Match Analysis: English Premier League- January 14th, 2017
Tottenham 4 - West Brom 0
Going into this fixture, I imagine Tottenham would have prepared themselves to face and find solutions to Tony Pulis' typical deep lying defensive set-up. Pulis is a manager who is very defensive focused and the first thing on his game-plan agenda is to be organized and compact defensively in order to be hard to break down. For Pochettino this knowledge of West Brom is a good beginning reference point because the way to set-up and plan to face a type of opponent like this is far different than a team like Arsenal who will instead try to control the game through ownership of possession. There are many, many different ways to control a game; with possession trying to find passing solutions, conceding possession but controlling key spaces defensively, pressing a team high-up the field in order to try and create turnovers, etc. So through analyzing and scouting West Brom's approach to try to control games, Tottenham could make adjustments and reinforce ideas of how they would not let West Brom be successful.
To start the game, West Brom's general formation and shape was a 5-4-1 with all 11 men (sometimes 10) behind the ball in a low defensive block. The line of confrontation, where they would start to apply pressure to the Tottenham player on the ball was roughly around their own defensive 40 yard line. Tottenham's general starting formation and shape was a 4-2-3-1. However, its important to remember that formations and shapes morph and constantly change depending on the 4 moments of the game (defending, attacking, defending transition, and attacking transition). Tottenham's formation would morph into a seemingly 3-2-4-1 in the build-up and attacking moments. This aggressive set-up ultimately was one of the key's to finding solutions against West Brom's deep-lying block. The left fullback #3 Danny Rose would push-up and play off the shoulder of the outside midfielder on West Brom and #2 Kyle Walker would take up similar positions down the right side.
By Rose and Walker being very aggressive in their positioning and with having two playmaking "controllers" in Wanyama and Dembele, this then allowed #20 Alli to drift inside and #23 Eriksen to not have to drop deep to get the ball. These two players could now try to operate in the "half-spaces", which is considered the space between West Brom's midfield line and defensive line. Rose occupied the outside midfielder which means Ali could go inside and Wanyama and Dembele could outnumber West Brown's one central attacking midfielder Morrison, allowing Eriksen to always play right underneath Kane.
The objective for Tottenham now is then to find ways to penetrate through or play around this deep lying block. Amazingly enough this was accomplished in the 11th minute. The goal was a great example of how to create penetration and how just 3 passes can successfully allow a team play through and cut out many players behind the ball. Watch below:
This aggressive set-up of a 3-2-4-1 where Alli and Eriksen try to get on the ball in half-spaces is very effective because ultimately they are some of the league's most technically dominant players in tight areas and have the brains to find creative solutions. Ultimately I believe you want your most skilled ball handlers in dangerous areas and areas that will allow them to be creative, thoughtful and skillful.
So on one side of the coin, Tottenham where set-up tactically very well to exploit West Browm, but on the other side of the coin their playing style and principles on the field helped lead to success as well. Two of these principles that I noticed were: 1.) to quickly try and play within the West Brom defensive block (and not just in front of it) and 2.) to "counter press" high-up the field after losing the ball having tried to penetrate the block. In the first principle, Tottenham displayed a good balance of patience vs. penetration. They were always probing, looking to play forward, and turning on the ball in order to find passes that could be played past the midfield line and into the block. However, when a forward pass was not on, Wanyama, Dembele, Vertonghen, and Alderweireld were patient and did not force a pass where the receiver would be put in a highly-pressurized position upon receiving it. The 14th minute through the 15th minute was a tremendous example of how patience is necessary but still always have the clear intention to try to bypass defending midfielders. Also, the counter pressing from Tottenham was unbelievable. Because they had numbers already positioned high-up the field in the attack, they were in great positions to win the back immediately after a tackle or interception in West Brom's defensive third. The combination of this tactic paired with the young, hungry mindset that Pochettino has drilled into his players has been incredibly effective. Pochettino deserves a lot of credit for how he has gotten these novice, young players to have an incredible work-rate, hunger for wanting the ball back immediately, and to have confidence to be on the ball amongst many deep, congested defenders.
Going into the second half, my suggestion for Pulis would have been to be more aggressive and more proactive defensively. Yes, this might make the team more vulnerable but it was clear that Tottenham could still create vulnerable opportunities even when West Brown had relatively compact shape in the important space in front of their box. Defensively, I thought as soon as the half ended that a 4-1-4-1 might be a solution, where you substitute a defender for another attacking CM or withdrawn forward. This way you can go 2 vs. 2 with their controlling DCM's and try to limit their ability to have time and passing ability into the desired half spaces for Alli and Eriksen. This also requires shifting the whole defensive unit up the field further so that when the midfielders go to pressure Tottenham's DCMs there isn't now a massive gap (larger half-space) between them and the backline. Pulis instead went with a 4-4-2 and actually for the first ten minutes seemed to give Tottenham more difficulty in possession. They engaged Tottenham now in Totenham's half of the field and this always makes things easier offensively because winning the ball in midfield is easier to go to goal from versus winning the ball in a deep, defensive block in which you have to go the whole field. However this success from West Brom only lasted a short time because again Tottenham successfully set themselves up to able find forward passing options into and through the block and when they lost the ball they counter-pressed extremely well.
In the end, 4-0 is probably the right result and in the last 15 minutes of the game Kane and Alli might have been the most confident of their young careers so far. The last goal was the fault of Olsson giving Alli way too much room and respect to scoop the ball over him, but at that point it was more or less irrelevant.
I am very excited to see how Tottenham do in this second half of the season. One "advantage" they have over Arsenal and Manchester City is no Champions League fixtures. With just one game a week to focus on, with momentum building, and with Pochettino continuing to get a game approach correct, this looks like one dangerous title challenging team!