How do Tottenham solve a problem like Luka and Niko?

When Saturday comes, Tottenham Hotspur will once more be taking to the field in a bid to defend their much vaunted 4th place, and a Golden Ticket to the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory that is the Champions League. However, with another tough away game at Sunderland, Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp is faced with several selection dilemmas. Intriguingly, at the heart of Harry’s midfield quandary, is how to fit both Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar into the same side.

The problem is, they just don’t work well together in the same Tottenham team. After Lennon sustained the groin injury against West Ham United that would prove to keep him out for the majority of the season, Kranjcar was seen as the most obvious replacement on the right side of midfield. However, Tottenham clearly lacked width with the two Croatians on the wing, and after Spurs’ 2-0 victory over West Ham, Tottenham went on a three game run without a win with Kranjcar and Modric deployed wide. Tottenham drew 0-0 with Hull City, lost 2-0 to Liverpool and drew 2-2 with Leeds United, as Tottenham struggled for goals and form.

Arguably, the tide only turned for Spurs after David Bentley was introduced in a game with Fulham on the 26th January. Bentley maintained Tottenham’s width on the right, whilst his delivery from set-pieces saw Bentley claim a goal (although his free-kick did take a huge deflection). Both Kranjcar and Modric have a tendency to drift in to central positions, which especially at home, is a problem as the midfield becomes too congested. Further, neither are likely to want to cross the ball from wide areas, and so, if Corluka fails to overlap on the right for example, Peter Crouch’s height is rendered redundant.

If we take as a given that the two do not work when deployed in wide areas, the only way to accommodate both is to give Modric a central midfield role, alongside either Wilson Palacios or Tom Huddlestone, leaving Kranjcar and Bentley out wide. However, it is generally accepted that Huddlestone and Palacios are Tottenham’s fist choice pairing in midfield, and further, Modric is most effective for Tottenham when coming inside from a left midfield position. Thus, Harry Redknapp is faced with a real conundrum. Niko or Luka?

The obvious choice would be Luka. He often dictates play for Spurs, and is, to quote Harry Redknapp, and I believe this is Verbatim ‘Tottenham’s only world class player’. With Modric linking well with the rampaging Gareth Bale on the left, and Bentley maintaining width on the right, Tottenham would have good shape to the midfield and team more generally. However, it is arguably not quite as simple as this. Whilst Modric is undoubtedly a classy player, there is a case to be made from the Niko Kranjcar camp. In short, goals win football matches, and Kranjcar has eight of them this season. Against Bolton Wanderers away and Stoke City away, Kranjcar scored vital goals, whilst he has also scored in his last two matches. The player has a knack of scoring important goals, and being in the right place, at the right time, which cannot be said for the majority of our midfielders, let alone Luka Modric who has only scored two goals this season (against West Ham and Everton).

For Redknapp, the dilemma is a nice one to have. Very rarely has Redknapp had such options in recent weeks, and so Tottenham should be optimistic ahead of their run-in this season, especially as Lennon is (touch wood, fingers crossed, Hail Mary) not too far away from full fitness. However, this Saturday what does Redknapp want? The class and craft of Modric, or the goals of Niko Kranjcar? Whatever happens this Saturday, barring another injury, there is likely to be one unhappy Croatian left on the Tottenham bench.

Happy Easter all, good luck to us at the Stadium of Light!

You can find me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mark0turner

 


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