LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14: Mick McCarthy the Wolves manager smiles from the dugout during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers at White Hart Lane on January 14, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
After watching this game a couple of times I came to the same conclusion that Kevin McCauley did in the match report. Tottenham Hotspur were simply not good enough to secure a win. Certainly, Spurs had almost 70% of the possession in the match and 26 total shots, but I would hardly call the performance dominant. Wolverhampton Wanderers put in a typically gritty performance using a formations perfectly selected by manager Mick McCarthy to give Tottenham fits.
What you want see in this analysis is anything about the officiating. Whatever you have to say about it, it's not going to be reflected here. What you will see is that Spurs were inefficient and wasteful and as a result they failed to earn all three points. Let's have a look.
Tottenham again ran out their 4-4-1-1 formation. I'm starting to become convinced that this formation actually plays like an asymmetric magic box. Gareth Bale is still playing, much to my personal annoyance, more centrally. Aaron Lennon also continues to cut inside. For a period in this game we even played with the dreaded inverted wingers, which actually worked decently. One odd thing we saw during this match was Younes Kaboul getting forward. I'm not sure if this was a product of Harry's tactics or just the fact that Steven Fletcher was often the only attacker that the central defenders had to worry about. Either way, I'm not sure I like this particular development.
The return of Scott Parker should have meant a more dynamic midfield both in terms of passing and movement, but it didn't quite play out that way. Parker was neither good nor bad, but he didn't hand in the sort of nearly flawless performance that Jake Livermore had in midweek against Everton. Perhaps this was due to the play of Wolves' midfielders or because of some rust that Parker may have after his injury. Either way, his play was not up to par.
One other thing we can see from this is that Emmanuel Adebayor had 0 shots. Not that he had no shots on target, but that he simply did not attempt to shot even once. That is unacceptable from a Premier League striker. I can't decide which is more frustrating. Gareth Bale's eight shots with only one on target or Adebayor's zero attempts. I'm leaning towards Adebayor though. Steven Fletcher and Wolves had the ball very little and he still managed a shot (and a goal). The fact that Adebayor wouldn't pull the trigger even once was incredibly annoying. While the Togolese striker is a good player, I beginning to fear that he doesn't have the nose for goal that some of the top Premier League strikers have. I am by no means implying that Adebayor is not good. All I'm saying is that, lately, he seems to be lacking that killer instinct.
Wolves countered with a 4-4-1-1 of their own a formation which West Bromwich Albion had previously used to give Tottenham Trouble. Wolves are typically a very tough team, but when you have a central midfield pairing of Karl Henry and Emmanuel Frimpong you should know that you're going to get a lot of tough tackling and not a lot of passing. That's exactly what happened. Wolves played a lot of Route 1 football, but it worked well. Steven Fletcher worked hard to get on the end of the long balls.
Fletcher is really the player the player that makes Wolves work. I think he's criminally undervalued. It's unfortunate that he's had to toil away at Hibernian, Burnley, and now Wolves, because I think he's a much better player than that. Honestly, if you told me today that Spurs were going to buy Fletcher for £6.5 million, which is what Wolves paid for him, I wouldn't be too upset. Fletcher went up for 18 total aerial challenges, winning 7 of them. Not a great percentage sure, but when you consider he was by himself without any support most of the time it seems a lot better.
Wolves as a team sat exceptionally deep the whole game. Even attacking midfielder David Edwards was behind the ball most of the time. Matt Jarvis and Fletcher were often the most advanced players on the pitch. With Jarvis pushing so far up the pitch, left back Stephen Ward also played exceptionally deep, rarely getting forward. On the opposite side Kevin Foley played much further up the pitch, though he was aided by the fact that Michael Kightly was much more willing to track back.
Figure 2: Tottenham Hotspur (left) vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers (right) shooting, 1/14/12. Via Who Scored.
Look at those numbers. Tottenham had a ton of shots, 26 in total, but only six were on goal. Many will use the sheer number of shots to claim that Tottenham were clearly far and away the better team, but take a look at those chalkboards again. Look at where Tottenham's shots are coming from. Most are coming from well outside of the box. So many of Spurs' shots were hit and hope volleys that never tested Wayne Hennessey and even when a shot was on frame it was often right at the Welsh keeper.
Now look at Wolves' chances. How is it that a team that put 11 men behind the ball managed to get five shots off from within the box, three of which came from open play? It's because Wolves were effective on the counter attack. It may have been ugly route one type stuff, but Wolves got the ball cleared either to the wings or up to Fletcher and were able, on a couple of occasions to put serious pressure on the Tottenham defense. At the end of the day, it's not always about the number of chances you create, but about the quality of those chances. If you doubt that, think back to when Tottenham were our shot by Fulham and still managed a win.
Figure 3: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers, clearances by Wolves, 1/14/12.
As you could probably have figured out simply from watching the game, Spurs were frustrated by Wolves' efforts to defend with as many bodies as possible, especially after going 1-0 up. This, however, doesn't necessarily account for the number of bad shots taken by Tottenham. What does account for it is the way the Wolves packed the box. As you can see from the above chart Wolves defense sat very deep and when the ball was in the penalty area they made every effort to clear it out. Now, these clearances, as you can see were not always successful, but by at least breaking up the play a bit and forcing Tottenham to adjust on the fly Wolves were able to keep Spurs off balance.
Now, let's take a look at the passing numbers.
Figure 4: Pass Completion and Frequency (5-min weighted averages), Tottenham Hotspur v. Wolverhampton Wanderers, 1/14/12. Powered by Tableau.
Figure 5: Individual passing for Tottenham Hotspur v. Wolverhampton Wanderers, 1/14/12. Powered by Tableau.
I'm not sure I adequately explained this the first time around, but the wider the lines are in Figure 4, then the greater percentage of play each team had. All that means is who had the ball the most during that particular passage of play. Sure, it's generally the team with the higher completion percentage, but not always. As you can see, Wolves have a higher completion percentage at several intervals, but almost never have more of the ball.
Tottenham had eight players out pass all the Wolves players, but only Younes Kaboul completed more than 90% of his passes. Michael Dawson and Benoit Assou-Ekotto were both not their usual selves, completing less than 80% of their attempted passes. Even Luka Modric was of his game and only completed 80%. That pretty much tell the story of a Tottenham Hotspur team that dominated possession and passing.
Figure 6: Tottenham Attacking patterns vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers, 1/14/12. Via Who Scored.
What it also shows is a somewhat annoying trend: Kyle Walker sees way too much of the ball. Walker consistently is on the ball more than Aaron Lennon. In the last game only Luka Modric, Livermore, and Rafael van der Vaart had more passes than Walker. Tottenham's attack should not be being run through a fullback, let alone a fullback in just his first full season of Premier League football. Players like Modric, Parker, Bale, Lennon, and Rafa need to be leading the attack, not Walker. There's not even the excuse that Jarvis provided the most attacking threat and as a result Walker just wound up with the ball more. As you can see from the figure on the left, most of Tottenham's attacks are coming from the flanks. That's not necessarily a bad thing when you have a player like Gareth Bale on the left, but Lennon's general lack of involvement and the amount of time Kyle Walker is on the ball is a little worrying. Tottenham have an exceptionally strong spine with Modric, Parker, and Van der Vaart and the fact that those three are either being forced to drift out wide to get the ball or just not seeing enough of it means that Tottenham were never going to be as effective as they should be.
Wolves certainly influenced where Tottenham's attacks came from. Their wingers pushed further up the pitch while Edwards, Frimpong, and Henry crowded the middle. I expect we'll see many more teams do this in an effort to throw Spurs off their game. Much of Wolves' passing came from their fullbacks and much of that passing was simply lumping it forward toward Steven Fletcher. Karl Henry and Emmanuel Frimpong didn't do much in terms of passing, but as I mentioned above, no one ever really expected them to. In short, Wolves didn't do much, but they did do just enough and fully deserved their point from this match.
Mick McCarthy was, at least in this match, tactically superior to Harry Redknapp. Spurs should expect to see a lot more 4-4-1-1 formations against teams from the bottom half of the table and a lot more nine and ten men behind the ball sort of approaches to play. In order to be successful Tottenham are going to need to figure out how to break down these teams quickly and efficiently. They certainly can't afford to go behind early like they did in this match, which only allows teams to further park the bus.