Both sides opened up pretty much in 4-4-1-1 systems. Anichebe played off Saha with most of his runs down the left onto Kyle Walker. Cahill and Fellaini were deployed into the anchor roles in midfield (see average position visual left) with Donovan wide right when not in possession and then coming in off the flank when we had the ball to support Saha. Spurs brought Lennon back in on the right meaning VdV returned to his usual slot playing off Adebayor with Dawson coming in at centre back for the injured Ledley King.
2.Spurs Extra Man
Perhaps with last season’s game in mind, Spurs started with Lennon on the left and Bale down the right, but whilst Lennon ended up spending most of his time back on the right flank, Bale pretty much had a free role and license to roam inside when Spurs had possession (right) with Assou Ekotto providing the width down the left flank tracked by Neville. With Bale inside this often meant that Spurs had an extra man in the middle of the pitch in offensive situations, with Donovan on the right for us having no man to mark. In truth, Bale was well marshalled for the most part, making no successful dribbles, just 1 successful cross and making the most turnovers (7) of any of the outfield players. With the depth of match winning players Spurs have though, keeping one man at bay was not going to be enough.
Spurs had the bulk of possession (62%) making 260 more passes than us. Spurs defenders are very good on the ball although our decision to sit deep meant they often had no pressure on them when in possession. Still, their distribution to turn defensive situations into attacking ones was superb. Combined, Spurs back 4 posted 89% pass completion compared to our total of 75% and it was from the back that Spurs got their opening goal with Assou Ekotto pinging a superb diagonal to Lennon who was able to move inside and slot past Howard. The goal was helped by some rank bad defending from Leighton Baines. This meant we went in at the break 0-1 down – not surprising given that we have conceded the highest proportion of first half goals (57%) in the top flight this season. This was also the 9th game on the spin we had failed to score in the first half.
4.Blues Sitting Deep
Moyes opted for a deeper defensive line than usual probably to cope with the threat of Modric’s long passes and to neutralise the pace of Bale/Lennon. Off the ball we basically had 2 banks of four in close proximity which afforded decent shape. In midfield we lacked incision though. Ideally a midfield duo should be a combination of 1 passer and 1 runner – in Fellaini and Cahill we had 2 runners which was ok when Spurs had the ball, but less so when we had it. You can question his quality on the ball but you will always get a shift from Cahill – the Australian covered the most distance of all the outfield players in the first half (5.1km) . The issue with defending so deep and not pressing further upfield is that you only focus on defending your 18 yard line. This enabled Assou Ekotto to take 6 touches of the ball without one challenge coming in as he shot Spurs into a 2 goal lead.
For the most part, Anichebe drifted to the left which was were the bulk of our play was focused ( right) When we did get the ball forward Anichebe and Saha were isolated as we struggled to get our wide midfielders high enough up the pitch to support. Anichebe didn’t get much joy from Kaboul; the Nigerian winning just 23% of his aerial duels to Kaboul’s 77%. Due to the limited players we commit into forward areas there is rarely a ball on when it does stick with the forwards so our build up is slow which affords the opposition time to get back in position. Still, for all the play Spurs had, we could easily have taken something from the game given the chances which fell to Saha and Fellaini’s headed miss which he should have dispatched.
Drenthe’s arrival brought some incision to our play and for the first time in the game Spurs defence looked genuinely shaky. Drenthe should have earned a pen but his cameo did enable us to win 3 fouls (more than the rest of the team put together) This may seem minor but situations like this give you respite from the constant defending and provides decent opportunities to put in deliveries to the Spurs box which was arguably our most likely route to a goal.
Our plan was to sit deep, frustrate Spurs and try and dig out a point and for the most part we defended well and held our shape admirably . Whilst both Spurs goals had an element of fortune (defensive error and deflection) you couldn’t argue with the result; Spurs kept the ball better and were more varied in their attacking approach. There’s no real shame in this – Spurs after all are going for the title and to put it bluntly have much better players and strength in depth than we do. We need to move on quickly, take stock and re-focus for a more winnable fixture at Villa Park on Saturday.