There are lies, damned lies and statistics, but a scoreline never spoke a truer word than Everton 0-0 Tottenham yesterday. We edged the first half, they edged the second half and neither ‘keeper had a serious save to make.There were some interesting sub-plots though. ‘Arry Redknapp has developed a serious allergy to change of any form, either before or during games. No doubt therefore, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth to accompany the twitches when he found that changes of both personnel and formation would be enforced.
With BAE and Lennon injured (some sort of twinge meant Bentley could only manage the bench), and Palacios absent – for desperately sad reasons – ‘Arry was forced to experiment. So experiment he did, with psycho-Scot Hutton, human-simian hybrid Bale and the incredible Hudd all playing the full 90 minutes; Defoe and Keane together upfront; and the whole lot of them jumbled together in a brand spanking new 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation.
Some experiments are blisteringly successful. Alex Fergusons’ deployment of Ronaldo as a striker helped turn Man Utd into possibly the best team on the planet. Alexander Fleming’s poking and prodding gave the world penicillin. Jeff Goldblum’s character created an awesomely slick piece of kit in The Fly, even if the ensuing bedlam did rather shift attention from its genius.
By contrast, the results of our new 3-5-2 were rather less spectacular than all these. It did the job, but is unlikely to be repeated if we have the personnel for 4-4-2.
The RegularsThe change in formation ultimately did not make a huge difference to the regulars. Every now and then Gomes’ wires got frazzled and he went a little mental. Trying to dribble round forwards, dropping crosses in his six yard box – that sort of thing. Comfy enough though, and another clean sheet. A fairly serene afternoon too for the centre-backs (it appears that Ledley found something more exciting to do in late-night London afterwards).With the season’s end approaching, Modric has the look of a superhero being gradually exposed to kryptonite. He’s still way ahead of other mere mortals, but his powers are waning. Passes which earlier this season were lined in gold are now being overhit. It’s fair enough – he’s worked non-stop all season. The spirit remains willing as ever, but the flesh is starting to look weak. Send the boy somewhere sunny for a couple of months, and let him put his feet up. Somewhere sunny that all provides an all-you-can-eat-buffet. He needs to put some meat on those bones.
The 3-5-2 allowed Keane to play as a genuine forward, and he even had a shot in the first half. However, he seems to have forgotten what the role requires, as was epitomised in the first half when Lescott slipped and Keane was rocking on his heels rather than devouring the leftovers. Unable to get the hang of playing in attack, he dedicated most of his energy to the one the aspect of his game in which he remains peerless – that pointing and shouting lark. Defoe looked sharp though. More food for thought as next season approacheth
The HopefulsSo what of the squad players, suddenly given rare opportunities to shine?The use of three centre-backs allowed Bale and Hutton, as wing-backs, to play to their strengths (bombing forward) while providing enough insurance to expiate for, if not exactly mask, their weaknesses (defending). Both made a pretty good fist of attacking, in the first half in particular. Neither were thoroughly convincing when defending, and I’d feel rather jittery if they were deployed within a conventional back four, but there were no real alarms. Still no win for our anti-alchemist, Bale, after almost two years in lilywhite.
The reversion to three in central midfield indicated that Palacios is so important to us – and the rest of our central midfielders so meek and mild – that it needs two men to compensate for his absence. A reserve of some sort, either young starlet or sage veteran, is needed in the summer.
Given that he had the platform of a three-man central midfield it was disappointing that Hudd failed to boss the game. He had his moments, pinging around a few of his usual dreamy Hollywood passes, but was a little too casual from short-range, fairly regularly poking six-yard balls into touch. It was the sort of performance that leaves the jury scratching their heads and waiting for the next piece of evidence.
Nice to see each of these chaps get 90 minutes though, and one wonders what the future holds for them. I expect that Bale will stay, at least until he finally registers a win for us; Hutton will hang around until the January 2010 transfer window to fight Corluka (quite possibly in a literal sense) for the right-back spot; and Hudd will hand in a transfer request citing his hunger. For first-team football.