Rafael van der Vaart and the Importance of Luka Modric

Rafael van der Vaart

New signing Rafael van der Vaart made a positive start to his Tottenham career against West Bromwich Albion, and was involved in Spurs’ three best chances of the match. A delightful interchanging of passes with Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon resulted in a fine opportunity for the latter, who should have at least hit the target after van der Vaart’s deft back-heel. Soon after, the Dutchman crossed from deep in the direction of Roman Pavlyuchenko, with the ball eventually landing at the feet of Modric to stroke past Scott Carson. At the start of the second half, van der Vaart intelligently released the enthusiastic Gareth Bale who failed to beat Carson with the outside of his boot.

Van der Vaart possesses the very traits that Tottenham have lacked since Dimitar Berbatov left for Manchester United. Spurs have been devoid of creativity in the final third for some time, heavily reliant on two of the most exciting wide-men in the Premier league: Lennon and Bale. While Tom Huddlestone has developed into a fine deep-lying playmaker, against compact and organised defences that suffocate space, he often plays too laterally to penetrate defences. Wilson Palacios, though energetic and hard-working, is poor in possession and Jermaine Jenas suffers from a crippling lack of confidence which prevents him from asserting himself in games for fear of failure. Modric (see below) is an often solitary figure of central attacking verve in Tottenham’s midfield.

But against West Brom, operating between the lines, van der Vaart frequently found himself with time and space to dictate Tottenham’s attacks and open up the West Brom back-line. He was never afraid to show for the ball, he was always looking to release players early, always probing the Baggies’ defence and his movement was in stark contrast to his static teammates. Eager to please, the ex-Real Madrid man was as hardworking and terrier-like as Carlos Tevez for the first hour, before tiring significantly. And, as he tired, his influence on the game diminished, and Tottenham’s control of the game was reduced as a result. Continue reading

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