Teams and Tactics
Spurs lined up in a 4-3-3 of sorts with Holtby, Parker and Dembele in central midfield with width coming from Sigurdsson on the left and Dempsey on the right with Adebayor up front. As he did in the game at Goodison, Vertonghen came in at left full back with Walker on the opposite flank.
After last week’s three at the back experiment we reverted to a back four with the surprise inclusion of Ross Barkley in place of Jelavic the only personnel change. Barkley initially lined up on the left but he, Mirallas and Osman all dovetailed a fair bit in an interchangeable trio of attacking mids in the first half. You could say it was 4-2-3-1 but basically it was 6 defenders and four counter attacking players.
Spurs started the game in a rapid fashion with attacks focused down their left channel with Vertonghen, Holtby and Sigurdsson overloading down this side and putting significant pressure on Seamus Coleman.
Our start defensively couldn’t have been worse; with Mirallas not in position, Vertonghen was able to whip in a ball that was disastrously defended by Distin to allow Adebayor to slot home.
We then came back strongly with a really good 15 minute period of possession when pass completion peaked at 83%– better than any other spell of the game. With Spurs pinned back we deservedly went in level when Jagielka headed home Baines delivery.
Spurs three bodies against our two in central midfield enabled Dembele, Parker and Holtby to be involved in the bulk of Spurs top 10 passing combinations as shown below;
For ourselves, the blossoming Victor Anichebe was the key man, being involved in 50% of our top 10 passing combinations. In keeping with our game plan, Anichebe was the target for direct balls up field and was asked to link play with the trio in behind him with Mirallas and Osman the major beneficiaries. Anichebe/Mirallas (14) was second only to Baines/Osman (15) in terms of total combinations both ways.
Ross Barkley was subbed in the 52nd minute after something of a patchy game. The youngster played a key role in forcing the corner for our opening goal but found the going tough against Spurs pressing game with 50% of his passes finding a white shirt – the lowest completion of any of the starting outfield players. Incidentally, the final pass which seemed to prompt the change came when a forward pass was on but the youngster unwisely opted to play a backwards pass that was intercepted.
In the reshuffle that followed, Jelavic came on and Leon Osman moved across to the left flank with Mirallas – who superbly slotted our second goal – moving to play almost as a right sided forward and thus pushing back Vertonghen who had been Spurs prominent attacking full back in the first half. This move led to Kyle Walker becoming the main lateral threat in the second half with Baines being pushed even further back as the game unfolded.
As the second half player importance visual above shows, we were increasingly deeper positionally in the second period with the gap between our defensive 6 and forward 4 becoming a gulf. This led to us hitting 20% of our passes long, way up on the season average of 14%.
With legs tiring, mistakes on the ball became more frequent for the toffees and resulted in our pass completion from 75 minutes onwards plummeting to just 58%. Being unable to keep the ball for any prolonged period of time put increasing pressure on the backline and eventually it cracked with Sigurdsson scoring after Walker had skinned Baines down our left flank.
To be fair, Spurs are a top side and as well as being slick on the ball they press ferociously of it; despite having 62% of possession they regained play via tackle or interception as many times as we did (40) and also made double the amount of fouls than we did.
This was tactically a good performance by the Blues and was a game-plan we have seen executed on more than one occasion with a draw probably a fair result. Spurs will point to their territorial and possession dominance as pointers that they deserved all three points however due to our defensive operation they didn’t translate this possession into scoring chances and I felt that on the counter attack we looked equally if not more threatening and could have scored a couple more goals than we did in what was a frenetic second period. The point doesn’t really do much for us in terms of making up ground on teams above us however as a game it was cracking entertainment and gave us 4 points from 6 against a very good Spurs side.