Redknapp joy at juggling with Van der Vaart balancing act

Tottenham Hotspur 2 Aston Villa 1
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The Independent Football

When Harry Redknapp claims that the arrival of Rafael van der Vaart has given him problems, it's hard to imagine the Tottenham manager having had too many sleepless nights because of the Netherlands international.

Van der Vaart's impact at White Hart Lane has been immediate and the forward's assimilation into the Premier League was further underlined by Saturday's two-goal performance that confirmed his £8m transfer from Real Madrid to be one of the summer's most astute pieces of business.

Already Van der Vaart has acquired a swagger and injected quality into a side that has frequently laboured in its efforts to maintain the form that delivered a place in the Champions League last season and that, in the absence of the injured Jermain Defoe, has offered an inconsistent goal threat.

It's early days, but the Dutchman has galvanised the side and, while his partnership with Luka Modric failed to fire against Aston Villa, the prospect of the two gifted playmakers linking more effectively in the future is one that clearly excites Redknapp.

That is still to come, however, and against Aston Villa it was Van der Vaart's link-up with Peter Crouch that carried greater significance, initially when the pair combined for the Dutchman's first goal in added time at the end of the first half, and then, much more tellingly, during the second half when the pair operated closer to each other up front and linked for Van der Vaart's 74th-minute second.

The switch offered Tottenham far greater flexibility than the more static first-half forward line of Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko, and allowed Redknapp's side to match Villa more effectively in midfield.

The move suited Van der Vaart's natural inclinations which, according to the manager, presents Redknapp with a problem, especially if he wants to play two out and out forwards.

"He's good for us," the manager said. "But it makes balancing the team difficult. I can't lie. Rafa likes that position better, he likes to play behind one striker or behind two.

"It causes problems because if you play two up and him behind, what do you do with Gareth Bale? [Benoît Assou-] Ekotto has been fantastic at left-back, he's in great form, so where would you put Bale? If Bale plays wide left and you've got two up front and one behind, you'll have two midfield players and no one on the right-hand side of the pitch. That is your problem."

Some problem, one that is unlikely to provoke sympathy from Redknapp's rival coaches. Certainly, the Spurs manager has no intention of asking his most recent signing to mould his style. "I wouldn't change him," he added. "He is what he is – a fantastic footballer who loves to be where the ball is. He gets in the box and anticipates where the ball is going to be. It's a knack that some people have. Some people have it, some don't. Goalscorers do."

That knack was the main reason Spurs were able to build on the midweek Champions League victory over Twente with a win against a Villa side who will again be challenging for a top-six finish and who deservedly took a first-half lead through Marc Albrighton.

Having previously displayed worrying signs of a reaction to the demands of Europe, Tottenham's victory was significant in reinforcing the importance of the league. "Unless you win the Champions League, you're not going to be in it next year and we want to try to get into it next year if we can," said Redknapp. "And the league is our best chance of doing that. So we've got to try to do our best to finish as high in the table as we can."

The Villa manager, Gérard Houllier, claimed his side deserved at least a point from a game in which they continued to create chances until the final whistle, although he drew positives from the loss. "I like the team's attitude because they were not happy with the result," he said. "They were grumbling about themselves and that they could have done better. You learn about your players in defeat. The level of what we want to achieve is better. I told them: repeat that sort of game and you win more than you lose."

Match facts

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Gomes; Hutton, Huddlestone, Bassong, Assou-Ekotto; Bale, Jenas, Van der Vaart (Sandro, 90), Modric (Palacios, 77); Pavlyuchenko (Lennon, 46), Crouch. Substitutes not used Cudicini (gk), Corluka, Kranjcar, Keane.

Booked Bale.

Aston Villa (4-4-1-1): Friedel; L Young, Warnock, Dunne, Collins; Downing, Albrighton (Bannan, 81), Petrov (Ireland, 81), Reo-Coker; A Young; Heskey (Carew, 35). Substitutes not used Guzan (gk), Clark, Cuellar, Sidwell.

Booked Collins, A Young, Albrighton.

Man of the match Van der Vaart.

Possession Tottenham 52% Aston Villa 48%

Shots on target Tottenham 10 Aston Villa 4.

Referee M Clattenburg (Co Durham). Attendance 35,871. Match rating 8/10.