Tiny, Tiny, Tiny Team

01Feb11

As Tottenham lined up to face Fulham this weekend in the FA cup few imagined the pounding we were about to get. Before the game Harry Redknapp eluded to the ‘tiny, tiny, tiny team’ he had picked with a midfield containing Modric (5’9), Pienaar (5’7) and Lennon (5’5) behind a forward two of Van Der Vaart (5’10) and Jermain Defoe (5’7); Harry suggested it was an experiment of sorts and with the obvious lack of height in the team it was up to the Spurs players on the pitch to play through a hard pressing and motivated Fulham team. The end result was a chest thumping 4-0, mistakes early on cost us but the lack of height on the pitch and the possibility of a long ball contributed to those mistakes, Dawson caught twice under pressure with no outlet. While the Fulham game will be picked apart I’m going to look at how our team of height restricted players need to adapt their game if Redknapps form of midget ballet is going to work.

Possession Football
The epitome of possession football is Barcelona. It is widely believed you have to have a highly skillful team to play possession football but this is not the case. Barcelona are held up as the best example of how dominate possession football can be but only Barcelona can play the way they play due to the produce of their youth academy and philosophies on playing style. Wenger’s Arsenal and Villerreal are currently better examples of what Spurs would need to emulate in their quest for better play with a team of physically smaller players. The basic requirements for possession football are players who can quickly control the ball, find a team mate and then pass it off accurately. Highlighting those three skills many Spurs fans already know which players potentially fall down in that area but I will come to that in a moment. For possession football to work there also has to be an air of patience, if you cannot play the ball forward then you need to keep the ball or play it back to encourage the opposing team to come out and meet you, creating more space in front of you. The idea is retaining the ball, letting the ball work for you, not carrying the ball but keeping the ball with simple passes and with each simple pass there has to be movement.

Movement is one of the main points Spurs need to address, playing generally in a 4-4-1-1 shape doesn’t lend itself to good possession play with two flat lines the options become limited. Formations more suitable to possession play are 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 which automatically create small passing triangles giving each player multiple, close options to play to.

4-4-1-1 Short Passing Triangles

4-2-3-1 Short Passing Triangles

As the two images above show the 4-4-1-1 formation requires more running and direct play to be effective and make chances in the final third. Both formations use a lone striker and one of the main points Spurs need to address is the movement of the lone striker.

In our form as ‘tiny team’ Defoe is the lone striker. He HAS to make movements for the oncoming players and he simply does not do this enough. Defoe has good attributes for a lone striker if the ball is played to feet, he can hold up play, he can turn and beat a man and is selfish enough to shoot when unsupported if needed. What Defoe is poor at is movement as the below image will show.

(From Top: Left to Right: Defoe, Crouch - Bottom: Left to Right: Torres, Drogba, Van Persie)

From the image above it’s clear to see that Defoe is largely central, he is not pulling the defense in any particular way and it is highlighted more when compared to the Premier Leagues most rated front men, even Crouch has more movement than Defoe although he does not have the attributes to turn and beat a player or shoot (it seems, 1 league goal all season).

One of the main points of possession football is you can only play that way, it is often commented on that Arsenal do not have a plan B, Barcelona do not have a plan B. Mixing play with bouts of possession and a few direct balls defeats the purpose of what is trying to be achieved and again, Spurs fans will know that is something we as a team do quite often with Crouch used as a target man with direct balls played to his head. This is also backed up by Spurs having the 5th most long passes played, again a habit that needs to be broken if we are to work as a team with small players.

Pellegrini, formally of Villerreal has often spoken about how the idea is to have a system, a way you want to play, in each training session you work on the idea, the philosophy and try to eliminate the errors that cost you before, you continuously work on perfecting the system. Over time, as the team and philosophy of play gel the players start to see the pitch in terms of space. As an experiment it would be hard to just put the players on the pitch and see what happens as Redknapp appeared to be suggesting in his Fulham pre-match interview.

In the Spurs midfield there is a lot of technical ability but the one area we do not have that is in the centre. What is missing is a partner to Modric, especially in the absence of Huddlestone; although Huddlestone likes to vary his passes, I personally think the interest in Lassana Diarra shown during the recently closed transfer window would of been the perfect foil for our midfield maestro. A player totally capable of screening the back and playing accurate and simple passes out; retaining and keeping possession.

Defensively the team need to get use to not having a long outball; against Fulham this weekend, with no Crouch, Dawson did not have a target to spray long balls out to. The increased pressing of Fulham, a tactic employed by Fulham due to the notable lack of long ball option, forced both Dawson and Hutton into mistakes that cost us. Also when teams play against good possession play teams they tend to defend narrow, giving up the wings and flooding the center of the pitch; another problem Spurs would have to get around. It’s probably unfair for Redknapp to ask a Spurs team to go out and just play without an out ball within our current setup, all the things I have highlighted need time, patience and probably additional players to implement successful and shows that it is not something that can just be switched to mid-season.

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2 Responses to “Tiny, Tiny, Tiny Team”

  1. 1 John

    Nice article. Excellent stuff. Modric is world class and shows that you dont have to be ‘big’ to succeed in the EPL.

    Size matters? http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2011/jan/26/european-football-survey ask Barcelona about size

    Come me a fan at http://www.facebook.com/statzpack


  1. 1 Lone striker – solved « Tottenham Think Tank

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