Football has always been about evolution. From the days of seven up top, to the W-M, to the Catenaccio, tactics change. Today's in-vogue formations are the 4-3-3 of Barcelona and Mourinho's 4-2-3-1. But seeing Tottenham yesterday, damn if I wasn't happy to see the Lilywhites in with an old-fashioned 4-4-2.
The beauty of the 4-4-2 is its downfall - its movements are easy to predict. Especially in the English system, most players grew up playing in it, so positioning is second nature. You get the classic target man and poacher up top, attacking wingers, and box-to-box central midfielders.
It was the formation that led Spurs to a top four finish in 2010, so Spurs have a proven track record of success. And with recent injuries to Luka Modric and Gareth Bale, Harry Redknapp has been left to considering a back to the future scenario: should the 4-4-2 return to White Hart Lane?
The biggest wrench in returning to the 4-4-2 is the same player who forced the initial shift away from it: Rafael van der Vaart. VdV is a phenomenal talent, but presents a narrow role to play in: centrally, just off the striker. Ever since the 4-4-2 diamond has been found to be flawed (just look at how Jermaine Jones was overran yesterday), the idea of playing a central attacking player high up the pitch off of two strikers has been proven antiquated.
But VdV in critical wins over Blackburn and Arsenal has shown something this year: he can be dangerous as an inside-out winger from the right side. Van der Vaart does drift centrally in attack, but with a dynamic attacking fullback in Alan Hutton to support him, the loss of width is tolerable. On the other side Aaron Lennon, Niko Kranjcar, and Steven Pienaar all provide different abilities down the left wing. Some combination of Palacios, Jenas, and Sandro would likely fill the middle, providing a defensive stoutness that should control the middle of the field and give some cover to the wingers.
But ultimately, the 4-4-2 is defined by the strikers on top. And call me old-fashioned, but Spurs have my favorite type of pairing: a target man and a pacey striker. The combination of Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch has the potential to be lethal. Defoe is one of the streakiest strikers in the league, and despite his relative coolness this season, being paired in a 4-4-2 could bring him back to previous heights. And for all the criticism Crouch takes, he is has fantastic touch for his size and can be brilliant in the air, as Blackburn found out yesterday.
Ultimately, with a healthy Spurs side 4-4-2 isn't the best formation. It's too defensively fragile and can doesn't put the team's best players out on the field. But with a hurt team and a need to get aggressive to push on to the top four, it might just be the old school change Tottenham needs.