Georges-Kevin Nkoudou in action during Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham in the International Champions Cup.

Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham: narrow Spurs open up

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.

Narrow Spurs setup concedes space out wide during Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham.

Narrow Spurs setup concedes space out wide.

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.

Sergi crosses for Rafinha as Carter-Vickers loses Munir to score a goal during Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham.

Sergi crosses for Rafinha as Carter-Vickers loses Munir.

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.

Rafinha heads down for Munir to score during Barcelona 2-2 Tottneham.

Rafinha heads down for Munir to score.

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.

Miranda's crossfield pass to Rafinha against narrow defence during Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham.

Miranda’s crossfield pass to Rafinha against narrow defence.

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.

Midfield triangle and high full backs during the second half of Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham.

Midfield triangle and high full backs during the second half.

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.

Nkoudou plays in Davies' forward run so he can cross during Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham.

Nkoudou plays in Davies’ forward run so he can cross.

Two minutes later and Nkoudou was on the score sheet himself. Anthony Georgiou initially released right back Serge Aurier as he flooded forward.

Aurier's forward run attacks the back line during Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham.

Aurier’s forward run attacks the back line.

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.

Aurier delivers the cross for Nkoudou's goal during Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham.

Aurier delivers the cross for Nkoudou’s goal.

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.

Penalty Shootout

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.
MOTM: Rafinha.

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7 Responses to Barcelona 2-2 Tottenham: narrow Spurs open up

  1. Toby4eva 30th July 2018 at 10:59 am #

    Thanks Mark

    From elsewhere regarding 433….


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 30th July 2018 at 11:52 am #

      Thanks for sharing. I’m interested to see if we continue with the 4-3-3 formation in to the season or if it is just for this tour due to the personnel Poch has with him. What it does do is give us another option so we can change between 4-2-3-1, 3-4-2-1 or 4-3-3 possibly even in game. Then we will have a plan A, B and C.

      • YouShubes 30th July 2018 at 11:00 pm #

        My mate Scott wrote the article the problem I have with going to for 433 is that we don’t have the dembele of two years ago and dier can be inconsistent.

        When we played 352 vs Liverpool at Wembley the three in the middle were Alli eriksen and Winks….they will track back but none have the tactical ability of Dier or the sheer strength of Wanyama or Mousa

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 30th July 2018 at 11:19 pm #

          Would like to see it tried out. What has been interesting is Poch’s use of Eriksen in both a deeper and then higher position as a number ten behind a front three.
          This lineup of a potential 4-3-3 seriously excites me:
          -Aurier, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Davies-
          -Dele, Dier, Eriksen-
          -Moura, Kane, Son-

  2. Toby4eva 30th July 2018 at 11:41 pm #

    Point well made Shubes.

    Hence my suggestion elsewhere of Dier (or Vic) to anchor the three in the middle.

    In front of him I think Dele can offer a slightly different option to Dembele.

    We are simply not going to be able to replace Dembele “one for one” – he is a unique beast that plays a unique role.

    He bosses the ball – but his end product is nil.

    Dele as we know can score plenty – and I think he can be de developed into a Gerrard type of player and lay deeper and make fewer but more decisive incursions forward.

    It would dovetail with his England role.

    Eriksen of course provides the tactical nous and sitting deeper allows Dele to get forward. He can morph into a Modric clone.

    With Kane and two other attackers further forward, this provides us with a genuine goal threat of five players rather than four.

    Granted of course that we lose significant defensive steel I midfield.

    It’s a tricky one but the Gaffer has got to try and come up with a solution.

    Buying new players doesn’t appear to be one of them….



    • YouShubes 31st July 2018 at 6:02 pm #

      That is my concern though I do trust Dele to kick or punch someone! Winks will make interceptions but not something Eriksen not as thrilled to want to do.

      Unless we can magic up another Kante doubt you will get someone who can be two players at once on the pitch.

  3. Toby4eva 1st August 2018 at 12:02 am #

    Agree re Dele – he is willing to get in the face of the opposition but obviously hasn’t got the imposing strength of Moose.

    But even he got brushed away by Pogba in the Cup semi – so playing a midfield with more finesse and guile has to be an option.

    Only time will tell if it works!

    I see Eriksen is talking up Oliver Skipp – which further suggests we won’t be buying anyone!