Neither revolution nor evolution, Tim Sherwood has sensibly limited himself to alteration when it has come to putting his stamp on Tottenham Hotspur.
It was the logical choice for the man who replaced Andre Villas-Boas as manager. The Portuguese had overseen a steady, albeit staid first half to the season, the negative aspects of which had been magnified by his team's failure to deliver against clubs viewed as rivals for a top-four place.
Spurs were still only five points off fourth following the 5-0 loss to Liverpool that heralded Villas-Boas' departure. In attempting to get them back on track, Sherwood looked to solve their overriding problem of the season—a lack of goals.
Bringing Emmanuel Adebayor back into the first-team fold was Sherwood's headline decision of his first week in charge. Equally significant was the switch to two up front, and with it the change to what was recognisably a 4-4-2 formation.
As Sherwood's first big call, it has—in general terms—paid off. Another goal has been added since the following tweet, but WhoScored.com's main point is intact:
In those early weeks of the new manager's tenure, having another striker to help occupy opposition defences helped Spurs avoid the limitations that come with playing a lone striker.
In Adebayor, Roberto Soldado (and for one-and-a-half games, Jermain Defoe) had someone to link with more frequently—the former was the beneficiary of assists from his strike partner against West Ham United and Southampton. The midfield benefited too from having more to work with in the wins over Saints, Stoke City and Manchester United.
The old issues of a regular creative source from the likes of Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen and Aaron Lennon (three of the more attacking midfielders to have been involved regularly under Sherwood) were not entirely gone, however. That much was shown against Arsenal.
Spurs struggled in the FA Cup loss to a side who had calculated a typically quick-passing response to nullify Tottenham's own attempts to get the ball forward incisively and purposefully.
Sherwood told the London Evening Standard the defeat was not down to his team's four-man midfield being outnumbered and over-ran. He argued: "We just had 11 numbers on the field and tried to rotate and fill up every area of the field."
Given the regularity with which many of us get hung up on formations, it is an admirable stance to take in some respects. It is one, though, that is reliant on a consistently high (or at least high enough) standard of performance. In all their duties, neither the midfield or attack reached this level against Arsenal.
This almost certainly influenced the Tottenham coaching staff's decision to revert to one up top against Swansea City and Manchester City. Against two teams who, similarly to the Gunners, pride themselves on their passing style, Sherwood's intention was to use an extra player deeper in midfield to help negate this. The significant difference to when Villas-Boas had used a similar strategy was the more physical presence of Adebayor in attack to try and retain the ball in the final third.
The difference in the two performances and results—a 3-1 win over Swansea, a 5-1 loss to Man City—could be interpreted in a number of ways. Essentially, it came down to the fact that Swansea are inferior to Spurs, Man City are better.
Spurs' midfield was given more time on the ball by its counterpart at the Welsh club, and also had the better athletes and footballers to overwhelm them on both sides. The tables were turned against the Mancunian outfit, with attempts to dominate the middle of the pitch a failure. It left Adebayor isolated against a quality defence able to more than match him on his own.
Having reverted to two in attack and four across the middle in the most recent 1-1 draw with Hull City, Sherwood's strategising moving forward will be even more influenced by personnel than it has been. The return of Erik Lamela, Paulinho, Andros Townsend and Jan Vertonghen (among others) will give him more scope to try things than he has previously had—if he so desires.
Vertonghen's selection against Hull was noteworthy for it being one of the few alterations to have taken place to a defence that has largely remained unchanged under the current boss. That consistency having mostly worked in its favour.
Looking back over matches that have taken place just prior to, and since Sherwood's appointment, there has not been a tremendous difference in the work of his back five to how it performed under Villas-Boas.
Using Squawka.com's heat maps for Spurs' defensive players, if you analysed it intently enough there are some instances you could argue for overall deeper positioning. Then again, Villas-Boas' famed high-line was so inexactly deployed in the ongoing process of its implementation (something necessitated by his frequent changes in selection and how it was used against different clubs) that it is difficult to be sure.
What is clear is that Spurs are still not afraid to push up on teams at times, with Hugo Lloris still called upon to sweep behind them (sometimes not called upon, as against Hull on a couple of occasions). That was not a trait solely unique to a Villas-Boas defence, though.
We are not yet two months into Sherwood's time as Tottenham manager. With this being his first senior managerial job, we are learning as much about him as he is about its requirements.
At least 16 games remain this season for Spurs. We are going to be finding out a lot more about what Sherwood in charge means for this football team.
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