Tottenham Hotspur 2008: A Tactical Analysis

Three Premier League titles in four seasons and a UEFA Champions League runners-up medal. What do you mean you don’t remember this Tottenham Hotspur season?

That’s probably because it happened on Championship Manager 01/02.

Nonetheless, please allow me to walk you through the successes of Tottenham Hotspur between 2004 and 2008. In real life, Tottenham actually did win a trophy (their latest piece of silverware), the League Cup, winning with a goal off of Jonathan Woodgate’s face. Woodgate was not in this Tottenham line-up. In fact, none of the players that finished the 2007-08 season in real life were in the Spurs squad by the time they reached the Champions League final in May 2008.

This Tottenham team were built off a stoic defence. The full-backs in Joan Capdevila and Mike Duff were defensive full backs and only in times of desperation did they venture out of their half. Lucio and Igor Tudor came into the fold in the summer of 2003. It’s no shock then that in the 2003-04 season, Tottenham romped to their first FA Cup trophy since the days of Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker. Tudor and Lucio, two former Champions League stalwarts, were deployed as stoppers and like their full-backs, they would only venture forward at extreme times and at corners.

Mikel Arteta allowed for this defensive rigidity. Arteta sat just ahead of the defensive bank of four and supplied the four midfielders and attacker ahead of him. The Spaniard became the glue that stuck Spurs together. He has yet to score for Tottenham in the five years he has played at White Hart Lane but he is arguably their most important player. Simon Davies and, more recently, Kim Kallstrom have become the box-to-box midfielders Spurs needed to turn their defensive stoicisms into trophies.

For a long period of time, Davies operated alongside Kevin Kilbane in the centre of midfield but it was quite clear, in the 2007 FA Cup final loss to Chelsea that Kilbane could no longer work in a box-to-box role. Davies was tireless and with Kallstrom’s creativity they linked well to the front three.

Kieron Dyer was given much less defensive responsibility as he had done at Newcastle United since his transfer in 2005 and as a result his goal tally almost quadrupled. In three seasons, the former Newcastle midfielder had netted forty-two goals.

Perhaps that was all down to the tireless, selfless work of Guti alongside him. Whilst Kim Kallstrom would take up positions on the right-wing if need be, Guti would remain central, feeding either Dyer or lone striker Hernan Crespo up front. Guti was guaranteeing himself almost thirty assists a season as Tottenham delved deeper and deeper into the Champions League.

For all the build-up play and the interchangeability in the midfield, there was something lacking prior to the 2004-05 season. The poacher’s instinct. Hernan Crespo was snapped up from Lazio on a free transfer in 2004 and despite his pace and ability to ghost past defenders and strike goals from distance he was told by his manager to remain within the posts.

That rigidity as a poacher grabbed him forty-nine goals in his first season. In that season Spurs won their first league title since the days of Bill Nicholson with a tally of 89 points. Tottenham almost mirrored Nicholson’s achievements of 1961 but were thwarted in the FA Cup final, 3-0 by Manchester United. They came up short in Europe as well, losing 6-4 on aggregate to Bayern Munich in the Champions League season. Crespo has kept turning in these impressive goal tallies and is on the cusp of breaking into the Premier League’s 100 goals club in just his fourth season in the division.

The Champions League still evades Spurs and they came nail-bitingly close with 2008’s penalty shootout loss to Lazio in the final but with their defensive rigidity, free-flowing midfield and prolific attack, it might only be a matter of time before they are successful on the European front.

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