Narrow Spurs got stretched, but then opened up the full backs to even the final score at Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham in the International Champions Cup.
The proverbial game of two halves saw a narrow Tottenham team stretched to the limit in the first. After the interval, a shift in personnel and style thrust the full backs forward to level the scores at Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham in Pasadena, USA.
Narrow Spurs get stretched
Barcelona’s reputation for neat passing football saw Mauricio Pochettino line Tottenham up in a very narrow 4-3-3. The formation had been used in Roma 1-4 Tottenham to surround the labouring Fernando Llorente with pace. Pochettino altered it here so as to cut off Barcelona’s passing lanes through the inside channels.
The issue for Spurs was that it gave Barcelona plenty of room to move the ball early to the flanks. As a result, Barcelona shifted play quickly across their formation in either one or two passes or a long diagonal switch.
Barcelona rampant from wide
Barcelona’s quick movement of the ball ran the Tottenham shape from side-to-side and provided two goals in the first half.
Just fourteen minutes were on the clock when Munir el Haddadi opened the scoring. Barcelona started by playing down the left, causing Tottenham to collapse to this side. Sergi Roberto then switched play with a raking pass towards Rafinha Alcantara at the back post. The Brazilian had pulled away from Kyle Walker-Peters, allowing him to easily win the header.
Whilst this was going on, Cameron Carter-Vickers had lost Munir, who had slipped off his shoulder. As Rafinha’s downward header bounced enticingly along the goal line, Munir arrived to make it 1-0.
Barcelona’s switch of play from left to right saw them stretch a narrow Spurs defence to take the lead. Fifteen minutes later and they would double their advantage doing the same.
Spurs were caught narrow once again as Juan Miranda had the ball in space on the left. His raking long diagonal pass picked out Rafinha in acres of room on the right.
Rafinha’s exquisite touch to bring the ball down instantly was impresive. His layoff for the arriving Arthur Melo to whip it in to the top corner finished off a superb move.
Spurs had been caught narrow once again, expecting tiki-taka and succumbing to long diagonal switches.
Tottenham make changes
A narrow Spurs team had been stretched to the limit by Barcelona’s insistence on keeping their width and relentlessly switching the ball from side-to-side. The second half saw Mauricio Pochettino make both personnel and tactical changes that addressed the imbalance.
Two key moves were made. Firstly, Pochettino shifted the shape of central midfield. The three-chain of Moussa Sissoko, Luke Amos and Christian Eriksen became a triangle. Oliver Skipp was brought on to partner Luke Amos at the base. Christian Eriksen was moved in to the number ten position.
Second, Ben Davies was restored as a full back after starting as a centre back. Serge Aurier and him were then tasked with staying high and getting forward to push Barcelona’s wide players back.
The changes dragged us back in to the match to a score line of Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham as both Davies and Aurier created a goal apiece.
Full backs on the attack
With Ben Davies and Serge Aurier in the full back positions, Tottenham were much more aggressive going forward. Davies supplied the cross that eventually wound up at the feet of Son Heung-Min to get us back in the game.
Davies combined well with Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, who found his run with a neat pass around the corner.
Two minutes later and Nkoudou was on the score sheet himself. Anthony Georgiou initially released right back Serge Aurier as he flooded forward.
After being repelled at first, Aurier delivered another whipped in ball to the middle, which caused a goal line scramble. Georgiou saw his shot blocked on the line, but Nkoudou arrived to hoover up the rebound. Two goals in two minutes and back on level terms at Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham.
With Barcelona tiring in their first preseason outing, Spurs finished much the stronger. Eriksen, Son and Aurier combined excellently to keep probing through the inside right channel, but couldn’t get the vital game-winning goal. The match ended with a score of Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham and went to penalties.
The penalty shootout saw some interesting takers as Ben Davies and Davinson Sanchez both stepped forwards to dispatch spot kicks. However, it was Anthony Georgiou who missed, giving Barcelona a 5-3 win on penalties.
Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham overall
The Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham score line made this look like a better performance than it really was. Not only did the Spanish giants play a vast number of their Barcelona B team players, but Spurs also got their initial setup wrong and were dominated in the first half.
A switch in the formation and tactics, combined with Barcelona tiring in their first preseason game and making a raft of changes, allowed us back in to it. Moving our full backs higher and altering the central midfield shape pushed Barcelona back and saw us remedy the two-goal deficit.
After the Roma performance this felt like a step backwards with many of the bright lights from that game flickering here. Fortunately, there is another chance to work on this new version of 4-3-3 that Mauricio Pochettino is employing on this tour against AC Milan on Tuesday.
Final score: Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham.