helguson’s route to the ball, and make it as difficult as possible.
Helguson is very strong and good in the air, though, and sends an intelligent header across the box.
There is a total mis-match at the back post, where Assou-Ekotto is marking Bothroyd. Bizarre as Bale, who is fairly strong in the air, is on the post.
Assou-Ekotto attempts to jump into Bothroyd to make it difficult, but it is a fairly straightforward header for the forward.
The second goal conceded from a set piece in two weeks, and in both cases we have missed both the original header, and then failed to clear the second ball.
Formica’s goal – a Pedersen free kick is floated into the box from just outside the centre circle. Samba beats Kaboul in the air and Formica, who had been marked by Parker, is left with a free shot from around the penalty spot.
A free-kick from Morten Gamst Pedersen is chipped in from the centre circle. Note Scott Parker, picking up the eventual scorer, Formica, around the penalty spot.
As was the case throughout the whole match, the kick is aimed at Samba – he is incredible in the air, and beats Kaboul and also Parker, who has now left Formica and attempted to pressure Samba.
But Samba cleverly heads down to Formica, who is left with a free shot from around the penalty spot.
And he plants the ball into the corner, leaving Friedel with no chance.
Spurs made hard work of this game and never looked secure. We failed to put pressure Blackburn in midfield, and had to defend against a nail-biting number of free kicks, corners and long throws.
A number of our normally reliable players – Modric, Parker, Adebayor – under-performed, and we were left relying on van der Vaart to win us the match with two superb finishes. Pre-match, I felt that Redknapp should have started Sandro, who was instead left on the bench. After the game, Redknapp explained that he had a calf injury, and the coaching staff had been warned that he was at risk of missing weeks of action had he played. Even so – Livermore could have come on at 2-1 to help beef up our midfield and reduce the amount of pressure that we were under.
Ba’s goal – after a loose ball is not challenged, Newcastle make inroads down our right and Jonás Gutiérrez picks out Ba with a superb cross; the striker is left with a tap-in.
There’s a loose ball in midfield – look at Modric, towards whom the ball is travelling. It is most unlike him, but he is stood watching and waiting, whilst Ba is alert and wants to win the ball back.
Ba takes control and still no Spurs player is particularly close to him. He has time to find Tiote…
…who fires out a first time pass to Gutiérrez.
Gutiérrez has just Walker goal-side of him, although Modric now works hard to get back into position.
Having got there, Modric actually does more harm than good – he points for Walker to watch the overlapping Taylor…
…and then he fails to make a challenge (he could have conceded a free-kick as a last resort), as Gutiérrez dances round him. In doing this, he has also put Walker on the back-foot, and made it very difficult for him to make a decision. Note Livermore, side by side with Ba on the edge of the box.
Gutiérrez gets to the by-line and lifts over a fantastic cross – Livermore has let Ba steal a match on him.
Ba is left with a simple finish.
Although he hits it straight at Friedel, the pace on the ball makes it difficult for Friedel. Could he have done better? Possibly, but it wasn’t as easy as it looked.
Ameobi’s goal – Ameobi holds off Walker, and finds Friedel’s left corner with a fine shot on the turn.
Tiote snaps into a challenge (as he did all afternoon), beating Livermore to the ball.
Ryan Taylor plays a clever first-time pass to Ameobi, but look at Assou-Ekotto on the edge of the shot. If he had got into a proper position, the flag may have gone up.
Ameobi still has a lot to do from this position – the angle is against him, and Walker is working hard to stop him getting a shot away (despite having picked up an ankle knock).
Walker flies into a challenge, but Ameobi strikes the ball unbelievably well…
…and picks out just about the only part of the goal that he could have scored in.
“Yes, it does seem to be a problem. Rafa can’t run back and chase the full-back. Against the better teams it is a problem.
Rafa’s best position is in the middle, playing just behind the front man. The only problem is that Jermain Defoe plays there too and Jermain is playing very, very well at the moment.
So, I guess I have got a decision to make, haven’t I? I suppose it’s now between Rafa and Jermain over who plays in the team.
Rafa is a terrific footballer. He has great skill. But if you’re in the team and asked to do a job, really, you should just do it.”
There were Harry Redknapp’s comments this week in The Sun, after van der Vaart had questioned the logic of playing him on the right.
Of course football is a squad game, and players rarely play in every match anymore. It is also great to have these sorts of selections dilemmas – a player as good as Sandro would not be on many benches (he’d be in my starting XI nine times out of ten!), and Defoe would be a regular in the majority of Premier League teams.
Assuming that Adebayor is a mainstay in the side (and he certainly should be at the moment), Redknapp has two options when picking his strongest eleven – if he wants to play Defoe, he can play van der Vaart on the right, as against Arsenal. If he decides, as he seems to have in the comments above, that this not appropriate, he needs to choose between the two for the second striker role.
In this article I will compare van der Vaart and Defoe, but first I would like to look at van der Vaart’s performance against Arsenal.
1. Rafael van der Vaart play on the right in a 4-4-2
Against Arsenal we almost played a combination of 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1, but with Parker and Modric as the two “holding players”. Clearly Modric is not a disciplined holder (and we wouldn’t want him to be), so Parker was left doing a lot of the leg-work in midfield. Van der Vaart drifted from his starting position of right midfield (as we expected that he would), and did it to good effect in the attacking third – scoring once, feeding Parker for a one-on-one chance, and also being heavily involved in Adebayor’s excellent one-on-one chance.
Defensively, though, he has been questioned by many. In my Analysis of the goal conceded against Arsenal (02/10) I point out that he is slow to close Song down. However, this goal essentially stemmed from a corner, and then our failure to re-organise as a team – van der Vaart actually chases Song from the other side of the penalty area, whilst no other players react or try to get close to him. To say, then, that this goal came about due to the nature of the formation is incredibly harsh. What is fair, though, is that Arsenal had a lot of possession, and could have used the ball better down our right, with Walker having little protection ahead of him.
My solution (and I pointed this out pre-match), would have been to play Sandro and Parker holding, as per the Wigan game. With Modric, Bale and van der Vaart inter-changing ahead of them we have plenty of offensive options, whilst with two dedicated holders, we are able to cover the central areas whilst also able to cover the full-back areas where necessary – this is often the case in 4-2-3-1 formations, where full-backs push forward to provide width. However, this would have involved dropping Defoe, which takes me on to my second point.
2. Defoe or van der Vaart?
Redknapp states that Defoe is playing “very, very well” at the moment. This could be a classic case of a manager talking up a player to help build his confidence, but it could be that Redknapp genuinely thinks that Defoe is in red hot form (as many fans also seem to think).
Looking at Defoe’s contribution this season, it’s firstly important to note that he has already scored two league goals – half of his contribution last season. It is good to see him scoring again, and long may it continue.
The minutes per goal or assist for Adebayor, van der Vaart and Defoe, however, is interesting:
Emmanuel Adebayor 355 total mins 3 goals 2 assists – 71.00 Rafael van der Vaart 367 total mins 2 goals 2 assists – 91.75 Jermain Defoe 390 total mins 2 goals 1 assist 130.0
The minutes per goal, where many would suspect that Defoe would have better stats, is also interesting:
Emmanuel Adebayor 355 total mins 3 goals 118.3 Rafael Van Der Vaart 367 total mins 2 goals 183.5 Jermain Defoe 390 total mins 2 goals 195.0
Obviously it is early days, but this follows the pattern from last year, where Defoe’s “productivity” (to put it crudely) was well below that of van der Vaart and Pavlyuchenko.
In contrast to Redknapp’s “very, very good” I have regularly been tweeting that Defoe has been on the periphery of games, albeit working hard to pressurise defenders (which should be a bear minimum). I thought it would be interesting to look at his involvement in our play in our league games so far – thanks to WhoScored.com there are stats available on the number of touches each player has in games.
Against Manchester United, Defoe had the least number of touches of any player (from either team). NB: Walker and Corluka played 45 minutes each, so I combined their touches.
Against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Defoe also had the least number of touches of any player (35 – the next least for Spurs was Friedel with 58).
Against Liverpool, only Kranjcar (28) had less touches than Defoe (34), and he had 40 fewer minutes on the pitch.
And finally, against Arsenal, Defoe had the least touches of the ball (36) of all of our outfield players (including van der Vaart (39), who played 26 minutes less).
I will not try to suggest that touches of the ball show the impact that a player has in a match, but it is certainly a valid criteria on which one can judge a player’s involvement. A striker cannot always be expected to have constant involvement, but van der Vaart managed 81 touches in his 81 minutes against Wigan, playing just a little deeper than Defoe did against Arsenal (see image below). Clearly Arsenal and Wigan are very different teams, but 81 touches is more than twice Defoe’s maximum number of touches in a game so far – van der Vaart gets far more involved when he plays the second striker role.
Average positions vs Wigan at the top, average positions vs Arsenal below.
Taking into account all of the stats – goals, assists and involvement in play – Redknapp’s summation makes me wonder – if Defoe is playing “very, very well”, how does he think van der Vaart is doing?
Many will argue that it is too early in the season to start judging any of our players. I would therefore add that last year, when partnered with far inferior strikers to Adebayor, van der Vaart managed 13 goals and 8 assists in 28 starts in his first season in the Premier League.
Defoe has only bettered that Premier League goal tally once in his entire career, when he scored 18 goals two years ago (of course eight of those goals were scored in two games – against Wigan and Hull). He got 8 assists in 2002/3 his most in the last five years is 4.
Defoe certainly has a place in some games, but in games where we need to select our best eleven players it’s a no-brainer for me – van der Vaart scores as many (or at least nearly as many), gets more assists, and has more influence on our play. He doesn’t always have the stamina to last 90 minutes, and he isn’t the most mobile but in my opinion he should be one of the first names on the team sheet.
Aaron Ramsey’s goal – a Song run down the right causes havoc in the Spurs defence, and his cross finds Ramsey in space to finish.
Arsenal sustain some pressure after a corner, and Kaboul heads away after a cross is put deep into our penalty area.
The ball lands at Song’s feet, and with van der Vaart slow to close him down, and no other players having pushed out following the clearance, he takes the opportunity to run down the right hand side.
Van der Vaart is very slow to get across and put pressure on Song, and Walker is holding his position to try to protect the near post. Note the four Arsenal players against three in the middle of our penalty area, where we have failed to re-organise effectively. Song gets to the byline, having totally evaded van der Vaart and, although Walker is fairly well-positioned, he has plenty of players to aim at. Kaboul has got his positioning wrong, and now has three Arsenal players between him and the ball.
Song’s pass is a good one, and Ramsey’s run to the near post makes it easy for him to finish over Friedel.
Redknapp played a risky game, changing formation from the previous Premier League win at Wigan, where we effectively played a 4-2-3-1, with Parker in deep midfield alongside Sandro, and opting to go with Defoe and Adebayor up front. This left us with a problem of three Arsenal central midfield players against two of ours and, as a result, they dominated possession throughout (62% according to Opta).
Arsenal play with a very high defensive line and, whilst we exploited this on a number of occasions, we could have done so more often had our strikers been able to stay onside. Also, had Sandro started, he would have given us the energy and extra body to allow us to win the ball higher up the pitch, and spring that high line on the counter attack. As it was, Parker and Modric generally had to get back behind the ball as quickly as possible and maintain shape whilst waiting for Arsenal to give the ball away.
Had Arsenal been confident and on top form they may have punished us but, in truth, despite their possession, they barely created any clear cut chances; their only real chance coming when van Persie beat Kaboul on the touchline before finding Gervinho, who steered the ball wide.
At the other end, Arsenal’s sloppy passing and collectively poor defending meant that we had three one-on-ones (Adebayor, Parker, Bale) amongst other good chances (the ball falling to Modric in the box from a corner for example).
I have seen lots of criticism for Rafael van der Vaart, suggesting that his continual drifting from his starting position on the right caused us problems; I must disagree. He scored a goal (having drifted in-field) and was involved in several other key moments and, whilst he didn’t have his best game, his “drifting” for me is a positive. The key issue, though, is that we need to have two defensive midfield players capable of covering in the full-back areas, as is often the case in a 4-2-3-1. In summary – van der Vaart from the right is good, but only with two holding players.
A word on Scott Parker, who I was not overly keen on signing (as I thought he was on the decline) – how wrong I was. I’m still not quite sure how he managed to keep going for the full 90 – he was clearly cramping up, he looked totally dead on his feet (having competed in a 3 vs 2 situation for such a long period), and yet he still made bursts forward. His stats were incredibly impressive – he made the most attempted passes in our team (40), had the highest success rate (88%), made the most tackles (7) and the joint highest interceptions (3). Fantastic performance from him!