We go back to the long ball game to gain possession higher up the pitch as we win our Premier League clash Aston Villa 0-2 Spurs.
It was back to basics at Villa Park. Days after being overpowered in Dortmund, the restoration of the players left out there saw a return to basic Pochettino-ball. The result was a much heavier reliance than normal on the quick, long ball forward to gain possession much higher up the pitch, leading to a comfortable win, Aston Villa 0-2 Spurs.
Long ball tactics
The long ball forward in to a Dele Alli or Harry Kane run from Toby Alderweireld has become a standard tactic this season. In Dortmund that particular avenue was cut off due to both Kane and Alli being out and thus we didn’t have the personnel to make it work. This led to us being either unable to get out of our half due to the Dortmund pressing swarm or the ball coming straight back.
At Villa Park, with Alli and Kane restored. We went back to the quick ball forward early, often and throughout the 90 minutes.
Kevin Wimmer set the tone just seconds in to the match as he looked long for a Kane run. It continued, as both centre backs looked to get us on the front foot against an error prone Aston Villa back line. This was key. As the ball was moved forward, it didn’t just have to go directly to Kane, Alli or in to space for Lamela’s runs. We often relied on an Aston Villa mistake and then hoovered up the second balls. Now in a position much higher up the pitch, and usually on their back line, we could go to work and create chances.
A good example of what frequently happened was here.
Toby Alderweireld has the ball and with no pressure on him, sends it downfield towards Harry Kane.
The pass is actually well off target, but Joleon Lescott makes a mess of the clearance and shanks it up in the air. Now the advanced midfield pack, who have got themselves between the lines to pressure the defence, can close.
Erik Lamela is first to challenge against Aly Cissokho, as the two jostle for position when the ball comes back down.
Lamela partially wins it and the loose ball is scooped up by Christian Eriksen in space.
Now in possession we can go to work. The ball goes through some neat one-touch passing in to Lamela, Kane and then out to Rose who is flying forward. He can create a good crossing angle from a short position close to the penalty area. This is key, as the closer he is to his target, the higher the chances of completing the cross.
Rose picks out Kane for a very high percentage scoring chance, but Harry sees his low effort thwarted by Brad Guzan’s kick save.
It was like this all game from Spurs. Quick balls forward to get the attack moving higher up the field before Aston Villa could regroup. Then hoovering up the second and loose balls to gain good attacking positions quickly before Aston Villa could recover.
Space between the lines
The reason the long ball game was effective was not just that Aston Villa’s defence is error prone. As seen above, the Villains still leave big gaps between the lines and we were able to exploit these all game. We either picked up the second balls in here or were able to find a runner through the space between their defence and midfield.
Erik Lamela was often the biggest exponent of this space. The Argentinian loves to get going by running on to the ball so that he is already travelling towards goal. He is a much better player when he can do this rather than having to play with his back to goal and deal with a defender on him. This saw Lamela create several chances in the first half and almost score himself when latching on to a Kyle Walker pull back.
We could have been ahead in the opening minutes, as a quick break forward saw Lamela, and Eriksen, free in the ocean of space between the lines.
Lamela’s slid-through pass put Harry Kane in, but his chip over Guzan pinged off the bar when taking it round the keeper seemed like the easier option.
Later and Lamela was at it again. He once more had an ocean of space between the lines and teed up Dele Alli for a fearsome drive.
With the amount of possession and space we were finding in this area, I was surprised Aston Villa didn’t really do anything about it all game. Ashley Westwood and Idrissa Gueye didn’t correct their positions or offer their centre backs any protection and it would be key to both goals.
We had plenty of chances to open the scoring before the opener arrived at the ideal moment of just before half time.
The goal came from Dele Alli’s quick thinking and started with us having possession, turning it over, but then quickly counter-pressing to regain it. This then saw both Alli and Lamela sprung in to the huge space between the lines that Aston Villa had left.
With Dele Alli on the surge, Idrissa Gueye fouled him from behind. Aston Villa were slow to regroup, especially both full backs. Alan Hutton and Aly Cissokho had started to charge forward when Villa had the ball, but the quick regaining of possession had caught them out.
As Dele Alli got to his feet and clipped the free kick in to Kane’s path, Hutton was left behind, slow to react and couldn’t recover. 1-0 and relief all round.
Taking the lead moments before half time, we doubled our advantage straight after the interval. I thought Aston Villa would take the opportunity of the half time break to address and tighten up the space between the lines that they were leaving. But they didn’t and they hadn’t heeded the warnings.
The ball was transferred quickly forward after a Villa turnover, leaving Erik Lamela in a world of space between the lines.
The speed of transitioning the ball forward had once more caught out Aly Cissokho and Alan Hutton trying to get forward. Both full backs were slow to react and didn’t try and sprint to recover their positions.
In Hutton’s case, this was once more fatal. Dele Alli was just beyond him when the ball was sent in to Erik Lamela. As the Argentinian flicked it towards Alli’s run, Hutton was lost and treading water.
Alli was calm and composed to pick out Harry Kane’s trailing run to slide home the second, Aston Villa 0-2 Spurs.
After the second goal, we took our foot off the gas a bit, but continued to create chances.
Kyle Walker, who had been getting forward excellently on the overlap all game and often been a target for long balls forward on the diagonal, fizzed an effort that stung Brad Guzan’s palms. Erik Lamela saw a good effort deflected wide after he got between the Aston Villa lines of defence and midfield once more. Harry Kane also had a couple of decent chances to ensure he took the match ball home with him.
Despite having the opportunities to add a third and wrap the game up, we didn’t take them. 2-0 is supposed to be teh most dangerous lead in football and Aston Villa, who had rarely troubled Hugo Lloris, proved this by almost stealing a share of the points at the end.
Jordan Ayew, who had been their best outlet for attacks down the left throughout the game, got free and beyond the attentions of Dembele and Walker. His shot from a tight angle cannoned off Hugo Lloris and the post before Rudy Gestede pinged the rebound back off the bar. A narrow escape.
Minutes later and another ball in from Ayew’s left side was nodded out by Kevin Wimmer for a corner. The resulting set play saw Gestede flick-on and Joleon Lescott hit the outside of the post with the goal gaping. After the Dortmund game, marking at corners is fast becoming a concern. Fortunately they couldn’t convert and the score remained Aston Villa 0-2 Spurs for a vital three Premier League points.
Aston Villa 0-2 Spurs overall
It felt a bit like back to basic Pochettino tactics after our run of recent results. The long ball game to establish possession up the pitch was a perfect plan of action though. Aston Villa neither had the speed to chase the balls played out towards the corner flags or the sidelines, nor did they have the ability to often deal with the first ball forward and made a mess of trying to bring it down or clear it. This allowed our attacking players to hoover up the loose balls or press the Villa defender into an error or turnover. Coupled with long ball forward, the space between the lines allowed our players to be first to the loose ball or have space to work in once we had possession. This long ball and exploiting the resulting space proved to be a deadly mix that Aston Villa had no solutions for.
Final score: Aston Villa 0-2 Spurs.