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An examination of Tottenham Hotspur's various formations

The heartbeat of Spurs
The heartbeat of Spurs

Tottenham Hotspur are likely a side that many of you are pretty familiar with. However, if you haven't been paying close attention, you may not be fully aware of the multiple systems that manager Harry Redknapp has used this season. Here is a brief description of the many shapes that he has deployed his side in. Any or all of them may be used against Manchester United at White Hart Lane.

* Match Preview: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester United


Last weekend versus Arsenal FC in the North London derby, this is the shape that Redknapp deployed his side in at the game's beginning. It was a direct approach that saw a lot of movement from the front four of Emmanuel Adebayor, Louis Saha, Niko Kranjcar, and Gareth Bale. Adebayor stayed relatively high and often drifted to the left while Saha played slightly deeper. The two wide players -- especially Kranjcar -- played relatively narrow and looked to make runs through the middle and into the space that the two forwards were vacating. Scott Parker was the ball-winner in the center of the park while Luka Modric's role was to link play. The two full-backs -- especially Kyle Walker -- looked to motor forward for overlapping runs when the wide attackers drifted inside.

This direct and quick approach troubled Arsenal and it was Spurs that got out to an early 0-2 lead in the match at the Emirates. However, the Gunner's 4-3-3 shape allowed them to have a 3 v 2 numerical advantage in the center and it was the home side that had control of the match in the 1st half -- despite the scoreline being at 0-2 in the early-going. Modric had difficulties dictating the game but that's not an indictment on the midfield maestro, it's rather an acknowledgment that it was difficult for him to compete because of a sheer numerical disadvantage in his battleground area.

Spurs can also play in this shape with more width in attack when Aaron Lennon is deployed on the right. His pace down the right touchline can be troublesome but his final product is often lacking. Bale played more as a direct winger last season but he has tended to drift inside much more during this current campaign. Redknapp could deploy his side in a direct 4-4-2 tomorrow but it could be the one that was used last week at the Emirates or it could be a more traditional one with wingers that stay wide and get to the byline for crosses -- or it could be one that has elements of both.


Redknapp switched the shape of his side at half-time against Arsenal -- presumably because his midfield was being overrun. Sandro came on to pack the midfield while Saha was substituted off. Spurs competed better in midfield and they even pushed Arsenal back a bit. However, their attack sputtered because of a lack of width and creative ideas in this functional system. Spurs ability to compete better was actually used against them as it allowed the Gunners to break at speed when the ball was won -- particularly Theo Walcott.

This sort of system has been used frequently by Redknapp in recent months and to good effect at times. The holding-player -- typically Parker or Sandro -- shields the back four while the other two central-midfielders link play. The lone center-forward -- typically Adebayor but Saha can play this role too-- is the fulcrum in attack and he generally has two players behind him roaming around in free roles. The players with the free roles -- typically two of Bale, Rafael van der Vaart, or Kranjcar -- drift in the space between the lines and allow for a very fluid attack. However, this can lead Spurs vulnerable when the opposition's full-backs get forward into the acres of open space they often have.

Parker is suspended for the match so Sandro will likely be partnering Modric in the middle. If this 4-3-3/4-1-4-1ish system is desired by Redknapp, then Jake Livermore can be used as the third central-midfielder in the vertical space between Modric and Sandro.


4-4-1-1 was the shape used most often by Redknapp last season. This is perhaps the shape that accommodates van der Vaart best as he's free to poach on the knockdowns from a center-forward while also not having the defensive responsibility of tracking a marauding full-back. It was a common sight last season to see van der Vaart finishing after getting on the end of a Peter Crouch knockdown.

It's very plausible that Spurs will use this shape versus United -- whether it is from the start or whether it is used as a 'plan B' approach. The shape is closely related to a 4-4-2 but it instead uses a withdrawn player that stays close to a center-forward so that the former can get on the end of knockdowns. It also allows this 'in the hole' player to link the midfield with the attack. This role was mostly van der Vaart's last season but Jermaine Defoe is capable of playing in it too as the Englishman has recently shown improvement in his ability to drop deep in order to link play.


Redknapp has even used a back three versus Stevenage in a FA Cup tie but that is highly unlikely to be used versus United. Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to deploy his side in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1ish shape (United's shape has elements of all of those systems) and each should be fine in competing with Redknapp's varying systems -- this is on the assumption that the industrious Wayne Rooney is available. A 4-3-3/4-5-1 could be used as an alternative if Rooney isn't fit to start the match.

Against a 4-4-2, United is likely to dominate possession with Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes -- assuming of course that both tidy distributors start -- dictating the match while Spurs will probably look to create chances on the counter with their pacey attackers.

Against a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 -- a shape that Redknapp may select if he feels that his side needs more bite without Parker -- the home side should be able to compete better in the center of the pitch. However, will this functional shape allow them to have enough width or creativity in attack? United are a side that does well to swing the ball out wide and this possible shape from Spurs may allow for United to have constant 2 v 1 scenarios on the flanks when the full-backs get forward unimpeded.

Against a 4-4-1-1 shape, United would face many of the same situations as they would against a 4-4-2. The Red Devils would likely dominate possession because Carrick and Scholes would have time on the ball in deep positions. They likely wouldn't face a spirited challenge from van der Vaart. In addition, the two central-midfielders -- Modric and Sandro/Livermore -- would probably be sitting too deep to quickly close down their counterparts. Unless Spurs decide to press of course.

What tactics and personnel from Tottenham worries you most? What shape and players do you not want to see selected? What shape and players do you want to see selected? Feel free to share in the comments section below.