Action from Spurs vs Millwall ahead of the FA Cup tie between the teams.

Spurs vs Millwall: opposition strengths and weaknesses

Ahead of Spurs vs Millwall in the FA Cup at White Hart Lane we look at the strengths and weaknesses of Neil Harris’ team.

Potentially the last FA Cup game at White Hart Lane sees us match up with Millwall. On a sensational 17 match unbeaten run since mid-December, the Lions show up in fine form. We take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of Neil Harris’ team ahead of Spurs vs Millwall on Sunday.

Strength: shape and setup

Millwall’s greatest strength is in their shape. The Lions play a 4-4-2 counter attack style that works extremely well for them. They are content to play without the ball, condense space between the lines and look to hit their twin strikers early so that they have space to run in to.

Without the ball, their setup is strong, as they defend narrowly to push the opponent in to wide areas. From there, Millwall can use their sizeable centre backs to deal with any crosses. It’s an effective tactic as it takes advantage of the strength and power of Byron Webster and Jake Cooper.

Watford try to get down the outside vs narrow defence ahead of Spurs vs Millwall in the FA Cup.

Watford try to get down the outside vs narrow defence.

With the ball, Millwall are looking to hit the spaces left by the opponent in one or two passes. This is to spring strikers Steve Morison, Luke Gregory or the rapid Fred Onyedinma. The result is often good striker interplay to create chances, but also a regular reliance on crossing.

The Lions have good delivery from wide, as they’ve showed in scalping Premier League teams in this season’s competition. Steve Morison expertly fired home Shane Ferguson’s pinpoint cross to knock out Watford. Their initial cross in to Luke Gregory saw him cushion, swivel and lay the ball in to the path of Shaun Cummings to beat Leicester City. Last weekend, Ferguson’s cross and Gregory’s header combined to open the scoring for the Lions against MK Dons.

Spurs will need to be wary of Millwall’s shape and setup. We’ve had trouble against teams that deploy similar 4-4-2 low block counter attacking shapes. Leicester City, a team that we’ve frequently drawn matches against, being the best example.

Weakness: wide areas

Millwall’s narrow 4-4-2 defensive shape is designed to cut off the centre and force teams wide, so how can it be a weakness?

Well, opponents that can make effective use of the wide areas by delivering low crosses and pull backs can create chances against them. By not delivering the ball high, whereby they can use their sizable aerial advantage, Millwall are forced to defend more with their feet. The centre backs are strong and powerful, especially if they can get their hands on the opponent, but it comes at the expense of nimbleness.

An example is Leicester creating their best chance of the match in round five. Millwall were in their tight, narrow shape. Nampalys Mendy spread the ball in one pass from central midfield out to Ahmed Musa in acres of space out wide.

Mendy gets the ball early to Musa vs narrow defence ahead of Spurs vs Millwall in the FA Cup.

Mendy gets the ball early to Musa vs narrow defence.

Musa took the ball down, drove towards the box and fired in a low cross. While this was going on, Shinji Okazaki raced through the middle to latch on to the ball and somehow fluff his lines with the goal gaping.

Millwall conceded their first goal in 14.5 hours on the weekend. MK Dons’ Ben Reeves scored from the edge of the penalty area after they had shifted the ball quickly out wide before moving play in one pass back in to the centre.

This stretching of their defence by getting the ball rapidly out wide before moving it back inside should form a large part of the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Millwall. A back three would be the optimal formation as the use of wingbacks will be key to making this happen. Mauricio Pochettino’s choice of the players in this position will be his main decision if Spurs are to be successful.

Weakness: early ball in-behind

One thing a 4-4-2 low block team is susceptible to is the early pass in-behind. This is especially true if there is no pressure on the ball, which can often be a problem for a four-man midfield.

Extremely well coached, Millwall have been good at defending against this. Their back four drop and move up expertly and it is a major reason why they’ve kept so many clean sheets.

Better opposition in the FA Cup has picked them off. No pressure on Andy King saw him spring Shinji Okazaki beyond their back four.

No pressure on King allows him to loop the ball for Okazaki ahead of Spurs vs Millwall in the FA Cup.

No pressure on King allows him to loop the ball for Okazaki.

Callum Wilson and Troy Deeney also had good chances to score from similar passes in rounds three and four against Bournemouth and Watford.

There is a window to exploit here. The out-to-in runs of Dele Alli will catch the Lions off guard, especially if Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier have their long-range passing boots on to find him. The rapid Son Heung-Min also likes to scamper off the shoulder of defenders, which will give Millwall trouble should he be in the game.

Strength: set pieces

With their size and good crossing delivery, Millwall are naturally strong at set pieces. Steve Morison setting up at the near post is often the focal point for the ball in.

Morison scores from the near post against Bournemouth ahead of Spurs vs Millwall.

Morison scores from the near post against Bournemouth.

Morison has already scored from a corner in this season’s FA Cup competition against Bournemouth in round three. He then almost turned creator against Watford in round four. Once more he flicked a corner on at the near post, but Byron Webster bundled the ball home with his arm.

With two centre backs at 1.91 and 2.01 metres respectively, Millwall have good size at set pieces. Add in Morison’s ability in the air to both score and create, along with Luke Gregory’s finishing, and Spurs will need to be wary of conceding corners and free kicks around the box.

Strength: forwards pressing

4-4-2 counter attacking teams can often cause problems due to the two strikers pressing the opposition centre backs. The opponent is drawn up the field, whereby the twin strikers can press and hound the two centre backs. It creates an equal 2v2 match-up in areas of the pitch where turnovers are in space and can be catastrophic. The strikers have the ball and freedom to run in to with very few opponents between them and the goal.

Millwall have proved experts at this with Morison, Gregory or Onyedinma giving opposition centre backs a tough time. The twin strikers can freely press knowing they have the security of two tight banks of four behind. It also puts pressure on the ball, allowing the back four and midfield to squeeze up.

Simple defence teaches us that there should always be a defender over. Teams with a back four will often drop a defensive midfielder in to cope. However, this takes a man out of the midfield zone to move the ball forward. A back three is often the best solution to merely tire the two strikers by playing around them, mitigating the threat.

Spurs vs Millwall outlook

In spite of this being Premier League vs League 1, Mauricio Pochettino will underestimate this opponent at his peril. By any stretch of the imagination Spurs vs Millwall will not be an easy game. The Lions have only conceded 6 goals in their last 17 matches and are an extremely well coached side.

A back three with wingbacks looks the way to go. Spurs will need to hit the flanks early in order to stretch this narrow Millwall team. The formation also helps to navigate and overcome their twin striker approach.

Spurs vs Millwall prediction: Spurs 2-0 Millwall.

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6 Responses to Spurs vs Millwall: opposition strengths and weaknesses

  1. Chas 12th March 2017 at 1:09 am #

    Good read as usual, Mark. You make Millwall sound quite fearsome.
    But in re-reading it, the similarities to Lincoln v the Gunners are obvious and that proved a non-event after the first 40 minutes.
    I’m hoping tonight is something similar!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th March 2017 at 10:35 am #

      You are right and there will be a few similarties to that game. Millwall are just a much better and organised version, more similar to Leicester than Lincoln. Millwall are a much more physical side, so you will see more grappling and hands on play from the defenders, which might frustrate us if we can’t get a lead. I hope you are right and we’ll see a similar scoreline!

  2. Daudi 12th March 2017 at 12:03 pm #

    From your description Mark, im expecting a tight game. But hope it comes off easy…it has to, we are going full out for the FA as the other big teams are, so first team and treat it as a premier league weekend game…

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th March 2017 at 12:08 pm #

      Completely agree. It’s 7 days until our next fixture so no excuse not to go for it. The only position I would consider switching is Dembele if his hip needs a rest. This could be the perfect game to play Harry Winks if so.

  3. Toby4eva 12th March 2017 at 12:46 pm #

    Great read again Mark

    Is there anyone on the net that can distill so much football wisdom into 25 paragraphs?

    I love rhetorical questions….

    But I am of course worried.

    Think 12 months ago when we hosted Crystal Palace.

    Hopefully we have learnt from that and will not to take Millwall for granted.

    Their defensive record is indeed highly impressive.

    Like the Gooners against Lincoln, we need to name a strong starting XI. And Millwall are unlikely to disintegrate like Lincoln – unless we get some quick goals.

    (Am I alone in thinking that Woolwich made extremely hard work of some very simple chances?)

    After reading your analysis I feel that Trippier must play to maximise our width and crosses.

    I would definitely go with the 3-4-3 that is serving us well.

    Given Millwall will look to sit back and counter, could we start with Harry Junior rather than Moose to be more \”geometric\” (I liked it!) than \”direct\” early doors?

    Although given their obvious physical approach, logic dictates Moses from the off.

    Mix it up boss?

    Vorm (Hugo)

    Dier (CCV)
    Verts (Wimmer)

    Trips (Walker)
    Winks (Moose)

    Dele (Son)
    Harry (Vinnie)

    Hey Ho.

    Let\’s Go!


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th March 2017 at 12:54 pm #

      Thank you for the kind words Toby4eva. I would go strong as well, but keep changes to a minimum. As said in the reply to Daudi above, i’d probably only consider Winks for Dembele if his hip would benefit from a rest. Trippier for Walker is a really interesting one as his delivery from crosses is better. Walker has the better speed to expose Millwall in wide areas, so its what you gain with one you give up with the other. With the slower Davies on the other side i’d plump for Walker, but not a bad switch to make if Walker needs a rest.