This week’s preview will take a look at Gareth Bale; Spurs key man and driving force in taking them to third place in the table. Moyes has often shuffled his pack to accommodate significant threats such as David Silva and more recently last week’s switch to three at the back.
Given Spurs will most likely start with just Adebayor up front it’s unlikely – but not impossible – that we will retain this formation as we would have 2 spare centre backs. What other options are available then? Here are four to think about….
Coleman has been used a couple of times in midfield to directly stop Bale. It’s a role he is suited to given his pace and tackling ability. As the average position board (left) shows, in 09/10 Coleman (23) played in front of Phil Neville (18) with decent results; Bale did virtually nothing and failed to complete a single cross before being moved to the right flank where he was equally quiet.
In 10/11 Coleman was again deployed in midfield but this time moved with Bale from flank to flank. Bale was predominantly on Coleman’s unfavoured left flank (circled below) in front of Baines however as Bale is left footed he will cut inside on Coleman’s better right foot. Again in this game Bale was peripheral.
In Spurs last game vs Swansea Bale played fairly freely as the below passes received visual shows…
Whilst in Spurs last home game against Fulham Bale played exclusively on the right flank…..
The conclusion we can draw here is that he will position himself where the space is. Given Baines occupies a position high up field it’s my guess Bale will start on the right. A potential setup with Coleman in midfield would look like this….
The only issue is, if Coleman is played in wide midfield, who plays in his right back spot? After the Wigan debacle, Phil Neville is essentially looking after the ponies in a semi retirement abyss whilst Hibbert is also nowhere to be seen, so its unlikely Coleman could be spared from the right back slot unless Heitinga is asked to ‘do a job’. The other issue is that it reduces Coleman’s impact going forward which as we will explain later could be crucial.
Option 2 – Zonal Marking
The image below shows the 65 locations of the pitch Bale has created chances from (bottom) and the 17 positions he has scored from (top); clearly the main area for both is centrally in the final third just outside our 18 yard box where 7 of his goals have come from.
Defending this zone will be crucial and therefore marking this space will be implicit to us stopping Bale. Thus, the gap between our midfield and defensive duo will need to be minimal and players will need to pick up and close down when the ball comes into Bale. The key benefit of this approach is that we don’t have to compromise the strengths of our own game by moving players around to stop the opposition.
In total 13 of Bale’s 17 goals have come with his left foot so keeping him on his right foot will be key. The issue is that Osman and Gibson’s qualities are more suited to being on the ball than defending off it, however as they showed against City at Goodison recently, they are more than capable of putting in a defensive shift.
Option 3 – Heitinga
The much maligned Dutchman did a similar job against his countryman Rafael van der Vaart away to Spurs a few years ago from midfield. More recently, Phil Jones of Man Utd did a similar central job here for United, assisting the full backs when Bale came inside and enabling United’s wide midfielders to push up onto Spurs full backs. This would shape up a little like this….
Potentially we could pick the same team as last week but move Heitinga into midfield and push Osman further forward into the Fellaini spot. The problem is that – unlike Rodwell vs Silva last season – Heitinga’s pace is dubious and if isolated 1v1 Bale could potentially make him look like a clown without make-up.
Whilst crud in the air and suspect defending against physicality, Heitinga is a decent man marker and good on the ground at intercepting the ball so this for me could work. He is also two footed so could either play on the left or right of centre mid if Bale starts moving around the pitch.
Option 4 – Root Cause
The other option is to cut the service at the source. In Spurs last 3 games the main supply has come from the full back areas with either Naughton /Walker whilst Hugo Lloris also features heavily in terms of his quick distribution from the back to Bale.
Bale’s goal output is considerably reduced at home where his conversion is more than 50% less compared to on the road . At home he has failed against the league’s bottom feeders who will sit deep and deny space such as Stoke, Wigan, Norwich and QPR but has scored against sides like Arsenal and Lib-ep-ewl who will play higher lines.
What’s likely to happen?
In reality any one of the above situations could happen, but I’d be very surprised if we went ‘gung ho’ against a quality side that have created 422 scoring chances this season – second only to Lib-ep-ewl’s 433.
Caution will be the watchword although I believe we will score, but perhaps look to open up cagey. Spurs have of course dropped 19 points from leading positions in the league this season and with our extra rest (Spurs play tonight) it might be prudent to stay in the game as long as possible should they falter in the final stages just as they did at Goodison earlier this season – a game which also followed a Europa outing.
Defensively Spurs are suspect down their left side, conceding 33% more chances and 150 more crosses than their right side. The right footed Naughton has been deployed at left back whilst Assou Ekotto and Vertonghen have also deputised with Spurs using each of the trio in their last 3 games in the left back spot. We exploited this area in the reverse fixture with both goals coming from crosses from this zone with Coleman crucial in the key last 20 minute spell of the game as the below player importance shows…
With this lack of consistency I’d be surprised if Mirallas didn’t start on the right wing and looked to expose Spurs high line with Gibson’s long range delivery crucial to getting him in the game. Spurs have an achilles heel aerially too with Caulker particularly suspect with just 45% success from his headers– low for a centre half -, whilst Gallas will always give you opportunities.
Either way, it should be an interesting fixture. A win or draw keeps us in the hunt for a decent finish whilst a defeat wouldn’t end the season but would make things a lot tougher.