On the 3rd January 2012, Spurs, in the midst of their finest runs of the season, beat West Brom 1-0 at home having dominated the match. There are a truckload of caveats that make it stupid to try and compare that match to the draw yesterday, (that each side has a new manager would be top of that list), but I am stupid, and the differences between the two games seems to give a clear indication of how the loss of Luka Modric has cost Spurs.
Without looking at any stats there are several results that could reasonably be expected when replacing Modric with Jake Livermore in a system where the two central midfielders have a far deeper, less creative role: fewer overall passes, fewer passes in the attacking third and less possession. All of this is borne out by the stats for the game yesterday, which are summarised below:
2011-12 season 2012-2013 season
Passes (Completed/Attempted) 414/487 (85%) 553/632 (87.5%)
Final 1/3 passes (C/A) 114/149 (76.5%) 160/212 (75.4%)
Possession 59% 68%
The stats back up the expectation that Tottenham can’t play the same passing game, they attempted fewer passes all over the pitch, and completed a lower percentage of them outside the final 1/3. Also, without the mobility and passing of Modric, players like VDV and Bale can end up struggling to have the same effect on matches they did last year. The overall contribution from the front line has dropped off, this can be seen in the player influence match boards below:
Livermore and Sandro not only sit deeper than Modric did, they also remain far more central. However Jake Livermore has clearly not gone in as a like-for-like replacement for Modric, so Spurs have to regain the attacking impetus and control the Croatian gave them in other ways. I’m going to look one way that this was attempted yesterday: an increase in the influence of the full-backs.
Spurs are blessed with two full backs with great attacking ability. Last season they provided an excellent platform for dominating possession and building attacks. With the 4-2-3-1 system now in place, they can be given even more freedom to go forward, safe in the knowledge Sandro and Livermore can cover. In fact the system demands that they play a greater role in linking the play, with the central mids staying infield rather than getting close to Bale and Lennon. Indeed in the match yesterday BAE got the only goal, and the two full backs were ranked 1st and 2nd for Spurs in terms of passes made in the attacking third - BAE 17/19 (C/A) Walker 16/21.
Their overall influence on the team in the final 1/3 has clearly increased, however the amount of passes they attempted actually decreased from the 2011-12 match - BAE 12/20 (C/A) Walker 19/23. This was on top of the contributions from players like Modric (26/32) and VDV (26/31) who made the most passes in the final 1/3 in the match last season. Spurs also attempted fewer crosses (23<36) in the match yesterday, another indication that the Walker and Assou-Ekotto’s attacking influence has increased as result of the drop off from the contribution of the central midfielders, rather than a growth in their roles.
Replacing Modric with one player was always going to be impossible with Spurs’ resources and Europa league standing, but there needs to be a greater attempt to replace the work he did with the system Spurs play. One of the central midfielders needs to be more mobile in moving play out to the wings. This can be done whilst continuing to employ two defensive mids in the line-up, they just need to move sideways a lot more! This will help progress the play up the flanks and result in the greater attacking returns from the fullbacks that the system requires.
Of course with one week of the transfer window left the whole system may change this Saturday with a new signing introduced. Or if we stick with the 4-2-3-1 one player who would fit the role of defensive midfielder with a greater passing range than Livermore and Sandro is Yann M’Vila, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking…