Sherwood’s time to stick or twist
Tim Sherwood's long-term appointment at Spurs wielded the axe of uncertainty and left an aura of lacking a genuine long-term plan from the board. In truth, they'd acted in the only realistic way possible. The impulsive dismissal of AVB saw another project chopped at the first sign of trouble without an obvious direction in which to pick up, as were many hopes and arguable expectations that were held for this season.
January 24th, 2014
Sherwood’s reintroduction of Emmanuel Adebayor has proven pivotal in taking 16 points from his first six Premier League games in charge. The forward has eased over the transition between managers and cut off the hinges that were so obviously tying Roberto Soldado’s ankles to the ground. The Spaniard has ensured more of a contribution since Sherwood’s introduction, though is arguably still finding himself at a loss with the pace of the Premier League.
It was argued from some that AVB was too stubborn to employ a change in system when we required it the most. Employing a new system whilst trying to breed a team ethos in a large squad of players is a challenging task for any Head Coach. In an ideal world we’d have had a fully fit and consistent first 11 playing together each week and aiding the birth of partnerships. Unfortunately, an injury-ravished squad and the seemingly weekly altering and changing of personnel inhibited this prospective ethos. Every week we’d see an 11 wear our badge on their shirt but we didn’t have the feeling of togetherness; we weren’t a team.
The short-term has presented us with a relatively consistent first 11 and this is partly why we’ve proven successful in the Premier League. It’s evident that this hasn’t been our strongest 11, which leaves the longer-term open for further change through the prospect of implementing our stronger players when fully fit. The likes of Bentaleb (Fryers/Kane) may prove useful assets in the latter stages of the season as the Europa League picks back up, as does the ‘business’ end of the season. Their Premier League experience and presence alongside more regular first team players would have been vital for both their experience and for us in the longer-term.
Although we have experienced this relatively short period of success (despite being knocked out of two cup competitions), I still believe that we’re lacking the basics in our system. Under AVB I felt we employed the right system to suit the personnel but were far too restrictive and conservative in how we approached games. We tended to look petrified in the final third and lacked confidence at the back, a shadow of our former selves last season. With Sherwood we’ve encouraged that flair and the pace back into our game but are arguably not exploiting it as best we could. United aside, the sides we have beaten – on their day – haven’t been great. Palace could easily have had three against us and we were fortunate they squandered a good chance through a penalty.
We’re no longer pressing from the front line and we allow the opposition to play their way to halfway relatively uncontested. With 4-4-2, Eriksen is often found naturally cutting inside with the ball, leaving Rose exposed without it; the Dane often susceptible to not tracking his man and leaving Rose caught out. This has meant that Chiriches has had to move over to the left and support Rose, leaving the gap between Dawson and Chiriches becoming increasingly widened. With no natural holding player, there has been far too much space in behind Bentaleb and Demebele – leaving our centre backs exposed and thus chances for the opposition. We still lack that obvious unity in the side and my real concern is that we’re not operating the right system to encourage it.
We operated more of a 4-4-1-1/4-3-3 against Swansea and with it came a far more fluid and expressive team, as well as one that saw Eriksen getting into his favoured positions. This perhaps illustrates Sherwood’s willingness to change up the system and tailor it to particular opposition or players that are fit at the time. We still look as though there’s no obvious plan when not in possession and that the players are merely performing based on their own individual quality. There still seems to be that obvious lack of organisation and we’re still playing on the expression of the players more than an obvious strategy.
Reverting back to 4-2-3-1 would allow the defence a lot more protection and encourage our forward players to press opposition defenders high up the pitch. This would mean the gruelling decision to drop one of Adebayor or Soldado but it may be in the best interests of the team to do so. Eriksen’s quickly learning the pace of the Premier League and his contribution has recently matched this. He’s looked effective when in the final third in possession and almost given a free role in which to operate how he sees best. Releasing him from the shackles of left midfield, as was done against Swansea, will give him more freedom in the opposition’s final third. If he is to operate out wide then left of a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 would at least see him in the advanced areas of the pitch that you’d want to find him. His pace isn’t a key attribute of his and so he’s not one to naturally start in a deeper role (despite playing this role relatively successfully against Southampton but in the centre of midfield).
Of course, in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 personnel would likely be debated but the system would give us far more stability. It’s easy for score-lines to hide away the obvious areas of improvement needed in the team. We’ve two very good naturally holding players in Capoue and Sandro that are fantastic at not only protecting the back four, but also allowing the other central midfielders the freedom to play higher up the pitch. With Sandro currently injured, it’s a sorry waste to see Capoue spending each fixture routed to the bench – this has partly been down to the rise of Nabil Bentaleb although in some fixtures Capoue would’ve been the obvious better option.
Sherwood’s installed a little of the faith that we lacked under AVB and the belief seems restored. This naturally brings with it better performances. We looked incredibly vulnerable in the first half of the Palace game and it was Sherwood’s words, not tactics that made the difference in the second half. With a string of players to be welcomed back, and not all best-suited to play 4-4-2, Sherwood will be left with the executive decision of whether to persist with an arguably working formula or continue testing the water with a system that arguably suits our better players, as he did against Swansea. It’ll soon be his time to decide whether to stick or twist.