Harry Redknapp is among the breed of manager who, as the saying goes, thinks tactics come in a small see-through box and represent an alternative to mouthwash. As Tottenham prepare to travel to Milan to play Internazionale in their most high-profile European tie in 48 years, Redknapp's penchant for getting by on a wing and a prayer, or more precisely, two wingers, two strikers and a player in the hole, will face its most thorough examination to date. Can Harry's laissez-faire policy trump that of Rafa, the interventionist's?
"It [the game] is 10 per cent about the formation and 90 per cent about the players," Redknapp wrote in his column in The Sun in August and the 63-year-old has gone about expounding that theory this season by squeezing all his best players into the team, and worrying about their positions later. In his side's Champions League encounter against FC Twente in September, Redknapp's selection was almost negligent in its daring. The 'keeper and back four apart, he selected six other players with mainly attacking instincts.
Rafael van der Vaart, Luka Modric, Tom Huddlestone and Gareth Bale constituted a midfield with hardly a defensive thought between them. In front of them, Redknapp selected a two-man forward line of Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko. "We knew there'd be spells when they hit us on the counterattack," he said after a chaotic 4-1 win over the Dutch, "but that's how we decided to play." He repeated that selection in a 2-1 win over Aston Villa the following Saturday, even if he did have to tweak it at half-time by removing Pavlyuchenko for Aaron Lennon to give his side more balance. Even at that, the English winger on for the Russian can hardly be considered a defensive move.
The feeling is, however, that while Redknapp might be able to get away with such bravado at White Hart Lane against certain sides, he'll be caught out in games like Wednesday's against Inter. It's a theory that is yet to have any kind of flesh put upon it given that Redknapp has never managed at this level before, but it will be fascinating to see whether he will continue his kamikaze approach at the San Siro.
In that sense, Van der Vaart's suspension as a result of his red card against Twente might actually save Redknapp from himself. You could quite easily see the Tottenham manager selecting a midfield of Lennon, Modric, Huddlestone and Bale against Inter, with Van der Vaart playing in the hole behind a lone striker, all resulting in Tottenham getting a mother and father of a beating at the hands of the European champions, not unlike the runaround they were given in their qualifying tie first-leg against Young Boys. But now, Redknapp will likely start Jermaine Jenas or Wilson Palacios in midfield, with Modric playing off the front man, giving Tottenham a marginally more solid look.
At least Wednesday's game isn't a do-or-die encounter. Tottenham are actually in a strong position in Group A, sitting joint top with Inter, three points ahead of both FC Twente and Werder Bremen. In theory, Tottenham could lose to Inter twice in their upcoming double-header and still qualify for the last 16 so long as they beat the German side at home and Twente away. Although in terms of that scenario, Redknapp is aware of the potential pitfalls. "You've got to get some points from those games [against Inter]," he says. "If we don't Inter could be through and then the last couple of games, they go and put reserve teams out because they've already qualified. That's how the Champions League goes. If you're a betting man and wanted to have a bet, the last games are impossible to call, because half the teams don't bother."
He's worked out the politics of the competition. Now let's see if
Redknapp can do the tactics.
Champions League Fixtures, all games at 7.45 unless stated
Tuesday, 19 October Group E Roma v Basel; Bayern Munich v CFR Cluj Group F Spartak Moscow v Chelsea, 5.30 (Live, Setanta Ireland, Sky Sports 2); Marseille v Zilina Group G Ajax v Auxerre; Real Madrid v Milan (Live, Setanta Ireland, Sky Sports 4) Group H Braga v Partizan Belgrade; Arsenal v Shakhtar Donetsk (Live, TV3, Sky Sports 2)
Wednesday, 20 October Group A Inter v Tottenham (Live, Setanta Ireland); FC Twente v Werder Bremen Group B Schalke v Hapoel Tel-Aviv; Lyon v Benfica Group C Rangers v Valencia (Live, Sky Sports 4); Manchester United v Bursaspor (Live RTÉ Two, Sky Sports 2) Group D Panathinaikos v Rubin Kazan; Barcelona v Copenhagen (Live, Setanta Sports 1)