It looked as if Tottenham had hit the skids yet again after the first half of play at Villa Park.
Aston Villa, after an absolute hammering against Chelsea at the weekend, had decided to play conservatively and in doing so did to Spurs what Stoke had done at the weekend: Frustrate the bejeezus out of the Lilywhites.
Forty-five minutes and four goals later, Tottenham temporarily reclaimed fourth place on goals scored after whipping a demoralized Villain squad, particularly through the feet of a certain hat-trick-inducing Gareth Bale.
The result was what Spurs needed Wednesday, and though the scoreline papered over a few things, one could not argue that Tottenham deserved nothing less than three points.
It must be said, however, that the 4-4-2 look that has been present of late really needs to be scrapped until Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe show that they can link up in training and on the matchday pitch.
Currently, the two tend to simply get in each other’s way more than they play the "big man, little man" game.
Unlike when Adebayor and Rafael van der Vaart were tag-teaming Premier League clubs last term, Defoe and Adebayor play two separate games that do not feed unto one another.
Yes, Adebayor slipped in Defoe with a lovely pass midway through the first half, but aside from that, where was the link between the two?
It has become somewhat noticeable that the duo play two styles that clash, with Defoe sitting on the last man’s shoulder and Adebayor drifting around the attacking third.
When they want to attack a ball from another player, however, they tend to walk all over each other.
In the buildup to goal No. 1, Defoe and Adebayor were not two yards apart from one another as the break began and almost took the same slanting motion as Bale began his initial dribble.
The chance looked to have deserted Spurs, and only a sweet Kyle Naughton pass and some sour Villa defending—a recurring theme—let Defoe in for the goal.
To explain the stagnant combination, Gylfi Sigurdsson, who came on for the final 25 minutes, had equal or better passing and running in that time span than Adebayor did in the 65 minutes he was given.
Some might say Adebayor was being unselfish; I say he was lost in the shuffle since Defoe took up the spots he wanted to attack in to.
It may not be entirely Adebayor’s fault though, because if one is to be honest, the 4-4-2 might as well have been called a 4-4-ew.
Tottenham were positionally stagnant in the first half, much to their detriment as Villa’s first half 5-3-1-1 was, while not a 4-5-1 like Stoke, positioned perfectly to frustrate the visitors.
The three center-backs kept Defoe and Adebayor relatively under wraps. The wingbacks got run ragged but did not concede the byline and thus forced Spurs to pump crosses into the box, a losing proposition for the Lilywhites.
Though Mousa Dembele and Sandro had the run of the midfield, the space between the lines was non-existent and Dembele, Bale and Aaron Lennon went side-to-side with little penetration.
Effectively, the visitors were limited to shots from range, aside from a couple of corners that found Tottenham heads (two out of 15 does not cut it) and Defoe’s chance.
An injury to Nathan Baker proved to be the difference Spurs needed because it forced Villa to become bolder by default.
Putting Stephen Ireland and Marc Albrighton on the pitch meant that Villa had the players to open up the match, and quickly the hosts finally made some form of inroads toward Hugo Lloris’
Naturally, the counterattack was finally available, and after Defoe’s goal Tottenham finally had the chance to go full throttle.
Bale’s first was more in the comedy of errors department than a brilliant counterattack until the man himself got on the ball, scooted past a statue of a defender and made American Brad Guzan wish he was where fellow American Brad Friedel was.
What became notable from that goal onward was the fact that the wingers began moving far infield to create overloads.
Bale’s second was dead-on middle of the penalty area, where in the first half he had been hugging the touchline.
The same thing happened for the third with the addition of the overloading run of Sigurdsson to pull Villa’s central defense apart.
This off-the-ball movement was one of the key things Spurs had going while they were hammering in goals during their first winning run and seemed to have been fading away from since the 4-4-2 had become the formation of choice.
That off-the-ball running needs to come back to being at the forefront of the attack as Tottenham get their first look at Sunderland at the weekend.
After the Black Cats held firm against Manchester City, Martin O’Neill’s men will want to keep the good times rolling as they try to scamper away from the relegation zone fight.
Figuring out a lineup to attack what should be a resolute defense will be necessary as one would expect O’Neill to instruct his men to keep Bale in check.
Perhaps it might be time to drop Dembele behind Defoe, Scott Parker into the midfield and see what happens?
Whatever the case, they’ll need to be ready to scrap as the Stadium of Light will be looking for a second major scalp in three days.
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