April 24 2014 Latest news:
By Ben Pearce, Tottenham correspondent
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Harry Redknapp tried a number of different options to replace Aaron Lennon earlier this season - and now faces the same issue again.
Tottenham’s rise under Harry Redknapp is frequently attributed to the strength of their current squad – the players who are waiting in the wings as well as those who are in the starting XI.
Spurs certainly have quality cover in virtually every position. And yet a side who like to play with two out-and-out wingers are ill-equipped to cope with the absence of either of their wide men – let along both.
The losses of Gareth Bale and then Aaron Lennon over the weekend exposed a weak spot – the absence of a pacy winger who can step up and adequately fill their boots when necessary.
Bale may be fit to return against Chelsea tonight but Lennon will now be out of action for at least the next couple of weeks, giving Redknapp a problem for the busiest phase of the season.
Spurs do have an assortment of wide men in their squad. Indeed, Niko Kranjcar, Steven Pienaar and Danny Rose were all on the bench against Sunderland.
However, despite Tottenham missing both of their wingers from the 27th minute onwards, none of that trio appeared until the 89th minute, when Rose came on for the briefest of cameos.
Perhaps Redknapp does not trust his reserves. But, either way, the manager opted to play the large majority of the match with four central players strung across the midfield, with Luka Modric out of position on the left and Rafael van der Vaart on the right.
Spurs were less creative because of it and, while the Lilywhites won the game, the all-important goal arrived when Modric and Van der Vaart gravitated into the centre and linked up through the middle as usual.
Tottenham were playing with two inverted wide men, who were both coming inside into a crowded midfield and, while Spurs got the result, the same set-up against Chelsea tonight would surely hamper the home side.
Of course, this is not a new problem, because Redknapp faced the same issue when Lennon missed five Premier League games earlier this season.
Then, like now, Plan B involved moving pivotal players out of position, and Modric, Van der Vaart and Bale all had spells in the problem position – with limited effect.
Van der Vaart is notoriously unhappy on the right of midfield, and Redknapp admits that the Dutchman is ill-suited to fill the role this evening: “Can he play [on the right] against Chelsea with Ashley Cole bombing forward?” the manager mused at the weekend, appearing to answer his own question.
Moving Modric or Bale to the right would also weaken Spurs – so will Redknapp now reconsider Pienaar or, better yet, Kranjcar?
The Croatia international lacks pace, prefers to play on the left and also likes to come inside to influence the game – but he has played on the right flank already this season, and with some distinction.
Kranjcar started at Wolves in Lennon’s first game out of action in September, kicking off on the left side but switching to the right, and going on to play a key role in both goals in a 2-0 win after dipping inside to the fringes of the penalty box.
The 27-year-old kept his place against Liverpool the following week and contributed to a memorable 4-0 win which was inspired by a dazzling first-half display.
Kranjcar’s game ended at the interval due to a hamstring injury and he has not played a league game since after tearing a thigh muscle on international duty two months ago.
However, he reappeared for Spurs against Shamrock Rovers in Dublin last week and, despite his omission on Sunday, could again provide the solution to Lennon’s latest injury.
A technically gifted player who combines Croatian class with regular goals and assists, Kranjcar was a key man when Spurs finished in the top four in 2009/10, scoring eight goals in all competitions – more than any other midfielder that year.
His relative lack of action since then is highly unfortunate, and he was certainly underused when Bale was struggling for fitness in the second half of last season.
Now a vacancy has opened up again and, having successfully covered for Lennon earlier in the campaign, the stage could now be set for Kranjcar to return.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs