Monthly Archives: December 2013

Institutionalised Fallacies

’41 crosses’

While it is true that we attempted 41 crosses as defined by Opta, 12 of those were from corners, another one was a free-kick took by Christian Eriksen following a foul on Nacer Chadli, a further 8 were not crosses at all but low passes across the face of the goal. We attempted 20 crosses from open play. Now consider that we had possession of the ball for 64.3% of the game, equating to 57 minutes and 52 seconds of the game. That means that, roughly, we attempted a cross every 3 minutes. Then remember that we have Adebayor in the middle who dwarfs Diego Lugano and Craig Dawson, only Jonas Olsson comes close to him. We also have Chadli who similarly tall and strong. Soldado also happens to be very good at dispatching anything that falls his way from a knock-down or a deflection.

You may call this tactically ineptitude, I call this utilising our assets

Chalkboard of Tottenham’s crosses versus West Brom

Public Enemy #1

‘Dawson isn’t even average, he’s shocking’

Nononononononononono.

Dawson was probably our third best player yesterday, behind Rose and Eriksen. Dawson completed 2 tackles, 4 interceptions and 10 clearances (out of 21). He even made a goal saving challenge and Chiriches gave the ball away to Matej Vydra. WhoScored gave him a rating of 8.02 only behind Eriksen.

Chiriches, on the other hand, was simply abysmal. Everything he touched turn into a flaming turd. He gave the ball away three of four times only to be rescued by Rose, Dawson and Eriksen among others. Chiriches lost Olsson at the free kick which the Swede equalised from.

You got the wrong man.

‘A Defensive Midfielder is imperative’

No, it’s not. While re-watching the match, I made a point to note how counter attacks West Brom had. Guess how many I times I note a counter-attack.

Once.

Even that counter-attack was stopped after a mazy run by Matej Vydra by Christian Eriksen about 40 yards from goal. Obviously, there were innumerable turnovers that looked like that they could turn into counter-attacks but were swiftly quelled by one of the front six, with Chadli and Sigurdsson featuring prominently. Stopping a counter-attack isn’t all too difficult, you don’t even need to win the ball back, all you need to do is harry the opponent until your defense gets back into a defensive shape.

Do you need a Sandro or Capoue to run near an opponent?

Not against West Brom who are playing with a bunkered 5 man defense. Against better opposition, a Newcastle or a Man City, you will definitely need a Sandro or Capoue, simply because the quality of player is better. You’ll need to respect them. Eriksen or Chadli will be able to stop someone like James Morrison long enough for the defense to get back into a proper defensive shape but they won’t be able to do this versus a Yoann Gouffran or Jesús Navas.

Much was made of the lack of defensive midfielder The decision to play without a defensive midfielder was the right decision in this case. A ballsy decision, but the right one.

‘We played a 4-4-2’

I’ve even seen Jonathan Wilson and other highly astute journalists/writers write that we play with a 4-4-2. Wilson is the zenith of football journalism and analysis and he thinks that we play with a 4-4-2, which is just plainly wrong. Forgive me if I get a bit exasperated.

This is the epitome of an ‘institutionalised fallacy.’ It’s been said so many times that people start to believe it. This works somehow, you need to look no further than the propaganda perpetuated by Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. People who were otherwise no anti-semitic, became so. It shouldn’t work but much like advertising, it does.

Anyway, back to why we don’t play a 4-4-2.

Exhibit A

These are the heat-maps from Tim Sherwood’s first two matches in charge of Tottenham. The most distinguishing factors between 4-4-2 and the formation we actually play with, 4-2-2-2, is the involvement of the full-backs and the position of the two widest midfielders.

As can be seen here, the full backs are immensely involved, they are the only players providing width.

Chadli and Sigurdsson or Lamela and Sigurdsson are both very narrow. If you didn’t know, you’d think that they were playing as attacking midfielders. Oh wait, they are.

4-4-2 as a formation is dead but they are some variants of it that are still being used. One of those is 4-2-2-2 and it’s one of the most progressive formations being used nowadays. Tottenham also happen to play with it.

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Bad Smells: Poor Implementation of Tactics

I’m not going to bore you with details about AVB’s tactics and why it works or doesn’t work, which I’m sure everyone has read all too much about. In this blog, I’m going to write about the implementation of these tactics.

Flexibility is good

In October, I wrote a blog about the first green shoots of AVB displaying tactically flexibility. I stand by that wholeheartedly. A manager should change small facets of their tactics from match-to-match. The game in question for the blog above is Aston Villa at Villa park. This was a great game to scrap the high line because Aston Villa are such a brilliant counter-attacking side and play with a deeper, bunkered defense as we did. I only noticed this slight change after I re-watched the match such was its subtlety.

Inflexibility is needed

Small changes like this to the outline of a team’s tactics are acceptable and I’d like to see them more often that not. For example against teams like Sunderland and Fulham, I’d have like to the tactics regarding shot-taking to be to shoot quite impetuously because Fulham concede lots of low quality chances (and a few high quality because Fulham). You know the next chance won’t be too far away. Against the likes of Liverpool, I’d like to see a pass-into-the-goal ethos because Liverpool concede few chances but high quality chances. Also, this would help to stop Suarez and co. from scoring or even creating chances because you can’t do that without the ball. Can ya?

The Ghost of Harry

Dare I say it but against in AVB’s last four games versus Sunderland, Fulham, Anzhi Makhachkala and finally Liverpool, the tactics the team employed was reminiscent of Harry Redknapp’s ‘fuckin’ run around a bit’ pseudo-tactics. Some times we’d counter-attack, sometimes we’d play the percentages, sometimes we’d play a bunkered defense, sometimes we’d play a high line, sometimes we’d play two inverted wingers in a search for key passes, sometimes we’d play two traditional wingers in search of crosses (with Defoe in the middle because yolo), sometimes we’d play with Sandro, Dembele and Paulinho with  high pressing, sometimes, even rarer still with the same players, we’d sit back and form a ‘christmas tree’ in order to force the opposition wide.

So basically, I have no idea what Villas-Boas’ tactics were in the last 4 games of his tenure with Tottenham Hotspur because from game-to-game or even in-game there was a massive variation between the tactics employed.

I do, however, know what Villas-Boas’ most desirable tactics were. High pressure, high line, possession-based, pot-shots from range (but let’s all blame Townsend for that), pragmatic, keep things tight, little emphasis on crossing. They’re just a few of the buzz-terms used to describe AVB’s tactics.

nota bene: This could have been the players. There was rumour that some players didn’t understand the phrase; ‘phase of play.’ If that’s the case, then we might as well liquidate all our assets. Andre may have had a clear vision for how we should play but the players were too dogmatic, docile or dumb to implement it.

Unfortunately, this tactically vision became all too dispensable during the last spasms of AVB’s tenure. AVB has a lot of reputations. Reputations as a number of things, the majority of them are fabricated by the media. One of these reputation is as an inexorable, inflexible manager unwilling to deviate from his tactics. One match in particular stood out and sticks in my mind.

It was Valencia-Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Champion’s League on 6 December. Chelsea started playing long-balls up to Drogba, to be fair, it worked out. A total of 41 long balls were played during this game. In terms of passing, long-passing/ball football is the antithesis of Andre Villas-Boas. When he was in charge, I can’t remember Hugo Lloris kicking it long with any frequency. 9 times out of 10, it was a short ball to one of the CB’s. Drogba had a great game. This isn’t to detract from the decision, just to point out that AVB isn’t the impenetrable cur the media branded him as and this is bad.

If you’re going to do something, do it right

Just to put a bow on this blog. Brendan Rodgers, to be fair to him, never deviated from his vision for Liverpool even when they were a laughing stock this time last season. It has always been possession based with a bunkered defense and a heavy, heavy emphasis on through balls. There was brief change in formation from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-1-2 but the tactically outline stayed the same. This article here discusses the difference, or lack of difference between 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-1-2. 

The last month or so of Villas-Boas’ tenure at Spurs, his vision for us became all too dispensable in search of short-term benefit and results. Some of the blame here has to go on Daniel Levy here. He mustn’t have given AVB the security for him to feel like he could afford a run of 10/15 or so bad games. I’m not#LevyOut or #ProfitNotGlory even still Villas-Boas shouldn’t have dispensed with the basic outline of his system. The connotation of this is that the players are confused as to what their responsibilities are. This definitely showed every time we played because, my god, we were shambolic.

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Don’t judge a striker on goals alone

It’s oft stated that a striker ulterior job is to score goals. It was, but it no longer is.

Since the days of Duncan Ferguson, Clive Allen the place in a team of a true no. 9 has dwindled.  Even as recently as Mario Gomez, there is a prime example of the slow, pernicious death death of a true no. 9. I view it as the death nail of the man whose jobs it was to score goalsgoalsgoals and nothing more.

Its-a Mario. No not that one:

The death of the true no. 9 has two protagonists, both named Mario.

Mario Gomez signed for Bayern Munich for somewhere in between 30-35 million. After some teething problems in 09/10, he was amazing. He scored a combine 93  goals in two seasons. He was brilliant at finishing the chances that others made for him, one of the best in the business at it.

Gomez’s link-up play was truly, truly abysmal. In 10/11, Gomez averaged a horrendous 14.3 passes per match. That is indescribably poor link-up play.

In 11/12, he was slightly better and averaged 15.4 passes passes per game. But, still, that is truly abysmal.

He was still scoring goals. As I said, he scored 93 goals in these two seasons. He was almost undroppable. But all was not rosy beneath the surface. It took a big man in Jupp Heynckes to drop Gomez for Mario Mandzukic in his second season. With the aid of a few shrewd acquisitions in Dante and Javi Martinez, Bayern Munich went onto to complete the treble.

Mandzukic wasn’t exactly in prolific goal-scoring form. He scored only 18 goals in the whole season. That pales in comparison to what Gomez’s return of goals was but he was still the better player for the team. As an individual, he wasn’t near Gomez’s ability but he was better for the team. Mandzukic’s thankless work in running the channels, holding-up play, come short for a ball, occasionally going wide made the unit better as a whole. It allowed Franck Ribery to get to the stage where he surpasses Andres Iniesta and is nominated for the Ballon d’Or, it allowed Arjen Robben to go from a laughing stock after the Champion’s League final in 2012 to the best right winger in the world in one year. Mandzukic opened the game up because when Mario Gomez wasn’t scoring, Bayern were essentially playing with 10 men. I think that dovetails it nicely.

Mario Gomez is unlucky in that he’s the right player at the wrong time. If Gomez was born in the 1960’s and played his football in the 1980’s/1990’s, then I would be looking back at him now as the best true no.9 of that era. His unwillingness to adapt was ultimately his downfall.

There are three teams that play with striker that I’d describe as true no.9’s in the Premier League. Crystal Palace (but Tony Pulis doesn’t striker as the most up-to-date with modern tactics), Sunderland and Hull. In some cases even Hull don’t play with a true no. 9, Yannick Sagbo is quite prone to link-up play but when Danny Graham plays, they do.

Lastly, to put a finish to this particular blog, take a look at the players nominated for the FIFpro FIFA World XI

Name Current Club
Sergio Aguero Manchester City
Mario Balotelli AC Milan
Edinson Cavani Paris Saint-Germain
Diego Costa Atletico Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid
Didier Drogba Galatasaray
Radamel Falcao Monaco
Zlatan Ibrahimovic Paris Saint-Germain
Robert Lewandowski Borussia Dortmund
Mario Mandzukic Bayern Munich
Lionel Messi Barcelona
Neymar Barcelona
Robin van Persie Manchester United
Wayne Rooney Manchester United
Luis Suarez Liverpool

LOL @ Balotelli and Drogba making the shortlist but how many of those players would you say don’t hold-up play, link-up play or get involved in chance creation?

In fact, I’d say that 7 out of those 15 nominations are the most creative player on their individual teams.

This is my obituary to true no.9’s

R.I.P true no.9’s

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A Scapegoat goes for a Walk

An Ode to Kyle Walker and a brief note on scapegoating

is Kyle walker British? Check.

is Kyle Walker young? Check.

Is Kyle Walker more brawn than brain? Check.

Unfortunately for Walker, he has all the makings of a Spurs scapegoat.

You won’t see it written on his contract, but when Kyle Walker signed for Tottenham Hotspur, he was signing up for a torrent of abuse.

He was just plain bad in 11/12. Sure, Walker did stuff that sticks in the mind, like scoring against Arsenal or that free kick against Blackburn. I remember distinctively Walker running from his own box, the whole length of the pitch and into the opposition’s box. Often this would lead to a dangerous attack down our left. Walker has always been a physical specimen, something you’d expect to be the by-product of selective breeding in humans. Even in the 90th minute of games, he’d sprint to overlap Aaron Lennon or Niko Krancjar.

Unfortunately, he was more brain than brawn. he’d make mistakes almost weekly. More often than not, he’d recover thanks to his specimen like physicality. Sometimes he was punished for these mistakes. A lot of people wrote him off.

Others kept faith in him, whenever you have a player so young (20/21 at the time) with such athleticism there is always the chance that he’ll make it as a star. On the other hand, he could also turn out more like Ade Akinfenwa. The majority wrote him off.

12/13 started brightly but it was only a flash in the pan. The year continued in much the same vain as the previous. The quiet rumblings about a player lacking ability boiled over and they became louder and louder. It all culminated in October when Kyle walker was forced off Twitter by a minority of asinine fans who blamed him for the 4-2 against Chelsea, and made those feelings known.

They blamed Walker solely as opposed to Friedel, Sigurdsson or Gallas who were far, far worse. They blamed Walker in a game where we were missing Bale for personal reasons and Mousa Dembele through injury. It was asinine to blame Walker but blame Walker they did. And I know exactly why. The first three sentences of this blog post. Walker is everything that makes a Spurs scapegoat. so, although, his performance didn’t merit it, he was the player who was sent into the forest through land-mines for sustenance.

Then the proverbial lid was put on the pot. Walker went through a patch of consistent play, nothing spectacular, nothing hand-bashingly stupid.

Until March 10th. Until the pot  boiled over, again. This game was against Liverpool at Anfield and it was probably the nadir of his career. Walker received a pass and attempted a back-pass to Lloris which Lloris mis-kicked. Stewart Downing latched onto the ball and hit the ball through Jan Vertonghen’s legs from 12 yards away. I’ll guarantee you that Downing will never do that, or something similar,  again but he was playing Spurs so he had to pretend he was Arjen Robben in disguise. 

Then Defoe and Benoit Assou Ekotto combined to give a head-bashingly dumb penalty. That was never mentioned because everyone loves Benny. I love Benny.

As a person.

Not as a player, in fact, I don’t even like him as a player. I quite dislike him, to be truthful.

Then we played Inter Milan and they wiped the floor. we got through. Somehow. walker played as well and played badly. He was dropped for Kyle Naughton, who, to be fair, was playing quite good at the time. Then came the international break. Walker returned to side vs. Swansea. less than month after that happened at Anfield, Walker took to the field vs. Everton.

Leighton Baines and Steven pienaar at the time were the best attacking left side in the league.

Walker single-handedly shut the two of them down. He hasn’t looked back since.

Then Man City came to the Lane.

It isn’t very often that you can attribute the rise or the fall of a career to one incident. You can attribute the fall of Kolo Toure’s career to an incident in the 2008 African Cup of Nations . Amr Zaki turns Toure inside out. He has never been the same since, although he has shown a little spark this season with Liverpool. With walker you can attribute the rise of his career to one incident in his career.

It was the 75th minute, the ball comes out to Walker and he has about 10 yards of room. Sound familiar? Arsenal at the Lane in 2011. Everyone though the same thing. “SHHHOOOTTT!!!!” But no, Walker saw there was a better option. Bale was to the right with space to run into. the closest City player was Nasri.

The old, impetuous Walker would have shot. It might have went in, it probably wouldn’t have went in.

He played another blinder versus Chelsea.

This season has been continued in much the same vein. Defensively speaking Walker has been rock solid. He has never been caught out of position, the odd time he is, he always recovers. We concede very little goal-scoring opportunities but if it’s down the right hand-side, Walker is always there to save us. He has bulked up and now rarely losses an aerial duel. Offensively, walker has been phenomenal. He created 6 chances versus Fulham from right back. he had the most final third passes versus Fulham from right back. FROM RIGHT BACK! He also managed the most passes over the course of the season and has created the most chances.

Kyle walker hasn’t had it easy over the past two years but he got through all the baseless criticism and impetuous dismissals. This is my tribute to him, a player I’m proud to have on my team.

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