After the Arsenal match I wrote about Pochettino’s new-found flexibility being a positive. I’m back again to add caveats. Yep, fickle Tottenham fan here, changing my mind within a couple of weeks. Hands up. You got me.
In the last two matches (against West Ham and Monaco) we’ve started with a sort of narrow diamond in midfield with two forwards at the sharp end:
And you don’t need a tactics board to show you that a team lining up like this can take full advantage — note the width:
Monaco’s doubling up on the flanks, with the excellent Bernardo Silva (number 10) and Thomas Lemar (number 27) linking with the talented and athletic full-backs, Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe caused us the sorts of problems we often caused teams last season, when Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen/Dele Alli would drift wide to create triangles and help to get our own talented, athletic full-backs into dangerous areas.
The first goal came from Monaco’s system getting the better of ours. Mendy makes a late run — so late that Harry Winks cannot get close to him, with Kieran Trippier tucked in.
Once Silva has fed Mendy he steps inside Winks (who commits himself) and, with Victor Wanyama too slow to come across (having, to be fair, just been to close down Silva), Mendy has ample time to pick out his fellow full-back, Sidibe, who has created an overload at the back post, with Rose choosing to not mark *anyone* rather than to try to get close to at least one of his men.
The second goal is so preventable too. As soon as Monaco kick off, Sidibe gets on his bike down the right, leaving Danny Rose with an instant 2v1 situation. It’s Dele Alli that’s closest to getting back and trying to cover, but I presume in this formation that it should really be either Mousa Dembele or one of the forwards (possibly Son Heung-min) covering that run. We didn’t work out all night who was taking responsibility for that unenviable task.
Once into a crossing position, we’ve got similar problems on the other side of the pitch. Trippier has had to tuck in to mark Falcao, and nobody has shifted round to pick up Lemar; again, I presume this is Winks’ job, but who knows (I’m not even sure that Mauricio Pochettino did — and if he did, he clearly did not get his point across, given the regularity of our failings throughout the match).
Pochettino should have been fully aware of this threat because he’s been playing the ‘overload’ game himself for the best part of eighteen months, so why did he not change things?
Even with Erik Lamela absent (boy did we miss his tenacity on the flanks last night), we had options. With Moussa Sissoko and the barely seen Georges-Kévin Nkoudou sat on the bench, he had players who could come on and chase the full-backs down the line — many of us had previously warmed to Nkoudou for his apparent ability to track back, and Sissoko is nothing if not a physical barrier to a marauding opponent.
Tottenham were tactically schooled, and it was the second time in a week that this odd formation had been unsuccessful — only a late substitution saves our blushes against West Ham.
It’s time to return to our tried and tested 4-2-3-1 vs Chelsea next week, or we risk getting a real pummeling at the hands of one of the most in-form teams in the league. Hopefully, despite injuries and suspension, we’ll be able to put out a team that looks something like:
Walker Dier Wimmer Vertonghen
Son Eriksen Alli
The centre-back pairing concerns me — particularly given how susceptible they were to long balls over the top on Tuesday night — but the Wanyama and Dembele pivot should provide plenty of cover. We might have to adopt a deeper defensive line (low block) and play more on the counter for this one. Either way, it’s time to go back to basics, and that means Plan A.
For more of this kind of tactical pondering, listen to the first in a special series of extra episodes of The Fighting Cock Podcast where I will be joined by Bardi and Talking Tottenham Tactics — hopefully out on Friday.