Harry Redknapp's Tactics Send Tottenham Hotspur To Manchester United Defeat

nigel smithCorrespondent ISeptember 12, 2009

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 23:  Harry Redknapp Manager of Tottenham Hotspur looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur at Upton Park on August 23, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)

A solid and professional display by a 10-man United team delivered victory to the champions, and dented Spurs high octane start to the season.  

United, coming off international week and a shaky performance against faltering Arsenal, were good value for their success, in an excellent advert for Premiership football.

And yet, the likely outcome seemed so different after 50 seconds of a thrilling contest. Spurs’ early lead from Defoe’s marvellous act of acrobatics seemed to confirm the pre-match hype that this game was Spurs' coronation as serious contenders for Champions League qualification.

An opening day victory over Liverpool and a thrilling defeat of Hull had contributed to Spurs’ best start to the season since Wham topped the charts. Indeed, the manner of the north Londoners’ surge up the table and the quality of the football on view persuaded more beyond Haringey that Redknapp’s side could gate-crash the Big Four monopoly at the top of the table this year.

Was Redknapp reading those headlines too?

His bold team selection against the champions should be lauded. All too often, teams show little adventure when taking on the champions. Not Spurs circa 2009. Redknapp clearly believed United were there for the taking and sent his team out with the conviction that it could gun down the Premiership kings.

The Spurs manager must have been buoyed by a glance at Alex Ferguson’s team sheet. There was Giggs and Scholes in midfield, two heavy-legged veterans deployed to contest midfield supremacy alongside the moody and still unconvincing Anderson. Fletcher, trumpeted by the manager for his match-winning industry against the Gunners in United’s last outing, was exiled to the right flank.

More careful scrutiny on Ferguson’s choice would have led to the observation that United’s current first choice defence was in place, despite the midweek fears that O’Shea was suffering from injury. The presence of Berbatov in attack was a deafening statement that Ferguson does not see this Spurs side as rivalling the threat posed by north London neighbours Arsenal.  

Still, in the white heat cauldron of the Premiership where pace is a priority, Spurs looked to have the more potent midfield quartet. Defoe's opening goal looked like the platform for victory.

But what might have been a bonfire of Ferguson’s vanities became instead a bracing shower of cold realism for Spurs, with Redknapp punished for his hubris and old school tactics.

Spurs’ Peter Crouch owned United’s Nemanja Vidic in a manner that must have shocked Sir Alex, and yet Spurs could not transform the England striker’s extraordinary dominance into goals. It did not help that Foster’s growth in confidence in United’s goal continues apace.

After a bright start, the Spurs midfield faded unexpectedly. The team conceded more and more ground and were increasingly pinned back by a resilient United side which fought resolutely to the last.

Huddlestone’s contribution from the centre was minimal and Keane’s roving brief failed to unhinge United’s defensive concentration, allowing the champions to remain competitive in an area of the field where they risked being over-run. Redknapp should have seen this danger as soon as United took the lead late in the first half. His failure to react was, for this correspondent at least, evidence of his tactical naivety.

The pre-match script had identified Lennon as the home side’s danger man, with the pace to skin United’s defence and the wit to shred Evra’s reputation as the best fullback in the British Isles. It was not to be. The England winger was a disappointment whilst Evra proved once again the value of his incisive attacking down the left flank.

Spurs’ failings allowed United the opportunity to recover from a slow start, some wretched positional play by the re-united Ferdinand and Vidic, and another example of Paul Scholes’s dreadful tackling, which rightly earned him two bookings and an early bath.

United won despite these failings. The fears that this will be a transition season will evaporate if the manager can keep Anderson in White Hart Lane mode and can play rivals with an equivalent appetite for euthanasia.

The team’s performance will please Sir Alex as much as the scoreline. More of the same please next week against the deeply impressive Manchester City.