Tottenham continued their fine start to the 2011/12 season with a 3-1 win against QPR at White Hart Lane.
Spurs took to the field with real pace in wide areas. Wingers Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale pushed high on QPR full-backs, Traore and Young. Meanwhile Spurs’ own full-backs, Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto, ventured high up the field to create additional width and allow Tottenham to stretch the field of play.
Targeting the flanks as the main passage for their offensive moves, Spurs dominated the first half. The swift footwork of Luka Modric in particular, allowed them to spread the ball from one side of the field to the other with fantastic speed. This has become a feature of their play under Redknapp and allowed them to isolate QPR full-backs in one-on-one situations with Bale and Lennon, much as they did against Inter in last season’s Champions League. This brought about their first goal as Gareth Bale fired powerfully passed Paddy Kenny from the corner of the penalty area following a rapid transition, which saw Spurs spread the ball from Lennon across to Bale.
QPR adopted the frequently derided 4-4-2 formation. In recent years the set-up has become pretty unfashionable but it can be effective as a defensive tool for a struggling side. Plenty of teams have squeezed their midfield and defensive lines into close proximity in order to create a two-ply, watertight shield. By maintaining a deep defensive line-up, and keeping both banks of four players close together, they force the opposition to try and execute attacking moves from in front of them.
QPR, however, were far too porous in midfield and failed to maintain a minimal distance between defenders and midfield players. As mentioned above, Modric used this space to orchestrate play in dangerous areas.
Emmanuel Adebayor was also involved in many of Spurs’ best moments, combining with Modric around the opposition penalty area to move the ball at speed. Most of his work was done with his back to goal. Spurs identified pace and height in QPR central defenders, Ferdinand and Gabbidon (who replaced Hall after 7 mins), and subsequently opted not to try and play through them. Instead, Adebayor pulled off the forward line, taking a central defender with him and thus exposing space for Rafael Van Der Vaart to move into.
Both Lennon and Bale also showed a willingness to drift infield and invade the space opened up by Adebayor’s movement. The aforementioned attacking instincts of Walker and Assou-Ekotto allowed Tottenham to maintain width when Bale and Lennon moved inside.
Arguably Tottenham’s key man though was Scott Parker. Operating in a relatively deep lying midfield role, Parker superbly marshalled a below-par Adel Taarabt. The Moroccan former Tottenham player should have been the nexus of QPR’s counter-attacking manoeuvres, finding space and releasing the on-rushing Shaun Wright-Phillips.
In fact, QPR did threaten briefly in the second half and the introduction of Jay Bothroyd, in place of Taarabt, was influential. Bothroyd gave the QPR attacking line more mobility, allowing them to seek on occasion to break in behind the Spurs defensive line with pace. Assou-Ekotto and Walker subsequently declined to venture forward with quite the same enthusiasm and Spurs were less able to stretch play and dominate possession. Bothroyd scored after 62 minutes to make the score 2-1 but Spurs soon regained control courtesy of a splendid second goal by Gareth Bale.
Parker was crucial to ensuring Spurs remained in control, winning numerous challenges to halt QPR midfielders looking to break forward in support of Bothroyd. His precise distribution also allowed Spurs to quickly mount their own counter-attacks and keep QPR under pressure.
The Tottenham central midfielder is putting forward a good case for inclusion in the England line-up. Inadequate ball retention has haunted England teams in recent years but between Parker and Arsenal’s Jack Wilshire, England could have a midfield with a genuine ability to rotate the ball and keep possession effectively. Neither of them boast great mobility, however, and perform best when surrounded by pace and athleticism. England have plenty of that at their disposal in the shape of Walcott, Johnson, Downing and Lennon. Don’t be surprised if Parker appears in England’s midfield at Euro 2012.