Defensive errors have become all too common with Spurs this season, but is there a solution to the current problem?
One thing that has become increasingly apparent over the course of this season has been the gaps appearing between our defenders.
Communication breakdowns, players being used out of position and the constant switching of the centre back pairing have all contributed to us being more open.
Centre back struggles
The problems start with our centre backs. Take our last Premier League match with Stoke. The men from the Potteries took the lead from charging through without any Spurs player pressuring the ball until Bojan was at the edge of our area.
They then added a second as Younes Kaboul and Federico Fazio were on different wavelengths, whilst Danny Rose was wrong side of Mame Biram Diouf. This allowed Stoke to run the channels whilst Jonathan Walters peeled in to the space that Kaboul had vacated.
Our previous Premier League match also highlighted our centre back pairing. This time it was Jan Vertonghen and Younes Kaboul. These two have more experience of playing together, but the space between them was constantly being opened up.
Simple movement from Charles N’Zogbia was dragging Jan Vertonghen away from his defensive partner. Here Matthew Lowton whipped in a cross that saw Christian Benteke almost open the scoring with our centre backs widely split.
Minutes later and Aston Villa did take the lead as Vertonghen was once more separated away from Kaboul. Andreas Wiemann waltzed in through the open corridor to score.
It’s a problem we also saw away at Man City. Sergio Aguero ran inbetween Kaboul and Fazio who were caught at completely different levels to force a good save from Hugo Lloris.
At the start of the second half, Aguero also stung Lloris’ palms with a fizzing drive, as the centre of our defence opened up once again.
Having our centre backs separated has been a persistent problem. The chopping and changing of the pairings hasn’t helped. The communication between the two has also not been good.
Pick on the right back
The second problem we’ve had in our defence has been teams picking on Eric Dier when he has played at right back.
The England under-21 international is a centre back and will go on to be a good one in the years to come. He is a utility right back and recently made his case clear by withdrawing from the England under-21 squad, citing that he wants to establish himself in the middle.
Kyle Walker has been out long-term with injuries, whilst Kyle Naughton has also been missing through suspension or injury. Therefore, Dier has had to play the position for Spurs more than he or Mauricio Pochettino would’ve liked. As a result, opponents have taken to trying to get in-behind him by matching up pacey wingers on him.
Sunderland were the first to do this as they switched Adam Johnson across to Dier’s side in order to isolate the jinking winger 1v1 against him.
Johnson went on to score in this passage of play, but the Black Cats kept trying to get the ball out to the tricky winger to isolate him on Dier all match.
Newcastle’s infamous second half kick-off also exposed him to speed, but the Magpies added a second as they got in-behind Dier to cross for Ayoze Perez.
Perez, who isn’t the tallest of strikers, stole in between Rose and Vertonghen with Kaboul this time pulled out from the centre to cover.
Should Spurs Switch to a back three?
Our communication, spacing and changing of personnel have all contributed to large gaps appearing in our defence. Add in us not getting enough pressure on the ball in midfield and it goes a long way to explaining why we’ve been leaking so many goals this season.
The current squad sees us with a spate of centre backs, with five to choose from. Without Walker and Naughton, we are also struggling to find a suitable fill-in at right back.
Eric Dier has been getting the nod, but as previously looked at in ‘time to retire the right back Eric Dier,’ he offers very little from an attacking standpoint. He doesn’t have the pace required to get up and down the line and he also has become a target for teams to attack.
Advantages of switching to a back three
1. It makes good use of the current situation of having a number of centre backs and no really attacking right back.
With five centre backs in the first team squad – Kaboul, Vertonghen, Fazio, Chiriches, Dier – it allows us to make good use of them.
It also means that Dier would not be playing out of position and would afford a slower centre back like Fazio more protection from balls being played in-behind. The Argentinean already has two red cards from bringing down quicker forwards that have gone beyond him.
2. Allows us to plug the holes that have been appearing between the central pairing.
Having a third centre back chokes the holes that have been appearing between the current centre back pairing. The Stoke, Aston Villa and Newcastle games all saw one of our centre backs being pulled out to separate him from his partner. With an additional centre back, it would still leave two in the middle should this happen.
We also have two centre backs that are comfortable defending out in the wide areas as they have experience at full back – Vertonghen and Kaboul. This would see them as ideal partners for Fazio or Dier to play as the central man or even as a sweeper in the middle of them.
3. Introduces a wing back on the right. This would add balance to an attack that is focused on Danny Rose from the left.
Going three at the back also solves the issue of the right back problem and introduces balance to the side. Until Kyle Walker is able to return to full fitness and play a string of games, this position is always going to be a problem for us.
Switching to a wingback, such as using Aaron Lennon on this side, not only introduces attacking speed that hasn’t been there with Dier and Naughton, but also a forward-thinking player that can defend. It might also revive Aaron Lennon’s career, which has taken a downfall recently.
4. Gets some much-needed width in to the team.
With inverted wide forwards the width has had to come from our full backs.
On the left this has happened in fits and spurts. Danny Rose leads the team with 42 crosses attempted in the Premier League.
On the right, this hasn’t happened. Eric Dier doesn’t have the speed to get forward and back, whilst Kyle Naughton is much more cautious when attacking for fear of being exposed defensively. The pair only have attempted 26 crosses between them.
Introducing wingbacks could well solve Mauricio Pochettino’s problem of being so narrow if he wants to persist with inverted wide forwards.
5. Tactical variations of 3-4-3 and 3-5-2
A back three can be used to play with either a front three or a striking duo. This would allow Pochettino to either use his inverted wide forwards around a central striker or to play with twin forwards.
This could be a way to get Harry Kane in to the line-up who operates better playing off a partner. It could also be a way to get Roberto Soldado firing again by giving him the additional player he often looks like he needs.
Disadvantages of a switch
The main disadvantage is that if we go to three centre backs it would mean having an extra defender against teams that sit back, especially at home. This might not be a bad thing given how Stoke opened us up and the gaps we’ve seen appearing against equally counter attacking teams such as Aston Villa.
The additional centre back could also play as a sweeper, being used as a man to bring the ball forward from a deeper position. Frequent bursts out of defence to move the ball up one or two levels can catch the opposition off guard.
A possible solution?
Given the players available at the minute, a switch to a back three is a good plan B with the current personnel Mauricio Pochettino has to pick from. It could go a long way to shoring up what has been a leaky and porous defence, whilst also providing some much needed width and attacking impetus.