Should Tottenham Hotspur be considering a switch in tactics or is it just a knee-jerk reaction to a couple of bad results?
One thing that you can say about Andre Villas-Boas' Tottenham Hotspur squad is that you always know exactly how they're going to line up. So far this season Spurs have played 15 matches (6W 5D 4L) and have used the exact same formation, a 4-2-3-1, in each of them. Villas-Boas' preferred formation is a 4-3-3, but he claims to be using te current tactic as a way to transition a team that was used to playing a 4-4-1-1 under former manager Harry Redknapp.
AVB's reasons for using the 4-2-3-1 were, quite simply, that Tottenham's personel (presumably Rafael van der Vaart) didn't fit into his favorite tactic. This situation was clearly exacerbated by the purchases of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey, both of whom fulfill, essentially, the same role as the departed van der Vaart.
Tottenham have looked stellar at times this season, but few would argue that Spurs have put together a full 90 minutes of quality football. So, what to do? I say it's time to look at other possible formations. Is it a bit ridiculous to expect a team to change tactics mid-season? Absolutely, but let's not pretend that Spurs are playing so well that any drop in form from a switch of formations would be that noticeable.
There are a great number of tactics that Tottenham could employ, but the club is limited, to an extent, by injuries to the first team. The losses of Scott Parker, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Younes Kaboul, Mousa Dembele have created quite a selection headache for Villas-Boas. Another limiting factor to formation selection is the total dearth of strikers in the first team. Only Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor are available for selection in a given week, making most two striker formations a scary prospect. There are, however, options available to the club.
The first thing Villas-Boas should do when looking toward a new formation is to immediately drop the attacking midfielder. Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson have been shockingly bad this year. Yes, Dempsey has two useful goals, but both came in games where he was largely adrift and anonymous. We often criticized van der Vaart for failing to last longer than 60 minutes, but the attacking midfielder has been withdrawn frequently near that same mark this season, making the sale of the Dutch star even more puzzling.
So now we've got an extra player to work with. This player can't be a striker, for the reasons discussed above. I don't see the team making the switch to a three man defense, so it makes sense that Spurs switch to a three-man midfield. Not only is this AVB's preferred tactic, but it's something not totally dissimilar from what the club is currently playing, thereby reducing the time needed to adjust.
In a 4-3-3 we would ideally have a midfield of Sandro, Parker, and Dembele. Unfortunately, all three of those players are injured. We don't know the extent of Sandro's injury yet, but let's assume that he misses at least a couple of weeks. So, where does that leave Spurs? Suddenly that formidable midfield three become a midfield of Jake Livermore, Tom Huddlestone, and Tom Carroll. Not exactly three names that strike fear into the heart of an opponent. However, I think that is a perfectly workable midfield and one much more capable of picking the lock against lesser teams that want to sit back and park the bus against Spurs.
Certainly, I have no desire to go up against the midfields of Arsenal and Manchester City with those three in midfield, but it's no less worrisome than going up against those same teams with either Dempsey or Sigurdsson playing the number 10 role. That doesn't mean that those two players don't have a role to play in this formation. Dempsey certainly could play as a left inside forward with Bale on the opposite side in the dreaded inverted wingers formation. Siggurdsson has proved he can play on the wing as well, I'm less sure of his ability in central midfield.
In all honesty, the two men that don't quite fit in this formation are Sigurdsson, for the above reasons, and Aaron Lennon. Lennon has been a revelation this season and probably one of Spurs' best players. But can he play the inside forward role in this 4-3-3 tactic? My gut says no, but I'm always hesitant to remove the man in form. However, Spurs have at least two players that could play the role of right inside forward better than Lennon. One of them is Bale playing as an inverted winger and the other, in my mind, is Iago Falque. Falque seems to be an excellent talent and the idea of giving him a run-out in the Premier League isn't that far-fetched.
Tottenham need to make a change because what they're doing either isn't working or isn't working well enough. Why ease Spurs into AVB's preferred tactic? We should be going all-in with the 4-3-3 and trying to make it work as soon as possible.