Sherwood's next task: mix up personnel

Posted by John Crace

"With respect," newly appointed Tottenham coach Tim Sherwood said before playing West Brom on Boxing Day, "we should be beating your West Broms and Stokes." It was said as a gung-ho expression of intent from the new man at White Hart Lane, a sign that he knew what was expected of him and was up for the challenge.

Maybe everyone -- Sherwood himself -- ought to have paid more attention to the "should".

The truth is that Spurs are no nearer to working out a way past less-fancied opposition at home under Sherwood than they were under Andre Villas-Boas. Stoke may be without some key players on Sunday, due to both injury and suspension, but no one should be under any illusion that a home win Sunday is a given. Or that Spurs should even necessarily start favourites.

- Sherwood: Spurs have 'taken a gamble'

Against a below-strength West Brom on Thursday, Spurs may have had -- as so often this season -- the lion's share of possession, but it was the away team who had by far the best chances to take away all three points. The 1-1 final score may have been frustrating for Spurs, but it was all they deserved.

As against Southampton last Sunday, Sherwood demonstrated his distance from the old regime both by playing a 4-4-2 and his commitment to attack. With Nacer Chadli, Lewis Holtby, Christian Eriksen and Gylfi Sigurdsson in midfield, Spurs didn't have a single holding defensive player on display. It was a huge gamble on Sherwood's part, a plan that relied on the midfield retaining possession and feeding Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor up front and Dawson and Vlad Chiriches to keep things tight at the heart of the back four.

Nothing went to plan. Time and again, the midfield were either muscled off the ball far too easily or gave the ball away needlessly. At times like these, you wonder justwhat the team does in training. Passing to one of your own players is one of the basic skills, something that kids are taught to do at school; yet all too frequently Spurs mistimed or misplaced their passes. Meanwhile at the back, Michael Dawson and Chiriches had a day they would rather forget; both will count themselves lucky their errors weren't punished more severely.

For all that Sherwood has talked up a reversion to 'The old Spurs style' of end to end football -- shades of Harry Redknapp's teams at their very best -- the fact is that Spurs actually created fewer chances against West Brom than they had against other teams under AVB. The formation and desire may have been changed, but the end product was just as poor.

Soldado looked just as isolated playing 4-4-2 as he had as the lone striker. Long before the end of the game, Soldado was looking bewildered -- a man who had even stopped trying to buy a goal -- and Adebayor had rediscovered his lack of interest in the game.

This is a tough learning curve for Sherwood. He bought himself the job and some time with an unexpected away win at Southampton, but he will be under real pressure if his team can't do better than this. The lesson for Sherwood from the West Brom game is that having the right formation only gets you so far: you have to pick the right players in the right position.

Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend may be injured, but playing Chadli on the right wing and Sigurdsson on the left isn't the answer. Chadli's natural inclination is to cut inside, while Sigurdsson doesn't have the pace -- or the left foot -- to play wide on the right. Neither player made concerted efforts to get behind the West Brom defence.

It also makes no sense to play Eriksen and Holtby together in midfield. They both lose the ball too often and fail to create enough. If Sherwood learned anything from the West Brom game, it is that Holtby cannot fulfill the holding midfielder's role. Spurs looked a far better proposition when Holtby was replaced by Nabil Bentaleb, a player who can both win the ball and retain possession. If Sandro isn't fit for Stoke, Bentaleb should be given a starting role alongside Paulinho, who comes back from suspension.

Kyle Walker will also be suspended on Sunday, so Kyle Naughton should start at right back -- a chance for him to rediscover some form after his horror shows deputising out of position at left back. Injuries, rather than form, suggest that Dawson and Chiriches will retain their places at the centre of the defence, while Erik Lamela should come in for Sigurdsson. The Argentine may not have yet settled in to Premiership football, but it makes no sense to play Sigurdsson ahead of him. When Lamela did come on as substitute the West Brom defence were noticeably less comfortable.

Spurs may be in eighth place in the table, just five points away from a Champions League place, but their position flatters them. They have struggled against all the teams above them, and last Sunday's game had the uncomfortable feel of two teams playing for mid-table mediocrity.

Spurs have a chance to redeem themselves against Stoke. Sherwood can start to put things right by picking the right players in the right positions. And the players can do their bit by passing to each other rather than the opposition. In case they are in doubt -- they will be the team in the white shirts.


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