A possible solution to the defensive conundrum at Spurs?

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.


Kaboul caught up, Fazio back and Rose wrong side.

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.


Vertonghen and Kaboul become separated.

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.


Weimann hits the hole.

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.


Kaboul and Fazio all over the place.

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.


Aguero charges for the open corridor.

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.


Dier isolated against Johnson.

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.


Dier out of position as Kaboul is pulled out.

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.

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11 Responses to A possible solution to the defensive conundrum at Spurs?

  1. ChicagoBill 20th November 2014 at 8:28 pm #

    Rather than move to a back 5 which is contrary to Spurs attacking philosophy, I would like to see Spurs play with a strong and aggressive midfielder in front of the back 4. I don’t think Capoue fits this role and Stamboulli has not been piked by the manager so there must be a problem there. Instead, I think we have 2 players who might be suited to this role and these are Chiriches and Vertongen. Both of them are known to have good ball playing skills and will think defense first. My personal choice would be Chiriches as his aggressive ball winning style seems more suited to the role. He has previously played this role with some success in internationals and he seems to be the take charge type of individual that we need. As an old Spurs fan that saw every home game in the Double season, there is an air of Dave Mackay about him as he steps forward aggressively to win the ball. I know it is a stretch but not as big a one as expecting magical changes in fortune for Soldado (waste of space) or Lamela (all show but no end product).

    • NeverMissPens 21st November 2014 at 9:49 am #

      There you go – The Chiriches at full back got no air, but I agree – put him in there in the late ’00s defensive position – he can dribble and pass!

      All this requires the kind of managerial skills of variation – see Neville’s analysis on youtube – that Murinho has, not the systems men (AVB. and MP),

      Old saying

      Can’t fit a square peg in a round hole.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st November 2014 at 10:52 am #

      I would like to see Stambouli get more of a chance ChicagoBill, i think he could be a good asset if used correctly. Chiriches may be able to revive his Spurs career in such a system, his ball playing skills could be put to better use and he would have more cover which isn’t there when playing two centre backs.

  2. jimspurs 20th November 2014 at 11:22 pm #

    think well have more width when walker comes back,need it desperately,eriksen, lamella get isolated too easily on the right at the moment, dont really want to see kaboul in any formation at the moment,don’t think he has the game reading skills to play this system, think hes better as a back to the walls flat back 4 defender,cant understand why stambouli isnt picked ahead of kaboul, he al;ways gives 100 per cent going into a challenge which is more than can be said of half of the team, and also is technically a lot better, needs to make better decisions when moving the ball doesn’t always pick out the runners but hes not alone in that, if hes not going to pick kane or soldado then poch should contact ades mum and see if she can do a bit of ju ju and turn him into a center forward

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st November 2014 at 10:56 am #

      Walker’s return is key for us if just to get some attacking balance between the left and right flanks. He may be a while from being able to play every week having been out for so long.

  3. Niall 21st November 2014 at 6:58 pm #


    Some really good ideas here and at this stage it might really be worth a shot, though changing to a back three will need some proper match practice and could mean a few painful matches before we start to see progress. Remember that moment this season where Man Utd crumbled at Leicester symbolised in one hilarious moment where 4 or 5 defensive players were all pointing in different directions? It wouldn’t be so funny when it was Kaboul and the gang, but it’s almost inevitable.

    However I can see some real merit in what you suggest; Naughton is terrified to go forward and adds so little when he does go, if they could keep Lennon disciplined defensively the width and pace he offers could really help Soldado, as would Kane as a strike partner. The lone striker tactic employed consistently by AVB and MP has not got the best out of Soldado; I don’t believe he’s a lost cause for us quite yet but we need to experiment with a different type of offensive approach to prove this. It’s all so pedestrian and all so slow, it’s all in front of the opposition and now seems as good a time as any to mix it up a bit.

    After having the international break to ponder his next month, it will be fascinating to see what he has changed and who he’ll go with. I for one will be praying Adebayor is nowhere to be seen, and also that we do try and address this lack of width and lack of pace that has characterised such a substandard start to the season.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st November 2014 at 7:19 pm #

      Thanks for reading and really great comment Niall. I agree it would need practice, but it also would make a good plan B option to roll out in future matches or something we could switch to in-game. Tactical versatility and being able to switch to something very different would make us more dynamic as a team.

  4. anotherwisemonkey 22nd November 2014 at 10:22 am #

    I’ve been thinking we should go to a back three given Rose and Naughton are out for this match. Lennon would give us much more on the right and is our strongest winger defensively. I’d also drop Capoue for the Hull match after several lacklustre displays. For me, Eriksen has to start as he can thread passes through for the main striker, who, much as I love Kane, has to be Adebayor, as he’s more comfortable currently in the number 9 role.


    Dier Kaboul Vertonghen

    Lennon Stambouli Mason Davies

    Eriksen Chadli


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd November 2014 at 5:01 pm #

      Nice team selection.

  5. OCBahrain 23rd November 2014 at 8:30 am #

    Try as they do to get me to lose faith (on an almost weekly basis at the moment), whenever a match weekend rolls around I can’t help but be filled with optimism that the Spurs are finally going to play to their potential and put in a slick performance. The routine of many a Spurs fan I’m sure.

    I like the idea of Chiriches over Capoue in the Makelele role, and I also would add that I don’t necessarily think a 352 would be a defensive move contradicting traditional Spurs philosophy: I see it as a more effective way to utilise the talent of our current personnel.

    I will be particularly pleased and excited if we play with two strikers in the team, that actually line up as strikers (as opposed to one striker playing in the hole or on the wing), neither of which is called Adebayor. 442 or 352, it doesn’t really matter to me; I just can’t bear to watch Kane or Soldado foraging around up front on their own.

    In the case of a 352, Lennon is an candidate for the RWB position; I can’t think of anyone better suited to it while we await the return of Walker and the arrival of Yedlin and he has put in many solid defensive shifts when called upon over the years. Plus he is a well known attacking threat that might make Hull think twice about over-committing; he can hurt you on the counter.

    It might not be the best use of his talents but I’d say Chadli has the physical attributes and in-game intelligence to do a solid job at LWB. If Ashley Young can do it…

    Dilemmas for Poch. If he goes with a back 4, I would play Kaboul at RB and pair JV with Dier. His headless chicken approach to defending is less exposed at RB and he has pace and stamina to get up and down. Would love to see Stambouli in the fold; meanwhile Mason doesn’t deserve to be dropped.

    My ideal line up, 352 formation:

    Kaboul Dier Vertonghen
    Lennon Stambouli Eriksen Mason Chadli
    Soldado Kane


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 23rd November 2014 at 11:25 am #

      Stay optimistic OCBahrain! I am firmly in the camp of playing a system suited to the players available. I like Lennon at RWB and it does give us the option to have support for Soldado and get Kane in to the lineup. Stambouli really deserves his chance as well. Keep the faith. COYS!