It seems such a long long time ago, maybe not in a galaxy far far away, but I am sure you get the picture. Yet it really is only five months since our first game of the season and our last meeting with Crystal Palace but it does seem so much longer.
That first game is always greeted with a mixture of joy and apprehension – joy that the football is back and apprehension about how we are going to fare, but somehow there was more joy and yet more apprehension. Joy that we still had Gareth Bale, apprehension about his future. Joy that we had bought four new players with others promised, apprehension on whether they would live up to expectations.
Do you remember the team we put out, the formation (or do we not worry about such concepts anymore) and the scoreline? No I can´t either, except for the score as it was a late penalty from our new Boy Soldier that gave us the fine start – in points at least.
Since then we have remained in contention with teams in the top reaches of the Premiership, while Palace plumbed new depths and hit rock bottom for long periods.
Our play has been typified by a high pressing game, turning over possession and then retaining it, but with no-one making runs into the box, our goalscoring opportunities all seemed to come from long range and whilst we had many shots on goal (throughout the season so far we have had more attempts than anyone other than Citeh and Liverpool) our conversion rate is appalling. That we won more than we lost was perhaps the most surprising aspect of the entire first half of the season.
Palace by contrast under Ian Holloway – a Manager famed for his attacking style whilst at Blackpool – stuttered from defeat to defeat, opting instead for a more defensive system and relying in counter attacks. It didn´t work and Holloway was replaced by Tony Pulis, someone whose former style – whilst at Stoke at least – was totally at odds with his predecessor. Yet the manner of their recent play has been remarkably open and, with very few changes made, results have come and they are now – if not clear of the relegation battle – almost in sight of safety. They are at least above WetSpam which is welcome news.
We, on the other hand, have also had a managerial change, and with one major change in playing personnel and the reversion to an age-old tactic, our goals-for column has begun to improve. But we need it to get better and quickly.
Maybe this weekend´s fixture will prove to be such an opportunity. Hopefully Palace will not come and pack their defence even though they will be keen on picking up points, their main ploy has been to attack, so they could be there for the taking if we can get in behind them.
With Townsend getting close to fitness maybe he can come into the fray for the last 20/30 minutes to frighten them to death with his pace – once Lennon has already terrorised them for the first hour.
Unless Sandro is fully fit, and he has been back in training for over a week, I cannot really see too many other changes to the team that did so well at Old Trafford – even if it was almost exactly the same team that did not do so well at the EmuRat.
Once the other walking wounded are back, complex selection issues will once again raise their head, but for now at least the team almost picks itself.
Lloris will be in goal, the defence will consist of Walker, Dawson, Chiriches and Rose (no-one else as capable to replace him). In midfield it should be Dembele and Sandro but if our Brazilian stalwart is not available then it has to be our other enforcer Capoue. I have said before that Bentaleb may be one for the future but unless he is better – and so much better – than anyone else, why consider him.
On the right wing Lennon has been excellent and only a fully fit and fully healthy Townsend could oust him – maybe as stated previously – a cameo for 20/30 minutes would suffice. On the left Eriksen has the tendency to drift infield, and whilst our attacking pairing of Adebayor and Soldado have both shown a willingness to move wide to create space it is not their normal position and they don´t stay there for long.
If we are going to persist with something akin to 4.4.2 whoever is playing on the left needs to stay there to provide balance to the team.
This is certainly something which became apparent from certain statistics about our players positions during the game against le Arse. Whereas in our first encounter with them the average position of our players showed an inclination almost towards a 4.3.3 system, the second match showed an imbalanced back four, one winger and five players on top of each other in the centre circle.
Spurs Players Average position during 1-0 defeat in August
Spurs Players Average position during 2-0 defeat in January.
It is quite evident that with no forward wide left and with the central defender – Chirches in this case – playing deeper, our left back – Rose – was left isolated. The fact that he was up against Gnabry and from time to time Walcott maybe suggests that he wasn´t entirely to blame for his poor performance – he was left too exposed.
The graphics also show how much more congested we are when we play with two frontmen and only one out and out winger as even our right winger – Lennon – has been pulled in and back slightly, adding to the tightness of play.
I am now reminded of what Tim Sherwood said in his post match press conference when he said that he didn´t think we were outnumbered in midfield – maybe indeed he did have a point. We did have more people in that area – it just left us stretched elsewhere.
Hopefully this is something which will have been worked upon over the past week. If I have access to this sort of technology – and many thanks to the people at THFC1882.com for the information and graphics – it is to be hoped that team management have as well.