Last Friday, Harry Redknapp declared that tactics are just not for him. The modern day successor to King Henry VIII's fabled girth, Redknapp is famous for instructing his players to just "go out and run a bit," and he was no more enlightened by the time he stated that:
It's 10 per cent about the formation and 90 per cent about the players. If you have the best ones and they do their jobs, then they can pretty much play any way you want them to... Was it 4-5-1? Or 4-3-3? Does it really matter?
Actually, Harry, it probably does. Determined to prove it were Young Boys of Switzerland, his opponents in the Champion's League playoff round, and comfortably inferior to Redknapp's Tottenham Hotspur in terms of talent. The first leg of the match was played today in Bern, and Spurs lined up in the traditional English 4-4-2. They were met by a side more reminiscent of Chile at the World Cup than any shape that Redknapp's ever encountered; an oscilating 4-2-3-1 that became 3-3-3-1 in possession; the right back becoming an extra second band attacker whenever the Swiss side were going forwards.
What happens what 4-4-2 meets a side arrayed like this? They suffer a two-man disadvantage in midfield, for starters. There's an extraneous forward and a spare central defender, meaning that it's a four man midfield against six more widely spread players. It is impossible to hold or wrest away possession in the centre with a scheme like that, and with the Young Boys overruning Spurs in the middle, the fullbacks were unable to provide any support whatsoever. A group of vastly inferior players cut off the supply line to Tottenham's forwards by putting as many men in the middle of the pitch as they could possibly manage.
The way to fix this from Spurs's point of view would be to pull a striker back to the #10 position between the opposition's midfield and defensive lines while going to a three man back line, and that's more or less what they did, enabling them to claw their way back into the match. However, they first spent half an hour in static lines, looking utterly shell-shocked and completely incapable of doing anything resembling attack or defend; it was already 3-0 to the home club by the time any response at all occured. I defy anyone who watched the match to tell me that the Young Boys's lead was not well deserved.
The game ended 3-2 with goals by Sebastien Bassong and Roman Pavlyuchenko (after Spurs had made some *ahem* tactical adjustments), but Tottenham can consider themselves a little lucky to have not been beaten by a more comprehensive margin. The two away goals are extremely important and a one goal loss with two scored will have put them firmly in the driver's seat heading into the return fixture at White Hart Lane. However, it's an important lesson in Redknapp's tactical naivete, and with these sorts of problems against a Swiss side without a single star player to their name... what will happen when Spurs face the likes of Real Madrid or Barcelona?
Running Spurs out in a 4-4-2 with zero concern for the shape of the opposition is embarrassing, and it nearly cost the club extremely dear. With at least £2.5M in prize money going to the qualifiers for the group stages, the manager has to be doing his homework, even if he fancies it as a bit of pseudo-intellectual lahdidah.
Tactics matter, Mr. Redknapp, and you'd better get your head around that quickly or Spurs are going to be humiliated in European play.