Rafael van der Vaart scored twice, once in each half, to lead Tottenham to victory over Blackburn at Ewood Park on Sunday. This weekend was a tumultuous matchday across Europe (Milan coming back from 3-0 down to beat Lecce) but especially in England where QPR defeated Chelsea and Manchester City demolished their crosstown rivals in what Sir Alex Ferguson described as “the worst result in my history, ever.” Somewhere tucked in between all the drama of the week 9 in the Premier League, Tottenham travelled to face Blackburn Rovers who are struggling at the bottom of the table despite seemingly playing up to par with their opponents.
Again, this wasn’t Tottenham’s best performance of the season but they still managed to get three points away from home. The match marked a return to the starting lineup for Aaron Lennon which meant that we played a strong 4-4-1-1 with Bale on the left, Modric and Parker operating in the middle, Lennon working the right wing, with van der Vaart slotting in behind Adebayor. The big Togolese striker was a doubt for the game due to injury but still started and led out strongest attacking lineup. Spurs’ defense was another story though, with Dawson, Gallas, and King all still injured (along with youngster Steven Caulker). Assou-Ekotto and Walker played in their familiar wingback positions. Kaboul was the anchor of the backline but the weak link in defense was Sebastien Bassong who is seemingly always shaky when he plays.
Early in the game Adebayor sent a ball in that almost found Bale on the diagonal. Before we could even rue that chance however, Kyle Walker was released down the right wing. He was able to turn the corner and cut the ball back to van der Vaart. In recent games we’ve seen Bale try to play the same ball to the Dutchman, only to have it get caught in his feet. On this occasion, however, van der Vaart made no mistake and slotted the ball neatly inside the far post.
Spurs faithful (I don’t feel comfortable using the Y-word) are accustomed to sacrificing defensive responsibility for the glory of the game, in order to play attractive football. Unfortunately, neither was incorporated into this match at Ewood Park. The defenses on both sides of the pitch had off-games on Sunday. Every team is vulnerable on set pieces and Tottenham is no different. We had defenders in the right positions to mark the opposition, both a failure of communication set up a brilliant chance for Blackburn. Walker and Parker collided in the air, which left Mauro Formica wide open 12 yards in front of goal. Brad Friedel had no chance on the shot as the young Argentine buried his opportunity.
At 35 minutes, Luka Modric almost took the game by the scruff of the neck. Yet again he showed his tremendous quality when he received the ball innocuously in the middle of the park and weaved his magic into a shot from 20 yards out. That play was almost a goal out of nothing and proves that Daniel Levy made the right choice (despite Soccernomics wisdom) by keeping the want-away midfield maestro.
The first action of the second half picked up with a through ball played up the left side to Assou-Ekotto. The Cameroon wingback tried to cut inside on Blackburn’s defender and the ball bounced precipitously to a late surging van der Vaart. The high-flying Dutchman absolutely buried the ball past the near post with his left foot. Because Adebayor, Bale, Parker and Lennon were all targets in the box, Blackburn keeper Paul Robinson (former Spurs man) was hedging his bets for the cross. Van der Vaart unleashed a rocket of a shot to the near side, however, beating the sprawling goalkeeper. This movement off the ball really created the opening for Rafa.
Bale was leading the line as a center forward as Ade dropped back to play the ball wide for Benoit. Van der Vaart initially found success for Spurs last season by virtue of his late arriving runs. Both goals against Blackburn followed that same model. On the second goal, van der Vaart allowed Parker to get above him and draw defenders away from the space right outside the 18 yard box. Just to illustrate how successful the Dutchman has been in a Tottenham uniform. His double at Ewood Park marked Rafael van der Vaart’s 21st goal in 45 appearances in all competitions and 18th in 35 league appearances.
Though the Tottenham defense looked shaky all game and gave up way too many chances to an inferior Blackburn side. Sunday’s win cemented Spurs fifth place position in the table above Liverpool with 16 points and a game in hand. Despite the drama circling Rafa’s complaints over playing on the right wing three weeks ago, the Dutchman is going to be central to any success Tottenham finds this season.