x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Spurs attempt to strike the right balance

The Tottenham manager Redknapp has not settled on his best XI, does not know his best shape, and rarely manages to put out the same defence two games running.

A double from Rafael van der Vaart, left, against Aston Villa took the Dutch midfielder’s goal tally to four in six games for Tottenham.
A double from Rafael van der Vaart, left, against Aston Villa took the Dutch midfielder’s goal tally to four in six games for Tottenham.

LONDON // There is one thing to be said for Harry Redknapp's attitude to recruitment, it makes for entertaining viewing. 

The Tottenham Hotspur manager has not settled on his best XI, does not know his best shape, and rarely manages to put out the same defence two games running. Redknapp has too many players for the forward positions, and not enough reliably fit players for the defensive ones. It is chaotic, yet great to watch.

Tottenham chase goals in every game. The defenders check who they have lined up beside them each weekend and attempt to plug the inevitable gaps. The only consistency to the results is the shortage of clean sheets. Here the balance came down on Tottenham's side as Rafael van der Vaart stretched his personal tally to four goals in six games, yet nerves were strained and Aston Villa merited better than defeat.

"Funny enough this is the best of my three games," Gerard Houllier said. "I think they [Tottenham] were a bit lucky, but at the moment they are a bit lucky." Villa's new manager referred to Tottenham's midweek Champions League victory over Twente, the Dutch side, another game in which Redknapp struggled to accommodate the last-day purchase that is Van der Vaart and Luka Modric into the same team. 

"It's a difficult one to find the right balance," Redknapp said. "To play with two out-and-out strikers is almost impossible. Rafa doesn't play wide right, he floats around and comes off the line and plays where he wants almost. And then you're very open.

"You have to play with a diamond or three midfield players and Rafa playing behind two strikers if you want to get two in. But we started like we played against Twente, it's an attacking team that is very open to the counterattack." Ten separate combinations of centre-back have started Spurs' 12 matches with Tom Huddlestone, a centre-midfielder by trade, the latest to play there. If injuries have forced Redknapp's hand, a manager who enrols Ledley King, William Gallas and Jonathan Woodgate can hardly expect perfect attendance records.

Villa slimmed down and cashed in this summer. That may not seem a blessing when the season nears its end, yet it makes Houllier's selections less testing in the meantime. His sole alteration was to recall the fit-again Richard Dunne to a team that started sassy and sharp, tackling hard and quick to exploit the spaces behind Tottenham's full-backs. Soon Emile Heskey had a plausible penalty claim when he shuffled in front of Alan Hutton. The referee rejected the striker's appeal just as Heskey had turned down Fabio Capello's request to return from international retirement 48 hours previously.

The only doubts over the opener centred on Tottenham's defence. Granted time to clear or pass back, Sebastian Bassong elected to shepherd a speculative through ball to the corner flag. Heskey stripped it from him and drew Heurelho Gomes from his goal. A pass through the six-yard box was paced for Marc Albrighton to bundle in at the back post. Ten minutes before the break, a dead leg forced Heskey off as Tottenham began to recover ground. Hutton hit the side netting, Van der Vaart and Roman Pavyluchenko demanded penalties, and the Russian shunted a fine Gareth Bale centre past the post.

Sustained pressure created room for Pavyluchenko to cross from the right. As against Twente, Peter Crouch chose to direct his header square to Van der Vaart rather than at goal. 

The Dutchman finished with his forehead as Villa protested that the whistle should have been blown to signal half time. "I was not happy with their equaliser because the game had elapsed quite a long time after the two minutes which were indicated," Houllier said.

Redknapp shape-shifted again during the interval, exchanging the hobbling Pavyluchenko for Aaron Lennon and moving Van der Vaart in behind Crouch. Now in favoured position, the former Real Madrid man was twice denied by thrilling block tackles before Villa adjusted. Ironically, their attempts to squeeze Bassong and Huddlestone allowed Tottenham more room. Lennon beat his marker and crossed for another canny Crouch knockdown. Again Van der Vaart was the target and this time too far from a defender to be thwarted.

sports@thenational.ae