The Reason For Tottenham’s Collapse, And Why Redknapp Wouldn’t Be Good for England

After witnessing Tottenham’s 3-1 loss to Manchester United last month, where a Tottenham side devoid of their defensive stalwarts succumbed to three short instances of United pressure, I came to the conclusion that this Spurs side that had been performing at a stellar level this season would crumble.

It is a sad thought, as the introduction of Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor during the summer plugged in the necessary gaps that led to a run akin to title winning teams. Spurs was playing attractive football and scoring goals. They got rid of the defensive fragility that has plagued them in the past, and turned talented young players such as Younes Kaboul and Kyle Walker into full internationals. Luka Modric had arguably his best string of form in a Tottenham shirt, while Parker’s energy and tackling made for a perfect foil for the Croatian. On the wings, Kranjcar and then Lennon had equally fruitful spells on either side, while Gareth Bale rediscovered the early-season form of the past term that had him hailed as the world’s best left sided player. Rafael van der Vaart continued to offer a devastating option in attack, as his ability to float between midfield and defence allowed Spurs an extra dimension up front. Adebayor’s physicality and knack for quality finishing offered a great foil to a nimble yet effective Jermain Defoe. The addition of Louis Saha looked to be an inspired piece of business from Redknapp, and Ryan Nelsen had seemed solid if anything. Overall, the only instance of suspicion was how simply cool Assou-Ekotto was. At their highest point, Tottenham looked like world-beaters.

And then it all came back.

The Problem 

The Spurs of old had the second best mentality commonly associated with underachieving teams. The amount of hype surrounding them, and the quality of their players did not add up to be equal, even with Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane even now possessing the ability to walk into most Premier League sides. There was always disappointment when Tottenham continually finished fifth, especially after a rotten lasagna was the difference between fourth and fifth one season. Good results against the league’s bottom dwellers were met with sheer disappointment against the sides in the top four. There was pressure, and not enough quality to handle it.

Which is why I find it almost impossible to believe that Redknapp has not come to grips with the phenomenon that made Tottenham so great during the high points of their season. Spurs was a surprising side. They lacked expectation. They were the innocent Lilywhites playing so aesthetically… almost as if they had nothing to lose. After the addition of Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor — two players with mountains of experience — the holes were plugged.

And there was a pattern: the goal early in the game, the domination of possession throughout the first half, the killer second goal in the beginning of the second half, and whatever they pleased to do in the last parts of the match. It happened again and again, against Liverpool, Bolton, QPR, Everton, and to some extent Fulham.

But as the season has worn on, it became apparent how to beat Tottenham. Have a player like Scott Parker to break up play. Use your talented and sprightly playmaker in a deep position. Play a moderately high line. Let your wingers come inside and encourage stability in your full backs. Play like Tottenham, and you’ll beat Tottenham. Redknapp started a trend, and it became a tactical problem for him.

Teams started to follow suit. It was a philosophy of play rather than a specific formation that was utilized. Teams started to sit up and admire the workhorse that Scott Parker was. They started to notice how Modric would pop up to take possession from his teammates whenever they were outnumbered. They began to perceive Adebayor’s role as a striker who drops deep as a brilliant novelty.

But when Jerome Thomas enjoys a better game than Gareth Bale, something has to be wrong. Right?

Although Tottenham beat West Brom on both occasions, and Jerome Thomas ultimately and continually produced a disappointing end product, Redknapp’s tactics were dire to say the least. They were devoid of any sort of fluidity, relied on the hold-up play of Adebayor and sheer speed of Aaron Lennon. Sandro and Parker produced a mediocre defensive performance but offered very little going forward. Even after the win that Redknapp said “was one of the most difficult three points of the season,” I was biting my nails with full knowledge that the wheels would come off pretty soon.

Tactical Necessity

I couldn’t think of a better way to put it, other than to plainly say that Redknapp’s ideology is to put the best players in their favorite positions and to build around that. At first, I thought there was nothing wrong with that, with full knowledge that my idol Brian Clough would be pleased that such a side were near the top of English football. Then, after I remembered that the difference between an admittedly average side at the beginning of the season, and title-challenging outfit were Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor, I began to understand that Redknapp was not so tactically astute. Last season, Modric played on the left wing of a 4-3-3 away at Manchester City. It was one of the most important games of the season. Against Real Madrid, Jermaine Jenas played on the right. In short, there was too much crap last season and at the beginning of this one, and Redknapp clearly was tactically unable to deal with it.

To be a side challenging for top honors, which in Spurs’ case is a top four finish, a coach needs to have a grasp of tactical necessity. In short, Redknapp doesn’t.

Where to start? Let’s begin with Redknapp’s 4-3-3 that has been far from convincing.


   Walker         Kaboul                     King        Assou-Ekotto


Parker               Modric

Van der Vaart                                                            Bale


Personally, I’ve always thought a 4-3-3 in the Premier League has been a great idea. However, long gone are the days when a similar tactical setup could be used with two wingers hugging the touchline, a packed midfield, and two full backs who cross like center backs. That is the approach that has given Wigan an excuse to play average players and expect something out of it. The truth is, the formation is bland when you don’t have players who like to come inside and full backs who overlap. You also need a midfielder to run into the box and act as a poacher when the ball is crossed in. In other words, as much as Modric is a playmaker, he is a deep lying playmaker. You only have to look at Bastian Schweinsteiger, a midfielder who shares similar strengths with the Croatian international, to see the full extent of putting players of that caliber in a role where they see more of the ball. For clarification purposes, ever since the 26 year-old German was moved to the middle from his usual wide position, he has been superb.

Let’s talk a little more about Bayern Munich, how Schweni has the midfield all to himself. He enjoyed his best spell of form with Mark van Bommel, and then Anatoli Tymoschuk as a partner to do the dirty work, and it was even more devastating when Toni Kroos was thrown in a position in the hole behind the striker. This formation, a 4-2-3-1, allows Schweinsteiger influence in his deep-lying role, while also taking the creative burden off of him. As a partnership, the Kroos-Schweinsteiger-Tymoschuk triangle has worked. When it is broken up, Bayern look disoriented.

There you have it: a perfectly successful blueprint that Redknapp can look at and decide to utilize with assurance that it will work against… err Everton. Bayern Munich’s poor form has been largely due to their defensive deficiencies, and the inconsistency of Robben and Ribery as wide players, and Muller as a central striker. When Muller has been available to play on the right, and Ribery’s inner Frankenstein does not limit him to the composure of a 9 foot tall beast, Bayern Munich have been quality.

The reason I took the time figuring out how to best explain the Bayern midfield system is to further intensify the search for a quality 4-2-3-1 system that Tottenham can easily transpose to. It looks like this:


   Walker         Kaboul                     King        Bale

Parker/Sandro          Modric

van der Vaart

Giovanni dos Santos                                                                                Lennon


Yes, the reason Giovanni dos Santos is chosen is because in a 4-2-3-1, the wide players tend to be wide forwards who like to rearrange themselves centrally, or are just natural strikers. At Real Madrid, di Maria and Ronaldo rarely play on the side of their favored foot, as putting them there may give them the tendency to hug the touchline. At Bayern, Ribery is put on the left for the same reason. Strikers-come wingers Muller and Podolski show for Germany that they are perfect in this system, as their natural nose for goal brings them inside, yet are complemented by their knowledge of when to drift out wide. The reason the center is so important is because of the two holding players who are otherwise isolated when in possession. If the wingers come inside, the full backs overlap, the striker gets service from all areas of the pitch, and the playmaker playing behind him flourishes with play going through the middle of the pitch.

So let’s bring it back to Tottenham.

Modric and Parker make up a central midfield pairing that has been used to devastating effect this year. The only difference is that they don’t have to move out wide to support the wingers, a luxury given that they have been much more useful in the center. In his favorite position, the talented Mexican attacker Giovanni dos Santos is given the freedom to roam and come inside onto his stronger left foot, while still being supplemented by a slightly withdrawn van der Vaart. Aaron Lennon, who has looked more dangerous continually swapping wings rather than fixed in a position on the right, is given the freedom to move into the center and even swap flanks with Gio, with an overlapping Bale looking to do his usual thing.

And yes, I do know what you’re thinking. As liberal as we footy fans are, I’m sure many of you are quick to question how defensively stable this system is. To that I have an even more liberal answer, being that Giovanni was originally an Alonso-type player, and can fill in there when needed. In the event of the Parker-Modric partnership being overworked, van der Vaart can come off for Kranjcar (who is unfortunately injured for the remainder of the season), and the former Portsmouth man can play in a withdrawn position. In the event of Tottenham needing more grit, Sandro should come on for Modric, giving Tottenham a proper “Vieira-dimension” to their play, with Kranjcar screening play in front of them. Arsenal has been using this to great effect in recent times.


   Walker         Kaboul                     King        Bale

Parker             Modric


dos Santos                                                                                Lennon


With Walker and Bale attacking the flanks, Kranjcar’s introduction allows Giovanni more room on the right to conjure attacks, and gives Lennon the space he likes to run at defenders on the counter. It’s a Wigan approach, what could possibly go wrong? With Bale and Walker seemingly possessing boundless energy, most of the play would go down the flanks, which is where Tottenham’s best players flourish.

The Conclusion 

After losing to Chelsea in an embarrassing FA Cup semi-final for Spurs fans and hard-core traditionalists for our beautiful game, Tottenham is actually in a perfect position: a position where not much is expected of them. Full backs will start laying off Bale and Lennon on the counter, and Modric will have slightly more space to work with in the middle of midfield. Of course, Redknapp will continue to turn out a 4-4-2 of some variation week in and week out, or a 4-5-1 with van der Vaart as a withdrawn forward. And it’s still very, very possible for them to finish outside of the top four.

Walker will continue to impress on the right flank, where Tottenham will rely on his ability to overlap. Gallas and the Tottenham defence devoid of Younes Kaboul will continue not playing the high line that was effective before the switch to a sweeper system, while the left back Assou-Ekotto will remain the calm presence with Bale double-marked ahead of him. Lennon will hug the touchline, while Parker and Modric will play a box-to-box game that has led to two figures a shadow of their early-season selves. Adebayor will hold the ball up well, van der Vaart will drift in behind and back as a support striker, and Defoe may come off the bench to score. Or he may not.

With bewildered pessimism in the side and with the fans, it’s not the players’ fault. They were not managed properly, not played in the proper system to manage a season-long top three side. Having said that, a fourth-place finish looks likely and a few summer signings, compounded with the long-term futures of Bale and Modric at the club, is on the cards.

17 thoughts on “The Reason For Tottenham’s Collapse, And Why Redknapp Wouldn’t Be Good for England”

  1. I would say the butterfly affect could be used as the reason Tottenham have dropped off in form. It started with Suarez saying a racist word to Evra which started the media storm on “Racism is back in the EPL”; thus causing someone to watch a match frame by frame to try and lip read JT using a racist word at Ferdinand which put more fuel on the media’s fire. Once this happened JT was charged with racially abusing Ferdinand and Capello did not to take the captain’s arm band a way from JT the FA did causing Capello to quite and the England manager speculation to start. So Spud fans blame Liverpool for trying to get back into the top 4 this way because they sure can’t do it on the pitch.

  2. Greg i would let u take over from HR with them tactic. apply for the job, at least u no what your talking about

  3. Thanks for the article. However, IMO your tactical observations of Harry and Spurs in general are wrong, but thats the point of these blogs and makes for great debate. I’m going to ignore the tactical midfield and attacking observations you made to make this response a little shorter and focus on what I feel are the real issues.

    Harry is still the best choice for England, When he does go on May 15th I really hope Rodgers gets the gig, and, that this time period is very very short.

    A lot of Spurs misfortunes have come from poor play individual defensive play or in some cases just plain bad luck (Chelski league game, Man Utd, QPR). Harry’s success at Spurs and preferred formation has been to play 4-4-1-1. 4-3-3 has been in a handful of games and is based off a variety of injury issues.

    The issue is 2 fold, 1 our inability to pay the money for top players at any of the positions, the second is our defensive personnel. Walker is great and deserving of his award, Kaboul is solid with huge potential. The rest in all honesty is a train wreck.

    Benny is a liability and hopefully the next to leave Spurs in the summer, I will concede he displays good ball skill and attacking ability. However, he constantly shirks defensive responsibilities, shows a serious lack of tactical understanding and makes terrible decisions with his distribution at crucial point in the game.

    His “calmness” isn’t one of “hey lads, trust me I’ve got this you can depend on me” its one of “i don’t really give a damn, its just a job”. Just look at the arse, Man U, Man City, Chelski (FA Cup game), Norwich, Blackburn and Swansea games, those alone will provide ample evidence that he zero spacial awareness, he leaves 15 – 20 yards between him and the opposition with his back to them, he’s completely unaware. (kings frustration at benny for the third goal by Chelski at Wembley is evidence of that).

    The other liabilities are Gallas, Neilson, King and yes Dawson.

    Gallas is past it, his need to play deep because he lacks the pace and strength needed to play against the top stickers in the premier league, he is only outshone in all of these frailties by Leadley King.

    Leadley King has been a great Spurs player, but it has been over for him for at least 18 months. His knee injury means he just hasn’t got the pace or quickness needed, he is constantly exposed at the back, and when you play next to Benny that happens alot. leadley reads the game like a book he just physically can’t keep up anymore.

    Why he goes up for corners is beyond me, he looks like a wounded animal running back from them as the opposition breaks on the counter and it just leaves us exposed in trying to anticipate this Parker has to stay on the half way line to cover when he he should be in-between the halfway line and the 18 yard box picking up any stray balls or as an outlet to build up the attack again. It’s just time to retire.

    Neilson terrible signing –too slow physically and mentally, situational sub at best for the last 20 – 10 mins.

    Dawson, while he may be a nice guy; on the field he’s a poor mans Mabbutt, he doesn’t read the game very well, makes poor decisions and his ball skill is average, yes he throws his body in the way of challenges but they are normally from a poor ball he’s played, plus he is injury prone, not a fan at all.

    To address the defensive issues? IMO Bring back Caulker from Swansea, he has been a rock and would pair well with Kaboul at the center. Keep Dawson as a back up or sell.

    For left back, ideally I’d attempt to lure Baines from Everton, However, if you can’t get him or another a top left during the summer, then you have to look at using Kyle Naughton, he may be right footed but I trust him more with defensive responsibilities than Benny, its just painful seeing the gaps and poor decisions.

    We do have a great crop of players coming through, as a side note a player to watch is Iago Falque, I hope he starts getting first team action

    Thanks for the article tho, have to —

    as a side u should check out

    1. Assou-Ekotto, a train wreck?! LOL, he’s been one of the best LBs in the league this season (though Evra is clearly superior) and is fantastic going forward. Sure, he’s had a couple of bad games, but hasn’t everybody? Since Bale has been drifting further and further in the middle (and even switching flanks periodically) BAE’s been relied on to provide width and crossing, and I think knocking on him for not tracking back enough is pretty unfair.

      Also, your singling him out for playing because it’s “just a job” is, quite frankly, insulting. Yes, he doesn’t play “for the shirt.” I imagine that’s true for about 95% of professional footballers. He’s calm, he does his job, and he’s happy playing for Tottenham. I don’t give a damn if he kisses the badge.

      1. DGM

        First of all I called out defense a train wreck not just Assou-Ekotto. (Walker and Kaboul aside).

        So you think the defensive performances of King, Gallas, Dawson & Neilson have not been train wrecks?
        did you see the Norwich, Man city, or Arsenal games to name a few.

        For you to call Assou-Ekotto one of the best left backs in the league is a joke? absolutely laughable.
        If you read my post again you will see I acknowledge his attacking ability but that does not excuse his defensive issues what so ever.

        Bales movement to left midfield as a out and out winger means it’s Benny’s job is to defend.
        Mackie made mincemeat of him all game this weekend…Mackie! and its not like its limited to Mackie. Watch him defend corners and free kicks its a joke.

        Its easy to say oh I see him cross the ball a lot, but what about the rest of his responsibilities?

        When Bale drifts inside to get more action because opposition sandwich him between the RB and RM Parker, Sandro or Modric cover.

        What about when bale is on the right? Walker seems just fine when Bale switches. Is it Modric or Lennon’s fault now?

        Turn on Foxx soccer and just watch the QPR game like I am again now and see for yourself. the first half is littered with examples of Assou-Ekotto not defending and just switching off.

        As you point professionals don’t have to kiss the badge, but there is a distinct difference between someone like Modric who even made it known he wanted to leave the club but still puts in a shift every game and Assou-Ekotto not. It’s not like the evidence isn’t on the screen for all to see.

    2. Well, first off, I’d like to agree and disagree with you on the topic of England’s next manager. For me, the best option for the poison chalice would be Alan Pardew. His tactical awareness, rather than ability to build a great team from scratch, is what makes him ideal. He’s gone and bought Cisse, Tiote, Cabaye, and Ba, and they fit together from the get-go, which is largely due to the system he plays. If there’s anyone I trust to shut up shop, or to exploit an 11-v-10 man advantage, it’d be Pardew.

      Assuming Redknapp leaves, I’d love to see Brendan Rodgers at the Lane. He’s similar to David Moyes, who makes great pound-for-pound signings. Either one would do.

      I will concede that Assou-Ekotto is perhaps a little too “cool”. I have the image of Sturridge in the center of the box unmarked for Chelsea’s equalizer in December. He’s a large part of the reason why I left him out of the line-up and put Bale as a marauding full back. Then again, good left backs are hard to come by, and really the only fool-proof solution to achieve defensive stability in that area is to play a converted center/right back there, which Naughton may or may not be an option for. You make the point of Caulker’s impressive performances at Swansea, but because of his development, Levy has decided not to sign Jan Vertonghen. For me, Vertonghen would be good cover at left back and center back, where he’s used to playing attractive football for Ajax. He’s used to finding feet. That being said, it’s a shame Spurs missed out on Jose Enrique.

      Ryan Nelsen and Daws are both similar players, while Gallas and King are in the same league in terms of their attributes. In any case, the only way to inhibit the resources Spurs have at the back is to play a relatively high line, which has been bizarrely discontinued since the New Year. King looked like a world-beater before the Christmas break, but against Norwich was just a calamity waiting to happen.

      Lastly, I’ve got to say, the 4-3-3 has looked like Redknapp’s go-to-grab when Lennon isn’t available. Now there’s something wrong with replacing Lennon with Sandro, isn’t there?

      1. Hey Greg,

        Your point about the resources at our disposal and having to play a high line makes sense.
        As for Harry and Levy Where I take issue is the player personnel policies. The lack of movement in either transfer window to get another central defender or left back was disturbing, do they think Gallas, Neilson or King are the answer, what are they waiting for?

        Look at Benny’s back up Danny Rose? not good enough.

        The Lennon for Sandro I believe is to compensate for King and Gallas in the center, Walker is seen as a player that can play a similar role to when Bale played LB. I don’t think Sandro plays well with Parker, I do think that Sandro is a very good player with a bright future for us.

        A possibility would maybe even to play Livermore or Sandro at center back and play lennon on the right anyways.

  4. i agree 100%, harry has always lacked tactical awareness. putting Rafa on the right just shows that.

    i think the fact the FA came calling has distracted him and the players probably don’t believe in him as much as they used to since they don’t know if he will be here for long. he is alone to blame for our form being utter sh*t.

    Jose sounds like a great option now

  5. It’s not just Harry, blowing assignments and lack of ability is hardly his fault. Where was his lack of tactical prowess when destroying the apparently incredible Pardews Newcastle?

    It’s not just Harry, u have to be blind to think it is.

    Look at how many attempts we have per game, it ridiculous, is it his fault they miss?

    1. Well, I will give Redknapp credit for one system, and that’s the one he used against Newcastle, and Liverpool, two games Spurs utterly dominated. It’s a 4-4-2 with Kranjcar moving into the center to supplement a two man central midfield, and Walker overlapping. Other than that, it’s impossible to say that Spurs have been unworthy losers in recent weeks: against Norwich, Defoe’s goal and LEFT BACK Assou-Ekotto being put through by Adebayor were the only gilt-edged chances created. Compare that to earlier in the season where Adebayor’s goals were instances of him not being able to miss.

      1. I think we dominated more than just the liverpool and Newcastle games, the final scores were more emphatic. Look back at the amount of shots on goal we have had for each game, it is easy to forget them because of the eventual final scores but we have dominated many teams at the Lane in particular but also away this season without the needed finishing.

        We have had 454 total shots with 208 on target, interestingly we are 4th out of 20 in both attacking categories.

        Here is the link if anyone wants to check out their team or organize differently.

        Whoever the next manager is at “The Lane”, they will have their work cut out for them. I just hope they address those defensive issues.

  6. This article is about 50% too long. I would imagine unless you like Spurs you’ll drift off about halfway through.

    Anyway don’t blame the manager. It’s eleven against eleven. If Redknapp puts Bale in goal then blame him. Several of the first team have lost confidence, are tired, are giving up way too early. It doesn’t matter what the manager says the individual player can still make adjustments to his game. I don’t see that in Spurs right now. They are weary. When I played at the West Ham Academy we had the rock em sock managers (win at all costs) and one other who used to say “I don’t care if you lose I want you to play well” Well guess who had the best record. Yep the latter. We went out to play for him full of confidence, to show him how good we were and most important – to enjoy ourselves. If we were playing poorly we’d make our own adjustments. Worked every time. This may be a little over simplification for todays game, but don’t always blame the manager. There’s only so much he can do.

    1. Okay, Scrumper, well first of all, I’m working on articles not only about Spurs. It’s more of a style for footy enthusiasts who like to read about tactics, not just people who have run out of things to read about their own team.

      Second, I won’t argue that Harry’s not a great manager, but I’ll go on a tangent and explain more as to why he’s to blame. Why, may I ask you, are the first team losing confidence? Because they’re having a poor run of form. They’re tired from a long season. So why not give a young Mexican attacker a game in a 4-3-3 with overlapping full backs? He’s a hard core traditionalist, Redknapp is, and there’s nothing wrong with that, until your players get tired. Only RvP can sustain an entire season of excellence, and even now he’s starting to fade off. There’s no plan B, and things can go wrong if there’s no Plan B. Barca found that out last night at the Camp Nou. I’ve also criticized Redknapp’s first choice central midfield partnership in the absence of Lennon: Modric-Parker-Sandro, with van der Vaart on the right. He could even put Bale at left back and play two up top, with Luka, Scotty, Sandro, and van der Vaart in “Ossie’s Dream” but instead he uses that ultra caution against mid-table sides. Not something reminscent of a good manager, IMO. I make the point about England because that poison chalice is traditionally a short-term project, what with compiling a squad on form for one or two qualifiers at a time. Redknapp’s improvising in the event of his players being tired from a long season has not impressed me.

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