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Tottenham Hotspur 0 – 0 West Ham: Spotlight Match Review

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).

First Half

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.

Second Half

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.

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  1. Daniel

    March 22, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    This is just emphasizing that we need a top quality forward. Apparently Spurs had been trying to get one — even offering crazy money — but couldn’t get one. Hopefully in summer they’ll stand a better chance as they’ll have been seen playing well in the CL. A good forward should see that they have great team in place with amazing mids (especially classic wingers in Lennon and Bale who can feed crosses into a quality forward all day and make them look good).
    I doubt there’s any chance of this (especially as Man. City seems willing to buy players to sit on the bench just so Spurs can’t get them) but Dzeko is exactly the type of player I’d want for Spurs — a strong, quality CF who can play alone up front. He’ll be (too) good for City when gets comfortable with the EPL.

    Also, Spur’s defense is starting to look strong. I really like what Gallas adds, but how long can they depend on him? I think Cahill would be worth whatever he costs as a young, quality CB to pair with Dawson — or Jagielka who has always seemed the same to me, but maybe easier to get since Cahill seems in demand at the moment. Everton hasn’t been doing well this season, but that doesn’t mean the players aren’t quality. Maybe they’d throw in Baines and Heitinga as well… open up the checkbook Levy, and give ’em whatever they ask for those three!

  2. Andy

    March 21, 2011 at 8:01 am

    The problem for Spurs is that they are going to find their games after the CL games to be difficult to win. Manchester City only has the FA Cup semis left and that will be played on a weekend. Right now City has the edge for 4th.

    Those teams at the bottom, Wigan, Blackpool, Birmingham, West brom could be difficult games as those teams are in a relegation battle and will be playing for their lives.

    • trickybrkn

      March 21, 2011 at 10:39 am

      Then clearly they don’t deserve it if you worried about any relegation struggler…

  3. Jason

    March 20, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    Have to agree. Cannot see Spurs getting top 4 now. They are capable of beating Real Madrid. Barcelona are going to have their hands full against Shaktar who I believe are the sleeper team left in the competition. They have a terrific group of Brazilians there and most will end up playing in the top leagues of Europe next season. Maybe Spurs best option of playing in the CL is to win it this year. Will be tough but you never can tell. Go Spurs!

  4. Terry

    March 20, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    trickybrkn wrote: “So in your mind, they focus on beating Real Madrid and most likely Barca to get to the final… win that game. then get back to champions league.
    seems like just beating teams in the drop zone would be a ton easier.”

    Except that Spurs don’t have many games against those teams in the drop zone left. They still have to play Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool away and Arsenal at home. I think the way this Spurs team is set up they have a better chance of beating the likes of Madrid than some of the EPL teams. Beating barcelona will be tough but you never know what form Barca will be in when the semis comes along, not to mention injuries. So yes, I do think Spurs have a better chance of getting into the CL by trying to win it becuase it is going to be more difficult trying to get 4th. Of course, City could well coorperate and drop points giving Spurs an opportunity to get 4th. Just don’t see than happening right now.

    • trickybrkn

      March 21, 2011 at 7:33 am

      might want to check the fixtures, Wigan, Stoke, Arsenal, West Brom, Chelsea, Blackpool, Liverpool, Birmingham & Man City. Five games Spurs should win 2 London derbies that are always tough, and Liverpool and Man City. Teams you should beat if you wanna be a top 4 club.

      and don’t forget, even if you beat Real and Barca in home and away matches. You have the final… Which could be an English team.

      I think I’d be focusing on beating the teams under you in the table…

  5. Joe

    March 20, 2011 at 6:47 am

    Spurs are like Arsenal in reverse. They need strikers, we’ve known they need strikers, yet when the transfer window came they added one midfielder (Pienaar) and were seconds away from another (Adam). I understand that strikers cost a ton of money and Spurs are not a huge money club, but this is the Champions League we’re talking about! These opportunities do not come along often for a club like Spurs. The top four is slowly slipping away, and it’s going to be very painful to see the talent (Bale, Lennon, etc) start to fidget in the next couple of years when they realize that Spurs doesn’t give them the same playing opportunities as one of the truly big clubs. It seemed for a time like Spurs were ready to take the next step, but based on the last few weeks in EPL, I think another 40 years of scuttling around the table is more likely.

  6. Terry

    March 19, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Spurs missed a number of chances and hit the post a few times. Defoe was most guilty for not taking his chances. They never looked like losing the game so that’s a positive and I think if they play like this and with Bale getting more match fitness behind him they could beat Real Madrid in the CL especially with the 2nd leg at WHL. 4th palce looks more difficult now for Spurs so they should concentrate on getting ready for the CL quarters.

    • trickybrkn

      March 19, 2011 at 11:09 pm

      So in your mind, they focus on beating Real Madrid and most likely Barca to get to the final… win that game. then get back to champions league.

      seems like just beating teams in the drop zone would be a ton easier.

  7. trickybrkn

    March 19, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    I guess all the time to spend talking about Tottenham draws out the West Ham tactics. But, you normally are bit more balanced.

    The way this is written is that Tottenham directed the flow of the game. But, if you look back at how Grant has played Redknapp teams, its really quite simple. You let them run the ball in the midfield keeping it out of the box and forcing outside shots. The majority of the match was spend in the midfield third. West Ham is a very direct club. Rarely do you see then run a wing to the corner and cross. The reason Tottenham was set back so often was that they followed West Ham up the middle and drew the wings in. You mention Bale & Lennon (more Bale) swapped sides, seemed to more that they simply roamed side to side and directed traffic up the center very unlike what makes them successful. What West Ham did well was direct play, what Tottenham did well on defense was was not allow that many of the Parker or Hitz cutting passes into the box.

    just my 2¢

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