Inside Lane: How Spurs could benefit from a change of system and personnel
12:18 19 November 2014
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Tottenham blogger Chris Miller says Mauricio Pochettino should try switching to a 4-3-3 formation and including Benjamin Stambouli in his midfield.
In the 2-1 home defeat by Stoke, Mauricio Pochettino made two half-time substitutions which seemed to be an admission that his first-half tactics were not working. This was quite apparent to most people in the ground, but to see a manager change shape and personnel is quite unusual.
The first substitution – Erik Lamela for Andros Townsend – was simply a change in personnel and, in fact, there were rumours that Townsend had been withdrawn due to an ankle injury (although I would suggest that his poor performance will not have helped). The second substitution – Mousa Dembele for Christian Eriksen – represented a change in system; a shift to 4-3-3.
It seems apparent to me that in recent weeks we have not been playing to the strengths of the majority of our players. We are averaging 54% possession almost by default - by virtue of having better players than the majority of the opposition that we face. But very few of our players are possession players – the majority are more comfortable playing on break.
Nacer Chadli, Lamela, Roberto Soldado, Eriksen, even Ryan Mason to an extent, are better at picking up the pieces after a move breaks down and exploiting gaps that are created by catching a team before they have a chance to reorganise and regain their defensive shape.
Could this by why arguably our best performances have come against Arsenal and Manchester City, sides that dominate possession (Arsenal had 69% against us, Manchester City had 57%)? Our other good performance – against QPR – could be seen as an anomaly, as they were in the midst of a terrible run of form and played terribly that day.
With this in mind, I would suggest that we could make some subtle changes to the team to ensure that we play to our strengths in forthcoming matches.
One way to do this would be to introduce Benjamin Stambouli into the team at the expense of one of the front players. His ability to press opposition players, and the intensity and energy in his defensive play, represent elements of what Pochettino liked about Victor Wanyama’s game at Southampton.
Stambouli averaged 1.6 interceptions and 3.1 tackles per game for Montpellier last season, which compares favourably with both Wanyama’s 1.4 and 2.8 and Morgan Schneiderlin’s 2.1 and 3.4.
Sacrificing an attacking player for a defensive one seems, on the surface, to be a defensive move. But if it means winning the ball more regularly and higher up the pitch it might turn out to get the best from our attacking players too. The key is to have a balanced team which is competent at both ends of the pitch.
My suggestion would be to line Stambouli up in the middle of a 4-3-3 formation with Mason and Nabil Bentaleb alongside him. Stambouli and Mason would be the more advanced pressing players, with Bentaleb taking on more of a holding role.
Despite being strong, competent footballers, Dembele and Etienne Capoue lack intensity and do not seem to have the requisite energy to press the opposition midfield.
Mason and Bentaleb need to improve their defensive awareness but, with three in the midfield, this concern can be mitigated and the extra body allows additional cover - vital in the full-back areas, particularly with ours playing so advanced.
My attack would be any three from Chadli, Lamela, Eriksen, Soldado and Harry Kane for the time being, even if it means playing without a recognised forward.
Emmanuel Adebayor, in his current form, can lead to a labored approach, and his lack of confidence means he often moves into wide and/or deep areas more often than he is in the box.
I will be keeping a close eye on Pochettino’s team selections and tactics over the next couple of weeks to see what tweaks he makes in pursuit of balance.
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