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  1. #1
    StPaulSpur's Avatar
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    The Guardian had a season-end review on tactics today that might make for interesting reader for Spurs supporters.

    The two strands I found most interesting were there discussion of the false number nine (specifically regarding Tevez and Messi) and their comments on Rooney and how the 4-4-2 can survive in the modern era.

    First, with the false number 9. The basic idea is that if you have a striker willing to drop deep to receive the ball, it offers a versatility to your attack in which wing players can cut inside or a midfielder can come up the middle to fill the space left by the striker. You see this in both Barcelona and City. In Barcelona's case, the possession game is so dominant that they don't need a big bodied striker to hold play up. Rather, they can play probably the closest thing to true total football since Cruyff's Ajax b/c Messi can drop deep, which frees Villa or Pedro to move inside into a two striker formation or to function as inverted wingers or allows Xavi or Iniesta to get forward and occupy the space traditionally held by a number nine. In the case of City, Tevez' work rate is so superior that he can drop deep and knit together the rest of their attacking play between their holding mids (Barry and De Jong) and their attacking mids (usually Toure, Silva and Balotelli/Dzeko). Moreover, with Toure's use as an attacking mid, he can storm forward into the space vacated by Tevez and make the attacks himself.

    In the case of Rooney, he's being deployed in a way similar to the false number nine, but Rooney is being used more as a second striker. Whereas City and Barca both play with a single striker up front in the middle, United used Rooney as a second striker, but he'd still drop deep like Messi and Tevez, take possession of the ball and lead the attack. Given the extreme versatility of United's players (Park and Giggs can both play central or wide, Valencia covers as much space as a fullback, plus their fullbacks overlap so well...), this makes them extremely difficult to cover, b/c they start out in a 4-4-2, but that can morph into a 4-2-3-1, a 4-4-1-1, or a 4-3-3 with relative ease.

    The takeaway for me, as a Spurs supporter, is that with players like Luka, Bale, Rafa, Sandro, and Huddlestone, we're headed in the right direction tactically. In fact, it may be that the only major difference between us and United is Chicharito and Berbatov (admittedly, that's a major difference). Functionally, United played a lot of 4-4-1-1 where their wings would use crossing balls and occasionally cut inside to trigger the attack, while Rooney would drop deep and play off Hernandez or Berbatov. Likewise, we lined up 4-4-1-1, but that often morphed into 4-3-3 going forward and 4-5-1 in defense. The main difference was that when United created chances with their fluid, versatile play going forward, Berbatov and Hernandez finished them. They were absolutely clinical in front of the net. We were... something less than that. Even so, when Rafa was fit at the beginning of the year, the attack was good enough. But when Rafa was injured or simply had a drop in form, we were basically United minus Rooney, Berbatov, and Hernandez. Our workrate was good, for the most part, but we didn't have the players up front to make 4-4-2 work and, without Rafa, we lost the versatility to shift between 4-4-1-1, 4-3-3, and 4-5-1.

    Takeaway for me: Leandro, Drogba and Gervinho are the perfect targets for us to be chasing. (As are Falcao and Hulk.) Leandro and Drogba can be the clinical finishers in front of the net we so desperately need, a la Chicharito/Berbatov. Gervinho, meanwhile, is another one of those flexible hybrid players that work brilliantly as a SS or false #9. United has shown that you can absolutely win trophies in England playing a 4-4-1-1. You just have to have the right players for it, like any other system. It'll be a good bit harder to win continental trophies as long as Barca is humming along, but you can win trophies in England playing 4-4-1-1, provided you have a creative yet sturdy midfield, hard workers with pace on the edge, and clinical finishing in front of the net. With Barcelona... I think you have to have the perfect storm of personnel, tactics, and coaching to beat them. That happened in Mourinho's last year at Inter, but there's not another club in the world right now that can match that. So unless something flukey happens (season-ending injury to Xavi, Messi, or Iniesta, for instance) I don't see anyone dethroning Barca next year. But there's no reason we can't jump right back into the CL with this past year's team + a clinical striker.

  2. These users say thanks for this post

    brainiac (09-06-2011),Dustin (09-06-2011),iwantpie (10-06-2011),Joshcorey (09-06-2011)


  3. #2
    Dustin's Avatar
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    Nice post, I think your quite right.

    The one thing I would add, is the difference between Rooney and VDV are quite a big separation between us and Man U. Rooney is a great team player, every bit as good as VDV, but he also provides a powerful physical presence and a direct go at defenders goal threat that VDV does not. Because of this Man U do not need to have a Drogba/Damiao striker up there with Rooney - Rooney can move forward and threaten when needed then drop back once space is created. Because of this, Man U doesn't need a big push the line striker like we do, instead they can have a smaller (hernandez) more finesse finisher (berby) that feeds off Rooney's service and find space based on the attention defenses give to rooney. Us on the other hand need bigger more threatening players because VDV does not bring that. I like your comparison of Man U to our formation last season, but I do think Rooney brings something very special, beyond VDV, that cannot be shown by goal tallys.

    Cheers, great post.

  4. #3
    StPaulSpur's Avatar
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    Right on. Rooney is much more powerful and pacier going forward than Rafa. Which makes a huge difference in the versatility of attack for United. That said, I'll take our central mids and wings over United's every time, so I think that more then compensates for the difference between Rafa and Rooney. Put it this way: The gulf in class between Modric/Sandro/Huddlestone v Carrick/Fletcher/Giggs (at this point in Giggs' career) is much wider than the gulf in class between Rooney/Rafa. For me, Giggs is the only CM United has who even sniffs our starting lineup. I'd put Carrick and Fletcher in the same category as Jenas or Palacios. Fine midfield players, but not the sort you want starting for a club with huge ambitions. United only gets away with it b/c their front line features the best SS in the world and their back line features probably the best CB in the world.

    I think Bale/Lennon/Pienaar v Nani/Valencia/Park is a push, although I think Bale is the top individual player of those 6. So those areas aren't the problem. The problem is that the greatest gulf in class is the one between Chicharito/Berbatov and Defoe/Pav/Crouch. If we can reduce that by adding Leandro and Falcao or Drogba, then I think we're suddenly a lock for top 4 and probably a dark horse contender for the title.

  5. #4
    stroud_jm's Avatar
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    @StPaulSpur: If you enjoyed this article, you should read Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson (same guy who wrote the article.) Really interesting stuff by the journo who probably knows the most about tactics.

    Wilson actually argues in his book that Modric is the first of a new breed of midfield playmakers who also have defensive responsibilities-he was praising him for his physicality despite his size before he even came to Spurs, when everyone else (other than some of our Croatian friends) was describing him as too physically frail to play in the PL.

  6. #5
    Musashi's Avatar
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    4-4-2 is getting obsolete in modern football. 4-5-1, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 are all somewhat similar systems and are more flexible and effective IMO. Depending on the situation, the team can morph into either formation seamlessly if they have the players for it.

  7. #6
    StPaulSpur's Avatar
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    @Musashi - See, this is where it gets a little tricky for me w/ Spurs. Where are Bale and Lennon best deployed? If you've got a midfield like Silva, Toure, Barry, De Jong, Johnson, then 4-2-3-1 is obviously the way to go. If you've got Carrick, Giggs, Valencia, Nani, Fletcher, Park, you have lots of options. Ditto on Song, Diaby, Fabregas, Nasri, Arshavin, and Rosicky. But when I look at our six top midfield players, I see three nail on center mids. And if you play them anywhere else on the field, their impact is greatly reduced. I see two wing players, one of whom could probably play a RF role as an inverted wing but one of whom is so dependent on their pace that if you play them any further up than a traditional RM/RWM, you may as well write him out of the game plan. And then there's Rafa, a wonderful creative mid who is undeniably brilliant but lacks pace.

    Long term, 4-3-3 seems the obvious answer, to me. Modric, Sandro, and Huddlestone together is just screaming "best midfield in Europe save Barcelona" to me and I think we could even make Rafa fit in a 4-3-3, either in a central playmaking role or maybe even as a left or right forward player. It's a stretch and it's not ideal, but I could see it working. And I think Bale can work in a 4-3-3. But Azza in a 4-3-3 = disaster. And we still need that striker. So in the interim, I think 4-4-1-1 is the best possible option. It allows us to basically go back and forth between 4-3-3 on the attack and 4-5-1 on defense while also keeping all of our players in their most natural positions. Really, a 4-4-1-1 with those five midfield players should be winning trophies left and right. But it won't happen till we get a dependable, clinical finisher in front of goal.

    One other thing: I'm seeing more and more people starting to say "well, if JD can bang in 10 goals next year, that could give Leandro time to adjust and then maybe we can get by w/ Leandro, JD, Crouch, and one other." But I'm not buying it. If anything, JD's recent form screams SS - and that role is already taken. But think about his goals this year: The CL goal against YB was from outside the box. So were the two against Wolves and the Blackpool goal. Inside the box, he was the most wasteful striker in the Premiership this side of John Carew. The only way I see JD scoring 10 goals next season is in a support role playing alongside a player like Leandro, Drogba, or Falcao. And from that role, I think he is capable of doing that. But that'd be all he'd give us. In contrast, I think Rafa in that role can give us 10 goals, probably just as many assists and I think most teams fear Rafa with the ball at his foot 22 yards out far more than they fear Defoe. Rafa can score from that range, but he can also see a pass that no one else on the field besides Luka sees, which then springs a striker free for a goal. JD can't bring that aspect. He'll just keep bombing the net from 20-24 yds out and once in a while he'll hit a cracker of a goal. So my preferred attacking lineup next year is:

    Modric, Sandro (backup Huddlestone, Parker)
    Lennon, Bale (backup at both spots, Pienaar, though I think Walker should get a look at RM if Corluka is holding down RB effectively)
    Rafa (backup JD)
    Drogba (backups Leandro, Crouch)

  8. #7
    iwantpie's Avatar
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    Re: Our wings vs. Man U's wings - I would say that, for now, Valencia is as good as Bale. Bale has more potential and is the better player when he's on form but he's not as consistent as Valencia. As to Lennon/Pienaar vs Nani/Park, as much as I hate Nani I think Man U wins that one. Park is a better Pienaar (not exactly, but close enough for my comparison) and Nani has more aspects to his game than Lennon. Having said that, no other team in the Premiership (and maybe the world with the exception of Bayern Munich) has better wingers than us.

    Re: JD as a support striker, I agree with that. You see JD moving into the channels a lot and coming a little deeper to receive the ball. When he does try to play off the shoulder nowadays he is (sigh) inevitably offside or, if by some miracle, he isn't he's lost that extra yard of pace to make it count. With that in mind, I would say Pav is a better support striker than JD. His long range shooting is better, his passing is better (generally). He does tend to fall over and he can go missing in games so I don't think either is ideal (particularly not as I understand Pav earns 70k a week) but of the two I think Pav does that better. A final point on this; if you're looking for someone to play the SS/#10 role that's already at our club; Niko is better at it than both Pav and Defoe put together but I'll say no more for fear of opening that can of worms again.

    To the general point of the thread: I made a post recently about how it seems to me like our transfer policy is moving towards recruiting the types of player to really make the 4-3-3 work (or 4-2-3-1) and also to provide extra attacking positional versatility (Dembele, Park Chu Young, Gervinho, Hazard, Downing, Wickham etc.) I strongly suspect that we'll see the team looking to be able to add more tactical versatility next season; not necessarily getting rid of 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2 but being able to play more narrow and through the middle if required to, something we're just not equipped for now.

  9. #8
    Dustin's Avatar
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    I think it is natural for fans to value their role players more than other teams role players, so I am not surprised to see Carrick, Fletcher, Park, etc. totally underestimated here. But still there is no way our midfield is better than Man U's, yes we maybe have the two best players in Bale and Modric (MAYBE), but Man U have players that can play very flexibly and each can give the likes of Bale a run for his money on any given day, lennon does not compare to any of their midfielders (Even Park, their weakest winger has been great this year). The likes of Bale and Sandro have a lot of potential but still need to grow a lot before you can count on them to do what Man U's midfielders do week in and week out. Maybe by the end of this season we could revisit this argument, but based on each midfield's form over the last 6 months Man U has twice the options as we do, options that proven and experienced, us having the possibility of Bale going on a stretch of form is not nearly as valuable at this point in time.

    Remember how often VDV is hurt. I think that JD can play the role of a support striker, but he would pay it differently than VDV (or Niko or Pav). The most notable thing that he can do is receive the ball and attack channels at space, or run channels himself when the Center Striker drags a defender out of position. VDV and Niko don't have the pace for this, and Pav rarely bothers to give it a shot and is not as good. But Defoe on the other hand is always moving and often moving with pace, he can definitely bring something that VDV does not have. Just depends on the game and how well our midfield is playing possession and who the new Center Striker is. Honestly all of these conversations are somewhat shots in the dark until we know who we are bringing in. I'm assuming that it WILL NOT BE Drogba... of course we as spurs fans would assume that we are going to get the best utility striker of recent years. But that most likely will not be the case.


    Great example of Defoe's movement on the ball can be seen when he assisted Pav against chelsea.... (which ironically someone linked to show Pav's great movement - which consisted of a touch and shoot). Defoe ran a channel near the Leftback, didn't get the ball, came outside and picked up the ball dragging the full back and one other midfielder up the pitch, then turned and sent a slotting pass to Pav's feet that resulted in a well executed touch and shoot. Small example, but I think we could see defoe's speed and work ethic put in some good work with another striker - we just didn't see it this year because we didn't have that other striker.

  10. #9

  11. #10
    jokerevo's Avatar
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    I wonder if we had the strikers converting even half of those ridiculous home draws into wins last season , you know where we would've ended up? 3rd. We created the chances, we didn't take them which points to a basic problem. Defoe is not hungry enough any more (compare his runs to Hernandez..Hernandez is making the same runs Defoe did when he was younger...now Defoe waits for the ball to come to him....). Pav is simply not technically good enough on the ball...meeting the ball is a different story. Crouch...bleh I'll save my energy.

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