Back-to-back wins see us in with a great chance to qualify for the Europa League knockout stages, as it finishes Asteras Tripolis 1 Spurs 2 in Greece.
We were made to work on a difficult pitch, which was slow due to the length of the grass. It also contained a few surprises, as the ball randomly bobbled and flicked up off the surface.
The key for us was very much the switch of Andros Townsend to play as a natural winger on the left. However, we really let Asteras Tripolis back in to after the interval due to Mauricio Pochettino’s half time substitution.
Spurs good start
The first half saw us dominate as Asteras played on the counter attack and were content to sit deep. Their best, and only real opportunity of the first 45, presented itself after twelve minutes. Pablo Mazza was sprung in-behind Eric Dier by a long ball over the top of our high defensive line. Dier recovered excellently to slide in and put the ball out for a corner.
We controlled possession and much of the territorial advantage, as the ball spent most of its time in the Asteras Tripolis half. The key to this was the work of Mousa Dembele and Benjamin Stambouli.
The pair at the base of our midfield were operating as a proper pivot. When Stambouli went forward, Dembele dropped in and vice versa.
Both were excellent at regaining the ball. They pressed up to hem Asteras in so they couldn’t get out of their half through the short passing that they were trying to employ. This really only left them the long ball and Mazza’s chance was the only scare on our goal.
The problem this caused was a huge number of bodies in the Asteras half. Many of our shots, before taking the lead, were from range. Jan Vertonghen and Eric Lamela both hitting high and wayward efforts in to the upper parts of the metal fencing behind the goal were some more notable ones.
Space on the left
With Asteras sitting deep, our formation needed width. Andros Townsend started on the right and cut inside back in to the traffic. Eric Lamela was playing from the left, but rather than work as a winger on his natural foot, he kept coming in to central locations.
This did create room for Ben Davies, but we just didn’t find him enough, as Lamela was slow to release the ball and often just didn’t see him.
Here, on 5 minutes, Lamela tried to beat his man when Davies was wide open and on the move.
Later, Lamela had the ball centrally once more as Davies was in acres again.
Despite this, Davies did get in the game. He had a shout for a penalty turned down as he was bundled over in the box, but the player finding his movement was Mousa Dembele. However, his long switches in play from the centre of the park gave the Asteras defence time to recover.
Townsend switch key
Mauricio Pochettino must have seen the space Davies was getting and after 35 minutes Townsend and Lamela switched sides.
This immediately paid dividends, as Andros was able to get on the ball and dribble at the full back. In just the ten minutes before half time he earned a penalty and created a goal for Harry Kane.
His surging dribble past Brian Lluy took him beyond the right back and in to the area. This tempted an ill-advised sliding challenge from Khalifa Sankare and an obvious penalty.
Townsend grabbed the ball and converted the spot kick with similar confidence.
Just six minutes later and Andros was in again. He picked up the ball out on the left by the touchline with space and time to size up the right back once more. He skipped past him with ease and dinked in a beautifully weighted cross towards Harry Kane. The striker used his height advantage to out jump the smaller Zisopoulos and head home.
It was looking comfortable at 2-0 and the switch of Townsend was key to opening Asteras up.
After making a good move to switch Andros Townsend to the left, Mauricio Pochettino made a curious change at half time.
Erik Lamela came off and Roberto Soldado on with the formation altered.
Harry Kane had been playing up top, but then dropped back in to the number ten role and played it as a second striker. This is nothing new; we’ve seen Pochettino play this way in home Europa League ties where he has used either Paulinho or Kane as the second striker off a front man such as Soldado or Adebayor.
However, the problem for Pochettino was two-fold.
This took a man out of our midfield, as Kane was playing too high up in the second half, almost alongside Soldado. It was also coupled with Asteras changing to a 4-3-3, which saw them press up, but also gain control of the midfield zone with the extra man.
The result of this was almost catastrophic with four glaring chances in the opening ten minutes of the second half.
Asteras were pressing through their front three, which often forced us to go back to the keeper and kick long.
Pressing was how their first chance arrived after just seconds of the restart, as Rolle stole the ball and fed in Tsokanis. Fortunately the forward could only scuff his shot wide.
However, they were now also in control of the midfield with the extra man and got easily between the lines.
The next chance saw Tsokanis get behind what was now a midfield four and have space to play in Rolle through our high line.
With Asteras doing this, we needed to drop our midfield and defence without having any pressure on the ball.
A third chance arrived from another long ball over the top, as our midfield was caught up the field again. And extremely unorganised.
Facundo Parra raced on to the long downfield clearance. He out-muscled Jan Vertonghen, slipped inside Fazio and then somehow managed to put the ball wide with just Michel Vorm to beat.
Another opportunity went begging as Parra then shot over. He was released again from Rolle having the ball behind our midfield and our defensive line being far too high up.
Having brought Soldado on, Pochettino couldn’t really take him back off given that only 8 minutes had passed. Harry Kane had done well, but Pochettino really needed to replace him with another midfielder in order to restore the balance and stop us being overrun in here.
Instead he took off Christian Eriksen and replaced him with Ryan Mason and Asteras continued to create chances.
Rolle got the ball again behind our midfield in the space in front of the defence and flicked a pass out to Pablo Mazza. The wide forward unleashed an exquisite shot that cannoned back off the inside of Michel Vorm’s far post. The closest Asteras had come.
It wasn’t until 75 minutes that Pochettino removed Harry Kane and brought on Paulinho; a change that should’ve come much earlier.
It still allowed Asteras a goal though. Paulinho played far too high up and Moussa Dembele wasn’t returned to his role screening the defence with Stambouli.
Paulinho and Dembele were caught up field as Ryan Mason was dispossessed, leaving five Spurs players in advance of the ball.
With our high defensive line and no pressure on the ball continuing, another long pass was sent forward over the top for Barrales to run on to.
The second half sub was matched up on the slower Federico Fazio and was going away from him.
Fazio nudged him from behind and Barrales, looking for the contact, definitely flopped as he felt any kind challenge. Fazio saw red for the second time in seven Spurs appearances and the floored forward converted the spot kick he earned.
Asteras Tripolis 1 Spurs 2 overall
This really was a game of two halves that saw us squeeze past a persistent Asteras team. The first we utterly controlled and were good for our 2-0 lead. The switch of Andros Townsend opened up the game from an attacking standpoint and had us in a great position.
The half time switch to remove Erik Lamela may have been with one eye on Stoke on the weekend, but didn’t have two eyes on the current situation.
It may have been a move to open up the game and go for a killing third, expecting Asteras to continue playing on the counter. However, the change really unbalanced the side, wasn’t rectified soon enough and we were almost made to pay.
Final score: Asteras Tripolis 1 Spurs 2.
Good article, well written, points well made and argued. Well done Mark
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Thanks Smurffee, how did you feel about the performance?
As you say in your piece, a very comfortable first half. We largely controlled the pace and the flow of the game. Central midfield looked comfortable Dembele in particular and as observed we were getting lots of room out on the left.
Whether that was by design with Eriksen coming inside at every opportunity dragging the full back in and leaving the Davies the freedom of Tripoli or more out of habit on the Dane’s part we’ll never know; but the switch to to put Townsend out on that flank paid dividends straight away.
Second half, well I think it was a simple case of them going early and going direct to bypass our midfield bulldogs. By rights they should have been level within 5 minutes of the restart. I certainly put the wind up our defence.
Ultimately Poch has to accept responibility for the poorer second half performance and in retrospect 2-0 up away in Europe and cruising, why bring another striker on?
Personally I’d have left Kane on until 60 minutes and if Lamela had to come off I’d have done a straight swap with Chadli and put Eriksen in the hole. Bringing on Soldado for Kane on the hour. Chadli is more of a presence and Eriksen would offer more guile for the counter attacks orchestrating things from the centre of the park.
I mean if it ain’t broke…..having said that, what do I know, eh?
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Nicely put. I would have made similar changes. 2-0 and cruising, why open the game up?
I second that, smurffee. A pity I was working, and couldn’t see the match. This article is the next best thing
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Thanks Reinert, glad i could be of help ;)
My pleasure! See, I don’t know if your analyzis is spot on, since I didn’t see the match. However, it is so much more interesting than the usual post-match writings. Not only are you doing a review, but you are adding your knowledge. I always felt what I saw differed from what I read from the hateful people that call themselves supporters. How I wish I could have put my words better, in defence of our players, that are so harassed by our own; now I can, thanks to your articles ;)
Education, truly, is the spur of imagination! Thank you!
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
You’re welcome, very glad that you enjoy them and hopefully they too spur the imagination. Thank you for the excellent feedback.
I confess to having been an ABV fan. I recall that period in his first season, where we were shipping late goals, and AVB admitted it was a problem and that something needed to be done about it, following one particularly galling game v Everton, and suddenly the problem stopped. Was it co-incidence, or did we have genius for a manager? The season ended with us missing the CL by one point, in a season where ADE underperformed.
The following season with seven new players in the squad and the loss of the Welsh Wizard, we are doing reasonably well except when we play, Pool, City or Chelsea, who mug us without any compassion. Arsenal grind out two wins against us which could have gone the other way, and would have left us in 4th with Arsenal Fifth. As we all know AVB is sacked. At the time of his sacking, he actually has one more point that for the corresponding game the previous year. Bearing in mind the loss of Bale and all the new players, and he is a point ahead of last year, you have to question if he should have been given more time.
Sherwood takes over. Unlike AVB he does not seek to field a team to win every game (AVB had won 10 straight cup ties) and he fields weaker teams in the cup. Nevertheless he is also mugged mercilessly by the big boys. He too is sacked at the end of the season despite having the highest league win percentage of any Spurs manager in history.
Then comes Poch. He continues in the vein of AVB and Sherwood by taking a kicking from City and Pool. Has anybody begun to notice: three different managers: same players; same outcome?
I have yet to be impressed by Poch, and uncharacteristically for a Spurs manager, he has no prior connection to the club, or a CV showing that he has won anything in management. His record at Espanyol is 33% wins and at Soton, 38%. Compare that to Sherwood whose overall figures are 50% or AVB whose record was 56%.
Now apart from the stats, I have to say that apart from when we have been playing vastly inferior teams, i have not seen a single game where we have impressed this season. In fact what I have most frequently seen are performances similar to the Asteras game, we put in a decent performance for the first half and then we are looking to get home rather than play the second half.
Clearly Poch has to do something to win me over as a fan, and I have allowed for the fact that if we keep getting the same results with the same players under different managers, then it might be the manager who is the prob. Certainly we have to wonder what use is Baldini proving?
I am not the best of losers but when we lose looking as if someone has drugged the half-time tea, I really want to know what’s going on, and when will it be fixed?
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Brilliant comment SpurredoninDublin. Apologies it didn’t appear straight away. As it was quite long it went in to my manual approval folder as it exceeded the word limit, but thank you for taking the time to craft such an excellent response.
I too was an AVB fan and readers from that era will know that only too well. The reasons you cite about fixing the late goal problem and the fact that we were coping better than people thought without Bale were just some of the reasons that i liked what he was doing. He should have been given more time.
I wrote about Pochettino when we hired him that it was an appointment that filled me with a great deal of excitement, but also a great deal of trepidation. I am still in that camp. As you say, he is having to work with the same group of players AVB and Sherwood had.
The problem a fair few fans seem to have is the quality of performance. I’m not sure if they were expecting us to suddenly be playing free-flowing football overnight? What i do know is that we (as in the fans) will give him longer as he is coming off achieving a successful project at Southampton. AVB on the other hand was damaged goods from the start. He was seen as a failure from his time at Chelsea and the media were also out to get him as he was an easy target. He never stood a chance.
I have no problem with average performances to begin with if the results are coming (as they were under AVB), as long as i can see a style being adopted and coached. Over time this should come out as the players become more immersed in it and it becomes second nature and the performances improve, as do the results.
At the minute i see some players, as at the start under AVB, who look like they’ve been told to do certain things in certain situations and they are slow on the ball as they are assessing which option they’ve been coached to do in that situation. It’s not second nature yet – that is why we moved the ball slowly under AVB. I’m hoping that this is just a phase as they are in the adoption part of Pochettino’s coaching and that this will improve.
You ask when will it be fixed? I think it’s another case of it’ll be better by the start of next season. This year, as it always seems to be recently, is another one of that dreaded ‘T’ word, transition.
Thanks for the kind words in your response.
As I write, we are 0-2 down at HT, and the best thing I have seen at WHL so far this pm, is Jurgen the German. I watched the US in the world cup, and for the first time ever, I saw an American team playing slick attractive football.
Please tell me that he was at WHL today for a job interview!
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
ha, i hope he was there to sign back up to be our centre forward, still looks like he can bang in the goals!
Just two seasons with us, but still one of the all time great Spurs players.