The top-line story from Tottenham’s trip to Inter is pretty clear:
1st half: Inter stormed it
2nd half: Bale’s hatrick made it (briefly) interesting
Difficult to dispute either point. But it’s wrong to assume that this was “a game of two halves” with Tottenham “winning the second half” and simply being unlucky for early defensive errors. Rather, the whole game demonstrated Redknapp’s often one-dimensional tactics, and a lack of sophistication and purpose in Tottenham squad.
As predicted by Zonal Marking, Spurs started the game looking to get high balls from the wings onto Peter Crouch’s head. There was no attempted penetration of the Inter back line, but rather a simple, traditional tactic of: “get it wide, belt it into the big man.”
A diagram of their passes makes this point. Note the severe lack of short passes in danger-areas of the final third (the zone inside the yellow line):
Compare this to the same diagram of Barcelona’s passing from last night. I’ve attempted to show a similar zone with the same yellow line:
All stats and diagrams are via @totalfootballfc
The difference is staggering prima facie, and by taking a closer look you notice even more. Not only is there a lack of blue and red colour in the Tottenham final third, but nearly all the passes are very long and diagonal – ie. big punts inside to Crouch.
Now, before I get sent turds in envelopes with N17 postal stamps, we should consider that this is a harsh comparison. Barcelona are Barcelona; no team can play tika-taka to their standard, and most teams opt for a different style. Furthermore, Barcelona were at home in an easy-ish game, while Spurs were away at Inter.
Fair enough, but the degree to which Tottenham resorted to their one-dimensional tactic remains notable – and its lack of effectiveness was even more staggering. Some stats to make the point:
- Aside from the goals, Tottenham had zero shots on target. Cesar didn’t make a save.
- Tottenham had just 8 shots in total (including Bale’s 3 goals), compared to Inter’s 23
- Tottenham had only four “shot assists”, one third as many as Inter.
- Huddlestone completed 31 passes. Sneijder completed 118. Zanetti made 72.
Admittedly, Tottenham’s position was severely worsened by the withdrawal of Modric, thus removing the link between midfield and attack – but the choice to remove the link-man demonstrates that linking midfield and attack was not considered anywhere near as important as the policy of getting it wide and crossing it in for Crouch. Harry said after the game: “we still were positive, we left the two wide men on.” This quotation belies Redknapp’s interpretation of “positive”. It simply means “keeping on the fast wide players who can cross it into the big man.”
Given the one-man disadvantage and gap between midfield and attack, you might think that Crouch would be used to hold up the ball and bring the midfielders into play – certainly when you have midfielders who can join play as quickly as Bale and Lennon. Yet this didn’t happen at all. Crouch completed just 23 passes.
In defence, meanwhile, Tottenham often stuck the traditional “two banks of four” behind the ball. Even in the first half this failed to work, as Inter found gaps between the lines. Huddlestone and Jenas were often square, and Redknapp’s team struggled to deal with the movement of Sneijder, Eto’o and the astoundingly good Coutinho.
Bale’s heroics are deservedly getting attention, but they merely mask Tottenham’s deficiencies. This isn’t a bad team, you understand. They’re not Liverpool or anything. But their system seems to be something like this: get distinctly average players to do the basic old-fashioned things right (Hutton, Assou-Ekotto, Jenas, Huddlestone, Palacios, Crouch, Bassong…) then hope that a talented player (Bale, VDV…) does something amazing out of the blue.
It can work. But it also relies on the talented players staying at your club.