Spurs’ quest for another UEFA Champions League appearance took a detour yet again, as West Ham United held onto a scoreless draw at White Hart Lane in their London Derby.
The home squad was assembled in their familiar 4-4-1-1 formation. Jermain Defoe played the front. The most notable change from their normal squad was the inclusion of Vedran Corluka at right back, in lieu of Alan Hutton.
Avram Grant responded to Tottenham’s attack by displaying a more defensive formation, a 4-1-4-1 with two available strikers in the lineup. Carlton Cole spent most of the time as the lone center forward, but Demba Ba was inserted as a left wing midfielder. Cole and Ba were keen to swap positions throughout the match, but especially after the half-hour mark. Scott Parker was the holding midfielder, but Gary O’Neil also maintained a more defensive posture, being on the same side of the pitch as Bale. In a way, you could look at this formation as similar to Tottenham’s, except that the attacking midfielder (in West Ham’s case, Thomas Hitzlsperger) was less advanced to help maintain defensive fortitude. In response, Parker moved back to sit in front of the defense (his Tottenham counterpart being Sandro).
The first half mostly came down to squandered opportunities, primarily from Tottenham. The half started well, with Bale finding room down the left against Lars Jacobsen. This opened up shots by Michael Dawson (who struck the crossbar), as well as Defoe (who flicked a cross by Bale just wide). As the half went on, both O’Neil and Mark Noble tracked back to help out Jacobsen. As this happened, this allowed more room for either Rafael van der Vaart or Luka Modric to drop back, accept the ball, and break the ball up through the middle (typically in the left channel vacated by Noble). While this worked for awhile, West Ham’s back line was stout, choking out many of the opportunities through the 30 minute mark.
As for West Ham, their philosophy was surprisingly effective. Ba’s inclusion in the lineup allowed for striking speed from the outside, while allowing them to maintain a defensive posture. Ba did a wonderful job falling back to help patrol outside the area. It also helped that Corluka was out of sync with Aaron Lennon, and thus much of the early play into West Ham’s left defensive side stalled. West Ham did have their chances though; Hitzlsperger and Ba both ably feeding Cole through on goal, but the tall forward’s finishes were not up to par with the quality of service delivered.
Hammers Try To Improve Finishing Touch, Spurs Respond
Tottenham’s production thinned out around the 30 minutes in. It was about that point that Cole and Ba started to swap positions on the pitch for West Ham. My take on this was that Cole had already wasted a couple of prime opportunities, and he thought that Ba might have the touch in this match. The downside of this switch is that it’s a downgrade on the left wing on defense, primarily because of the lack of work rate from Cole. Between this and the broken play down the Lennon/Corluka flank, Bale and Lennon swapped the wings. This change didn’t seem to help out Bale much; it didn’t seem that the Welshman was particularly comfortable playing an inside wing role. The real benefit was shown towards Lennon, whose quickness darting towards the inside around Jacobsen nearly netted Tottenham the opener. The 40th minute attempt from 14 yards rang off the right post, and an attempt by Defoe to deposit the rebound went harmlessly wide right.
There wasn’t much change in philosophy into the second half, although Ba seemed more free to move forward and truly behave like a second striker. That being said, when out of possession, he always slid back into the midfield 5.
Spurs gained more control as the half went on, but West Ham was always one quality strike away from the lead. Noble struck an overhead volley from 12 yards just wide right at the 55 minute mark, and Ba laced a shot from 25 yards that forced Heurelio Gomes to make a timely diving save. This was all against the run of play, though, as Tottenham pushed men forward and the Hammers stuffed the defensive third.
There were really no changes in form in the match. Pavlyuchenko came on for van der Vaart (after a relatively quiet afternoon), and Hutton for Corluka. West Ham relieved Cole with Victor Obinna, and pushed Ba permanently to center forward. The Russian was more involved in the game than van der Vaart, but Spurs best chance was a free kick just outside the area by Bale. His attempt was destined for the upper right corner, but Green displayed great reflex and range to direct the ball onto the crossbar, and the rebound was headed out of play to end the threat.
The trends for both of these teams continued. West Ham had been tracking towards relegation safety (10 of possible 15 points earned), and Spurs had been disappointing in matches against Blackpool (loss) and Wolves (draw). Gareth Bale is still not back to top form, and there still seems to be no prime choice at forward. It either all comes together, as against Wolves for Defoe and Pavlyuchenko, or falls apart like today’s match. Peter Crouch gets the only goal in their Champions League tie with Milan, but a single goal is unlikely to be enough against Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid. I suppose the good news for Tottenham is that they are creating the chances.