When we were first linked with Scott Parker I was one of those fans that wasn’t excited about the prospect of him playing for Spurs. But after his excellent start at Spurs this season I have to admit I was wrong.
Scott Parker: football player playing for West Ham United. 31 years old. At first glance not really a player that everyone would get excited about. What could a player from a relegated club add to our current squad? Why should we spend a considerable amount of money on a player with next to no sell-on value? How long do we expect him to stay with us considering his age? Won’t he disrupt the current hierarchy among our already jam packed array of midfield options?
That were just some of the questions that crossed my mind when I heard that – after previous flirts and advances by the club in the past – Spurs were finally going ahead with the signing of one of Harry Redknapp’s most admired transfer targets.
I never really thought that highly of Parker, especially since he never really established himself in any top Premier League team since his unsuccessful stint at Chelsea. He never struck me as an exceptional player while at Newcastle and I always found it hard to justify the praise he got for his performances in a struggling West Ham side the last couple of seasons. Yes, he did stand out at West Ham, but wouldn’t any half decent player in such a poor side with woeful players such as Lars Jacobsen, Matthew Upson, Manuel da Costa, Hérita Ilunga, Radoslav Kovac and Carlton Cole?
The press clearly had a different opinion as Parker was heaped with praise by journalists and pundits alike for his performances at West Ham last season. This eventually lead to him being crowned Player of the Year by the Football Writer’s Association, beating players like Gareth Bale (who did win the PFA’s Player of the Year award), Carlos Tevez and Blackpool’s surprise package Charlie Adam.
So what did the naysayers miss here? Is he really that good or was he just a media darling due to his role as undisputed leader in West Ham’s team? Let’s do a little breakdown of Scotty Parker’s performances at Spurs.
The Parker & Modric partnership has been a joy to watch so far. There seems to be a genuine understanding between our newly introduced enforcer and our Croatian play maker. Whenever Luka goes on a run Scott will give him cover and when Parker finds himself short of passing outlets Modric is never far away to help his team mate out with a neat one-two in the middle of the park or by finding space to set up an attack.
Parker is not necessarily the one that gives the assists but he does keep our passing game together. Here are two examples.
Example 1: Keeping possession while dominating
In the time between Spurs’ first and second goal against QPR, Parker makes 15 successful passes (88% pass completion) of the total 65 successful passes during open play between Spurs players. Only Luka Modric manages a higher pass completion with 8 of his 9 passes being successful. With his 15 passes Parker is the most involved player while Spurs are in possession.
In the same time frame Spurs play 16 unsuccessful passes during open play, while Parker only accounts for 2 of these. Needless to say it’s very positive that your most involved player has such a high pass completion rate.
Example 2: Taking the easy route while under pressure
In the 2nd half at Craven Cottage Spurs were put under increasing pressure by Fulham resulting in a sharp decrease in Spurs’ share of possession. Though while in possession, Parker keeps his cool and makes sure Spurs keep possession by finding the easy way out, playing short passes and one twos with Modric, Van der Vaart and Assou-Ekotto. This resulted in 11 successful passes (92% pass completion)
Comparing this to the drop in the team’s overall pass completion of 79% (1st half) to 69% (2nd half) and the significant drop in Van der Vaart’s (90% 1st half, 66% 2nd half) and Adebayor’s (76% 1st half, 46% 2nd half) pass completion, Parker’s contribution to keeping possession while under pressure is clearly invaluable to the team.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And we all know by now that Parker is one tough geezer. Whether he’s making tackles, winning challenges or blocking shots on our goal, Parker is always there. Parker’s relentless attitude while defending has earned him much respect among the Tottenham faithful. Add to that his experience and leadership qualities on the pitch and it’s clear to see why Parker makes us a tougher proposition this season.
Another example from the Fulham game. Spurs made a total of 10 blocks in the 2nd half. Parker accounted for 5 of those. Talking about putting a shift in. And we’ve all seen that those blocks were very necessary to secure the hard fought 3 points at Craven Cottage.
Parker also made important tackles in key areas against the likes of Blackburn Rovers and Fulham. Further indicating Parker’s inclusion clearly adds more combative qualities to our midfield.
Clearances are also among Parker’s defensive duties. Most of his clearances are close to the edge of the box, further proving his defensive worth for the team while under pressure.
What about Sandro?
While everyone is pleased about the way Parker has established himself in our first team over the last couple of games there will be one player who might still have some questions about Parker’s sudden arrival this Summer.
Sandro was one of last season’s revelations at White Hart Lane with his Champions League displays against AC Milan particularly impressing Spurs fans and football connoisseurs. Yet the arrival of Parker clearly intensified the competition for a place in centre midfield.
Personally I am a big fan of Sandro. His natural tackling ability is something which is very rare. He seems to have a natural sense to time his tackles and challenges to perfection. He knows exactly when to pounce and when to force an opponent to pick a pass or make a challenge. His positional game can still be improved but he is undoubtedly one of the most promising young defensive midfielders in Europe. Hence it was no surprise to see various stories linking clubs like AC Milan, Roma and Real Madrid with Sandro during the Summer.
Harry will need to find a way to keep Sandro happy even though Parker seems to be his personal favourite right now, judging by Harry’s clear messages through the media that Parker was the one player he was desperate to add to his squad during last Summer’s transfer window. Sandro is the real deal, of that I’m sure, and it would be a very short-sighted decision to freeze him out for the sole purpose of getting Parker in our team. But on the flip side Parker could teach Sandro a lot both during training and when playing together.
So far the dilemma to play either Parker or Sandro hasn’t been ever present due to Sandro’s recent injury trouble. However, now Sandro is returning to full match fitness it will be interesting to see how Harry’s selection and rotation policy will pan out between our centre midfield players Parker, Modric, Sandro, Huddlestone and Livermore.
Playing Parker does not necessarily rule out playing Sandro, but it does pose a dilemma for Harry what kind of formation he sends out on the pitch. Do we play with 2 more defensively-minded midfielders or do we want to keep a play maker sitting deep to provide more creativity going forward?
We are currently playing a 4-4-1-1 formation with Van der Vaart in the hole linking up with both our midfielders and Adebayor while going forward. Van der Vaart has clearly shown his value playing in this position with 6 goals in the last 6 Premer League games. However, when we are put under pressure Modric has to chip in with defending as he’s playing a deep role in midfield. While Modric certainly does put pressure on the ball while defending his position does hamper his effectiveness going forward. If he goes on a run he can be caught out of position if we are hit on the break.
An alternative to our current setup is a 4-2-3-1 formation with Sandro and Parker playing in the holding roles in midfield. We’ve played this formation at Wigan and we arguably played the best, most dominating and attractive football so far this season during the 1st half. This formation provides more steel while under pressure and will put Modric further up the field making him more effective offensively. Knowing Modric we will also be able to play pressing higher up the pitch as well with the 3 advanced midfielders. The only downside to this formation is that Van der Vaart does not provide much width on the right hand side because he likes to play in the centre of the pitch. A faster player who likes to hug the touchline – such as Lennon – would be better for the balance but we simply can’t afford to leave Van der Vaart out with the current form he’s in.
Against some opposition we might feel comfortable to play Modric in the deep role while we put Van der Vaart straight behind Adebayor freeing up a spot on the right for a a player like Lennon. You could still sub either Lennon or Van der Vaart and stick Sandro on when the pressure intensifies.
It might sound like we have a real headache fitting in all our best players in an effective manner but it’s a luxury problem of course. When was the last time Spurs actually had trouble picking their best 11? Our current squad is simply the best we’ve had in a long long time.
While many pundits said we had great strength in depth in the 2009-2010 season we now actually have more strength than ever due to the quality of our bench. We might have shipped out some of the depth by selling Crouch, Palacios, Woodgate and Hutton and loaning out Jenas and Bentley but with the emergence of academy players like Walker, Livermore, Townsend and Carroll we have plenty of depth to cope with the busy playing schedule.
It’s clear that the introduction of Parker and Adebayor has had a positive impact on our team this season. Parker adds a much needed “tough guy mentality” to our team. Something we have lacked in the past. For example during some of the last home games last season when we should have shut out the game but ended up with a draw on numerous occasions. His leadership will also inspire younger players like Livermore and Sandro who will definitely learn some tricks of the trade from an experienced head like Parker.
All-in-all it’s happy days at Spurs since Parker’s arrival. Even when we might hit a blip in form I’m sure Parker will provide the mentality and leadership that will see us bounce back. We missed out on 4th spot by 6 points last season. I’m sure the same thing won’t happen again this season with our new rock in midfield.