Ryan Nelsen of Tottenham clears the ball from Chris Beardsley of Stevenage during the FA Cup Fifth Round match at The Lamex Stadium. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Last weekend, Spurs limped their way to a deeply unconvincing 0-0 draw against Stevenage away from home at the Lamex Stadium in the FA Cup. Clearly, we cannot merely put this disappointing result down to Spurs not playing a team strong enough to be up the task, as every member of the side was seasoned and talented enough to see off their League One counterparts.
The problem, as I see it, was the 3-5-2 formation that we were attempting to play. The issue is not that the 3-5-2 is an inherently weak way to line a team up - indeed, as I will try to demonstrate, it could have been highly effective if we had pulled it off properly. The problem is that we didn't, for reasons illustrated after the jump.
As you will have probably noticed right off the bat from the above diagram, Gareth Bale was an abject failure as a central attacking midfielder throughout the match, a lot of which he spent drifting out onto the right wing in an attempt to create danger by getting to the byline and cutting back or cutting in. He was handled extremely well by Scott Laird in this respect, meaning that possession which was picked up by Jake Livermore and Scott Parker and recycled on to him was utterly wasted.
It was this waste of the centre attacking midfield position which was the cause of our woes. The situation severely distorted the attacking ability of our squad, with Saha and Defoe left cut loose from any kind of creative play that would have presented them with chances to score. Livermore and Parker are not playmakers and thus relied on Bale to bridge midfield and our strikers, a responsibility he couldn't quite seem to perform on the day. Worse still, as the diagram suggests, Bale's forays out onto the wing rendered Kyle Walker redundant as a wing back, giving him no reason to strike out ground up the pitch. If the Welsh wizard had been a little less willing to FRAAB and had actually filled the van der Vaart/Modric role, the 3-5-2 would have almost certainly worked a lot better.
One potential saving grace for Spurs was Danny Rose's admittedly very convincing attempts to maraud forward and make the killer cross into the box in his role as a wing back. Unfortunately, as the above diagram shows, Rose was also forced to do some defending in this game as well as Stevenage's right midfielder Lawrie Wilson caused us some problems by roaming forward into the gaps he left- this meant that as Rose was forced to frequently track back he was not always able to fully unleash his potential as a crosser throughout the match, frustrating Spurs' ability to counter-attack. It is possible that if Scott Parker had been willing to provide a little extra cover in this respect, Rose would been a little freer to fulfil his attacking role. Possibly in response to our frustrated attempts to keep possession and carve out attacks, however, Scotty was playing extra aggressively against Stevenage, playing much more to his box to box strengths than to his anchor man abilities.
All in all, we were left with a disjointed performance where a lack of discipline in one or two areas of the pitch had wider repercussions in terms of our overall dynamism and effectiveness. Our lack of a strong centre attacking midfielder rendered our right wing back redundant, left our holding mids with no-one to make passes to and caused us to over-rely on Danny Rose who is not yet a seasoned and competent wing back. Our strikers had no way of responding to this problem, as Saha and Defoe aren't so good at tracking back and coming deep for the ball, and thus opted to sack off for the whole game. Lessons to be learned in all respects.