What Was Plan A Again?

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:

Average Positions vs Monaco

Average Positions vs Monaco – image from WhoScored.com

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 Average Positions vs Tottenham

Monaco’s Average Positions vs Tottenham – image from WhoScored.com

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.

Monaco First Goal (1)

Monaco First Goal (1)

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.

Monaco First Goal (2)

Monaco First Goal (2)

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.

Monaco Second Goal (1)

Monaco Second Goal (1)

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).

Monaco Second Goal (2)

Monaco Second Goal (2)

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
Wanyama Dembele
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.

Join the conversation

  1. That was an awful performance last night and nothing can cover that up, but, I can't help but think that injuries and "knocks" have mostly forced poch's hand with a lot of team selection this season. Some of those who have been picked have never looked 100% fit at times and up to the level we came to expect last season. The amount of strapping on alli's knee last night can't be good. With a midfield constantly changing through injuries etc... we've struggled to find any rhythm and consistency. The high press last season seems to be less intense and more patient and I wonder if poch saw his team run out of gas in the last few months of last season and has tried to curb the intensity of the high press so not to burn out?
    1. I've got to agree with that, Jon - think Alderweireld has been a huge loss, but Lamela has too. He really sets the tempo of the press, and his creative passing is underrated.
  2. Nice blog, Windy. Trippier and Davies were shown to be lacking in CL quality last season against Dortmund etc. Maybe Pochettino is too loyal to players; but it was obvious we needed upgrades at full-back. We'd get decent money for Davies from Stoke or WBA, as long as neither Welsh coach is sacked before January. Trippier is a decent mid-table player, but CL exposed his lack of pace and power. Shame Bentaleb was sold as he was very good at left-back. Walker-Peters deserves a chance in Europa League, if we get there. Our summer signings have cost us dearly; none have stepped up as yet. A wasted opportunity, yet again. Still positive for the rest of the season; and I actually expect Janssen to come good in the next few games!
    1. I'm not even convinced that Trippier's a decent mid-table player tbh - he's so limited technically. He has one really handy skill, which is crossing on the run. Aside from that, he's a bit of a nightmare. I'd love to see Walker-Peters involved should we make the Europa League. He's a lot smaller than we're used to at full-back, but he's a genuine attacking threat and his pace/athleticism are ideal in a Poch team. I'd like to see Janssen come good - needs to build confidence sooner rather than later!
  3. What happened to the team that beat Man City? The last match we played well. Lloris Walker Alderweireld Vertonghen Rose Wanyama Sissoko Eriksen Alli Lamela Son 6 changes made last night from that fantastic performance - including Kane, Dembele and Dier who were out injured. The other three are Walker, Alderweireld and Vertonghen
    1. I'm keen to see last season's team back in action ASAP.
  4. Last night was so strange tactically. The lack of change against the obvious problems on the wings in this game almost makes me think poch wanted to lose it was that clear! I assume he didn't think he could make such a drastic change in the middle of the game. On the bright side, i doubt a massive club will come in for poch this summer after these CL performances, so he stays for another few years.
    1. Would it have been that drastic, though? I mean... it's essentially going back to our 'old' formation, right?
  5. Whatever happened to the old 4231 with Back 5 Dier/Wanyama - Dembele Lamela Alli (playing up closer to Kane) Eriksen Kane ?
  6. It is like the decision to make last season of whether to compete on 2 fronts returning to trouble us once more. That our summer signings have not helped in the 2 games per week schedule so far is clear evidence our squad is incapable of pursuing 2 goals at the same time. An ESPN article calls for Spurs to use the FA Cup and Europa matches as training ground for worthy upcoming youngsters and bench players. I hope Maurice would heed this opinion and announce it before the round of 32 draw next Monday.
    1. Leicester are a good advert for just concentrating on only one competition. That's how they won the league and that's why they're top of their champions league group.


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