Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Spurs Continuing Defensive Woes

The defensive woes that blighted Martin Jol’s final months as manager continue to derail the Juande Ramos/Gus Poyet revival at Tottenham.

Spurs have never been a defensively minded club in the search of success at any costs. They have always preferred to concentrate on attacking play and winning with style. The only Spurs’ manager who countenanced defensive play was George Graham and by tightening up Spurs’ defence and their approach to playing, he won the Worthington Cup in 1999 in one of the most boring Cup Finals at Wembley but then it was against Martin O’Neill’s Leicester City who is similarly inclined in his appoach to football. However, when Graham oversaw four successive 0 – 0 league games in 2001 his end was near – supporters weren’t prepared to accept that from their team.

Tight defensive play was the way of football on the continent and in the early days of European competitions the Italian and Spanish clubs came to the away tie with a ten-man defence and set out their stall determined not to concede a goal and prepared to use any method necessary, legitimate or otherwise, to achieve that aim.

Liverpool, Leeds United and Arsenal in their early days based their success on solid defensive play and the belief that if you didn’t concede a goal, you couldn’t lose the game and were satisfied if they won by the only goal of the game. It was from this premise that over the years they then developed their more attractive style of play.

Injuries to key defenders have badly affected Spurs this season and Juande Ramos has had to use a number of permutations at the back since taking over. He has also used every conceivable tactical manoeuvre to try and win games for Spurs, succeeding as evidenced in a number of games and particularly in the win over Reading at the weekend. Even against Villa, his second half substitutions and tactical switch revived Spurs and brought them into the game to equalise. However, it simply isn’t possible to win every game in that way as Ramos has been forced to do because of the inadequacies of the defence. Ossie Ardiles tried but failed with that system at Tottenham and once again at Villa the defensive frailties caught up with them.

Earlier in the season, shortly after Ramos was appointed I highlighted the short-comings of Spurs’ defensive play and detailed the goals that they had conceded from individual errors, free-kicks and corners. Initially, on taking over the problem seemed to have been addressed but in recent games it has reared its ugly head once more and cost Spurs dearly. Incredibly, of the past ten goals Spurs have conceded, eight have been from free-kicks or corners. A very worrying statistic and every manager in the land will know it and realise that at a set play all they need to do is play a long ball to the centre of the Spurs defence and there will be goals aplenty.

Spurs’ Defensive Woes (up-dated)

Sunderland (a) Lost 0-1 - conceded an injury time goal.
Everton (h) Lost 1-3 - conceded a goal from a free-kick within the first minute (identical to last season) – that made two goals conceded in two minutes over the first two games.
- goalkeeper and defender collide leaving opportunity to score
- deflection off wall from long range free-kick
Manchester United (a) Lost 0-1 – deflection on long range shot
Fulham (a) Draw 3-3* – conceded from a corner
- shot deflected, looped over goalkeeper
- failed to clear a long throw in and overhead kick from edge of area in injury time
Arsenal (h) Lost 1-3* – scored from a free-kick (similar to last season)
- long range shot on the break
- last minute goal but game was already beyond Spurs.
Bolton (a) draw 1-1* – scored from a free-kick
Aston Villa (h) Draw 4-4* – goalkeeper drops the ball from simple cross from corner, clearance sliced to defender who scored an equaliser
- failed to clear a centre and ball ricocheted to defender for his second goal
- failed to deal with long clearance and shot from edge of area
- shot from long range free-kick
Liverpool (a) Draw 2-2* –
goalkeeper parries shot from free-kick, defence too slow to react
- last minute equaliser from long cross
Newcastle (a) Lost 1-3 – defence failed to clear a routine long ball giving home side goal on stroke of half-time
- conceded from a corner
- failed to clear ball creating opportunity for an unchallenged strike from edge of area
Blackburn (h) Lost 1-2* – shot took deflection off defender
- injury time free-kick half cleared and strike unchallenged from edge of box
Middlesbrough (a) Draw 1-1* – long range shot
West Ham United (a) Draw 1-1 – individual error by Kaboul
Birmingham City (h) Lost 2-3* – Poor challenge to concede a penalty
Long range shot in injury time
Manchester City (h) Won 2-1 – Conceded from corner
Arsenal (a) Lost 1-2 – conceded from corner for second goal
Fulham (h) Won 5-1 – conceded from corner
Reading (h) Won 6-4 – conceded from a free-kick and two corners
- fourth goal conceded on the break
Aston Villa (a) Lost 1-2 – conceded from two corners through poor marking

(* Games in which Spurs had been leading and dropped points)

To overcome this problem, Spurs need to find an experienced, commanding central defender who understands defensive play and can organise those around him. The play of Richard Dunne for Manchester City is the type of leadership and commitment that’s required at White Hart Lane.

Previously, I have questioned who was responsible for defensive coaching at the club – the same position needs to be considered. I greatly admire the theory put across by Alan Hansen on Match of the Day and in his newspaper column. He is well versed in defensive play from his time at Liverpool – get him in on a short-term contract to sort out Spurs’ defensive problems. Hansen or someone like him who has a thorough knowledge of defending – according to Mark Lawrenson, Hansen’s partner at Liverpool and in the MOTD studios, it is quite easy to organise a defence to defend set-pieces – so come along and show the Spurs’ defenders how to do it. Tony Adams has the Portsmouth defence well marshalled – Spurs need someone with similar credentials, experience and authority.

Tottenham Defending by Numbers (or not) [League matches only ] (up-dated)
3 Clean sheets in League this season

9 Goals scored by defenders against Spurs

7 Goals conceded in final minutes

8 Games Spurs have been ahead but not won

8 Points lost through conceding late goals

38 Goals conceded

21 Home Goals conceded

17 Away Goals conceded

25 Second half goals given away

Until Spurs resolve this major problem, they will neither challenge for Europe nor a trophy because they will always be susceptible at any set-piece play. Juande Ramos and Gus Poyet now know the extent of the problem they have inherited at Tottenham. They know what they need to do to achieve success.


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