The renaissance of the rigid 4-4-2 structure has begun following the English annihilation of Bulgaria last week. This time around there were no ancient Athenian scriptures rediscovered in a far-away fallen capital, no sweeping new devices of mass communication invented; quite the opposite. What spurred on this Cultural Revolution was not remembering but a refusal to forget. Our dear leader has hung on to 4-4-2 like paisley shirts in the bitter hope it will one day become vogue again (this winter, I hear).
First points first. I know fluidity has become a hallmark of modern football, but when did the 4-4-2 become so archaic? Perhaps my memory serves me wrong, but it wasnâ€™t that long ago â€“ but we talk about it as if has been an age, in a vain effort to sound on the ball. Â Now Iâ€™m not arguing against the Gerrard-Torres, Ozil-Klose connections in 4-5-1, but there are other ways to play.
Which is, essentially, a pretty odd way to set up the following argument: we (the mighty, mighty Tottenham Hotspur) should opt for a 4-5-1 when we can. Our acquisition of the supremely talented Van der Vaart has forced our hand somewhat, but Iâ€™d like to dispel â€“ or at least challenge â€“ some myths associated with 4-5-1 at Spurs.
We can get away with one defensive midfielder
The capitulation against the Young Boys says otherwise. Yes, that plastic pitch had a lot to answer for, but so too did naÃ¯ve tactics. We canâ€™t play one holding midfielder away from home â€“ particularly one that canâ€™t pass and particularly with such an attacking line-up elsewhere. If we had Modric, Van de Vaart, Lennon and Bale in the side, Iâ€™d argue most of the time we would need two defensive midfielders in the shape of Palacios (or Sandro) and Huddlestone. A six-man midfield, then? Well, no. We would need to shuffle the pack a tad, needing to lose two players somewhere. This is easy: move Bale to left-back and play with one striker.
Bale is wasted at left-back
Bale was bought as a left-back. He has developed into one of the best left-sided midfielders in the country â€“ but that doesnâ€™t mean he canâ€™t be effective with defensive duties. He quite often tracks back now. Just look at Ashley Cole and how often he gets forward. BenoÃ®t Assou-Ekotto is habitually roaming forward and, just as often, getting caught out of position. With Modric in front of Bale there is the issue of leaving Bale exposed as the Croatian drifts inside. But with two defensive-minded midfielders there is adequate cover to let him get forward, but only if he is disciplined enough to know when to stay and when to go. The way I see it is youâ€™re getting two players for the price of one. â€œIf Bale is going to be the best anywhere, I think it’ll be from left-back. I’ve got BenoÃ®t who does well for me there. But in the long term, it’s all in front of [Bale at left-back],â€ says â€˜Arry.
Defoe canâ€™t play upfront on his own
Two or three years ago I would have agreed. But we only need to look at his performance for England to realise he can. Rooney didnâ€™t play as a striker that night â€“ he played the celebrated Ã–zil role. Defoeâ€™s hat-trick was half-dismissed while everyone crowded around Rooney to say what a fantastic part he played. The experts argued that Rooney made Defoeâ€™s job easy. This is a fallacy: Defoe made Rooneyâ€™s job easy. Defoeâ€™s running, hold-up play, and movement was perfect. Rooney had simple balls to play because Defoe put himself in such good positions. Van der Vaart and Modric can play that role. Modric looks such a threat when heâ€™s pushed forward, and Van der Vaart is made for it. Whatâ€™s the point of having creativity in abundance and then smashing the ball up field for Crouch to nod down? Defoe isnâ€™t in the Drogba mould, admittedly â€“ but is Torres? With an attacking midfielder right in behind, there is little chance of Defoe being isolated and I think we will see the best of him.
But, returning to fluidity, we have to be pragmatic and display a willingness to mix it up a little bit. The idea that 4-5-1 is the more defensive option is wrong â€“ but thereâ€™s always room for a little bit of 4-4-2. I wait in anticipation to see what â€˜Arry does with this fantastic squad of ours.
By Anthony Pearce
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