Tottenham Hotspur's second-leg match against Inter Milan was a chance to find a winning formula without star man Gareth Bale.
Instead, Spurs supporters were given a big scare as the North London team nearly threw away their 3-0 first leg lead. The Lilywhites are not yet reaching for the panic button, but manager Andre Villas-Boas should examine his team selection carefully after it nearly backfired in Milan.
Before the game, the ex-Chelsea manager had dismissed making changes to his starting side, despite the first leg lead.
While the Portuguese boss did not make wholesale changes, there were notable changes from the side that was so rampant against the Italian giants in the first leg, and from the usual side that went on such a long unbeaten run in the league before the 3-2 loss at Liverpool.
Starting in goal, Brad Friedel and Hugo Lloris are so different in styles that it affects how the defence operates. Lloris is lightening quick off his line, while Friedel rarely ventures out of the six yard box.
One is conducive to playing a high level, when is better with a backs-to-the-wall effort. Further ahead, William Gallas is increasingly showing his age and was poor against Milan, and with Younes Kaboul back in training Villas-Boas should no longer need to pick the ageing Frenchman.
In midfield, Moussa Dembele is missed massively in central midfield, with the limited Jake Livermore and Scott Parker failing to complement each other. The switch to 4-4-2 on Thursday managed to leave Spurs both outnumbered in central midfield and lacking in width, with Gareth Bale suspended and Aaron Lennon on the bench after picking up a knock in the first leg.
Gylfi Sigurdsson has performed well in a left midfield berth but with the right footed Kyle Naughton unwilling to overlap from left back, and Dembele looking to come inside from the right flank, Spurs game plan was conflicting at best, non-existent at worst.
Upfront, Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe looked like two strikers who had not played together since December. Defoe has not scored since Boxing Day, while Adebayor’s strike was only his fourth of the campaign. While the big-man little-man combo should work in theory, both strikers played too high up the pitch, did not drop deep to link up the play (although with Sigurdsson and Dembele cutting inside space was at a premium) and both lacked focus and concentration. Defoe’s link up play is not the best, while Adebayor’s attitude has been found wanting all season.
Lewis Holtby at least added some urgency and effort from the bench, and while Lennon’s introduction not only offered some width but allowed Dembele to move back to his central midfield berth.
There are still areas of the Spurs squad that need strengthening – another striker (or two if Adebayor does not shake off his malaise), a playmaker to replace Luka Modric, and cover for the wingers (Andros Townsend has impressed on loan at QPR). However, for the rest of the season, Villas-Boas should stick to his game plan and pick his best players in their best positions. If that means a big name has to sit on the bench, or a squad member has to play out of position, fine, but Tottenham’s keep players should playing the key positions in AVB’s preferred system.
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