7 Reasons for Tottenham Hotspur's Recent Poor Form
From a position of being outside bets for the title, Tottenham Hotspur have crumbled to being outside bets for Europe in a little over two months.
Harry Redknapp has fallen from being the heir apparent to Fabio Capello at England to now being a slender favourite to Roy Hodgson at West Brom.
From a situation where Champions League football, an FA Cup final and their manager leading his country out at Euro 2012 all seemed possible, Spurs' season seems to be ending in the worst way possible.
Redknapp and his team now have four games left to save their season.
Here I look at where it all went wrong.
1. Lack of Squad Depth
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Despite having a squad of 34 recognised first-team players, the quality of player for Harry Redknapp to choose from just is not there.
Spurs' first XI is packed with Premier League quality, but if you take any from the all-important spine of the team—Friedel, King, Parker, Modric, Adebayor—their replacements are far from the required quality to challenge for a position in the top four, let alone challenge for the title.
Add in the fact that there are no real replacements for Kyle Walker or the haphazard Benoit Assou-Ekotto and you realise just how brittle Spurs are. While Walker—the recently named 2012 PFA Young Player of the Year—is an excellent player with huge potential, the same cannot be said about Assou-Ekotto.
The Cameroonian international may have improved massively over the last two to three seasons, but he is nowhere near being good enough to help challenge for the title. With this in mind, having no cover for him is verging on the criminal.
Redknapp's philosophy of not holding onto an unhappy player may be the honourable thing to do as far as the player is concerned, but it has definitely left Spurs weak.
Only this week, Vedran Corluka, Tottenham's Croatian international on loan with Bayer Leverkusen, told BBC 5Live: "I wouldn't be surprised if they finished sixth. They didn't rotate enough, they don't have depth on the bench. I've watched almost every Spurs game and they played them all with the same 11, 12, 13 players and that's why the players now are really tired."
The main first-team squad players at Redknapp's disposal are Younes Kaboul, William Gallas, Giovani dos Santos, Niko Kranjcar and Sandro. All are capable players, but none are good enough to play at a consistent high level in the Premier League with the exception of Sandro.
2. Allowing Steven Pienaar to Leave on Loan in January
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When Steven Pienaar signed for Tottenham Hotspur in January 2011, it was as an alternative and possible future replacement for Aaron Lennon.
The slight South African midfielder joined Spurs after a successful four-year spell at Everton, where he pulled the strings from the right-hand side of David Moyes' midfield.
What Harry Redknapp did not realise at the time was that Pienaar could not fit into Spurs' midfield as a wide player and that he was not good enough to usurp Luka Modric or Scott Parker from their central berths.
From there the 30-year-old midfielder, who had been a mainstay of the Everton team with 133 games over four years, became a fringe player at Spurs and only played 10 games in the space of one calendar year.
With confidence low, Pienaar asked Redknapp for a loan move away from White Hart Lane. And as luck would have it, he ended up back at Everton.
Since re-joining the Toffees, the midfielder has slotted straight back into Moyes' plans. He has featured in 10 of the last 11 games and has scored three goals. The only game he has missed was the game against Tottenham, as loan move rules prevent players from playing against their parent clubs.
Tottenham and Redknapp's folly was allowing him to leave in January.
Sure enough, the creative midfielder is not a natural wide player in the same terms as Aaron Lennon or Gareth Bale, but he is more than capable of filling the position to a high standard. The same can be said about the central midfield positions, where he would have been more comfortable. His slight frame means he could not replace Parker directly, but he could have covered for Modric when the time arose.
Allowing a squad player of such use to leave was a huge mistake by Redknapp, as he was forced to re-jig his team instead of a making a direct replacement after Lennon was injured. This ties in with the first point of squad depth.
3. Not Having Adequate Backup for Emmanuel Adebayor
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To see how important Emmanuel Adebayor is to Tottenham's setup, you only have to look at the fact that he has played in 29 of Spurs' 34 games so far this season.
In short, he is one of the first names on the team sheet.
His best position is as a lone striker, and this fits in perfectly with the first XI that Harry Redknapp has assembled:
RB Walker CB King CB Gallas LB Assou-Ekotto
RM Lennon CM Parker CM Modric LM Bale
AM van der Vaart
With Adebayor as the pinnacle of his attack, Harry Redknapp has a player at his disposal that can score as well as create goals. But most importantly, he has a player who can link up with his midfielders seamlessly.
It is this last vital ingredient that makes the Togolese so vital to Spurs. Without him in the team, van der Vaart and Modric fail to link up with the strikers, and without that happening, Bale and Lennon are isolated out wide.
Even when the two wingers do get the ball in wide positions, Adebayor's likely replacements, Defoe and Saha, are not the same type of player and often make runs that do not complement wing play.
So when Adebayor is out of the team or off form, Spurs lack a vital cog. It is worth knowing that of the five games he has missed for Spurs this season, they have only taken one point from a possible 15 available.
The lack of backup for the ex-Arsenal striker means that when he is unfit or off form, his manager has to change the setup of his team completely to suit other players rather than leaving the setup as it is.
Perhaps the greatest attribute Adebayor possesses is his pace, as this unsung skill means that opposition defences cannot push up as far as they were allowed to with Crouch and Pavlyuchenko.
Jermain Defoe is as quick, but he cannot bring other players into the game in the same way. Neither can Louis Saha, so the gamble of not signing a similar striker in January has backfired.
4. Allowing Targets to Drop
"Reach for the moon; even if you miss, you will land among the stars."
The point being that, while Spurs were challenging for the title, they were always guaranteed to finish in the top four.
When they lost to Manchester City on January 22, they were effectively ruled out of the title race by everyone, but most importantly, they were ruled out as title contenders by themselves. In effect, their target dropped from finishing first to finishing in the top four.
This slight change and drop in psychology can be seen over the next 18 games, where Spurs only won six games (Pld-18 W-6 D-5 L-7). Compare this to their record before the January loss (Pld-31 W-19 D-7 L-5) and you immediately see a team with two distinct psychologies and a team with and without confidence.
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Conventional wisdom suggests that "sport breeds character"; it doesn't. Sport reveals character.
In sport, players have to dig deep and come up with performances when all seems lost. This is a characteristic we have all come to associate with champions and winners. But rather than becoming a champion or winning a title making an athlete indomitable, it is their indomitable spirit that makes them champions while others around them seek the easy way out.
Professional and winning mentality has been a problem at Spurs for much of the last 50 years, and this current side are no different.
Under Harry Redknapp, considerable steps have been taken in the right direction, and the improvements in Tottenham Hotspur since he took over in October 2008—with the team in the relegation zone—are clear to see.
This year Spurs have improved once again and were considered title challengers until their season began to unravel in late January, but having lost that little bit of confidence that is just so important in sport at any level, they have struggled to repeat the high-caliber performances of pre-Christmas.
This is where character and mentality come in.
Athletes with this aspect of their psyche know exactly when and how to use it to their benefit, while athletes without it suffer in the desperation and loneliness of losing.
While everything was going well for Spurs, the players were riding the crest of a wave and their mentality was never in question because it was never questioned.
Now, as they slip out of the top four and possible European competition contention, everyone is asking "what is wrong at Spurs?"
As usual, there is no single answer, but Tottenham's lack of mental strength is undoubtedly a key component of their slump.
6. Harry Redknapp, Fabio Capello and the England Job
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When Fabio Capello and the FA came to a mutual agreement to let the Italian manager resign from his job as England manager on February 8, Harry Redknapp was immediately hailed and installed as the best successor available.
Many journalists have been quick to point to Tottenham's poor run coinciding with the news, with the general consensus being that the players have become distracted by the attention and speculation.
This, in my opinion, could not be further from the truth.
As a rule, players are selfish creatures. They think about self, team and club in that order. They make acquaintanceships rather than friendships, in most cases, at the clubs they play for because everyone is a potential rival. Who manages them is usually of little or no concern as long as the manager treats everyone the same and speaks on the game with authority and knowledge.
For me, if anyone has been distracted by the speculation, it is Harry Redknapp.
Whether it is coincidence or not—Tottenham's unfortunate run of fixtures at the time most certainly is (Liverpool, Newcastle, Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Stoke, Chelsea)—Harry Redknapp's tinkering with his starting formation started around the time the England job came up.
From the very start of the season there had been speculation linking Redknapp with replacing Capello after Euro 2012, but the Italian's resignation moved everything forward significantly.
7. Harry Redknapp's Tactical Changes
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Before January, Spurs played with the same formation in practically every game. With the players at his disposal Redknapp recognised that the system that suited his team best was a variation of 4-5-1.
Without doubt, this system provided the best shape to get the very best out of his players.
Emmanuel Adebayor has excelled as the lone striker. Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon have developed as wingers, where a four-man midfield would have required them as wide midfielders. Scott Parker has slotted into a midfield five perfectly, while he is vulnerable in the centre of a three- or four-man midfield, and the defence have reaped the benefits of better frontal cover.
Overall the system has worked well.
However, when injuries, suspensions or loss of form have appeared, Harry Redknapp has changed the system to suit the replacements rather than making straight swaps. In doing this, he is making two to three changes for the sake of one.
This is never a good thing to do, as it can disrupt the natural rhythm a team develops over time, where every player knows exactly what is expected of them and what is expected of his teammates.
Take bringing Jermain Defoe into the side, for example. Defoe is not good at link-up play and prefers to play on the shoulder of the last defender, where he can utilise his pace and lethal prowess in front of goal. He likes through balls and is often half-turned in a direction he wants the ball played in rather than playing with his back to goal to bring other players into the game.
With that explained, Defoe is obviously not the same player as Adebayor. But instead of making the one change and making the player suit the system, Redknapp has often dropped either Aaron Lennon or Rafael van der Vaart to bring a partner for Defoe into the team, making the team move to a 4-4-2. This formation instantly exposes Parker's lack of pace through the center and van der Vaart's or Lennon's lack of positional awareness out wide.
The same can be said of when Redknapp has gone to a four-man midfield while Bale was out of the side. Instead of playing Danny Rose or one of the other reserves, Redknapp has often moved Modric out wide, away from his most influential position in the middle, thus weakening two positions.
Foe me, it's simple: play your best players in the formation that suits them best and then make like-for-like changes. Especially if they are going to be short term because long-term absences may require the shape to be changed.
Before Redknapp started tinkering, Spurs had huge momentum, were full of confidence and were playing well.
Now they simply aren't.