Assessing Spurs' midfield ahead of away trip to Chelsea

Assessing Spurs' midfield ahead of away trip to Chelsea

On Saturday 24th March Tottenham travel west across London to play Chelsea in the lunchtime kick-off.  Spurs will be hopeful of all three points, but in reality most fans would accept a draw before the game. It says a lot about the respective seasons of Chelsea and Spurs that a win is even considered. A few years ago, Chelsea were so strong at home that this fixture would be one to turn the telly over when Match of the Day comes on. In fact, in 19 Premier League meetings (Football didn’t really exist before 1992) Tottenham have never won at Stamford Bridge, and have been comprehensively outscored. An average score over the 19 games is 1.95 – 0.63 to Chelsea. Across all competitions it’s a win-less streak of 23 games away to Chelsea without a win for the lily-white.

The fact that Spurs go into this fixture not only above Chelsea on points in the league, but with realistic chance of getting a win (Perhaps a double negative “not unrealistic” would actually fit the bill better there) is a testament to the work of Harry Redknapp and his well-balanced squad.

Since AVB was handed his P45 (And a rather handsome payoff) Roberto Di Matteo has actually not changed that much. Despite the short length of AVB’s tenure at the Bridge, his tactics are well-known. The high pressing 4-3-3 of AVB has made way for RDM’s more common 4-2-3-1, although in truth not that much difference. Di Matteo still uses a converted striker in Sturridge on the right-wing, but the wingers are generally considered midfielders and not inside forwards now – they’re not as advanced. Sturridge has clearly had enough of being played as an inverted winger, and decided not to pass to whoever is playing in his coveted centre-forward position. An interesting way of playing yourself out of Euro 2012 contention… Up front, Torres has rediscovered how to coördinate foot and ball to make football, other than that there is no difference between how the two Chelsea managers set up. It’s just that one of them is alright by John Terry, whereas the other one didn’t really get on with him.

There are several interesting battles on Saturday – team selection dependant of course. Hopefully Redknapp will have learnt his lesson about playing Gareth Bale out of position. Harry is not renowned as a tactical genius, more of a man-manager and motivator, but he’s certainly no slouch in that department. Bale on the left will most likely prompt Di Matteo to opt for the more defensively sound Ivanovic over Bosingwa, if he’s fit after the knock against City – and that will be a key area of the pitch.

Next Page: A statistical look at Modric, Lennon, VDV and Bale.

Chelsea Player-Manager John Terry is expected to make a return to the side and hopefully will be faced with the intimidating proposition of keeping Emmanuel Adebayor quiet. The big man will face a fitness test on an injured hamstring and, given that Redknapp likes to play 4-4-1-1 in tough looking away games, will be important to Spurs plans. Defoe is in a good patch of form, but has never really looked comfortable playing as a lone striker – perhaps an option from the bench of a goal is required late on.

So it’s expected that both teams will line up with a lone striker each. Defences in the Premier League are almost exclusively a flat back four – pretty boring, and when someone like Villas-Boas asked them to do something unfamiliar like hold a high line and press, there is some kind of bloodless coup and the manager departs. In front of these typical English back fours though, has been an interesting array of midfields. It’s the midfield area that has had the most influence on games this season.  If we consider Redknapp’s 4-4-1-1 as a five-man midfield, up against the five in Roberto Di Matteo’s 4-2-3-1; you’d have to say it was the more attacking of the two. Normally the only defensive minded player is Scott Parker, whereas Di Matteo might play with two defensive minded players in his midfield.

So, who has been the most potent creative midfield force for Tottenham this season? Making no special dispensation for injuries, suspension or selection – who has been the best? The table below shows the contributions of the four players Redknapp looks to for creativity. It tallies up the chances created (If you put a chance on a plate for a team-mate and they don’t convert it – that still counts here) goal assists and goals. Also included is the amount of time spent on pitch – to allow some fair comparison, but really what we’re looking at in this table is total impact, irrelevant of time on pitch.

Impacts of Spurs' creative players

Gareth Bale comes out of top – no surprises there really, he’s one of the most talked about players in the Premier League. Bale has created twice as many chances as the next creative midfielder, and has scored one more goal than Van Der Vaart.

Goals and assists adjusted for time on pitch

This adjusted table shows how effective the attacking midfielders are. In fairness to Modric, he is a centrally based orchestrator of play, it’ll be him that puts Bale in down the wing to provide an assist. Van der Vaart plays almost as a second striker – and he scored almost as many goals per minute as a striker. If Modric supplies the ammunition, it’s Van der Vaart who aims the gun, and often him who pulls the trigger too – he was last season’s top scorer for Spurs with 13 goals.

Next Page: Modric positions compared… left wing or central midfield? Plus the VDV effect…

Modric – left-wing or central?

When played in his strongest position of central midfield, Modric contributes more than just creativity – he’s actually a great all-rounder.

VDV Effect

If Van Der Vaart had not suffered with such injuries this season, Spurs would probably not have been overtaken by Arsenal recently. In fact, out of the 8 league goals he’s scored this season, only 1 hasn’t made a direct difference to the result – that was one of 3 scored by Spurs against QPR’s 1. Every other goal has been a factor in a result – either in a one-goal margin victory or an equalising goal. The late strike against Stoke was the latest in a series of vital goals that account for 10 points – taking ten from Spurs’ total would have them now in 6th, instead of one point off third.

How Van Der Vaart's goals have effected results

If we calculate that his 8 goals have gained 10 points so far this season, then had he scored the 13 that we calculated in the adjusted table above, some more simple maths estimates that Spurs might be benefitting from another 2 or 3 points, and would still be sitting pretty looking down at Arsenal. If they want to finish the season in third, it’s almost imperative that the Dutchman doesn’t succumb to injury again.

All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.comSubscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) See Demo’s and videos about the Stats Centre & read about new additions to the stats centre.