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Chalkboard Analysis - Tottenham vs. Manchester City

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We're introducing a new regular feature today. After each fixture, everyone from the media to your Uncle Frank spends time picking out what went wrong and what went right for Tottenham Hotspur. But thanks to The Guardian's chalkboards, each week we are going to use some hard facts and statistics to pick out the three most important things that shaped yesterday's result.

Our feature begins at looking at yesterday's 5-1 loss to Manchester City at White Hart Lane. Disaster was predicted for Tottenham, as the injured and unsettled side had to face a dream City team, bolstered by the addition of midfielder Samir Nasri in the week. Coming off a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester United, changes were expected for the Tottenham side. And they came, as Luka Modric, Peter Crouch, and Vedran Corluka returned to the side as Jake Livermore, Jermain Defoe, and Kyle Walker moved to the bench. 

Obviously, from there everything went wrong. But were there improvements for Tottenham to take hope from this week? And what was Spurs' ultimate undoing? Let's go to the chalkboards:

1. Bale needs a big man


Look, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that it is easier to cross in a ball to a big man than a small man. But just how dramatic the effect is for Gareth Bale is notable. For some reason, this season Bale has picked up almost the entire crossing load. Oppositely, Aaron Lennon's game has become much more based on high-percentage short passing. Whether this is an anomaly or a strategy, I do not know.

Gareth Bale was much better against City than he was versus United, where he was basically anonymous. The main improvement though, despite some excellent dribbling on the breaks, was the success of his crosses.  Gareth Bale was unable to connect on a single cross against Manchester United, failing on all four. This was a low number of crosses, likely because of a combination of excellent marking by United and a pessimism by Bale in his ability to connect with the short forward pair of Defoe and van der Vaart.

Against City, however, Bale was able to connect on 7 of 9 crosses, with almost all ending up connecting with Peter Crouch. It is clear that the benefit of having a target man for Bale is twofold--it not only gives the Welshman a reliable target for his balls, but also psychologically keeps crosses as a dangerous part of his game. This forces the defender marking him to think whether Bale will stay wide and cross or cut in and shoot.

Peter Crouch's departure is being welcomed as rumors come that he is on his way to Stoke City. But it is worth noting that Peter Crouch started both times in Bale's landmark starts last year against Inter Milan, tallying a goal and assist across the ties.

Bale has a new target man to welcome in Emanuel Adebayor, but it is clear that Bale always needs a target man to start to thrive. Tottenham will need target man cover behind Adebayor whether it is Crouch or a new arrival.

2. The Need for Huddlestone


A year ago, Tottenham had another early season home fixture against a vaunted Manchester City side. On that day though, Tottenham held Manchester City to zero goals. The line-ups between that game and Sunday's for Tottenham were very similar. But in Sunday's fixture, Tottenham were bossed in the center of the pitch, and a main reason why was the absence of Tom Huddlestone, unlike that day a year ago. 

It is very questionable why Tom Huddlestone was able to feature for 90 minutes in a virtually meaningless midweek match, yet was relegated to the bench for the City match. In his stead were the Croatian duo of Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar, an adept pairing in attack but with little defensive steel between them. Seemingly underestimating the danger of the City attack, Harry Redknapp made a fatal error in starting this pair.

Tottenham allowed three goals in the 45 minutes when the Croats were in the center of the pitch. The center midfield was poor, as their area of the pitch, the busy center square on the chart, was where only an astonishing 20% of City's total incomplete passes occurred.

Compare these numbers to a year ago, when Huddlestone played 90 minutes in the Tottenham defensive effort. City was held scoreless, in large part to Tottenham's activity in the center of the pitch. 31% of City's total incomplete passes occurred in Big Tom's domain. 

Lesson learned: when Tottenham doesn't have a holding midfielder, the center of the pitch is exposed and the centerbacks face unnecessary pressure. 

3. Blocks on Blocks on Blocks


Rapper YC has had a summer hit with the song Racks, featuring the repetitive chorus "Racks on Racks on Racks." Well, I think you can label the key to the game: "Blocks on Blocks on Blocks."  

It is pretty simple: Tottenham had half of their attempted shots blocked, killing goal scoring opportunities immediately. On the flipside, City unleashed a barrage of 22 shots, with Tottenham only able to block three of them.

Offensively, the solutions are simple. Create space with good passing and off-ball movement, and don't take stupid shots where the defender is in position to block. 

The numbers highlight the ineffectiveness of some of Tottenham's defenders. Younes Kaboul gets the brunt of the blame, with his inability to block a single shot along with his four failed clearances out of six attempts. Vedran Corluka looked just as poor, unable to tally a single block, abused by Samir Nasri, and failing on 3 of his 4 attempted clearances. The whole defense will have to improve their effort to get Tottenham on the winning path.