Story of a Match: Spurs
Whisper it, but Spurs are actually pretty good. I don’t like to admit it, mainly because I can’t stand Harry Redknapp, but they are. And tonight they beat convincingly. And I mean, convincingly. Was it anything more than a very good team outplaying one that isn’t at their level? Not really, but I’m going to have a look at it anyway.
This is an interesting one. Quite a few people have suggested that a major problem in our approach to this game was a lack of width. Lambert went into the game with the same shape he’s played the last three – the diamond. Tierney and Naughton were replaced by Drury and De Laet, but the rest of the team remained and played a 4-1-2-1-2. Spurs played a five man midfield, with Van der Vaart nominally off Adebayor up front. It was an interesting setup, and had its pro’s and con’s. The main negative is the supposed lack of width, rectified late in the game when Bennett and Pilkington came on. However, faced with a busy midfield that could have run the game, Lambert seems to have settled on the idea that he would match it. By playing a diamond, he could get close to players like Parker, Sando and Modric rather than letting then pass around us. This would leave us potentially exposed on the flanks, but make us more competitive in the middle.
It wasn’t quite how it worked out, though. For about half an hour of the first half we were just as in it, useful in the middle and playing some decent stuff. Tottenham began to dominate at this state however, and the sheer ability of their midfield made it nearly impossible to match them. At this stage we began to pull wide to try and find space, and the result is the passing heatmap you see above. By the end we had surrendered the middle of the pitch to Spurs and their world class midfielders and were looking to go wide and find space out there. The addition of wingers helped, but they only completed 5 of 21 crosses, so it’s hard to argue this tactic would have paid dividends if implemented from the start. At this point we were playing it better, especially on the left with Surman, Pilkington and Hoolahan. They were able to get on the ball to good effect and drive forward, but the Spurs defence was excellent and didn’t really let them make clear cut chances.
When you look at the calibre of players Norwich were up against, it’s easy to see why the midfield battle was lost. Not only were we a man down in this area, the sheer difference in quality was huge.
As you can see above, Parker misplaced just 3 passes all game. He was key, picking up the ball and finding a white shirt over and over. Ball retention is absolutely key in the Premier League and their ability to monopolise possession was key in their win tonight. Bale, had a bit of a different impact than some were expecting. Rather than stick down the left wing and constantly burn our fullbacks for pace, he actually had more of a free role. He roamed across the pitch, probing, looking for space and putting the defence under pressure. He was in a centre forwards position when he scored the first and burst from central midfield during the second. Players of his quality are hard to defend against and he was outstanding all night.
This is in contrast to our own midfield…
As an attacking force, Wes grew into the game the longer it went on, and was more of an influence once we’d changed shape. However, he was useful in defence throughout the game, winning the ball more times than any other Norwich player. This is supposedly not the job he’s really there for, but he’s excellent in it and it often goes unnoticed. He has the ability to both win the ball and find a yellow shirt, and demonstrated again why he is is so important to the team. When you compare this to a player like Crofts, the difference is huge. I thought Crofts had a decent first half today, defensively anyway. His crossing wasn’t great but he was providing decent cover to RDL and was a nuisance in midfield. Unfortunately, the game at the top level just passes him by. Today he completed just 17 passes, compared to 57 by Fox, 50 by Hoolahan and 37 by Surman. Against Wolves he completed 24 to Fox’s 48, Hoolahan’s 47 and Surman’s 43. The pattern is repeated, and at this level Crofts isn’t able to influence the game in the way he did last season. This isn’t to say the rest of our midfield is fine; they all have off games and could do with a hand, but they influence the game more, are better suited to the top division and are better at finding team mates.
One interesting recall today was for Adam Drury, who came in for the injured Tierney. Most of us may have been worried given this was his first start in about 10 months, but we didn’t need to be…
But we didn’t need to be. Drury was as composed and professional as ever, strong in defence and holding off Kyle Walker repeatedly. Above you can see the cluster of incomplete crosses from Walker as Drury matched the young fullback for pace and repeatedly blocked the shots. A creditable performance from the one day hall of famer.
On the balance of the game, it is one I have no complaints about. Spurs were the best side I’ve seen this season, completely dominant in midfield and if they could finish they’d have had 5 or 6. There is no shame in losing to a better team and there will be many games when no matter what lineup or tactics we set out with, we’re up against it. This was one. That said…
Less Good Stuff
Zak Whitbread. He got sponsors MOTM and he has generally been praised for his performance, which I thought was alright. Not brilliant, not bad. He was solid enough. Unfortunately, and not for the first time this season, he was notable in their goal.
So this is how it came about. Adebayor had the ball in the Norwich box and was being crowded out by two defenders. As the ‘spare’ CB, that is the one who isn’t marking the lone centre forward, Zak is there to pick up other threats in the box and track runners. In comes Gareth Bale, and Zak appears to have taken care of him fine. In the top picture, he can clearly be seen marking him.
One second later, Zak decides to abandon Bale and go to Adebayor himself, despite Ade still having the attention of two Norwich players. In closing down the striker, Bale is left completely unmarked just inside the box. The tinest of touches later and Bale has the ball, ready to fire it past Ruddy. This pass is only available because Whitbread left his man. Otherwise Ade is forced to either shoot himself, or pass it backwards. By leaving a player unmarked, he’s just invited problems.
This isn’t the first time. Both Newcastle goals came from Zak either losing Ba, or getting caught in possession. Against Chelsea it was his hesitance that gave Bosingwa so much time to shape up and shoot.
Last week I mentioned how the root of our defensive problems come from the constant pressure we invite on ourselves by giving the ball away so frequently, and this is true. It is also true that individual errors continue to hurt the team when concentrating more would erase them. I’m not going to say that if it wasn’t for Zak we’d have got a point; Spurs were clearly the better team. But I will say he’s cost us more goals than anyone else so far this season.
As for Morison, he isn’t lazy, he just got very little help tonight. Service to the strikers all night was poor because the midfield rarely had the ball, and Morison was clearly frustrated at this. Given his previous games, where he’s made chances out of nothing by hassling defenders out wide (Chelsea, Man City) or got a goal from it (Arsenal), I find it odd the lazy accusation is made. I think he suffers from the same problem as Surman, in that his often languid style makes him more of a target. I find it especially strange given how many fans are quick to point out that Chris Martin isn’t lazy, and he doesn’t need to be like Holt to be effective. Neither does Morison.