Tactics and numbers

I thought I’d give this a nice, simple title which clearly represents the content. And, actually, the content is fairly simple as well. I tweeted a few things yesterday that I thought may also be of interest to people who don’t use Twitter.

Tactical analysis of Ajax (1st leg)

Have a click on the below to see my annotated images. I talk about the goal we conceded, the team shape, and the more assertive pressing in the second half.


I regularly tweet goals and assists per minute as I think it gives an interesting picture of the contribution of our attacking players. The updated numbers illustrate a couple of interesting points.

Firstly, the real number one for the Premier League-only numbers is Kyle Walker-Peters with 94.7. But as he’s only played 284 Premier League minutes (in which he has 3 assists) it felt wrong to include him.

Secondly, I’m no Fernando Llorente fan but you really can’t argue with those numbers. The style we play when he’s on the pitch may not always be pretty, but it seems to have been highly effective.

And, finally, Son Heung-min is an absolute hero and, in my opinion, our Player of the Year.

More numbers

And in researching this I also looked at total numbers of minutes played across the squad. It’s worth noting that these are out of a possible 4,860 minutes in total (54 matches):

  • Alderweireld 4,048
  • Eriksen 3,769
  • Lloris 3,589
  • Kane 3,252
  • Son 3,069
  • Sissoko 3,067
  • Sanchez 2,932
  • Trippier 2,913
  • Lucas 2,878
  • Vertonghen 2,718
  • Dele 2,657
  • Winks 2,651
  • Davies 2,604
  • Rose 2,301
  • Dier 1,777
  • Lamela 1,464
  • Aurier 1,358
  • Foyth 1,256
  • Llorente 1,117
  • Gazzaniga 990
  • Wanyama 849
  • Dembele 706
  • Walker-Peters 615
  • Skipp 389
  • Vorm 279
  • Nkoudou 121
  • Marsh 25
  • Janssen 23
  • Eyoma 11
  • Sterling 9
  • Amos 2

I doubt there are many midfielders who have played as many minutes as Christian Eriksen. For comparison, Liverpool’s central midfielder with the most minutes is Georginio Wijnaldum with 3367, then James Milner with 2601, then Fabinho with 2466. Their midfield depth allows much more rotation, whereas we’ve been restricted by injuries and — let’s face it — don’t really have a natural Eriksen rotation.

Interestingly, Bernardo Silva has played 3755 minutes for Manchester City, another amazing effort, particularly considering that he’s a player like Eriksen who regularly runs 12km or more per match.

I was surprised Harry Winks had amassed as many minutes as he has as it has felt like a real injury-hit season for him. We’ve mismanaged him towards the end; his latest issue is reportedly a direct result of being pushed too far. This was inevitably given the lack of signings and the lack of proper integration of the likes of Oliver Skipp.

Ben Davies and Danny Rose have pretty much shared the total minutes evenly, which is probably what Mauricio Pochettino would want.

Hopefully this has been of interest and, of course, if this is the kind of #content you enjoy, consider following me on Twitter as well as listening to The Extra Inch podcast.

Adversity adspurscity

As a Spurs fan for over thirty years I’ve become accustomed to our clutching of defeat from the jaws of victory; to my team falling at the final hurdle; to inevitable, reliable, reassuring mediocrity. And so what Mauricio Pochettino has brought to the club — although including the occasional spattering of all the above — has been a real breath of fresh air.

We compete until the last. We are — ‘on our day’, as the expression goes — a match for anyone. And we’re sometimes a match for anyone even when it’s not our day, as Wednesday showed.

Our captain and talisman missing. Our pair of England centre-mids injured. Dele and Victor Wanyama a long way from peak fitness. The resurgent Moussa Sissoko going off in the first half. No Erik Lamela or Serge Aurier to call upon from the bench. But that didn’t stop our masterful Mauricio getting a tune from our boys. Speaking of a tune…

When everything was going against them he made them believe. And that’s sort of encapsulated this season. No stadium. No signings. No Harry Kane for long periods. No Son Heung-min (my Player of the Season) over a hectic, crucial period. Eric Dier and Harry Winks plagued by injuries all year.

Despite everything we are clinging onto the top four and now, of course, we’ve progressed to the SEMI-FINALS OF THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE! It still doesn’t feel real.

It almost under-sells Pochettino, though, to distil our season into that one match, no matter how exciting, engaging and enthralling it was.

And the reason I say that is that, once again, Pochettino has kicked on as a coach. Stay with me on this, because I think we’d all agree that we’ve fallen back a little in terms of our on-pitch performances and play-style.

But he’s doing more with less. Again. And he’s doing it by using a multitude of formations, some of which are changed in-game. He’s responding to opposition managers’ tactics (notably against Liverpool and Manchester City most recently). He’s often heavily rotating the side and managing it just about right (notably against Huddersfield most recently) and he’s even starting to integrate young players, with Juan Foyth, Oliver Skipp and Kyle Walker-Peters starting to feel like genuinely trusted players rather than token inclusions. All are expected to be in the 18 today.

Systems-wise, Pochettino used at least three in Wednesday’s incredible game. I’ve often described Pochettino’s formations as ‘calculated gambles’. With the narrow diamond that we started with, we essentially gave up the width but gave ourselves two pacy attacking players directly up against City’s centre-backs. And rarely, in my experience of watching Spurs, has such a knife edge been illustrated within the opening few minutes of a match.

City destroyed us down the flanks. They created overloads around the immobile Victor Wanyama before quickly getting the balls into the channels to take advantage of our full-backs having moved narrow, leaving a ludicrous amount of space which they exploited. Our full-backs were made to look sub-standard, mostly by the system, but partly due to poor decision-making. But, equally, Lucas and Son were hugely threatening and Son scoring twice with Lucas leading the charge forward for each goal showed that Pochettino did have a definite game-plan.

Moussa Sissoko and Dele had struggled defensively alongside Wanyama in the diamond, with Sissoko unable to cut-out the pass for the opening goal and Dele likewise regularly being caught ahead of the ball. And whilst Sissoko’s injury and our subsequent change fixed the midfield problem, it introduced Fernando Llorente too early in the game and negated most of our threat. We moved to a flat(ter) midfield four, which had been largely successful in the first leg, with Son shunted out to the left. The full-backs suddenly had protection and grew into their tasks as a result. But with Llorente up-front, we were playing with a target man who needs players around him.

Llorente is a skilful footballer who has a great touch and can link well with others, but he is painfully one-paced, and is unable to hold the ball up when he is isolated in the same way that Harry Kane, or even Son Heung-min nowadays, are able to. He is a threat from set pieces, though, and this proved vital as Pochettino’s second calculated gamble *just about* paid off too.

Spurs’ 4-4-2 shape against Man City

After City’s fourth goal around the hour mark we switched again, and this change ultimately saw us get the vital third goal. We pushed Son forward on the right, had Lucas on the left with Llorente up front, Eriksen floating behind in a 4-2-3-1-ish shape. Just prior to the breakthrough, Son popped up in the middle and made a darting run forward to the right, where he won a corner, and from this we won a second from which Llorente scored.

After our goal we replaced Lucas Moura with Ben Davies and played Rose ahead of Davies on the left, before bringing on Davinson Sanchez and finishing the match in a back five.

Pochettino made his tactical changes at just the right times in this match. Given the plethora of attacking talent Pep Guardiola had at his disposal, they might have expected to get more from this game. However, the issue was not with their attack. After all, they did score four. The problem was with their defence. Aymeric Laporte made uncharacteristic errors, but Fernandinho being left out was a big risk, and one wonders if Spurs’ first two goals might have been negated had he been on the pitch.


Having written a fairly negative post on my experience at the Crystal Palace game I thought it was just as important to write something on what an incredible night Tuesday was. I had to work late so attending in person wasn’t possible for me — boy, do I wish I’d been there though. From the tele our fans sounded incredible, and the stadium looked stunning, and the match went our way. What a night.

All of my friends who went tell me that the atmosphere was incredible — so much better than the Palace game. Not just that, but the queue situation was better, and even travel was easier. The club are responding to feedback, people are slipping into their routines and everything is calming down. By all accounts, the only slight downside was some overzealous stewarding, but hopefully that can be resolved too.

A quick mention of the team. I’ve been down on certain players at various points through these past two years, particularly Kieran Trippier and Moussa Sissoko. I thought both played fantastically, especially Sissoko. Harry Winks was my Man of the Match but Sissoko ran him close, in what as a famous win. He gave a really fitting interview post-match that was music to my ears.

Sissoko’s comments – a delight

I am guilty sometimes of judging players on what they’re not rather than what they are, and I feel both Sissoko and Trippier fall into this category. Neither is my preferred type of player for their position, but ultimately both do have something to offer and they put in exceptional performances in this match.

In fact, Spurs’ narrow four-man midfield when pressing worked a treat, and we pretty much kept City at arm’s length.

I also think it’s worth noting just how much better we’ve looked as a team since Dele returned (NB: not Dele Alli, a reminder that he’s stopped using his surname for personal reasons). He somehow manages to be entirely functional whilst being talismanic at the same time, a rare trait. What a player he is, and still only… oh wait, he turned 23 today! Happy Birthday, Dele!

I’ll stop there — I’m pushed for time — but I wanted to write something positive as that’s how I’m feeling right now, even despite Harry Kane’s latest ankle injury. With or without Kane, I feel confident that we can end the season strongly and the stadium will help with that. COYS!

Unrealistic expectations

Firstly, go and read this by the lovely and wonderful Alan Fisher, because it’s better than what you’re about to read here. Alan, like many, had a great time at the new stadium on Wednesday with his loved ones and writes about it beautifully. You’ll go away feeling uplifted and with that sense of anticipation about the new stadium that you should have.

Warning: you may not feel like that if you read my blog below. If you do not want to read a more negative view of the first match in the new stadium, it might be best to stop reading now. I don’t want anyone to feel like I’ve ruined their excitement.

I had a funny old 24 hours. I posted some very brief thoughts on my (less than positive) experience at the game on Wednesday night on Twitter. I could simply have posted a video that I took of the stadium with a tweet saying ‘So glad to be back home <stadium emoji> <blue heart emoji>’ and I would likely have had three hundred retweets and a thousand likes; but it wouldn’t have been true or representative of my experience. I slept on it and on Thursday morning I posted a ‘thread’ which, for those who don’t use Twitter, is essentially a mini blog. I didn’t realise, though, that Twitter has a limit on the number of tweets that can be included in a thread. So approximately half of my tweets weren’t actually tweeted. They were the more optimistic ones with a bit of humour included (NB: I don’t really do humour, you may have noticed that I’m… just not a naturally funny person). So off I went to a meeting having dropped a very negative, very unfinished thread, and the response was… interesting.

I’ve since deleted the lot and considered not commenting on my experience any further. Mainly because — as some of my friends rightly said — what did I hope to add to the discussion about the new stadium? But quite a few people have subsequently asked nicely whether I would blog about my experience for balance and because they’re genuinely interested, so after some thought I’ve decided to write. It’s cathartic for me to write about it and to try to articulate this bizarre sense of regret I had on Wednesday night and subsequently on Thursday morning, when I genuinely felt really down. For context, I am typically a very upbeat person and am fortunate enough not to suffer from low mood or anything similar. I have to say as a caveat at the start, that this is only my experience. Others, like Alan, had a fantastic time, and I’m genuinely glad to hear that and hope that that’s me in the future.

Firstly, I went to the first test event and had a brilliant time. The stadium looked magnificent, there were a few nice surprises, and things mostly went smoothly. I had a long walk around the whole place with my buddy Dan (who, in fact, built this very site); we took it all in and loved what we saw.

I would have begged, borrowed or stolen a ticket for the opening Premier League match but I didn’t have to because my fine friend Alex (From Bristol, if you know your Fighting Cock Podcast) gifted me his season ticket. South Stand, fourth row. AKA the noisy section. What a man. Thank you, Alex! In my head I’d turn up, have a lovely pint of Neck Oil (my Beavertown draught beer of choice) with my mates, grab some food, catch the opening ceremony and then watch us pump Crystal Palace. All within a cauldron of noise, excitement and passion.

So I left work (which is around 25 miles from Tottenham) at 16:20. In years gone by I’d have left around 17:15 to get to White Hart Lane for a 19:45 start, so it seemed like a reasonable adjustment. Traffic was ridiculously heavy. I use the sat-nav app Waze, which normally beats traffic. It didn’t. That was a slightly ominous sign for me. Anyway, I was meeting a pal in the North Middlesex Hospital car park. Our walk and chat from there to the Lane is very much part of my Tottenham experience. Familiar streets, familiar sights, the excitement building. We arrived at pretty much the same time and we found that the car park was full. I’ve been parking there for more than ten years and have never previously found it full. Of course, with the increased capacity, I expected everywhere to be busier. But I thought given it was now 18:15 and kick off wasn’t until 19:45, we’d be fine. Lesson well and truly learned.

We realised we’d have to find another car park because parking on the street in Tottenham or nearby on ‘event days’ is no longer anything like feasible; there are traffic wardens galore walking the streets and lots of parking tickets being handed out.

Neither of us had cash (it’s a cash-less stadium, after all!). We pulled over outside a shop temporarily and managed to get some money out without getting a ticket. We then drove around in the building traffic looking for an alternative car park with space for two cars. We tried five or six, and ended up going up and down the now very busy High Road. After a stressful search lasting 35 minutes we found a car park with spaces left near the Redemption Brewery. Shout out to Hopspur!

By this point it was getting close to opening ceremony time. As we got out of our cars, an enormous hail storm erupted in a near-biblical fashion. We ran towards the stadium, getting soaked along the way. As we approached, we went our separate ways to our seats.

The first bank of stewards were great. There was barely anyone around, they checked my ticket in seconds, and I went through to security. Security at Spurs now resembles airport security where you walk through a giant scanner. Again, there was nobody around so I had the pick of a huge line of scanners; I walked straight through and into the stadium. It was rammed.

By this point I was starving hungry, gagging for a pint and I needed to pick Alex up a programme. None of these were possible if I wanted to catch the opening ceremony. The queues were enormous, and the concourse was totally full, having to squeeze past people to get anywhere. At the old Lane, the concourse was busy right before kick-off and at half-time, but queues for food and drink were generally not too bad and I don’t recall ever waiting for more than five minutes pre-match for a coffee or a beer. Conversely, at the first test event, some friends of mine waited over thirty minutes for a burger… realistically, not many people are going to queue thirty minutes for an Β£8 burger at a football match, so that is an issue to resolve.

Anyway, I queued for the toilet and then made my way to ‘my’ seat. I was finally there! After what had felt like a long 18 months, I was there! After what had felt like a hell of a long journey to Tottenham from work, I was there! Relief. Now just soak it up. Look around, take it all in, sing your heart out.

Pre-match there was a smattering of singing, and then the ceremony started. The ceremony was the ceremony. I could say a few things about it but it’s personal taste and some people loved it. The local school choir were lovely. We move on.

Kick off. A roar to open, a couple of the old favourite songs (‘Oh When The Spurs…’, ‘We Are Tottenham…’, etc) and then… and then Crystal Palace’s fans kicked in and a few minutes later they’re singing ‘just like the Emirates’, ‘can you hear the Tottenham sing?’ and ‘your support is fucking shit.’ To no response.

And I was part of that no response. It was freezing. It was midweek. I was knackered. The team were on their worst run of form for seven years. I get it, I get it all. I thought the new stadium would supersede all of it but we’re only human. It wasn’t great. The wall of noise I expected in the South Stand just wasn’t really there. And I found that desperately disappointing.

In hindsight it all makes total sense. The routines and connections are not established yet. Everyone’s getting to know their new neighbours. Getting to know the acoustics. Learning how to sing as one again after Wembley (where songs are essentially competing). Besides, we’re not a Palace who will sing constantly — we never have been, never will be. We sing in fits and starts, and we take the roof off when we do. But the roof didn’t come off. And that was why I felt disappointed. That’s on me, not everything is Hollywood perfection.

For the whole of the match I was thinking about how I’d have to leave early. Getting away from the parking space I was in was going to be a nightmare if I didn’t, and I had a 6 o’clock start in the morning. ‘Maybe I could just run on the whistle?’ — ‘From row four, are you mad?’ –‘Maybe I could just go a couple of minutes early?’ — ‘You and half the stadium.’ I convinced myself. And for the first time in twenty-five years of football-going I made the decision to leave on 80 minutes… Christian Eriksen scored the second goal just as I got into the concourse and was in the process of buying programmes. Spoiler: I probably made the right call; my friends didn’t get out of the the carpark for nearly an hour, whereas I got away pretty quickly and was safely tucked up in bed with a hot milk* by 23:00.

*I have never drunk hot milk in my life.

I spent the journey home wondering why I’d not had the best night of my life. I felt like a fraud. Someone else could have had that ticket and had a wonderful night. I knew I’d look back in years to come and be delighted that I went to the first proper game at the new Lane. But at that moment I felt low. It wasn’t what I’d imagined; the journey, the atmosphere, the vibe, the experience… not to mention not getting to see my pals, have a beer, have some food.

It’s all of my own making. I’d built it up into something it couldn’t possibly be. I’d been caught out with the travel. Of course it was going to take time to be perfect. Of course there would be teething problems. Of course with everyone getting in early for the ceremony the bars would be full. It won’t always be that way.

For clarity: once it clicks it’ll be magnificent. It looks stunning, the acoustics are stunning, it’s still in Tottenham. The three key ingredients are there.

The travel? That’s going to take some time. I learnt a tough lesson. If I want to go to an evening game again I’ll need to take a half-day off work to be sure I make it. I’d recommend to anyone planning on driving to White Hart Lane in the near future that you leave an extra hour and a half to two hours to get there and get parked safely. Plan ahead — have a back-up route, have back-up parking, have cash on you.

Public transports was, by all accounts, just as much a nightmare (though Tottenham Hale station was apparently far better than the alternatives). I honestly don’t know what the answer is there.

So there we go. My experience. It wasn’t what I’d hoped but ultimately I saw Spurs win in their first proper match in the new stadium. And I’m moaning. The entitled, modern Spurs fan.

Edit: It’s been pointed out to me having written this that using the hospital car park to go to a football match is not right. To add context, for the years we’ve been going there the car park has mostly been made-up of Spurs fans and has never been full, and so it has never even occurred to me or my family or friends that this would be an immoral thing to be doing. Instead, I hope that we’ve slowly been giving hundreds of pounds to the NHS that they’d otherwise not have had, and at the same time not stopping anyone parking to visit a friend or relative or drop someone off at A&E because there were plenty of spaces left. Obviously now I know that football fans *will* fill up the car park, potentially stopping someone getting access to the hospital, I won’t be using it anymore.