Tactical Battles That Will Shape Tottenham Hotspur's Clash with Benfica
Tim Sherwood's Tottenham Hotspur will attempt to overturn a 3-1 UEFA Europa League first-leg defeat in the round of 16 to Jorge Jesus' Benfica, so here are the tactical battles that will shape Thursday's match.
Sherwood is going into the game with the aim of showing up Jesus after the Benfica manager made a three-fingered salute, presumably to goad Sherwood (the Portuguese denies this).
"I've got respect for the football club [Benfica] and I've got respect for his [Jesus'] players," Sherwood said, per Ed Aarons at the Guardian. "[But] I have got no respect for the man [Jesus]."
Statistics via WhoScored.
Tim Sherwood's Centre-Back Crisis
Sherwood is not expected to field Emmanuel Adebayor, Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen, Kyle Walker, Michael Dawson, Mousa Dembele, Paulinho, Vlad Chiriches and Younes Kaboul against Benfica, per Tom Collomosse at the Independent.
Defensive midfielder Etienne Capoue, who can slot in at centre-back, is also projected to miss the Benfica game, per talkSPORT.
The main tactical conundrum Sherwood faces is: Who will play at centre-back?
Sandro, who filled in at centre-back after Kaboul's red card in the 4-0 defeat to Chelsea, is likely to start at the heart of the Spurs defence.
Going by the probable starting XIs, per John Percy at the Telegraph, Milos Veljkovic will be starting alongside Sandro.
Who is Veljkovic? According to Spurs' official website, he is an 18-year-old Serbian centre-back/holding midfielder.
So Sherwood needs to figure out how to protect a partnership containing a makeshift centre-back and an inexperienced teenager while taking the game to Benfica, since the Portuguese club carries a 3-1 first-leg advantage.
When Sherwood's Spurs have opened up, they have been carved apart: a 4-0 defeat to Chelsea and a 5-1 defeat to Manchester City.
Play the Game Via Christian Eriksen
Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane is a promising English youth international who looked good in a free-roaming central role for England during the 2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
However, he is nowhere near the quality of Christian Eriksen, not only from an ability point of view, but also an incisive passing perspective.
Eriksen averages 2.5 key passes per game (that lead to a shot) in the UEFA Europa League, compared to Kane's 0.5.
Therefore, it was weird to see Sherwood push Eriksen out wide and play Kane behind Adebayor.
It did not work, so Sherwood needs to rectify that situation and play Eriksen in the No. 10 role.
Or, if Sherwood wants to be daring, he can play Eriksen in a false-nine position, a tactical ploy Ajax manager Frank de Boer used against Manchester City during a 2-2 UEFA Champions League draw in 2012, per Michael Cox at Zonal Marking.
What is the point?
Play the game via Eriksen, who is Spurs' most technically gifted player and someone who can impact games (two goals and an assist in last two Europa League games).
Quit Playing Long Balls
Sherwood should instruct his players to quit playing long balls or crosses.
Benfica's two centre-backs, Ezequiel Garay and Luisao, are both 6'4", so Spurs are more likely to score a goal via manoeuvring the ball around those two, as opposed to hoofing and hoping.
In the 3-1 UEFA Europa first-leg defeat, Spurs played 29 more long passes and four more crosses than Benfica.
Spurs' only goal did not come from a long ball or cross—it was a moment of brilliance via a Christian Eriksen free-kick.
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