A promising start, but we fail to profit from empty pockets of space as our Europa League Group J game ends Anderlecht 2-1 Spurs in Belgium.
An up-tempo and open game saw us race in to an early advantage. We had been constantly exploiting the pockets of space around the central trio in Anderlecht’s shape. However, our lack of decisiveness in front of goal this time came back to haunt us, as our Europa League game finished Anderlecht 2-1 Spurs in Belgium.
The opening minutes were frantic and end-to-end as both sides showed their hand, but it was typified by Anderlecht’s errors.
We took the lead after Christian Eriksen profited from a ball that cannoned off Kara and Leander Dendoncker in a bizarre pinball manner. However, our number 23 had already slipped when in on another great chance. Inside of two minutes and an Anderlecht corner was taken by Hugo Lloris and sent downfield in one almighty kick. The ball was allowed to bounce, which caused Dendoncker no end of troubles as he got caught underneath it, allowing Eriksen in for a great shooting opportunity.
Eriksen was left punching the ground, but was in again moments later to make good. This time he got between the lines to take the ball from Erik Lamela after Eric Dier had hoovered up an errant pass.
The ball cannoned off Kara, back in to the face of Dendoncker and straight in to Eriksen’s path. The Dane didn’t waste the gift this time and we were in front.
Four minutes on the clock, two Anderlecht errors, but only one had been taken advantage of.
Exploiting the pockets
Christian Eriksen had opened the scoring, but his movement was causing the Belgian side no end of trouble.
Starting from a position on the left and drifting in to the centre, Eriksen was frequently unmarked as the Anderlecht right side of Gillet and Ezekiel just simply didn’t track him. This left Anderlecht woefully exposed around the sides of their central trio in their 4-1-4-1 shape.
Either side of this central triangle, both Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela had little pockets within which to work. It was no surprise that in the opening 10 minutes, and throughout much of the half, these two were at the centre of many of our opportunities.
Lamela had got free in his pocket of space to spring Eriksen through on our first goal. Then the Dane returned the favour as he slipped Lamela in for a glorious chance just minutes later
Both had drifted from their pocket of space either side of the central trio, but Lamela couldn’t convert.
Even though just 9 minutes were on the clock, the chance was a massive one. A two-goal margin would’ve sunk the atmosphere in the stadium and the Anderlecht team completely. As it was, the Belgians were back in the game just moments later, as they profited from a set piece.
Set Piece specials
Throughout the first half, Anderlecht were content to engage the ball as it crossed halfway. They were then looking to spring forward and use the pace of Imoh Ezekiel down one flank, looking for Stefano Okaka in the middle. They rarely troubled, except from set pieces.
Looking for Imoh Ezekiel as an out ball to use his pace against Ben Davies saw Anderlecht earn a corner inside the first minute, then equalise in the thirteenth.
The corner saw us play our usual three-man zone across the six-yard box with an additional defender picking up man-to-man. Jan Vertonghen, who allowed the ball to go straight through the zone at the near post, which is always a recipe for panic, committed the first error. Toby Alderweireld committed the second. Our centre back was supposed to be marking Gillet, but got distracted by the run of Dendoncker who had got free.
This left Gillet to peel away towards the back of the penalty area; have time to cushion the ball and then fire an unstoppable drive in to the corner of our net, 1-1.
Anderlecht were back in the game and so too was the crowd. The Belgian side continued to be a threat from set pieces. Later in the half, a free kick was sent in to our box and this time Okaka peeled back towards the edge of the area. He fired in a rasping drive that stung Hugo Lloris’ palms.
In the second half, Anderlecht continued to have joy from set pieces, with corners causing confusion. A mid-air collision between Okaka and a team-mate saw them miss a glaring opportunity before they scored the winner.
Second half tactics switch
With 70% possession in the first half we were bossing the game, but failing to carve out or take that many opportunities. When the chances came for us, they were good ones, but it was our season-long story of not being able to convert them.
After the interval, and maybe not impressed with the speed of our build-up play, Mauricio Pochettino instructed us to go quicker from back to front. This saw us looking earlier for the runs of Clinton N’Jie, as the ball was often sent over the Anderlecht defence for him to chase down or run on to. These weren’t aimless hoofed forward passes, but more precise passes in-behind the Anderlecht full backs.
We weren’t having much success in terms of chance creation from doing this, but we were getting the ball in to the final third quicker.
That changed after N’Jie was withdrawn. The Cameroon international may have been on the pitch longer had he not picked up a yellow card and then fouled again so quickly after, which could have seen him pick up a second. Harry Kane came on and the tactic saw him in for another key moment.
Ben Davies had the ball on halfway and immediately sent the ball over the top, beyond the full back, for Kane to run on to through the inside left channel.
Kane showed great strength to hold the defender off, but like so many of his finishes recently, lacked the cutting edge to send to the ball wide enough of the keeper to find the corner.
Acheampong changes the game
We were looking to go quicker from back to front and pushing on, but the introduction of Frank Acheampong swung the match. The speedy wide man came on and gave Kieran Trippier a torrid time as Anderlecht looked to get him 1v1 or beyond our right back in to space.
Trippier had already had a warning before Acheampong created what turned out to be the winner. It followed what was Anderlecht’s best spell of possession in the match as the ball went out to Ivan Obradovic. He spun away from Andros Townsend, who then let the Serbian have time and space on the ball. This pulled Eric Dier out from his defensive midfield position and now there was a huge channel for Obradovic to pass through.
It wasn’t helped by Trippier drifting far away from centre back partner Toby Alderweireld. This gave Acheampong plenty of space to jet in-behind him and on to the perfectly weighted pass.
In the middle, Okaka had been trying to put his boot back on and was beyond our back four in an offside position. We hadn’t picked him and as the ball went through to Acheampong, he was now onside and gaining a massive advantage.
Acheampong delivered the ball across the box and the one-booted Stefano Okaka had the simplest of finishes to make it Anderlecht 2-1 Spurs.
Acheampong continued to cause trouble, as Trippier couldn’t cope with his pace and movement. Minutes after supplying the cross for the goal and he was at it again. This time he picked out Dennis Praet, who saw his shot saved by Hugo Lloris and a six-yard box scramble ensue that was eventually cleared.
From being in the ascendancy and having control of the match, we had lost our grip. Three Europa League points that had seemed to be there for the taking had slipped away from us.
Anderlecht 2-1 Spurs overall
The start of the match by us was excellent. We could’ve and should’ve been out of sight before Anderlecht even had a chance to get in to it. Lamela and Eriksen were causing havoc from the pockets of space either side of the Anderlecht midfield trio, but we didn’t hammer home this advantage whilst it lasted.
Once more being clinical in front of goal and converting the big opportunities reared it s ugly head. Whereas previously this season we’ve eked out a draw or a narrow victory, this time we were unable to get away with it.
Final score Anderlecht 2-1 Spurs.