On paper it looks as if we have one of the strongest squads in the league, but scratch the surface and it’s apparent that what we’ve got in reserve isn’t as good as we may have thought.
Harry added three fresh faces to the side that beat Inter Milan (excluding Gomes) and they all had poor games. It was always going to be difficult to get ourselves up for this one and perhaps Redknapp figured he needed to select players who had a point to prove, but the result was a muted performance.
We looked very poor in midfield. There really is no need for us to play with two holding midfielders, as we did with Sandro and Palacios, especially when neither are in good form. Sandro is still adjusting to the pace of this league, while Wilson has become a shadow of the player who so excited us when he first came to Spurs.
I was excited to see that Niko Kranjcar was back in the side, until I realised that he was playing on the right of midfield. Niko has never played well in this position for us. From the left he can cut inside and hit it with his right, but on the opposite flank he just doesn’t have the pace to get past his man and deliver with his strongest foot. Having played so little football this season, it was no surprise to see that Kranjcar looked a bit off the pace.
Bale had a pretty good game on the left, without being granted the sort of freedom that saw him rip Inter apart. Modric was also decent, but the advanced position he played in doesn’t suit him as much as the deeper role in which he was outstanding against United and Inter. It would have made more sense for Kranjcar to play off Crouch and for Modric to play alongside one of the defensive midfielders.
Who knows if we’d have fared better with a different team – the whole performance was sloppy. We defended really well against Inter, but the same defence looked frail against Bolton, even accounting for the fact that their first goal was definitely offside.
The missing Rafael van der Vaart has given us a real dilemma. We can really only play a 4-5-1 when he’s in the side, which in itself is a problem considering that none of our strikers are perfectly suited to a lone role. When VDV is not available, do we have anyone up to the task of replacing him, or would we be better off switching to a 4-4-2?
That’s exactly what we did at half-time when 1-0 down, but we still didn’t look much better. One of the most compelling reasons to stick with 4-5-1 is that without Defoe injured and with Keane in such terrible form, we can’t muster a decent strike partnership. Crouch provided more evidence that he should only play in Europe, while Pavlyuchenko gave his normal frustrating/occasionally brilliant performance.
His goal was stunning, but came just minutes after he failed to connect with a perfect David Bentley cross that a striker of the highest quality, like a Klinsmann or Lineker, would have busted a gut to get to. Pav is as good a finisher as there is around, but he’ll only score if the ball happens to fall for him and just doesn’t possess the instincts of a top striker. That said, Pav is probably the best we’ve got at the moment and he deserves a run in the Premier League, considering that Crouch can’t score against English defences.
Also scoring a stunning goal was Alan Hutton, but it was just a shame that we didn’t turn on the magic until we were already 3-0 down. I’m still not 100% convinced that Hutton is the right back to deliver us to the promised land, but his occasional moments of attacking brilliance hint at the fact that he might come good.
The beauty of supporting Tottenham Hotspur is that we can thrash the European champions and then lose soundly to an uninspiring Bolton side, all within a single week. If we want more of the former, we have to do less of the latter. Two wins from our next couple of home games are now something of a necessity to get us back on track.