There are so many reasons to love Rafael Van Der Vaart – his silky skills, his defence splitting through balls and probably more than anything, the fact that he can’t stop scoring against Arsenal!
One side of his game that has often been criticised since moving to the Premier League is the defensive aspect. If you have the creative brilliance and goal scoring touch that Rafa possesses, you can forgive him this shortfall. Tottenham have adapted their team selection to accommodate Van Der Vaart. In a 4-4-1-1 formation that Redknapp has favoured since the Dutchman’s arrival, VDV is afforded freedom. He is able to drop deep to get on the ball and make things happen. His performances this season to date back that up. He is joint 2nd top scorer (with Bale and Defoe) with 7 goals. He has the highest shooting accuracy 72% and creates a chance every 35 minutes. This compares favourably to Modric (1 every 38 mins) and only just behind Bale (31 mins per chance).
When Aaron Lennon was out injured, Harry adapted to more of a 4-2-3-1. This was used to devastating affect against Norwich. With both Parker and Sandro sitting just in front of the back 4, it gave the 3 further forward the ability to roam. Van Der Vaart, Modric and Bale relished this tactical change and some breath taking, fluent football was played.
With Scott Parker picking up an injury away to Swansea, and Lennon still not quite fit enough to make the squad; Redknapp had another tactical decision to make. He went with Rafa on the right hand side of midfield with Defoe partnering Adebayor up front in a more traditional 4-4-2. Harry has said himself that he is reluctant to play VDV on the right hand side of a 4 man midfield as he often neglects his defensive duties. This is something that we witnessed earlier on in the season when we played Arsenal at home. Van der Vaart failing to track a run down our right hand side cost us the equalising goal. Luckily a thunderbolt from Kyle Walker ensured that all 3 points were won that day.
So onto Tuesday’s game….
Roy Hodgson’s West Brom had a number of injury problems of their own and it was evident from the start they were going to come and hope for a point. Hodgsons’s teams are always well organised and difficult to breakdown and this was the case on Tuesday night. At one point it appeared that West Brom were playing with a back six. Eventually the breakthrough was made and once the goal came, the crowd at White Hart Lane thought there would be more to follow. That wasn’t the case…. West Brom started to attack in an attempt to get back into the game. Spurs lost 3 players (Sandro, Gallas, and Livermore) to injury. This left a central midfield pairing of Modric and Kranjcar, a pairing not seen since the 5-1 thrashing dished out by Man City at the start of the season.
With Spurs battling to hold on to the invaluable 3 points, this is where we saw the valuable defensive contribution of the flamboyant Dutchman. Looking at the defensive stats, VDV made more tackles than any other Spurs player (3) and won 2 of them. In fact, he made the 2nd most tackles of any player on the pitch (behind Gonzalo Jarra). One of the tackles was made right back by his own corner flag, showing the determination to get back and fight for the points. Additionally, if we look at the number of ground duals, Rafa had the greatest win % of any player on the pitch winning 7 of his 8 ground duals (88%). For Spurs, only Bale won more – 9. However that was out of a possible 13 giving a figure of 69%. As well as being tenacious on the deck, Van Der Vaart also won his one aerial dual – not bad considering his height.
To finish off analysing the defensive side of his game I have looked at the possession stats. Van Der Vaart won possession 7 times in the defensive 3rd. To put this into context that is only 3 times less than Assou-Ekotto and Kaboul who won possession in the defensive 3rd 10 times a piece. The only other midfielder to win possession in our own half was Niko Kranjcar. A lot of this is to do with the fact that we had a lot of possession in the game so our more defensive midfielder (Sandro) was not required to win possession back when he was on the pitch. However this highlights how effective Van Der Vaart was in winning back possession when holding onto the 3 points.
There is no doubting the genius of Van Der Vaart in an attacking sense but I am sure that some may be surprised by the battling defensive qualities he demonstrated against West Brom. Well played Rafa, well played!