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
Mauricio Pochettino rebalanced the diamond formation for this match. In order to get more firepower on the field, Eric Dier was left on the bench as Pochettino went attack heavy.
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.
Poch effectively went with the diamond, which I know you were worried about in the build up to this match. Have you revised your opinion now? Do you think this is a good option for us to continue to use moving forward? We’re so fluid and able to change shape multiple times in a match, so for me, it’s a good option.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
I used the term “rebalanced the diamond” here to make it more digestable. What we really had here was a flat three, so it wasn’t really a true diamond at all. It could possibly be compared to a modern Catenaccio, but replacing the three defensive midfielders in that system with more forward thinking players (Eriksen, Winks and Sissoko).
What’s more, this 4-3-1-2 formation makes it easier for the wide players, Sissoko and Eriksen in this game, to get out and help their full backs – something we have struggled with recently eg vs Arsenal. Its a different set up to the usual 4-1-2-1-2 diamond that Poch usually uses, whereby the outside players of the diamond are higher up than the man at the base and narrower to control central midfield. The 1-2-1 version in central midfield, which we used against Arsenal and other teams, leaves the defensive midfielder on his own, which would’ve been Winks in this match. It also plays the outside players of it, which would’ve been Sissoko and Eriksen in this match, higher and narrower.
check the 1-2-1 version here against Arsenal:
with the the flat 3 we played in this match and you will see the difference:
So, no I haven’t changed my opinion on the 1-2-1 version of the diamond that we’ve seen on many occasions this season. What’s more, we only scored here when Pochettino went 4-1-3-2 to be ultra aggressive with five attackers and emptied defensive midfield.
You reckon this is what Sherwood was trying to do but was unable to with us playing Chadli as a DM.. round about the same time he thought Makalele overrated
Barca don’t have any bruisers like they used to with Yaya so choosing Dier over Winks was a masterstroke. Sissokho for me has been a revelation.. by keeping it simple for him using his incredible gifts of size and speed… So how soon before Southgate nicks this one from us too
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
I couldn’t say what Sherwood was ever trying to do!
Sissoko has been good recently. He has much more confidence and now has very few clumsy touches, which used to be so frequent. It makes such a difference to his, and our, play as he now drives the ball forward. He is exceptionally quick and strong and now takes advantage of that. When he runs with the ball, very few opponents can stay with him. The next step for him is some more end product in terms of assists and the odd goal. But great strides in the right direction. Having the supporters sing his name rather than the opposite reaction has really boosted his confidence and self belief, which looked at an all-time low.
So nearlY a “not our night” match but we are grabbing late goals again which shows are fitness is coming to peak at just the right time – the mentioned on BT sports how we were tapering in the fitness of players – I presume to account for the crazy number of games they have all played in the last couple of years. Just wanted to mention the number of players slipping over last night – culminating in Messi (thankfully) when set just outside the box with moments to go. It started with KWP before the goal, and maybe unsettled him a little??
What a performance though, and all against a Barca weak side (as the pundits constantly said) with over £200 million in the front 3 alone! I wish we had weakness like that!! Onwards and upwards, do tHe scum in the Caribou and we could have our first trophy before Easter!
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
The players do look up to speed now and are performing consistently at a high level. I think being out injured has helped a few get some rest in as well. Dele and Vertonghen certainly look like it has benefitted them.
Good point about the number of players slipping. The Messi one was at a really good time from our point of view. There was also an Alderweireld one that was almost costly too! I remember Gary Neville saying on Monday night football once that the Camp Nou was the most heavily watered and slickest surface he ever played on, so that might well have had something to do with it.
A great result that will give a real boost ahead of a return match with them lot up the road!
Dave N says
I really enjoyed reading your analysis (as usual)
Not really a tactical point I know, but I’ve been a bit gutted to see the blame for Barca’s goal being laid at the feet of KWP.
He got completely sold out by an absolute shocker of a header by the otherwise excellent Sissoko who must surely get the ‘assist’ for providing such a gift to Dembele? If a team mate did that to me, there would be some filthy looks exchanged to say the least!
The game itself reminded me a little of our last trip to Anfield at the beginning of the year. There too we were slightly unfortunate to be a goal down at half time but whatever MP said at half time really worked as we came out and bossed the second half as I felt we did on Tuesday in the Nou Camp.
I do think that Poch’s substitutions are late and sometimes lack inspiration, (in my VERY humble opinion) but there is no doubting his ability to read a game and what the opposition is doing.
Thanks for all the effort you go to with ‘Spurs Fanatic’ – It’s much appreciated.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Hi Dave, thanks for the kind words. I enjoy doing the website and all of the discussion it creates. I agree with you about Poch’s subs. He often leaves them late and sometimes they can’t make an impact. Here he made some good moves and also changing the formation to have Eriksen as the sole defensive midfielder and five attackers ahead of him.
I thought Sissoko’s header was decent. He didn’t under or overplay it. KWP pondered between sending it back in or going back to Hugo. He then got caught in two minds and that was all Dembele needed. Dembele is lightening fast and that probably caught KWP out too. I rewatched it and still can’t lay any blame at Sissoko’s door. He had no choice but to go back to KWP with the header due to the bounce of the ball. Sissoko kept the ball alive well and this is unfortunately on KWP. I hate to compound it, but following the turnover, KWP also gets his body position and therefore feet wrong and that allows Dembele to turn him. I’m sure Poch will give him another run out soon, possibly on the weekend if Aurier and Trippier are still out, otherwise versus Arsenal, just so his confidence doesn’t take a hit – just as Poch did with Foyth after Wolves.
Mark from Virginia says
Thanks for the game write up. I always look forward to reading them after a Spurs game. Rose was really great in this match and I agree he was MoTM. I did think though that Spurs started the game with 4-2-3-1, but changed to a 4-3-3 early on. It seemed to me they were getting overwhelmed in the midfield before switching, which really helped.
I also thought it a great move when KWP came off and Siisoko played right back – didn’t see that one coming! It allowed us to have additional attacking force without sacrificing too much defensively.
Eriksen was immense in this game. He played with a ferocity we haven’t seen in a while. Spurs certainly deserved the win – if only they were more clinical in finishing, a constant theme in this season. Maybe it’s nerves? For sure it’s psychological and possibly due to the lack of having a home . The new stadium can’t come soon enough.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Hi Mark, Eriksen was excellent once again. His pass on the goal was outstanding and demonstrated his vision and awareness, which is second to none. Sissoko was also good at right back and made use of the space out wide to get in some good crosses – the one which Moura fluffed the header especially.
The first image of the article is from about 3 minutes and 20 seconds in to the game, which was my first indication of what we were up to with the 4-3-1-2 formation. Dele was pushing up to overwhelm the Barca centre backs and make a three forward line from his deeper starting position, but then would drop in to help defend, so it did at times look like a 4-3-3, but it was achieved from a 4-3-1-2 base.
Probably the most aggressive performance from Eriksen in a Spurs shirt.
I just hope it wasn;t because he was playing against his apparently fancied Barcelona!
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Pay him whatever he wants. Kane, Dele and Eriksen should be on the biggest contracts we can afford!
Thanks as always Mark.
Great analysis of a great performance!
A result to savour – and to thank Philips Sport Vereniging for an unlikely assist!
Gargantuan effort by the lads and a deserved result.
And the first time since the Spanish Inquisition that an away team won the possession stat at la Camp Nou!!!
I promise this will be my last swipe at The Oaf – I’m clearly watching a different person.
Look at his effort in the 92nd minute when he mindlessly turns the ball over the sideline in the Catelan half – under nil pressure whatsoever.
Could you imagine the reaction if Messi had taken the ball from the resulting throw and buried us?
Lazy and incompetent football.
I remain utterly perplexed as to the modern urban phenomenon that is the Sissoko Renaissance.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Get on board the Sissoko hype train! He was really good here, second in my MOTM rankings to Rose. His recent renaissance has been perplexing as he was so utterly awful before. Where has this turnaround come from? He still needs to add some more end product for sure, but he is establishing himself as a decent member of the squad now. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still ship him out in the summer, but right now he is viable option and massively improved on what was a terrible year and a bit in a Spurs shirt.
Erik Zen says
Have to weigh in here, having been a Sissoko apologist on these pages before others saw the light (had to get my I told you so in there!)
I actually wouldn’t ship him out because: he’s tireless, crazy strong, fast, is getting better, and doesn’t even whimper when shoved in all manner of unruly positions. By all accounts the squad love him as well. A keeper!
BTW wanted to get your wise take on this: Didn’t we start to start to click when Dembele got injured? Much as I love him I think we were still playing him as if he could do what he used to do and it was more often than not backfiring. Thoughts?
Thanks for the A+ analysis Mark! COYFS!
With you 100% Erik. I was, like Mark, totally disillusioned with Sissoko – and with very good reason. But give the man his dues, He’s now almost undroppable and in the top three performers each week. And he’s fit, unbelievably strong, has no history of injuries and looks like he can play for two hours.
Not the prettiest footballer we’ve had, but – right now – a huge force.
Unlike Mark, I’d keep him.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Good point about Dembele, Erik Zen. We have played well without him, but I think he is a valuable squad player. I still think he has something to give, but he can’t play as a sole midfielder any more. He really needs to play in a pairing, which may make getting in to the team difficult if Poch wants to play with the 1-2-1 version of the diamond. However, this 4-3-1-2 with the other central midfielders closer may suit him. However, for me he really needs to play with Dier or Wanyama alongside him at the base of a 4-2-3-1 to continue to get good production from him. Dembele is wearing down now and I think he needs some protection alongside him so he can execute his shuttling dribbles and safely move the ball from the defence to the attackers.
Sissoko has done well, but if we want to improve and push the likes of Man City and Liverpool, then for me we need to upgrade. He is clogging up an overseas player squad place and if we want to improve on the level of the squad and bring in the likes of an Ndombele, Andre Gomes, Barrios, Martial or Zaha then we need to get rid of the likes of Llorente, Sissoko and Dembele. Harsh i know, but if a move allows the team to get younger and better than we need to take it. Sissoko is 29 years-old now so recouping some of the £30 million we paid has to be a factor. Next summer, when he’ll be turning 30, would be a good time to deal for me.
Fair enough guys – two people whose opinions I really respect have to be taken on board.
Putting him in the fourth goal keeper shirt gets my full support though Erik.
You remain a genius in my book mate!!
And I support your Dembele observation.
Back to alignmentville!
I’ve always loved him but he was often too one dimensional in that he didnt convert hard won possession into goals.
The midfield dilemma is potentially being solved via the type of formations analysis that Mark is articulating.
Andre Gomes is getting the spotlight now and could be the missing piece of the puzzle with the future of Dembele and Wanyama in doubt.
We would have Dier/Gomes/Winks/Dele/Eriksen to draw from behind Lucas/Lamela/Son/Kane.
We need to realty look to buy high class players from now on.
Selling the flotsam isn’t going to be easy however.
A lot to shift…
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Great comment Toby4eva. As said above, we need to make some moves to improve the squad and upgrade where we can, especially where they are clogging up overseas player squad places. The likes of Sissoko (29 years old, 30 next summer), Llorente (34 in Feb) and Dembele (32 next summer) come in to that. If we are going to try and bring in Ndombele, Gomes et al and it allows us to get younger and better then we need to go for it. With the new stadium and CL football we need to push forwards. Standing still means that you go backwards in the Premier League.
Erik Zen says
Fourth keeper shirt it is!
Returning the praise back at you, always adore your poetic contributions and have big love for this little community of commenters Mark has created. Enhances the experience no end.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Really great community on here and enjoy all the contributions and comments that fuel some next level discussions.
Lovely comment Erik.
It takes a leader to shape a team and we all have become attracted to this site via our very own Gaffer.
All positive passion.
All common purpose.
All thoughtful contribution.
Al down to Mark’s insightful and dare I say it again – passionate – work.
And Chas – I love your work too mate.
I was typing as you posted!
Hard to imagine this is actually a cyber forum innit!
More like a very exciting and upwardly mobile football club led by a similarly astute gaffer that is obviously and hugely loved by his cohort.
Just thought id share my thoughts on the squad since we are talking about it (arrived at this conversation very late)
I would meep Dembele and adapt hi. To come on to close out a game. He has the attributes to help keep the ball when we are ahead. Not the fastest but should be fine around tired legs. For me hes worth keeping and he wants to stay.
My list for exists to free up overseas spaces:
1) Vorm (been decent but Poch prefers Gazziniga)
2) Aurier (not going to be good enough for me)
And some budget friendly suggestions to replace them because hey.. why not.
1) Hart/pope (saves an overseas player as 3rd)
2) Pavard (only becuase I cant think of a better option)
3) Ndidi (will be expensive but a long term solution)
4) Gibbs-white/Maddison (i think we have enough on the wing so a young no10 is a better replacement)
5) Vokes/Austin/Ings/Wilson (need someone that can score but is happy one the bench)
6) Gomes (more to replace dembele)
We should start poaching this bunch from united as their contracts are expiring:
I am wondering why Wanyama is on that list-last season he was posting Kante like stats.
Ericksen has admitted that when Wanyama is behind him he feels more free to move up the pitch.
and we paid something like £11 Mil pound for Wanyama-buying a player of similar quality would cost upwards of £60 Mil-so i think selling him would be bad math.
Is he no good now because of slow injury recovery ? – cause we waited ages for Lamela to mend. Winks as well.
To be honest either Dier or Wanyama could have made it in that list to free up a space as a defensive midfielder, they are both very similar to me and they are the only two players in our squad that should never need to play together, it would of course depend on what we could get for him.
Dier offers us more flexibility, goals and passion, although this season he has been way off his standard.
I also think a time for mobile Defensive Midfielders is on the horizon. With Kante, Torreira and Fernandino being prime examples, Ndidi would give us another type of player.
There isn’t a lot we can do with our first 11 considering our lack of budget, but based on current form, thats the one position that could be looked at.
Seasons greetings all.
Our gaffer must be too delirious to post!!
Eleven goals in three days against teams that should have been made of sterner stuff?
The season will now be defined by the next two Scouse games.
If they take the full six points they will be uncatchable I’d suggest – with only three top six teams left to negotiate.
But we can absolutely keep winning on this very kind fixture run.
21 from the next seven is realistic with five games at “home” and only one trip out of London until Dortmund.
But our big games come late in the season and Liverpool can steal a march in the next few days.
But I don’t think any of us thought we would be sitting second after St Stephens Day!
Happy days with the lads bang in form.
The Lucas goal at the Camp Nou may well have been Mission Control hitting our season’s green button.
So to the current discourse…
N’Dombele is the man.
21yo – we would have to go to 60/70 mill – but he is what we need.
I’d keep both Dier and Vic if they are fit – they are to be rotated at no6 – ditto N’Dombele and Winks in the no8.
Eriksen in front of them to prowl the streets and throw bottles through windows and scare the locals.
The front three (of five willing chaps) to loot and pillage as per current performance plot.
Works for me!
Happy New Year to all!!!