Out of all of the debris in our defeat at the Etihad, one thing of note was that we lined up without inverted wingers.
Throughout this season we’ve seen Andre Villas-Boas use a left footer on the right and a right footer on the left. But Sunday saw an orthodox right footer on his natural side in Aaron Lennon and a southpaw out on the left in Erik Lamela.
A common complaint about Spurs this season has been the lack of width in the final third with our inverted wingers cutting inside on to their stronger foot. Whilst our full backs have been struggling to provide the necessary width that is required when this happens, could AVB be switching back to conventional wide men?
Erik Lamela on the left
Much has been said and written about Erik Lamela starting in the Premier League after his performances in our European games. After a long wait, we finally got to see the Argentinean in the initial line-up, but not on the right.
For the first 60 minutes at the Etihad, before he was moved in to the centre to accommodate Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lamela was playing from the left. He was tasked with stretching the defence and trying to push Pablo Zabaleta back.
He operated with width, but still played the role as a wide forward would. Hugging the touchline in the middle third of the pitch, then coming inside in to more central areas once up in the final third.
Rarely did he get in-behind Zabaleta in order to cross or pull the ball back.
Whilst wide on the left, he did create a shooting chance for Emmanuel Adebayor (1), but this was after the switch to 4-4-2. He also an effort that went straight through the box to Lennon on the other side (2). When he had driven in to the centre in the final third, he did supply a pass for a Paulinho shot (3).
One thing that Lamela does provide is a natural ability to dribble with the ball. Here, his instincts of playing as a wide forward were shown again, as he skipped past opponents having come inside towards the middle of the pitch.
After the introduction of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Moussa Dembele, Lamela came more central. The experiment to play him on the left wasn’t a great success as he still was looking to come inside rather than ‘hit the by line’ as a conventional winger would.
His strongest suit, apart from his dribbling, is his ability to shoot. Being on the left does take him off of his favoured foot, which makes it even more difficult to get a shot away when he comes inside.
Aaron Lennon on the right
On the other side, Aaron Lennon was staying wide, but was also unable to get behind the full back in order to cross or cut the ball back.
Lennon’s problem wasn’t coming inside like Erik Lamela was on the opposite flank. The pint-sized winger hugs the touchline and looks to get behind defences, but against City he was forced to go backwards often when he received the ball.
The reason for this was that Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri were doing a decent job at keeping him in front of them. Although he did manage to dribble past Clichy a couple of times in wide areas, any attempts at crosses were blocked.
Could we be seeing an end to our inverted wingers?
Although this was just one game, the fact that Andre Villas-Boas opted for orthodox wide players was something that got lost in the fall out from our capitulation.
Could the system be here to stay?
Naturally from having a long-term understanding from playing ahead of Kyle Walker, Aaron Lennon looked a lot more at home on the right than Erik Lamela on the left. Lennon is an orthodox winger though, whereas Lamela is a wide forward and this is where the system was failing. The Argentinean was still looking to move inside in the final third despite being on the left, but this is his natural game.
Whilst conventional wingers offers width on paper, it doesn’t lend itself to the players we’ve signed, especially once we have Nacer Chadli back.
The current problem if we want to use inverted wingers is two-fold.
Firstly, in the full back area. With Jan Vertonghen at left back, he can’t provide the bursts of speed required on the overlap that Danny Rose can.
Secondly, our wide players need to learn when to take the ball inside and when to release the full back on the overlap. The ball isn’t moving quickly enough in the final third, but it’s also not hitting the players making the right runs. For example, Kyle Walker is getting caught out of position when the ball is turned over making him look reckless and a bad decision maker. The problem is that he is often offering the support he should be, but isn’t receiving the pass.
On Sunday we face another team that plays 4-4-2 in Manchester United. It’ll be interesting to see if Andre Villas-Boas continues with orthodox players in the wide positions to stretch the opposition or if he switches back to inverted wingers.