Have Tottenham simply outgrown him?

Spurs rampant victory over Liverpool was certainly a wake-up call for the Merseyside outfit as much as it was a kick start to the North London club’s season. The pace, power and panache of Spurs’s performance was a joy to behold. They played at a high-tempo that their fellow rivals for that highly-coveted fourth place simply could not cope with. They accomplished all of this without mercurial talent Rafael Van Der Vaart in the starting line-up – with the Dutchman returning from a spell on the sidelines, in his absence, have Spurs moved on without him?

Last season Spurs were dynamic in spurts but lacked a striker of sufficient class to put away the consistent stream of chances that they created. A shift in formation from the 4-4-2 of 2009/10 that saw them finish 4th was changed to a 4-5-1 to accommodate Van Der Vaart – Spurs missed out on Champions League football for a second consecutive season finishing 5th.

I’ve long subscribed to the view that 4-5-1 and Spurs simply don’t fit. They’re a side steeped in the tradition of open and attacking football. While last term they were entertaining, particularly on their European escapades, they lacked consistency in the league, dropping points to team’s that they should be beating on an all too regular basis.

While Van Der Vaart’s own personal form was good, with the midfielder contributing 13 league goals, a handsome return on a £8m investment, those around him suffered for form when compared to the previous campaign. There has rarely been a better example of a player being exceptionally talented, but at the same time simply not a good for the rest of the side as Van Der Vaart so obviously is with Spurs.

His presence and the side’s subsequent dipping league form are little more than a consequence of a lack of long-term planning on manager Harry Redknapp’s part, with Van Der Vaart arriving on transfer deadline day with minutes to spare. A bargain, most certainly yes, but to what cost on a wider scale has his arrival changed the club ‘s previously successful style of play?

Luka Modric is one the finest players in the league and the man that makes Spurs tick. To put it simply, if you don’t rate him higher than Van Der Vaart and more key to Spurs’ future ambitions, then you should revoke your status as a football fan through sheer lack of knowledge.

Modric looked far more comfortable alongside Scott Parker against Liverpool than he ever has done when playing beside Van Der Vaart. There’s a school of thought that Modric’s creativity is stifled by Van Der Vaart’s presence and that it stops Modric getting the best out of his magnificent ability – I‘d certainly subscribe to that view. Spurs also have Sandro and Tom Huddlestone among their ranks – an enviable strength in depth in a crucial area and Van Der Vaart’s prospects of an automatic return grow smaller by the match.

The knock-on effect Van Der Vaart’s presence in the starting line-up had on Jermaine Defoe is also worth noting. While I am far from being Defoe’s biggest fan, he went from scoring 24 goals one season, to 9 the next. He may have suffered from being in and out of the team due to a mixture of injury and suspension, but that is quite a drop in one season.

One thing has become clear – Defoe performs best with a partner beside him rather than behind him. In Emmanuel Adebayor he now has that, and Spurs now have the quality striker that they so desperately required last season.

Indeed, even for Holland, Van Der Vaart has led a troubled life, seemingly proving difficult to fit in unless a formation is accommodated to suit his needs. In the end, during last summer’s World Cup, Holland coach Bert Van Marwijk finally decided he’d had enough of trying to shoehorn both Wesley Sneijder and Van Der Vaart into his starting eleven and dropped the latter after the group stages. The result – an unexpected run to the final and Sneijder wins the Golden Boot.

Van Der Vaart is obviously a quality player. He combines goals, vision and technique to constitute a real threat to whoever the opposition are, but he can quite rightfully be considered a luxury player and at times he flits in and out of the game.

He was surprisingly left out of Spurs initial Europa League squad, despite his injury, which led the player publicly questioning the decision. His stock has never been lower at the club than it is right now.

A lot depends on how much faith Redknapp retains in Defoe. Adebayor should rightfully be seen as the club’s first-choice striker. Redknapp could just as easily switch to Adebayor up top by himself with Van Der Vaart in behind him. This could be a useful tactic in Europe, but in the league, it may lead to a regression just when Spurs look to have found their attacking straps once more.

With Defoe scoring and Niko Krancjar performing ably in his stead; Modric and Parker beginning to form a decent understanding in the middle, the current Spurs side looks a lot more balanced than last season’s. Van Der Vaart would do well to return to full fitness soon, for this current Spurs side are in danger of moving on without him.

You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1
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