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Tactics Tuesday: Bad Townsend, Good Townsend

No Tottenham Hotspur player divides opinion quite like Andros Townsend and his performance against Newcastle was no exception.

Jamie McDonald

As the comments thread in yesterday's man of the match piece showed, reasonable people can have wildly varying opinions about the value of Andros Townsend's contributions, even while watching the same match. Against Newcastle, Townsend was better than in the previous few matches while also demonstrating what can make him a frustrating player. Here I take a look at what he did wrong, what he did right, and what it means for Andre Villas-Boas.

The Bad

Townsend's worst habit is a proclivity to take speculative, long shots at goal from low percentage positions and this was on full display against the Toon. Townsend took five shots, none of which was from a high percentage area. Two shots were blocked; one example is in the below GIF.

Players who shoot a lot will have their shots blocked from time to time, but for Townsend, it happens with alarming frequency. After cutting back onto his right foot, Newcastle right back Davide Santon steps up get in his path and block the shot - had Townsend looked up, he could have picked a pass for Kyle Walker, in plenty of space to play a cross across the face of goal, where Spurs had three players waiting and Jan Vertonghen on the way. If you look closely, you can see Walker throw his hand up in disgust at the end of the clip.

Here, Townsend receives the ball from a Roberto Soldado lay-off. Soldado continues his run behind Newcastle center-back Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and is in great position to receive a pass in behind but Townsend fails to see him.

Both examples are a result of Townsend trying to do too much, instead of making the easy pass to a teammate. This desire also resulted in Townsend being dispossessed 4 times, the joint most on the team in yesterday's match. Townsend has never dealt with this kind of focus by opposition teams before; even so, he often makes it too easy for opponents to double or triple up on him by shooting and dribbling too much. By looking up for his teammates, he should be able to create more opportunities for the team and higher quality opportunities for himself.

The Good

Townsend's performance was not all bad. Below, he wins the ball off Santon with the help of Paulinho and dashes in behind before playing a lovely pass into Christian Eriksen's feet.

In the next GIF, Brad Friedel throws a terrific outlet pass to Townsend after a Toon corner. Townsend beats the first marker before feeding the overlapping Kyle Walker for another dangerous opportunity.

There are not a lot of wingers who could make this kind of play, but it's a feature of Townsend's game, as he demonstrated in England's match against Montenegro one month ago. Townsend also played the pass for a good Paulinho shot, but most of the credit for that one goes to Roberto Soldado for his excellent hold-up play, so I have not included it here.

What it means for AVB

The above GIFs sum up Townsend pretty well - he can be devastating in transition, when the opposition defense is not set, but struggles against packed defenses. As such, it does not make sense to play Townsend in matches against offensively challenged teams as those teams rarely leave their own half when playing Spurs and Townsend currently lacks the guile required to break them down. It may, however, make sense to play Townsend in matches against teams that will get forward and take a lot of shots. For this reason, I wouldn't mind if we saw Townsend in the line-up against Manchester City in two weeks' time, but would rather not see him start against, say Fulham.

Other notes on the game

As the season progresses, I'll likely write fewer full match reviews, unless I see something particularly interesting from a tactical perspective. I'll still try to highlight some things I'm keeping an eye on.

  • What a difference Sandro makes. Newcastle had some decent chances in the first half, but that ended when Sandro came on at halftime. We are a much better team when he's on the pitch, both defensively and offensively. The defensive part is obvious, but what may not be obvious is the affect he has on other players in an attacking sense. Paulinho and Eriksen can be more adventurous going forward with the knowledge that Sandro is behind them. He or Capoue must start, fitness permitting.
  • Gylfi Sigurdsson made me remember why I wanted Villas-Boas to drop him from the left wing to begin with. He completed 10 of his 11 passes but was dispossessed 4 times. In a way, he is a bit like a left wing Jermain Defoe - if he's not scoring, it's easy to forget he's there. If Spurs can keep creating chances at a rate as high as they did against Newcastle, it is not a problem; Sigurdsson gets into scoring positions and has 3 of the team's 6 goals from open play for a reason. If the chances dry up, however, it would be prudent for Villas-Boas to look elsewhere.
  • Christian Eriksen had a mixed performance. He crafted four good chances, including a wonderful lay-off to Paulinho for a close range shot. I've seen criticism of his set piece delivery but don't really understand it - one first half free kick to Soldado resulted in a Tim Krul save, two corners resulted in good chances for Soldado and Jan Vertonghen, respectively. He also put three shots on target, even if he didn't score. On the other hand, he did complete only 71% of his passes. I still believe he's a better option than Lewis Holtby for most matches, assuming only one is going to play - all of Spurs best attacking performances have come with Eriksen in the side while Spurs have struggled to create a high number of good chances when Holtby starts, even if Holtby hasn't done anything obviously wrong to deserve losing a place in the team.
  • With that said, Holtby is better at pressing and that could come in handy against opponents with good deep lying playmakers. Manchester United, with Michael Carrick, are one of those sides, so Holtby could be more suitable for that game.
  • Let's never play against Tim Krul again.

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