The pre-match hype may have focussed on the first meeting between Harry Redknapp and his former charges, but neither side got the upper hand. Tottenham controlled the possession, QPR defended deep and played on the counter as it finished QPR 0 Spurs 0.
Andre Villas-Boas kept faith in his variation of a 4-4-2 system with Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor up front. Michael Dawson continued in the back line, as AVB kept faith with the side that had dispatched Reading – Gareth Bale in for Gylfi Sigurdsson was the only change.
Spurs started quickly, but lacked the tempo and incision to break down a stubborn QPR side, who arguably created the better chances over the course of the 90 minutes.
I speculated in the Tottenham tactics for this match whether Harry Redknapp would continue to with Adel Taarabt up front as a false nine and he did again here.
The former Tottenham boss lined his side up in their usual 4-3-3 formation, but just as against Chelsea, the wide forwards were playing much deeper than the Moroccan. As a result, Taarabt for much of the game just looked like a midfielder playing as a central striker, rather than a false nine hitting his wider forwards in higher positions in the Messi mould. When Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jamie Mackie did get forward past him though, Taarabt was much more dangerous.
QPR were content to concede possession and squeeze the space between the lines of defence and midfield, trying to stop us attacking through the middle. I talked about QPR’s soft centre in the preview and how West Brom and Liverpool had exposed it, as well as Chelsea last week despite losing.
Rather than just deploy two central midfield spoilers in Derry and Mbia, Redknapp also included Ji-sung Park at the expense of Esteban Granero. Alex Ferguson had trusted Park in many big games whilst at Man Utd due to his industry and hard work with and without the ball and you felt Redknapp was doing the same.
The South Korean got the nod here at the expense of a more creative payer in Granero to create a destructive midfield triangle that would clog the middle and protect the two centre backs.
With the ball, QPR wanted to attack stand-in left back Kyle Naughton, who can often be left exposed by Gareth Bale going forward and not getting back quickly enough. Rangers went at this side 60% of the time from their meagre 38% possession, but as we’ll look at in a minute, their openings actually came on Kyle Walker’s side.
Spurs approach for this one was actually in theory spot on by Andre Villas-Boas.
Fresh off winning the manager of the month award, the Portuguese went with two forwards against a sitting defence and squeezed the space by pushing our back line up. Where it broke down was the use of Jermain Defoe dropping in to an advanced midfield role against QPR’s triangle of spoilers.
Emmanuel Adebayor didn’t have the best of games – he was disposed 5 times – but he also should have been the one dropping in rather than Defoe.
As we know, Defoe is not the best man at link play and consequently a creative player to move the ball from Sandro and Moussa Dembele to a striker was needed.
If we take a look at the average positions of Tottenham players in the game and if we remove Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale we can see the gap that was evident. Bale and Lennon were switching wings so had a central average position. Removing them from the chart highlights the bridge player that was needed between Sandro (Parker)/Dembele and Defoe/Adebayor.
Emmanuel Adebayor (18) was also playing in advance of Jermain Defoe, when these two should have been the other way around. Maybe Gylfi Sigurdsson coming on earlier for the Togolese man would perhaps have been a better choice.
Mbia vs Dembele
QPR really wanted to stop Spurs playing through the middle and Stephane Mbia’s contest with Moussa Dembele was key.
Moussa Dembele is usually a driving force who can shift past players using his speed and big frame to shield the ball. Here, the Belgian came up against a tough tackling Mbia who was looking to get to him as soon as he touched the ball and shut him down.
The Cameroon international was successful in doing this all match as he made 6 tackles and an interception. Dembele was disposed 5 times, the most of any Spurs player along with Adebayor and only completed 1 dribble. Mbia’s pressure also forced him to pass sideways most of the time, which stopped us moving teh ball quickly to the forwards.
Spurs have attempted 22 crosses per game this season, with Gareth Bale the fifth best at completing balls in to the box in the Premier League.
As QPR were closing down the middle, Spurs really needed both Bale and Lennon to hug the touchline and get the ball in from wide. Whether this was from dribbling past defenders to cross, cutting the ball back or to create a shot for themselves, something needed to happen out on the flanks.
As a result we only attempted 12 crosses in the match and only 6 of these were from open play (6 corners).
The reason for this was due to Spurs’ slow tempo, which allowed QPR to shift men over to help Fabio and Nedum Onuoha in the full back positions.
All too often the ball would move wide too slowly and penetrative passes in the final were just not happening. A perfect example was Scott Parker’s delightful one-touch pass through the defence which caught Gareth Bale on his heels when matched up on a much-slower Ryan Nelsen.
Adel Taarabt & Shaun Wright-Phillips
If QPR were intent on attacking Kyle Naughton down the right, their best chances came through Shaun Wright Phillips on the left, often supplied by Adel Taarabt.
The QPR wide man had three good chances to nick a goal for his side, but after grabbing the winner and three points against Chelsea, was unable to provide a finish.
A sliding Michael Dawson in the penalty area blocked his first chance. His next opportunity lacked composure, as he lashed a shot wide after a terrific turn to lose Kyle Walker. Finally, when sneaked in by a dangerous through ball from Taarabt he completely fluffed his lines. Wright-Phillips seemingly couldn’t decide which foot to hit it with, then kicked the ground and ended up with his face in the dirt.
Taarabt’s slid in passes were the main danger to QPR getting a goal. The former Spurs man, deemed surplus to requirements at the Lane by his current boss, was a threat all afternoon to setup a teammate.
Taarabt was playing the kind of balls that Spurs were in need of out of an advanced midfielder. Whereas we had two finishers on the field, Rangers’ chances fell to Shaun Wright-Phillips who has never been renowned as a clinical.
QPR 0 Spurs 0 conclusions
Neither coach really covered themselves in glory here by outfoxing the other and proving that they were wrong to be sacked or right to be hired.
Harry Redknapp was renowned for his lack of technical tactics and a plan B at Spurs and he kind of proved that again here. Rather than try and out-coach AVB, he set his team up to sit deep, block the middle and try and nick one on the counter. The tactic worked against Chelsea last week, so he probably thought why not here? Had Shaun Wright Phillips taken one of his three good chances, Harry would have taken the headlines.
As such, Andre Villas-Boas also wasn’t as aggressive as he usually is. He set his team up in the right way to counter a 4-5-1, which was more of a 4-6-0, but didn’t alter his personnel quickly enough like he usually does.
In the home match against QPR, he made amends at half time to turn a 1-0 deficit in to a 2-1 victory; here he waited far too long to haul off the ineffective Adebayor.
This may have had something to do with the forced substitution of Sandro early in the game limiting him to two changes. AVB usually makes substitutions in order to win matches, unless it is in the final minutes wwhere he will protect a lead. Here he looked like he couldn’t afford to lose to Redknapp and the consequent media pasting he would receive. He looked more content to continue with the high possession in the hope that a goal would come, so left the status quo and played it slightly safer with later changes.
The game could have been a very different one had Jermain Defoe’s early effort not been pushed on to the post, or had his deflected shot not been clawed away by Julio Cesar’s feet. I talked about AVB going for an early goal in the preview like he has done on several occassions awy from home. He confirmed that to be the intention in his post-match interveiw, saying it was a difficult game as a result of us not striking early.
“We created a couple of good chances and we told the players that it was important to score early. That was the only way we were going to bring QPR out a little more.”
In the end QPR’s approach was effective at nullifying a significantly better attacking force.