5 consistent tactical errors under Tim Sherwood

After a promising start to life in charge at Spurs, it’s slowly capitulated for Tim Sherwood and his old school management style.

While he prefers to focus on energy and effort, we’ve consistently seen tactical errors that have undermined the team.

1. Space between the lines

Whilst occasionally flirting with a holding midfielder, Tim Sherwood has consistently gone with box-to-box players in his midfield set-up. He prefers two-way players that can do a bit of both attacking and defending, rather than one that can only offer the latter.

“I like players to understand that, if one goes forward, the other one tucks in for them. I don’t want someone who just sits in front of the back four and doesn’t go anywhere.”

Whilst this might seem good on paper, specialists are needed as part of every team. This is an area where we have suffered as a result of not having a dedicated player to break up attacks.

You can get away with box-to-box midfielders dropping in for one another against sides like Newcastle or Cardiff. The top teams however, the ones that “our performances against have not been good enough” will make you pay all day long for leaving space between the lines.

Arsenal have done this to us twice since Tim Sherwood took over. This example was from the FA Cup tie at the Emirates, where the Gunners got three players in to the space between our defence and midfield.


Arsenal get three players behind our midfield.

Manchester City also had a field day in beating us 5-1 at home. Although we were down to ten men in the second half, both of these examples were from 11v11 before the interval.

David Silva was afforded the freedom of the Lane for much of the match. With space like this it’s no wonder he had time to pick out Aguero for City’s opener.


Silva between the lines as Dzeko and Aguero set off.

Later, Sergio Aguero, whose withdrawal with an injury prevented a cricket score being run up, was also afforded far too much space between the lines.


Aguero wide open between the lines.

There is a time and a place to be aggressive with team selections and whether to gamble on giving up space to get more attack minded midfielders in to the team. With this approach, it’s no surprise that we have a poor record against the current top four.

2. Drifting wide playmaker

The tactic to use a wide playmaker that drifts inside to create overloads in the centre was a good idea when it started.

David Silva had been playing a similar role at Manchester City and the move by Tim Sherwood seemed to be inspired by the system of Manuel Pellegrini.

It initially worked.

Manchester United were caught out in the first match the tactic was unveiled. Christian Eriksen created one goal and scored the other in a 2-1 win at Old Trafford. Crystal Palace fell victim to it in our next Premier League match, as Eriksen scored and played a major part in a 2-0 win.

However, once you’ve shown your hand, then opponents can scheme for it and wise up how best to counter it. They seem to have done this in two ways.

The first method has seen teams congest the centre of the pitch by trying to get four men in to a central area.

Everton were the first opponent to wise up to this, by making their midfield extremely narrow. Benfica also adopted this approach in our Europa League match, which stifled us and Eriksen all evening.


Eriksen encounters a compact and congested middle.

The second method to counter it is by launching attacks down our left side after the ball has been turned over and Eriksen is out of position. This has either left Danny Rose to defend on his own or he too has been caught out of position.

Arsenal’s early goal in the most recent North London Derby highlighted this perfectly.

Thomas Rosicky had the freedom of the flank after the ball was turned over in the middle of the park, which Arsenal had congested with extra bodies. This quickness of the turnover left both Eriksen and Rose out of position.


Erisken and Rose are caught as Arsenal win the ball back.

Liverpool’s first goal at the weekend also showed Eriksen’s other weakness, his lack of willingness to play defensively. This was highly evident as he was slow to track Glen Johnson.

It’s interesting how Manuel Pellegrini has moved David Silva back in to a more natural number ten role behind the striker recently. Maybe Tim Sherwood should do the same with Christian Eriksen. He would be afforded less defensive responsibility and the team would be better balanced to leave less space down our left to be attacked in transition.

3. High defensive line

The flirtation with a high defensive line by Tim Sherwood is almost as curious as the one to go without a natural holding player.

Playing high can work and be very effective, but it has to be part of the entire footballing philosophy with which the team plays, not just something to try out.

For all of our laboured build-up play, AVB had success with high line at the start of the season because he was committed to it. For him, it was part of a greater possession and ball recycling game that condensed the playing area for the opposition. In our first ten Premier League matches we kept seven clean sheets and had one the stingiest defences in the division.

The key to its operation for AVB was in deploying three midfielders who were big, physical and pressured the ball in order to win it back quickly. This saw us dominate possession in games, whilst also limiting the opponent’s chances.

For Tim Sherwood, it has become an increasingly used tactic, but his choice to go with box-to-box midfielders is where it is let down. This sees us have less pressure on the ball and opposition teams have had time and space, especially between the lines, to get their head up and pick out a pass.

Southampton at home recently was a very good example of this. Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and even Ricky Lambert got in time and again. There was no pressure one the ball, so the runner could just be picked out, just as Lallana does here.


Lallana has time to pick out Lambert’s run beyond our high line.

Tim Sherwood has to decide how committed he is to the high line and how it shapes his entire football philosophy, then select his team accordingly.

4. Defensive Errors under Tim Sherwood

Whilst not being a tactic, under Tim Sherwood we’ve seen a massive rise in defensive errors. The high line and exposing our left side are partly to blame, but what we’ve seen is a rise in individual blunders.

Recently, all four goals conceded at Chelsea were the result of individual mistakes. Both goals allowed at home to Southampton were from misjudgements. Then against Liverpool, we gave them a two-goal head start from individual miscues.

During AVB’s 16 Premier League matches in charge, we made 11 defensive errors, of which 6 were turned in to goals.

In the 16 Premier League matches that Tim Sherwood has been at the helm, we’ve committed 15 errors, leading to 11 goals.

Over the same number of matches, this is a 45% increase in the number of defensive slip-ups. More worryingly, it’s a massive 83% increase in the number of goals scored from errors.

We’ve made quite a few huge defensive mistakes recently e.g. Vertonghen’s back pass straight to Eto’o. These have lead to better quality chances for the opposition and are being more readily punished.

5. Long balls from Hugo Lloris

One of the most alarming tactical changes since Tim Sherwood has taken over has been our distribution from the back. This all starts with a role change for Hugo Lloris.

Under AVB, the French number one was distributing the ball short to his centre and full backs to build play, only kicking long downfield when under pressure.


Hugo Lloris passes played at home to Hull and Swnasea in AVB’s system.

Against Hull and Swansea, we can see how his supply of the ball was mainly short. There was the odd kick downfield, but these usually came from dead ball goal kicks.

For comparison, in the reverse fixtures against Hull and Swansea under Tim Sherwood, we can see just how much more often Hugo Lloris kicks long.


Hugo Lloris passes played away at Hull and Swansea in Tim SHerwood’s system.

The new manager likes his goalkeeper to look for Emmanuel Adebayor in order to win headers and bring the ball down. This is so that play is moved more quickly forward, but it also takes advantage of the Togolese striker’s height and leaping ability.

Without Adebayor, Tim Sherwood has used Nacer Chadli playing off the smaller Roberto Soldado. The Belgian has been used as a central winger by the new manager in order to create overloads on the flanks. However, he is also in the side for his height, despite the fact that he is not the strongest in the air, even with his sizeable frame.

This didn’t stop the tactic of going long from the back against Liverpool, as Hugo Lloris’ kicking chart shows. The problem, as it was even with Adebayor in the side, was that more often than not these kicks downfield were unsuccessful.


Hugo Lloris passes played, Liverpool 4 Spurs 0.

While Tim Sherwood wants to move the ball forward quickly, he also needs to do it effectively. The long balls sent downfield by Lloris are not a way to do that.

Tim Sherwood hasn’t promted himself as a tactical visionary in the media, but he is making consistent strategic errors. He is proving himself to be an impact manager. Someone who preaches graft and energy to get a short term performance spike, rather than one who has a long-term vision of how the game should be played.

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18 Responses to 5 consistent tactical errors under Tim Sherwood

  1. Sharkey 3rd April 2014 at 6:03 pm #

    Excellent analysis. Well done, and thanks for taking time to break it down for everybody.

    Oh, and one more thing. Sherwood out, asap.

    • Naresh 3rd April 2014 at 6:22 pm #

      YEAH, GO FOR IT….

      I hope LVG have asked levy to put an inefficient one inc harge so that he can take the seat in summer without worry…

    • cyril 3rd April 2014 at 6:38 pm #

      the key problem that sherwood poses for the club is that he will have alienated some players so much they are determined in their mind to leave before we get a new guy in to replace dim tim. it was not just a cretaker to the end of the season, what levy failed to spot was the lasting damage
      paulinho blasted in public, a better player than sherwood ever was. lasting damage caused by a moron. what the hell was levy smoking?

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 3rd April 2014 at 7:28 pm #

        Great point Cyril, that is a major concern and may well backfire on Levy. Although, i can’t see him taking a loss on any of the players and they are under contract.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 3rd April 2014 at 7:24 pm #

      Thanks Sharkey, roll on summer to see what that brings!

  2. James 3rd April 2014 at 6:07 pm #

    Excellent analysis.

    It just shows the essential differences between Villas-Boas and Sherwood.
    Andre was wedded to his system & despite the problems found within it (lack of goals mainly) it was coherent & repeatable. Players had an idea of what was required from them within the system and were interchangeable. But for the clear off-field issues, I feel we would have found a solid future with him, but he went & his intransigence was to his detriment. (To my mind he went cos he wanted to and probably after he’d been pressured to change his ways).

    Sherwood in contrast is a blend of good ideas that don’t make a whole.
    I like the ‘central winger’ idea, and kudos to you for spotting it, but it’s not being utilised effectively. The high line is fine but with zero pressing, is insane.

    Concentration levels throughout the squad seem lackadaisical, hence the repeated errors. Time and again the first half of matches has been abysmal thus requiring the classic rocket at half time to get them playing and the players just don’t seem to have bought Sherwood’s methods. Maybe they know he’s a lame duck coach and stopped caring, maybe they think he’s guessing his way along and haven’t bought into his ideas.

    What is clear to me is that to have any potential to improve next season, we need a recognised coach with experience and a tactical system to employ. The squad is good enough and young enough to improve for it.

    One of Villas Boas’ problems was cutting himself and the squad off from the rest of the club & wider media. In contrast, Sherwood does interviews all the time and makes ludicrous admissions like ‘I’ve not watched much of Liverpool.’ He seems to think he can just send the players out with belief and it’ll be enough. It’s not.

    I was willing to give him a chance when he started but he’s made too many mistakes.

    Thanks Tim, but no thanks.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 3rd April 2014 at 7:33 pm #

      Great post James. Yes the sum of the parts don’t make a whole and i don’t believe Sherwood has a footballing philosophy of how he visions his side playing, other than grafting and putting in a shift.

      I agree about the concentration levels, a lot of players seem to have checked out already. Am hoping this is with the manager and not with the club.

    • Chris 4th April 2014 at 12:26 am #

      Really good article (as usual), and great comment. This was very much how I felt about AVB – he seemed to be developing a method of play that would suit a club of our size and ambitions. That is, we’re not going to have the _best_ players, though maybe we’ll fluke a few great ones on their way up. And we can’t just keep playing like the old glory glory if we actually want to win things and get in the Champions League. You just can’t be that open and get away with it. Build a solid system that the whole squad understand, execute it well, and lets see how we do.

      I only recently realised that Jose’s master plan for winning everything is to have a solid defence and then just play some amazing guys up front to nick goals out of nothing. Great game plan, but that’s just not going to happen unless you can get the best players in the world. Chelsea can, we can’t.

      It looked to me like he was developing a system that was solid, where we could replace players like for like (hopefully with improvements), where they understood the system, and was very much built from the back. Sure, it looked stupid when Dawson kept getting caught out – but rather than fit the system and team around a weak player, I felt we were learning to play in the system and (hopefully) would over a couple of seasons replace unsuited players with one who could fit the system.

      And now we’re back to square one.

      I read on twitter or in a blog somewhere the other day about how really our season has been in 3 parts – the great (to my mind) start of solid play with the high line and pressing, then AVB changed it and we started getting some thrashings, and then Sherwood. I’m not a mindless AVB backer (though he should have been given the complete season at least, IMO), but I would be fascinated to know why we changed from that system we had early in the season.

      It may have been boring for some to watch, but I enjoyed watching us just totally control games.

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th April 2014 at 4:17 pm #

        Good post Chris. I agree about AVB developing a system, he had a philosophy of how he wanted his teams to play and coaches it. You are completely right about switching like for like players, as he seemed to be developing a ‘plug and play’ system whereby anyone could be slotted in to a role with the right skill set.

        I know that AVB altered his system as it wasn’t attacking enough, or maybe that should be it wasn’t exciting enough for some. The lack of excitement thing seemed to come from board level, so whether he was pressured in to this i’m not too sure, but his system did change.

        The thing for me was that it was slow and laboured in the attacking phase, but this needed time to develop, chemistry some may call it. We did a lot of shopping in the summer, but the gelling thing for me was down to that most of our buying was done late in the window and they didn’t have much of a preseason together – Eriksen, Chiriches and Lamela pretty much had none.

        AVB had the defensive part pretty much solved (the beatings at Man City and home to Liverpool apart), but it’s always harder to get things right at the attacking end. Look at Liverpool’s attack from last season to this, that is what patience and time spent on the coaching field gets you. Not many are prepared to wait for this though, the instant fix is what people and owners want. In time i felt that it would come together for AVB, but time is the commodity that no one seems to get nowadays.

  3. Whitehotspurs 3rd April 2014 at 8:02 pm #

    Many thanks, Mark, for a first-class article.

    You’ve pointed out several areas in which errors have been made, but unfortunately I doubt if Tim Sherwood will read it because, from what I hear, he confines his reading to the tabloids. Even if your article were to be shoved under his nose, what chance is there that he would take a blind bit of notice of anyone else’s views?

    Sherwood is as stubborn as AVB, with one significant difference: AVB did – as James points out – have a system of sorts, whereas Sherwood has only a rudimentary idea of what he wants his players to do and, even although the world and his wife can see that he’s getting it wrong, he seems unable or unwilling to listen to wiser heads and learn from his mistakes. And, as we know, those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them. Hence the “consistent tactical errors” reference in your headline.

    So, we have a manager who has not even gained Coaching qualifications and has no previous practical coaching experience to help compensate for his lack of theoretical knowledge. He can’t or won’t take advice from others and he wouldn’t even try to learn anything from the previous Liverpool hammering at WHL because, as he has said, he “was too scared to watch it”. Unbelievable, coming from a man in charge of a Premier League team.

    While a couldn’t-care-less attitude from certain players is completely unacceptable, I’m not in the least surprised that it has come to the surface. The players aren’t fools, they’re professionals who obviously have scant respect for an incompetent coach who is making them look like dummies by constantly sending them out to play in a half-baked “system” that doesn’t suit their abilities, strengths or preferences. Furthermore, the so-called “system” is regularly changed to cater for injuries and/or the manager’s latest cunning plan. Is it any wonder that our expensively-assembled team performs like a bunch of strangers?

    The latest fiasco is Sherwood sitting in the stands so that he can learn more about the players. For God’s sake, he’s been manager long enough to know everything about the squad he’s inherited. If he’s still learning about them, how can he possibly know how to play them to best advantage?

    Sherwood has clearly shown, by his words and his deeds, that he is severely out of his depth and he has no business being in charge of a Premier League side. He must go and be replaced by an experienced, intelligent, tactically-aware manager who can mould our currently disillusioned players into an efficient team.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th April 2014 at 3:33 pm #

      Good post Whitehotspurs. I don’t know too many managers that sit in the stands – unless they have a touchline ban. I should think someone from high up has told him to be there, so that he’s not throwing a strop on the sidelines or clashing with opposition players and bringing the club into disrepute.

  4. Paulo 3rd April 2014 at 8:37 pm #

    I’d like to add a couple of extra consistent errors; dealing with the media and self control.

    Dealing with media is a huge part of the modern managers role….. 20 years ago you could pick up a newspaper on a Monday morning and read all about the actual games from the weekend… these days no one wants to read that rubbish as we can watch it all on our TV’s and tablets and get tactical analysis from Spurs Fanatic… the media focusses on what the manager says… and the media can be used to deflect pressure from the team, promote image and confidence, deliver messages to players and opposition and so on… Sherwood has only succeeded in dividing the squad, upsetting players and creating an old school image. Not good enough!

    As for self control… it’s bad to lose control on the touch line once, embarrassing if it happens twice and absolutely absurd 3 times.. the team out on the pitch needs help and support not tantrums and drama in the dugout..

    Finally, I’d like to mention that I really feel Tim has been stitched up by being given the job in the first place… he’s a good Spurs man and was probably doing a great job before getting the manager role…

    Alas, 1-2 signings and a manager change please Daniel if your reading. Thanks.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th April 2014 at 3:41 pm #

      Two excellent points Paulo. He seems to want to give the media some soundbites, acting like he is good with the mind games, but he is not. Brendan Rodgers owned him last week in the pre-match interviews as he tried to act nonchalant about his Liverpool side.

      As for his self control, like you say it happens far too often. The Jorge Jesus thing was understandable, but you wonder what was said between the pair before in order to get the three fingers reaction. As for the rest of it, it just represent an immature character who is too wound up and not thinking about what is going on in the game and how he can affect it. It wouldn’t surprise me if other managers are targetting this to take advantage.

  5. Dave 3rd April 2014 at 10:36 pm #

    Excellent article as always Mark. Always one of my first ‘go to’ pieces whenever you pop up on newsnow.
    As the season draws to it’s conclusion, I’d like to say thanks for all your efforts. It can’t be easy for you to analyse so many errors, it’s hard enough for the rest of us to watch them once!

    Ps. I couldn’t agree more with the comment left by Paulo – well said mate!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th April 2014 at 3:46 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words Dave and glad you enjoy the articles. It has been a tough watch this season, one of the most difficult in while. Hopefully things are sorted in the summer like we are all hoping, but it wouldn’t be very Spursy if everything went smoothly!

    • Paulo 5th April 2014 at 8:42 am #

      Thanks Dave!

  6. Naresh 3rd April 2014 at 11:05 pm #

    One of the best post in recent times Mark…keep it up….

    Two things of sherwood is super annoying to me:

    1) His attitude like he has won all the trophy’s before or how great player or coach he was…That is just embarrassing…..better he should speak by the performance of his team

    2) His defensive organization. He don’;t know what is that called….Getting goals in expense of leaking tons of goal makes no meaning…

    Honestly, Spurs deserve a better coach….If sherwood thinks he is a manager worthy of a top4 containing side, then i am supposed get a 400V electric shock…

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th April 2014 at 3:55 pm #

      Thanks Naresh, yes i’m not sure what is up with his attitude, something Paulo makes a very good point about above. He does seem to have an i’ve been there and done it way about him. He did captain a Premier League winning side once, but so too have many players and that hasn’t made them good managers. But he’s done nothing as a manager as yet, so i’m not really sure where this quote-slinging bravado comes from?!