Attacking the full backs sees us through to the Champions League knockout stages as it ended Barcelona 1-1 Tottenham in the Camp Nou.
Spurs advanced from Champions League Group B after a remarkable performance in the Camp Nou. The key was attacking the spaces left by the Barcelona full backs. As a result, Lucas Moura popped up with the vital goal so that the match ended Barcelona 1-1 Tottenham.
Tottenham’s narrow 4-3-1-2
The objective of the system was to get two strikers on the pitch to occupy the two Barcelona centre backs. Dele Alli then lurked behind them and would often surge through to create overloads or push up to make a trio in order to press. This overwhelmed Barcelona and gave them real difficulties playing out.
Behind this trio sat another band of three. Christian Eriksen and Moussa Sissoko flanked Harry Winks. With no Eric Dier, Tottenham played extremely narrow in order to protect Winks. This move meant that Sissoko and Eriksen had to get through a tremendous amount of work to sprint out and help the full back on their side. The constant shuttling of these two workhorses was incredible to watch as neither seemed to tire.
Our formation gave Barcelona space on the flanks and on the most part we did well to limit their chances. Philippe Coutinho was the main exponent of the room behind afforded. He twice hit the outside of the post and also came close to getting his customary goal against us.
Barcelona is extremely well known for playing narrowly in the defensive phase. However, once they have the ball they will open up to use the full width of the luxurious Camp Nou surface. Tottenham were therefore given room to use the wide spaces if the ball could be shifted out quickly to the flanks.
Spurs did just this to win an early free kick. Kyle Walker-Peters did exceptionally well to take the ball and race up the line where he was fouled.
Following the good work came the bad. Spurs had a free kick in a wide area, but the choice to leave so much inexperience on the halfway line to defend any potential counter attack haunted us.
Danny Rose was involved in the taking of the kick as he ran over the ball as a decoy. As a result, Harry Winks and Kyle Walker-Peters were left on halfway.
We’ve seen a lot of these decoy runs over free kicks in wide areas this season. Ben Davies is the usual exponent of this. I assume this is why Rose was on this duty, but to have his experience up by the ball left Walker-Peters and Winks with the more important job to do.
As the kick was partially cleared, Moussa Sissoko looked to safely recycle the ball. Walker-Peters then pondered, got caught in two minds and lost possession to Ousmane Dembele.
The Barcelona man hoovered up the loose ball and then tore past Kyle Walker-Peters, who is no slouch, like he wasn’t even there. Dembele’s turn of pace was frightening. It was probably what stopped Harry Winks from making a challenge earlier when he was much closer to the loose ball. Winks then showed his inexperience by throwing himself in an attempt to block, giving Dembele the easy option to cut back inside him. The goal was now fully opened up for Dembele to pick his spot. He made no mistake as he slid the ball under Hugo Lloris to put Barcelona in front.
Attacking the full backs
In our preseason match that ended Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham and the Tottenham 2-4 Barcelona game at Wembley, the Barcelona full backs have left spaces to attack. Spurs did extremely well in opening up these spaces in this game.
Danny Rose was the chief exponent. Rose’s more aggressive attacking nature was why he was in the team here over Ben Davies.
Rose was excellent at getting forward to stretch Barcelona’s narrow defence. He also often got beyond full back Nelson Samedo. Rose put in an excellent cross in the first half that almost found the arriving Son Heung-Min.
After the interval and Rose once more found himself in space by running beyond the Barcelona right back. This time Danny Rose pulled the ball back, which evaded everyone, when shooting looked the better option.
In the final moments, Rose could’ve wrapped up an unlikely win. However, he blasted the ball well over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
On the other side of the pitch, Moussa Sissoko also caused problems. Sissoko was shifted to full back as Pochettino substituted on more attacking firepower. His dangerous cross found the head of Lucas Moura. However, goalkeeper Jasper Cillesen clawed Moura’s header back off the line at full stretch.
Tottenham formation shift
Spurs had caused issues for Barcelona from the 4-3-1-2 formation. However, the more time wore on, the more we had to chase the game.
Mauricio Pochettino introduced Erik Lamela for Kyle Walker-Peters. Moussa Sissoko then played as an emergency right back. Lucas Moura and subsequently Fernando Llorente were also substituted on as Pochettino ended up with a 4-1-3-2 formation. Christian Eriksen sat as the sole holding player behind five attackers.
However, it would be Eriksen’s passing, combined with attacking Barcelona’s full backs, which would earn our Champions League salvation.
Attacking the right back
Right back Nelson Samedo had come in for a torrid time from Danny Rose’s runs beyond him. Harry Kane would subsequently pull around Samedo as Tottenham got back on level terms.
Kane working up front with Son Heung-Min had given Barcelona’s defence the run around. Kane had shifted centre back Clement Lenglet about to create space for Son to run through in the first half. Son fluffed the resulting one-versus-one situation as goalkeeper Jasper Cillesen denied him with an outstretched leg.
Kane then subsequently spun off Lenglet to put himself through after the interval. However, a shove in the back from the recovering defender saw Kane fire over.
The arrival of Fernando Llorente saw Kane take up a left-sided position up front where he could now work the narrow Barcelona full back. Kane isolated himself against Samedo on the equalising goal.
Great work by Danny Rose to win the ball back then saw our defence play around Barcelona’s tired press. Christian Eriksen then fired an exquisite pass that broke two lines to Erik Lamela.
Lamela having the ball held Samedo, which allowed Kane to run off the back of him. Kane’s cross was converted by Lucas Moura to make the score Barcelona 1-1 Tottenham. Moura had run almost the entire length of the pitch to get there. Starting off near Christian Eriksen, Moura accelerated when he saw the situation opening up to arrive on cue.
Spurs then had the opportunity to win the match. Harry Kane drew in Samedo once more. As a result, Danny Rose could nip in to the space Samedo had left. However, Rose fired over with the goal gaping.
The score remained at Barcelona 1-1 Tottenham but with Inter Milan’s draw at home to PSV Rose’s miss didn’t matter. Tottenham were through to the Champions League knockout stages for the second consecutive season.
Barcelona 1-1 Tottenham overall
An incredibly gutsy and determined performance in one of Europe’s toughest stadiums. Spurs took the game to and created much the better chances against a Barcelona team that may have been under strength, but still packed some quality.
Mauricio Pochettino made some bold moves in this match. Leaving Eric Dier on the bench and playing Harry Winks as the defensive midfielder was one. Aggressive substitutions and shifting to a 4-1-3-2 that finished with Christian Eriksen as the sole defensive midfielder was another.
Attacking the Barcelona full backs proved the key to the positive result. Danny Rose gave Nelson Samedo a torrid time. However, it was Harry Kane pulling on to the full back that secured the equalising goal and subsequently almost won the match.
Final score: Barcelona 1-1 Tottenham.
MOTM: Danny Rose.