Criticising Peter Crouch is fast becoming a favourite past time amongst Tottenham followers, although it still falls short of the loathing many appear to reserve for Jermaine Jenas. Critics of Tottenham’s play argue that whilst the long ball tactic that was once used in conjunction with a variety of methods to break down the opposition, it is slowly coming to permeate Tottenham’s attacking play, turning the side into a long ball team. However, is this a) Peter Crouch’s fault, and b)not simply a case of Tottenham adapting to life without (dare I say it again) Aaron Lennon?
Despite grumblings amongst the Spurs faithful that Crouch is not good enough for a team with Champions League aspirations, it could be argued that other than a lack of goals, the big man does a job for Spurs. Crouch’s hold up play is generally good, whilst his height is always going to be a threat to even the best opposition defenders, as seen against Manchester United where he dominated Rio Ferdinand for Defoe’s goal, or a few weeks ago where he gave Aston Villa’s Dunne and Collins a torrid time. Crouch is blasted for lacking a deftness of touch in front of goal, and for being weak in the air despite his frame. However, the period in which Modric and Kranjcar played on the ‘wings’ hurt Crouch’s game, as he was starved of good delivery from wide areas as Modric and Kranjcar move inside at every opportunity. This was quickly identified by Harry Redknapp in fairness, and since Bentley came in, arguably Crouch has been more effective, and the team has benefitted. Crouch is not going to score a hatful of goals every season, but his assists and approach play often lead to goals for others, namely Jermaine Defoe, who does not look half as good without Crouch alongside him winning the headers he [Defoe] can run on to. Classic examples include the aforementioned goal against Manchester United, Crouch’s assist in Tottenham’s second goal against Manchester City at home, or the low diving header Crouch flicked towards Defoe for Tottenham’s goal against Birmingham at St. Andrew’s. Two of these goals came from ‘long balls’ and they were affective against top sides. Having this sort of variety is important, as you cannot pass your way through every team you meet.
Crouch is no Berbatov, and whilst it is true that Tottenham may need more class upfront if they are to reach the promised land of the Champions League, Crouch has played well this season, and has done his job admirably. The problem occurring at the moment for Spurs is the difficulty they have in getting behind teams. With Lennon, even when at White Hart Lane where teams tend to sit deep, Spurs can get behind teams to create chances. However, with Bentley, Modric and Kranjcar, Tottenham are more predictable, and more likely to go through the middle of the park. Arguably, this has lead to Spurs resorting to the long ball, as teams find it easier to frustrate Tottenham attacks by packing out the midfield. When team double up on Lennon, as seen at Villa Park earlier in the season, it creates more space for the right-back, and leaves more room in midfield. Thus, although Spurs groan at the long ball to Crouch, often it is the last option available to the team.
Crouch will no-doubt be criticised by fans for many matches to come, as will Jermaine Jenas (if he ever emerges from the bench again). However, whilst the long ball tactics may be a source of frustration, certain players appear to be escaping criticism. Jenas, Bentley, and Crouch for example, often receive their fair-share of naysayers. But Modric and Kranjcar are the players at Spurs who are supposed to ‘unlock the door’ so to speak. Kranjcar has been inconsistent so far at Tottenham, ranging from very good, to poor from game to game, whilst Modric has had countless average performances since he returned to the starting 11 from his leg-break, and yet receives the plaudits as our best player. If fans are frustrated at the ‘long ball’ game, perhaps it is time that the likes of Luka Modric, Kranjcar and perhaps Eidur Gudjohnsen, did what they were bought to do, and found the key to unlock the door…