Rafael van der Vaart is not best pleased with life at Tottenham Hotspur of late. He has been effectively marginalised in the first time by a switch in formation and the searing form of Luka Modric; he was incredulous at being left out of Spurs’ Europa League group stage squad, criticising the club for displaying a lack of ambition. Harry Redknapp took action at the weekend to correct the issue – but it backfired on Tottenham, nearly costing the team all three points at St James’ Park.
Redknapp’s tactical basis thus far in the 2011/12 Premier League season has been to stick to an old-fashioned but flexible 4-4-2 system, and it has worked wonders for Tottenham. Since their opening defeats at the hands of the Manchester giants, Spurs were in some of the best form in the league, as demonstrated by superb victories over both Liverpool and Arsenal.
But in an attempt to revitalise van der Vaart, who is not always effective in a wide position and lacks any desire to track back when his team is not in possession, Redknapp chose to return to last year’s unpopular 4-5-1 for the trip to Newcastle on Sunday, restoring van der Vaart to his preferred trequartista role while pushing Modric (right-footed) and Bale (left-footed) onto the left and right wings, respectively.
Clearly, van der Vaart’s low mood has forced Harry’s hand. It is well known of the mercurial Dutchman that he is not blessed with the world’s most resolute mindset. But just as obvious is that Redknapp and Tottenham have not learned how to deal with temperamental star players, despite their previous experience of such personalities (David Ginola springs to mind, for some reason).
Modric has been quoted this week as saying he is unsure he wants to sign a new deal at White Hart Lane – although since he is already tied down to the club for five years, with Daniel Levy showing no sign of wanting to relinquish his services, it would be fiscally prudent to do so. Now it appears van der Vaart must be accommodated, even if it is at the detriment of the team as a collective.
Redknapp was heavily praised by journalists attending the post-match press conference for a “stroke of genius” in introducing Defoe, but the Englishman brushed that compliment aside. “If I was really clever,” he responded, “I’d have started him and maybe we’d have won the game.”
It should be noted that the blame for the tactical switch cannot be solely laid on van der Vaart’s insecurities. Redknapp himself emphasised that he was switching the shape around to account for Newcastle’s strength in the middle of the park. Yohan Cabaye and Cheik Tiote are one of the more industrious central-midfield pairings in the Premier League at present and a big part of why the Toon are still unbeaten in mid-October. But with Spurs in such strong form themselves, should Redknapp be gambling on switching strategies for a game of this importance, when a strong return was so vital to keep up the momentum of the derby victory following the international break?
The decision to rest Defoe from the start risked hampering his burgeoning relationship with new strike partner Emmanuel Adebayor. Bale and Modric were extremely quiet until they switched over after the first half-hour. Van der Vaart scored the penalty to give Spurs an initial lead, and had a good game, but he would still have been on the park to take the spot-kick in a 4-4-2 and Modric, Bale and Defoe would have performed better (if the 2011/12 season thus far is anything to go by). Take a good look at the video Harry – here’s hoping you switch back to what has been working by the time Spurs face Blackburn next weekend.
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