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By ESPN Staff

A tactical triumph for Ramos

Recent Carling Cup finals have tended to be notable for the involvement of Jose Mourinho. The 2008 version involved his replacement and, arguably, his spiritual successor. But whereas Avram Grant was unable to emulate the Portuguese by justifying his regime with an early trophy Juande Ramos' inventive and influential substitutions brought back memories of Mourinho.

From the recall of John Terry and Frank Lampard to the benching of Michael Ballack and Joe Cole and the deployment of Nicolas Anelka on the left touchline, Grant's decisions will debated, the Spaniard's will simply be admired.

While Mourinho's initial game plan usually erred on the side of caution, he was at his boldest in the dugout. Ramos, whose blueprint has tended to be more attacking, is equally inventive during games. Regaining momentum tends to be the aim, and defenders are often sacrificed to achieve that.

Tom Huddlestone's introduction to the game at the expense of the disgruntled Pascal Chimbonda enabled Tottenham to match Chelsea with three men in the centre of midfield. Following Dimitar Berbatov's equaliser and once the initiative had been reclaimed, Teemu Tainio was brought on as a makeshift left-back; 4-4-2 had become 3-5-2, before a reversion to 4-4-2 and, with Younes Kaboul on to protect the lead Jonathan Woodgate gave them, 5-4-1.

Such tactical decisions demonstrate the ability to make instant judgments, altering and amending personnel to suit the situation. Even when barely acquainted with his new charges, Ramos has displayed the confidence to do just that.

In his early fixtures, and when Tottenham's regular concession of goals increased the requirement for a response from the bench, they were no stranger to makeshift three-man backlines that incorporated a midfielder, usually Didier Zokora, as an auxiliary defender.

But a willingness to challenge received wisdom has proved beneficial. Jamie O'Hara's lower-league loan spells suggested that, in a squad flooded with midfielders, he was earmarked for a quiet exit from White Hart Lane for a nominal fee. Instead, Ramos promoted him above several of Tottenham's costlier purchases.

Perhaps that knocked director of football Damien Comolli's nose out of joint. If so, he was not alone.

The omission of Robbie Keane and Berbatov for Ramos' Premier League bow at Middlesbrough was swiftly rectified, but it was a reminder to Tottenham's players that, to borrow Mourinho's phrase, if any considered themselves as 'untouchables', they were not under Ramos.

That was a more painful discovery for Paul Robinson, but his restoration to the side has brought vital saves against Slavia Prague and in extra time against Chelsea, indicating that Ramos is not afraid to reverse his decisions.

Other judgments have been telling, too. Tottenham would not have won the Carling Cup without his January recruitment drive, and not merely because Woodgate supplied the winner.

Catastrophic defending has become a more infrequent occurrence since the moves for Woodgate and the excellent Alan Hutton. Lamenting Ledley King's regular absences became habitual at White Hart Lane, but Ramos found an option that did not involve a greater reliance on Kaboul.

Indeed, selecting Huddlestone at the heart of the defence is one sign that the underachievers and the unsatisfactory have been identified. When defenders have not met Ramos' standards, he has selected midfielders in their stead. It may hard to prosper in the long term with players operating out of position, but there have been short-term advantages.

Indeed, while the attacking half of the Tottenham team appears settled - Keane and Berbatov in attack, the revitalised duo of Aaron Lennon and Steed Malbranque on the flanks and Jermaine Jenas as the more offensive of the central midfielders - the defensive part remains very much a work in progress.

Possessing the Premier League's third worst defensive record is a reason why cup competitions have been required to secure qualification for Europe. Now that has been attained, however, the UEFA Cup will take priority as Ramos aims to secure an improbable hat-trick for himself and to make a team who languished in the relegation zone when he took over the first Spurs side since the double winners of 1961 to lift two trophies in one season.

And that would merely add to the cult of Ramos, a man often seen but rarely heard. Indeed, he has added to the mystique surrounding him by refusing to speak English in public.

Progress was sustained at Sevilla and Ramos' record thus far suggests it will continue at Tottenham, even if a third overhaul in as many transfer windows should be anticipated. Reducing a bloated squad, removing some of the more ill-advised buys for whom no-one claims responsibility and reinforcing the spine of the side are all required.

The goalkeeping situation needs resolution and, should King's fragile frame prevent regular football, Woodgate must form a partnership with another centre-half. There are those who campaign for a midfield ball-winner while, if Darren Bent, the £16-million folly on the bench, departs, two further strikers may be called for to understudy Keane and Berbatov.

It amounts to a big job, yet it is one that he can approach with confidence. His decision-making has verged on the exemplary thus far and Ramos has already fulfilled two of his initial requirements.

He was appointed with a remit to win silverware and end Tottenham's unenviable record against the so-called big four. Both objectives have already been accomplished though a third aim, of dislodging any of them from the Champions League places next season, should prove altogether tougher.

In the meantime, however, Tottenham can savour the abilities of the man who is more the heir to Mourinho than Avram Grant.

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