On Saturday, Spurs traveled to play West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns. WBA isn’t necessarily a good team, sitting in the middle of the Premier League table, but they do have a few attacking options. Tottenham are certainly riding high, winning 8 of 9 unbeaten going into the match.
Shane Long has pace that always put pressure on our center back pairing of Ledley King and Younes Kaboul. Kyle Walker also struggled defensively and could have given away a penalty or two. As odd as it is to say given his track record in the past, Benoit Assou-Ekotto was the most consistent player defensively for Spurs and sent a number of dangerous crosses into the box at the opposite end.
Luka Modric traveled with the team, but was sent home from the team’s hotel with illness. That meant first of all that he couldn’t push up the field into van der Vaart’s role, but also that he couldn’t hold his position. Sandro came into midfield to pair for Scott Parker while Defoe partnered Adebayor in a 4-4-2. Two hard tackling midfielders meant that Tottenham had no substantive possession in the middle of the park.
Because neither Sandro or Parker could hold onto the ball, Lennon and Bale frequently drifted centrally in addition to playing a large part of the second half inverted. Couple this with the loss of Rafa van der Vaart to injury which forced both Defoe and Adebayor back into midfield. There were several instances when Emmanuel Adebayor was behind all four midfielders receiving the ball from the center backs. To make the congestion in midfield even worse, Spurs often played Bale and Lennon on the same side. I’m not sure of the causal link, but Adebayor shifted out to the left wing while Gareth Bale attempted to tuck in behind Defoe, who also failed to push the line as an advanced center forward.
The inversion of wingers is the strange phenomenon that occurs when a right-footed player plays on the left and a left-footed player plays on the right. This works well in 4-3-3 formations when you expect your advanced wingers to cut inside and take shots, but rarely works if you want wingers to play the ball into the box. I wrote a post a while back about Club América failing while employing inverted wingers.
What the CartilageFreeCaptain community has begun calling “Double Stuffed Wings” worked well in recent games for small stretches but only when someone else pulled pressure away from the ball. Neither Defoe nor Adebayor provided this width off the ball. Whenever Lennon held the ball just inside West Bromwich’s half, Walker would make an overlapping run while both Sandro and Parker came to. However all three of them were easily marked and the four Spurs players coughed over the ball without much effort from WBA’s defense.
Tottenham’s goal was a rebound by Adebayor off a penalty draw from Aaron Lennon’s quick inside run. Lennon played a quick one-two with Manu before driving diagonally into the box. All he had to do was get the inside shoulder on Nicky Shorey, and once Lennon felt contact he went down to win the penalty for Tottenham.
Emmanuel Adebayor, despite scoring 4 goals in his last 2 games has been suffering from a bout of profligacy in front of goal. In the Aston Villa game, Adebayor had six or seven easy looks in front of goal. Today, Spurs’ midfield set the center forward up with four quality opportunities in the run of play. If Adebayor had put away any of his chances in the first 92 minutes of the game (not counting his rebounded penalty) the possession and offensive drives West Bromwich enjoyed would not have put so much pressure on Tottenham.
Despite taking 26 shots, 11 of which were on target, Tottenham failed to make their chances count until “club hero” Jermain Defoe slotted home in the 81st minute. Every shot Adebayor took from inside the box was right at Ben Foster. In fact, even Manu’s stoppage time goal hit Foster’s foot as he dove the wrong way before bouncing in the far side of the net. On Spurs’ 10 corner kicks Kaboul and King failed to convert any of their numerous headers. If either of them had headed home from a corner, I would have forgiven their poor defensive work today.