Stats Say Sherwood No Tactical Chump

It might suit him to play the part of the 'young 'Arry' with his emphasis of players over tactics but Tim Sherwood has found formations that suit his attacking players...

Last Updated: 23/01/14 at 09:26 Post Comment

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The appointment of Tim Sherwood as permanent manager of Tottenham was a giant stride for young English managers in the game. He is now only the sixth Englishman in charge of a Premier League side, but that fact alone will not have pacified fans who wanted a bigger name to take the reigns after André Villas-Boas' sacking.

Five league wins from six games later and there is growing optimism around White Hart Lane that the man who guided the Under-21 side to within one win of the Development League title last season could be the man for the job.

Much has been made of Sherwood's tactical inadequacies, exposed brutally in the 2-0 FA Cup loss at the Emirates in early January, but given that Spurs have improved remarkably since he took over, is there really any reason to question his methods?

The obvious and most widely discussed change at Tottenham has seen Sherwood abandon Villas-Boas' commitment to 4-2-3-1, open up to the idea of playing 4-4-2 and allow his players more freedom to express themselves.

Under his predecessor the team often looked devoid of creative ideas, but that has not been the case under Sherwood, even if the team have sacrificed some of the defensive soundness that the Portuguese had tried to instil.

The team is playing more exciting football and Sherwood deserves credit for that.

He is widely thought of as tactically inept for playing two in central midfield and two up front, but that is hardly reason for criticism given the success Spurs are currently enjoying, as well as the fact that Manuel Pellegrini plays 4-4-2 at Manchester City and Brendan Rodgers has too at Liverpool this season.

Key to those teams are the personnel the managers prefer to pick, and that is also the case at White Hart Lane.

Emmanuel Adebayor has been vital to Sherwood's revolution, scoring five goals in six games since he took over. He links play between midfield and attack in a way that Roberto Soldado, who often looked isolated, simply wasn't earlier in the campaign.

The Spaniard was averaging the fewest touches per appearance of regular starters under Villas-Boas (29.7), while Adebayor is averaging 58.8 since Sherwood took over.

The Togolese forward has technically been partnering Soldado in attack but he drops deep, and spends much of his time between the lines. That has benefited others around him no end, with the attack-minded midfield Sherwood has fielded brought into play all the more often.

There is an imbalance in Spurs' midfield at present, but not necessarily a negative one with winger Aaron Lennon playing on the right and the centrally inclined attacking midfielder Christian Eriksen cutting in from the left.

The club have thus seen more of their play go down the right, but the return to fitness of Danny Rose, who is significantly more adept overlapping from deep than Jan Vertonghen or Kyle Naughton, has helped Sherwood's Spurs achieve success where Villas-Boas' failed.

The return to form and fitness of Aaron Lennon has also helped, with the midfielder the best-performing Spurs player according to WhoScored.com's rating system (7.71) since Sherwood took charge.

That Eriksen (7.67) and Adebayor (7.59) make up the top three in that timeframe speaks volumes about the individual performances of three of the team's most attacking players under the Englishman's guidance.

That trio, along with Soldado have all scored and assisted at least one goal each in the past six games; only Soldado and Paulinho did so in 16 matches under Villas-Boas.

In central midfield, Nabil Bentaleb has been a revelation alongside Mousa Dembélé. The 19-year-old was thrown in at the deep end at Southampton for his debut and did more than hold his own, joining the game with the scores tied and helping his side go on to record a vital victory.

The two look rather similar on the pitch: very left-footed, gangly in running style, yet deceptively strong, seeming to be on the brink of losing possession all too often but rarely surrendering it.

They are, though, very different in playing style and compliment each other greatly. Both are happy to do defensive work but generally do different things with it.

Dembélé prefers to carry the ball forward, completing an average of 2.5 successful dribbles per game, while Bentaleb moves it quickly around midfield, making a pass on average every one minute 20 seconds, the eighth most often in the Premier League and more frequently than the likes of Michael Carrick, Aaron Ramsey or Steven Gerrard, to name but three.

With both players accomplished in possession but also strong in the tackle and positionally aware, they are more than capable of playing as a two in midfield, though perhaps not against midfields quite as narrow and talented as Arsenal's.

Sherwood's views that 'players are more important than tactics' have been described as outdated and do on first glance seem somewhat naive.

However, what he has done is not quite as simple as merely picking his best players. He has, in changing formation, made a tactical sacrifice that Villas-Boas would not, which ultimately proved his downfall.

With individual attacking players' performances at a higher standard, Sherwood has successfully given the players a base from which to go out and enjoy their football and, for now at least, it is working.

How long before he is 'found out' remains to be seen, but if Spurs' form continues, he could yet earn the club their desired fourth-placed finish, thereby doing a great deal to boost the reputation of young English managers across the country.

Alistair Tweedale - follow him on Twitter.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

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