Andre Villas Boas opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation for Tottenham this season with Moussa Dembele partnering Sandro in the double pivot which had seen Tottenham and their free flowing football in patches. The void after Luka Modric’s departure was filled by the crafty Belgian, who quickly found his feet in Tottenham colours. Dembele became an influential figure in the Spurs set-up and even in the absence of first team regulars Younes Kaboul, Scott Parker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto he managed to pull the strings for the North London team with great aplomb. Dembele’s absence in the games against Chelsea and Maribor effectively put the spot light on the weakest position for Spurs this season – Center Attacking Midfield.
Tottenham faithful were worried about the departure of Modric that they didn’t realize the value of former Real Madrid star Rafael Van der Vaart. Van der Vaart came up with crucial goals in the last two seasons for Spurs and he was the main reason behind Redknapp’s new found love for the 4-4-1-1 formation. Van der Vaart made the hole his own and his link up play with Adebayor laid the foundation for a dynamic attacking partnership upfront.
Many expected Gylfi Sigurdsson to replace the talismanic Dutchman, but he couldn’t replicate his pre-season performances, which paved the way for Van der Vaart’s exit. Deadline day arrival Clint Dempsey got his fare share of chances as well, as he was expected to fill in the goal scoring boots of VDV, but has failed to gel with the team. Villas Boas tried both Sigurdsson and Dempsey by changing and chopping the no.10’s role in different games. Yet, none of them has been able to put in those performances that could seal their position in the side.
How can Villas Boas solve this modern No.10 problem? Tottenham’s games through the years have seen pacy and traditional wing-play supported by a balanced middle of the park and a mercurial pairing upfront. Spurs were involved in an attacking display of football and the fans adored the way the team played even if they failed to achieve results. So, is it time to make an occasional switch to the traditional 4-4-2 formation?
In Defoe and Adebayor, Tottenham have two dynamic strikers who can complement each other to push towards greater heights. Adebayor brings a versatile attacking threat to the game apart from his goals and assists. With Adebayor on the pitch, Defoe will get better service from knock-downs and Adebayor’s ability to bring others into the game will be a morale booster for the team as well. Defoe with his clinical finishing skills can become much more lethal. Tottenham will offer more direct threat to the opposition with two strikers and it looks like a better attacking threat than deploying an off-colour CAM with a lone striker.
When fielding 2 strikers Tottenham definitely will have enough firepower upfront, but that needs sacrificing in midfield. Spurs need to switch back to the traditional two man center midfield, which means a numerical advantage to the opposition. Dembele and Sandro are tireless runners even if you discount their class on the ball, still it can open up a gap between midfield and strikers. In-order to fill the void, either Adebayor or Defoe needs to drop from the last-man’s shoulders to occupy the free areas. That can provide similar flexibility to the existing Spurs system deployed by Villas Boas and if executed wisely by Adebayor and Defoe, this Plan B can be more lethal than Plan A.
The major problems with this formation are the lack of back-up options available to Villas Boas and it means the defensive shape won’t be perfect to counter those attack minded teams. So it wont be a feasible solution week in and out, but certainly worth a try to keep future opponents guessing before facing Tottenham. What can Spurs do when apt players are unavailable for both these formations?
Villas Boas has successfully deployed 4-3-3 with Porto and this is the formation which laid the foundation for the Villas Boas era in the footballing universe. The failed pursuit of Joao Moutinho put a full stop towards his 4-3-3 aspirations at Tottenham; Do spurs have enough options presently to try the famous mantra of their coach?
Tom Huddlestone is slowly getting back to match fitness; there were some moments against Chelsea, Maribor and Southampton, which took us back to the time when Huddlestone and Modric controlled the Spurs midfield in the EPL. Surely he is someone who can dictate the proceedings in the EPL, so why not try him along with Sandro and Dembele in a 3 man midfield? Huddlestone’s lack of mobility is a cause of concern, but he can act as a deep lying playmaker and his distribution is second to none. Along with Sandro and Dembele, Huddlestone can be a real asset especially with his accurate pinpoint long passes which can open up opposition defence in split seconds. The way Huddlestone ran the show against Southampton in the first half is a good sign for the future and it was evident from the fact that his substitution changed the game in Southampton’s favour in the second half.
The Sandro – Dembele combination has already proved their defensive solidity with a large number of interceptions and tackles, so the real concern will be on the attacking front. Dembele is someone who has to take up the mantle of linking midfield and attack, with his flair and dribbling skills. Dembele can easily support the attackers and his creativity can make the difference in crucial junctures as well. The injured Scott Parker once fit; can be deployed in a 3 man midfield without displacing Sandro and Dembele as well. This 3-man midfield will gives more assurance to the defence and successful teams are always built around an assured defence.
The EPL has set its pace over the past two months and the teams are slowly getting into their groove. Scouts have analysed the strengths and weakness of teams across the country and the managers have found out their best combinations as well. Some teams are suffering the injury curse while for some others injuries have come as a blessing in disguise.
Tottenham have a master tactician to ring the changes and he will be waiting for the right opportunity to try out the different options available to him. Even in the midst of injuries in the camp, Villas Boas has a lot of options at White Hart Lane. He might stick to 4-2-3-1 formation in the near future, but a guaranteed start for Sigurdsson or Dempsey isn’t the way forward unless they start performing. Will it be a toss-up between Sigurdsson, Dempsey, Adebayor and Huddlestone for that one spot which will decide the Tottenham formation and tactics for the games to come?