January 14, 2018

Post-Everton Thoughts

Yesterday’s 4-0 win over Everton was one of my favourite Spurs performances of the season. Everton look a far more competent unit under Sam Allardyce and, whilst they had not won in five matches coming into this match, three of those were against Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, so expectations will have been fairly low anyway.

We played with an attacking verve and defensive solidarity – at Wembley – which was a joy to see. Our attacking impetus was led by Son Heung-min, who put in a masterclass of how to play the wide-forward role.

Son’s often mentioned solely in terms of stereotypes of Korean footballers, and I’ve been guilty of doing this myself – he *is* hard-working, he *does* attack his full-back relentlessly, but he’s so much more; so technical, so intelligent. His out-to-in movement for the first goal to drag Cuco Martina inside to leave Serge Aurier free to receive Eriksen’s fabulous switch of play in space was subtle, creative brilliance.

Son's movement inside 1

Son goal – movement inside

Son's movement inside 2

Son goal – dragging Martina away

On that note, Aurier ran forward untracked by Gylfi Sigurdsson over and over, and was a hugely positive outlet.

In their BT commentary, Darren Fletcher and Glenn Hoddle repeatedly mentioned the two-footedness of Kane and Son, and it’s such an advantage to have two players willing to use both feet to dribble, pass and shoot. But let’s not forget Eriksen, who is arguably one of the most two-footed players in our team. When Eriksen moved to play mostly on the right I was concerned about him cutting in onto his left foot, but since making that move he has become more consistent, more influential, and more mature as a player. That may be coincidental, but the pocket of space suits him.

Spurs player PL shots by body part

Spurs’ Premier League shots by body part

Spurs player PL goals by body part

Spurs’ Premier League goals by body part

One player who does struggle to use two feet – backed up both by the above, and his fairly awful left-footed shot when clear in yesterday’s match – is Dele.

Dele has been in sparkling form over the past month, but he can suffer from being a little one-footed and could learn something from his attacking colleagues’ willingness to use their weaker side.

Spurs’ front four were masterfully backed up by Eric Dier and Mousa Dembélé behind them. This was probably Dembélé’s best game of the season and he looked somewhere close to his best form, wriggling away from challenges as if he were five years younger. The big difference, though, was his aggressiveness with the ball – he passed forward a decent amount (38/66 passes) but also ran forward and committed players. He set Kane away for a shot with a clever slide-rule pass, and created another shooting opportunity as well, his two key passes double his usual rate of 0.9 per 90.

And Dier arguably shone just as much without gaining the same plaudits. Dier will not run with the ball, but he certainly runs without it. Each time an attack broke down, Dier was there closing the angle, squeezing Everton, snuffing out any potential for a counter and ensuring that we won it back quickly. Dier was not just defensively sound, though. 48 of Dier’s 66 passes were forward and he got an assist with a wonderful cross for Kane’s second goal. Neither Dier not Dembélé was particularly expansive – 61/66 passes were played short by Dier, 65/66 for Dembélé – but they used the ball quickly, intelligently, and progressively.

Whilst on the subject of eye-catching play, the team move (every player touched the ball) for our final goal was a thing of beauty. We went from back-to-front quickly and efficiently with so few touches required; Dele’s flick to take Jonjoe Kenny out of the game was a particular highlight of the move. Eriksen’s finish made it look easy, but he timed it to perfection and met the ball with a sweet connection which oozed technical brilliance.

Aurier was again heavily involved in that move, getting away from Sigurdsson’s lethargic attempt at tracking back. Aurier had a mixed bag in terms of his productivity in this match, with none of his five crosses finding a Spurs man (his assist didn’t go down as a cross), but he is adding a regular outlet on the right with his dynamic forward movement. He also averages 1.2 dribbles per 90 minutes, two-thirds of which are successful. He takes his man on more regularly than Ben Davies (0.8 per 90) and Kieran Trippier (0.6) but less so than Danny Rose (3.0), though only 1.6 per 90 of Rose’s take-ons have been successful. I’m excited to see what Pochettino can do to develop Aurier over the next year as he settles into our style.

Spurs have a very tricky period coming up in a fortnight where we play Manchester United (H), Liverpool (A), Arsenal (H) and Juventus (A). This will likely be our most challenging period of the season but we’re coming into it in good nick. We may have a dilemma, though. With Toby Alderweireld’s return reportedly not too far away, Pochettino must decide whether to revert back to a back three to accommodate him, Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen, or to stick with the 4-2-3-1 which is working so well at the moment.

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  • Mike Pinner says:

    Yes it’s the sort of dilemma that every manager wants though – Dier or Wanyama? Sanchez or Son? Rose or a rejuvenated Davies? And what about Lamela who’s looked good when called upon? It means the bench will be very strong, and rest assured there will be other suspensions/injuries that will decrease the options. (No wonder he didn’t want to sign Barkley on top wages!)

    • WindyCOYS says:

      Exciting, isn’t it? I wouldn’t mind seeing this given a go in some matches:

      Lloris; Alderweireld, Sanchez, Vertonghen; Aurier, Eriksen, Wanyama, Davies; Son, Kane, Dele.

      • Mike Pinner says:

        I’m sure you will (injuries allowing). And as the comments below show, it’s hard to pin down the position everyone plays in this fluid formation (I know it’s a cliche but ‘total football?’) With that formation we’d have six defenders and six attackers (counting the wing backs as both)

  • Mike Pinner says:

    Having said that if everyone were to get fit there will be games a’plenty for all! In which case it might be ‘horses for courses’ – 3 at the back with both Dier and Wanyama when away to a top side, with a more expansive selection for the lesser lights (and the FA cup!)

  • Tony says:

    What about our worst ever player yes its Sissoko when Sissoko came on he was his usual useless self, managed one pass to his own player who was standing two foot away and all his other passes caused a breakdown of the attack. This man brings nothing to Spurs in fact he causes more attacking breakdowns than the opposition defence
    Why Poch persists with him is totally beyond me

  • John HMS says:

    Thanks for the article as always! Though, I’m not sure we can say that Eriksen plays at “the right”. I know in this game his average position is indeed skewed to the right, but his position this season has been so spread out from up top to deep, left to right, that his average position throughout 90 minutes doesn’t really represent his game.

    On that matter, I don’t think we can “pin” a position for our front 4 because they are so fluid in their positioning and movement to make that extra space or a low-pressured area that a spare man could attack. At times it’s Kane acting as a decoy & drag players so that Dele/Son can move as a forward; at others, it’s them two who’s pushing the opposing defenders down so that Kane can have a breathing space to shoot. Or, as the fourth goal showed, Kane/Son/Dele can drag all the attention of the opponents so that players like Eriksen and even (dare I say) Davis/Aurier can exploit. I would even argue that the good chunk of the Everton game we was playing 4-3-1-2, with Eriksen deep, Kane in the central pivot, and Son/Dele as the front two.

    The fluidity in the formation that Poch has built in the team is truly something to be admired, especially under a strict budget ceiling. We’ve started with 4-2-3-1 “lavolpiana”, shifted to 3-4-2-1/3-4-3, experimented with 3-5-2, and now we are basing our original formation and switching up to different formations in one game. This is something no individual players can achieve on their own (re: what Redknapp always thought about “teams as good as the quality of the players”). What a time to watch something like this as a football fan. What a time to witness what’s becoming almost a case study of step-by-step, constructive success in professional sports.

    • John HMS says:

      Re: Eriksen’s position; I just noticed that he was actually at the start of the buildup to the fourth goal, at the left byline near our own half. In our current system he’s probably the one given the most license to roam outside of his starting position, cause Poch trusts his workrate & ability to participate both in the defense & attack.

    • WindyCOYS says:

      Excellent point, it’s very fluid and though Eriksen’s starting position is RM from a defensive viewpoint, he has license to drift all over.

      Son often found himself on the right doubling up and I’d like to see more of that.

  • Will says:

    Dier’s assist was more of a through ball than a cross IMHO. Splitting hairs? yes, but as it was on the ground, at 45deg angle and between EFC players it has to be such.

  • Jeremy Cohen says:

    I’m not worried about Dele being one-footed. Two footedness (not a word surely) is icing on the cake, not a requirement, and Dele is mostly cake.

    I’m more worried about Dele not realizing his potential, and pissing about trying flicks and ‘megs. Eriksen’s goal was a case in point. He could easily have passed that “properly” instead of backheeling it. If Eriksen hadn’t attacked the ball so aggressively he might not have got there in time. A proper pass would have made it easier.

    • Mike Pinner says:

      Not sure I agree with that Jeremy, the ball was behind Ali so to make a ‘proper’ pass he would have had to turn round, giving the defence time to block. I thought it was a brilliant instinctive action.

      • Jeremy Cohen says:

        @Mike Pinner, I had another look and I think you’re right. Not a case in point as I previously claimed.

      • Mike Pinner says:

        Thank you Jeremy, it’s not often anyone admits to being wrong on the interweb!

  • Sweetsman says:

    I find idiotic comments like Tony’s tiresome, especially the brainless questioning of why Pochettino picks him. He does and Sissoko brings forward movement to the team when it starts stagnating. His final ball is erratic, but he is a player who’s still building up his confidence. This isn’t helped by our herd of fuckwits.
    I thought our two worst starting players were Dier and Lloris. Both of them played others into trouble with poor decision making and execution of passes.

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