Besiktas 1 Spurs 0: through balls, set pieces and full backs

We have to settle for second place in Europa League Group C as we lose Besiktas 1 Spurs 0 at the Ataturk Stadium.

After three pitch invaders in our last Europa League match, this time we saw two floodlight failures, affecting a game that was decided by a single goal.

Whether by far means of foul, the lights failed after a promising start and right at the end of what was an intriguing game, mainly due to the state of the pitch. The surface at the Ataturk Stadium was not only full of bobbles that caused players to have to take extra touches and provoked miss-controls. It also saw several slips and changing direction quickly at speed was nigh on impossible, slowing the tempo of many an attack.

Spurs through balls

Before the lights went out we had a glimpse of how we could create good chances from open play, Mousa Dembele through balls.

The Belgian was deployed in a more attacking number ten position, pushing up behind striker Roberto Soldado. His early threaded pass through the inside left channel sent Nacer Chadli beyond the defence. His cross was agonisingly too high for Soldado who just failed to get on the end of it.


Dembele through ball to Chadli.

After the lights came back on, Mousa Dembele continued to thread the through balls. Next he almost got the wide forward on the opposite side, Andros Townsend, in on goal straight down the middle.


Dembele springs Townsend.

Townsend was unfortunately marginally offside, as he clipped the ball over the on-rushing Besiktas keeper.

As half-time approached, Dembele put Soldado in with a neat pass as we broke on the counter. Besiktas were trying to press up the field, allowing us to occasionally get out on the break in the rare moments that we could move the ball quickly across the difficult surface.


Dembele sets up Soldado.

Soldado had to take a touch to steady himself and settle the ball, allowing the defender to recover and block his shot.

Set pieces

Whilst through balls were causing Besiktas problems, we also had numerous chances from set pieces. These came in the form of corners, but also a number of free kicks in good areas.


Spurs’ good free kick positions.

Paulinho was on most set piece duties, later Andros Townsend would take over, but the Brazilian’s delivery was more miss than hit. A rare occasion where he did deliver a decent ball saw Younes Kaboul head down and Soldado fluff a guilt-edged chance with just the Besiktas keeper to beat.

The number of free kicks in decent areas was one thing, but we also had a great number of corners. Again Paulinho was the man on dead-ball duty and once more his delivery was often poor. A rare chance fell to Soldado, but his shot on the swivel was deflected wide for another set piece.

Full back forays

With Nacer Chadli and Andros Townsend playing as wide forwards and drifting into central areas, the width was once more provided by the full backs. Danny Rose has often been bursting his lungs to get forward and back down the left this season, but over on the right it’s been a different story.

The return of Kyle Walker here provided some much needed balance to the team. Eric Dier, Kyle Naughton and Vlad Chiriches have done an admirable job filling in, but none of them have the athleticism of Walker to get up and down the sideline.

Whilst not nearly 100%, Walker provided plenty of attacking thrust going forward. He was often up on the overlap, looking to get into crossing situations, something we’ve often missed from the right side.


Walker gets to the by-line to cross.

Overall, he and Rose put in eight crosses from open play between them, as both were looking to get high-up above the 18-yard box.


Walker and Rose crossing positions.

Besiktas expose Walker

The problem with asking your full backs to be both a big part of the attack, whilst also having to defend, is that they need to be at peak physical condition.

Mauricio Pochettino went with a number of players here who were not regulars in the side, but also several returning from injury. Among those were Walker and Rose, both tired as the game wore on in so much as that they were often much slower to get back from attacking positions. Besiktas exposed this, taking advantage of both, but Walker especially. Kyle noticeably tired as the match went on and we were made to pay.

The passage of play that saw Besiktas take the lead started with an error from Younes Kaboul. Besiktas were pressing for a large part of this game and surrounded by several opposition players, Kaboul for some reason tried to flick the ball to Paulinho. Suddenly Cenk Tosun had possession and unleashed a wickedly driven shot that rattled back off our crossbar.


Kaboul under pressure.

Visibly shaken by the error and almost conceding, seconds later the ball was in our net as Besiktas twice got Olcay Sahan in-behind Kyle Walker who was tired in his recovery.

The first phase of play saw Walker caught in midfield pressing the ball, as Sahan peeled off behind him with Townsend trying to get back.


Sahan gets in-behind Walker to cross.

Sahan was slowed by the surface and unable to deliver first time. He twisted and turned, finally chipping the ball across goal.

It was only partially cleared and as it was recycled, it was chipped over the head of Walker back to Sahan. The winger was once again running in-behind as Walker was caught pinching in to his centre backs.


Walker caught pinching in.

Sahan made no mistake with his ball across goal this time as his half-hit effort was bundled home by Tosun.

It was the kind of scrappy goal that the bad surface dictated would happen. It seems harsh to pin too much blame on Walker as he was clearly not match fit, but Besiktas continued to try and get in-behind him.

Ten minutes later and they were at it again as our centre backs, left back Danny Rose and midfielder Paulinho were attracted to the ball. Kerim Frei and Sahan raced on to the flick with Walker slow to get back.


Frei and Sahan get beyond Walker.

Frei tried to give Michel Vorm the eyes and fired at the near post when a shot across goal surely would’ve scored.

Pochettino subs

A game doesn’t seem to go by where we’re not questioning Mauricio Pochettino’s use of his substitutes. With Walker almost out on his feet and Rose also suffering, Besiktas were getting great joy on the counter attack, as our full backs couldn’t get up and back anymore.

Moments after the Frei chance, Mauricio Pochettino went to his bench. It was obvious we needed to get at least one or both of our full backs off, but the head coach made some really curious changes.

First up Soldado and Paulinho were replaced by Lamela and Lennon. Maybe the switch was made with Swansea in mind, but all it did was take away any attacking focal point we had. Nacer Chadli was put up front and he offered very little in terms of a player to hold the ball up or run in-behind. Soldado had missed some good chances but at least offered a focal point to play off.

Lennon had come on presumably to offer width, but also better defensive cover for the tired Kyle Walker. The change offered very little to slow down Sahan and Tore on the counter and it wasn’t until 76 minutes, almost 20 minutes after the Besiktas goal, that Walker was removed. Bringing on Etienne was another strange switch as Stambouli went to right back. Our set-up now looked as dysfunctional as the changes.

With Pochettino asking so much from the full backs in his system, if he was intent on getting something from the game, then he should’ve made changes in these positions. Rose and Walker off, Ben Davies and Fazio should’ve come on with Chiriches moving to right back. Lennon for Townsend would’ve given Vlad some support with a fresh Ben Davies overlapping the in-field moving Chadli on the other side.

As it was, the changes barely affected the game. The lights going out for a second occasion as we entered stoppage time halted any momentum we were trying to build.

Besiktas 1 Spurs 0 overall

Mauricio Pochettino went with a number of players here who were either returning from injury or have not played many minutes this season. As the game wore on, fatigue and lack of full match fitness definitely played a part.

The floodlight situation didn’t help and we did miss a number of good chances that the players and Mauricio Pochettino will be left to rue.

“I’m disappointed because we dominated, but in football you need to score when you create chances and dominate. We had clear chances but we were unlucky in front of goal. This is football.”

We created well from Mousa Dembele’s through balls in the first half, but also had many opportunities from set pieces throughout the match. Dead ball situations have never been a forte at Spurs, but something we need to focus on for games like these where difficult surfaces can hinder passing football.

Final score: Besiktas 1 Spurs 0.

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18 Responses to Besiktas 1 Spurs 0: through balls, set pieces and full backs

  1. super spud 12th December 2014 at 2:58 pm #

    Boy how we fallen, now our best player appears to be Harry Kane!!

    • Billy 12th December 2014 at 3:32 pm #

      We only needed a draw and end up losing. Mind you, we never looked convincing this season. Not one game where Spurs look likely to win the game for certain.

      MP had a poor game plan yesterday. Sub on a CDM and took off our only striker when we’re a goal down. Then put Stambouli at RB… It was actually better under Tim Sherwood. However, not much MP can do as it’s the players that needs to step up and start playing properly.

      It tells you a lot about Spurs if our youth players are our best players. Quality wise I do not think they’re better, but their determination is what keeping us from getting rinsed week in week out. If our star players can show the same drive as our youths we’ll be winning games with much more certainty – IMO.

      Anyways, I’ll continue watching my team, but won’t be long before I die from frustration of poor football.

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th December 2014 at 5:03 pm #

        Hang in there Billy, it may get worse before it gets better!

        • Billy 12th December 2014 at 6:24 pm #

          I hope so Mark. I can only pray MP gets the time he deserves before he gets fired. It’ll take MP at least 2 years before we start seeing the real Spurs under him.

          It’s not easy for the players to keep having to learn new philosophies every year with a new manager. However, ours players need to show my commitment to their game, much like our youth players, Lloris and Stambouli.

          IDK if you have realised but our oppositions aren’t scared of us no more. Every lower teams we have played always seem to have a look that they can beat us, and we just look easy and predictable to play against.

          I remember before when lower oppositions face Spurs and they usually try to avoid defeat to get a point. This season, they all believe they can get a win against us.

          Sadly I understand why, we’re slow and toothless in attack. I miss the times when most of our attacks look certain to score, but now it looks certain we concede when we fail in attack…

          I did hope our new players that joined would kick on after a year, but besides Eriksen, none have really shown any worth of their price tag. Maybe Chadli.

          I’ll watch the next game and hopefully some of the players can show a bit of energy and passion.

          • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th December 2014 at 2:26 pm #

            Some good points Billy. I don’t think opponents have been scared of us for a while to be honest, not since we had Bale. Pochettino does need time and maybe another couple of transfer windows to bring in the players he thinks can run his system. We’ve also hired Paul Mitchell who he worked with at Southampton so we really need to give them some opportunity to work together. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

            • Matthew 13th December 2014 at 2:44 pm #

              To be fair, this is a league-wide trend rather than something with Spurs in particular. Look at teams like Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Stoke, Villa (last year), etc. that have more confidence they can nick a result against the top sides.

              Maybe a result of teams like Swansea and Southampton who play their game no matter the opposition, or maybe the increased talent at lower teams (Bolasie, Adam Johnson, Bojan, Benteke) due to new tv revenue.

              • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th December 2014 at 5:06 pm #

                I agree this is a league-wide trend of some clubs not being afraid of the bigger ones, especially if they are at home. Palace in front of their own fans are a good example of this.

                On the road i would still say a lot of ‘smaller’ teams do still fear going to Stamford Bridge or the Etihad and play a defensive counter attacking game accordingly.

                Smaller teams may not be afraid of us, but they also know how to play against us. We have struggled at home against sides that sit back and play on the counter. Losses to WBA, Newcastle, Stoke at home whilst beating more attack minded teams like Southampton and Everton at the Lane highlight this.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th December 2014 at 5:02 pm #

      Hard to argue with that right now, Kane does give us energy and jump.

  2. Matt 12th December 2014 at 4:27 pm #

    I was so bored in this game that I was falling asleep. Spurs are playing extremely dull, tedious football.

    Paulinho unsurprisingly is not even capable of delivering a decent corner kick. There is nothing in the game that he can actually do well. Whether it is passing, dribbling, tackling, shooting or creating something, he is poor at everything. What a waste of 17 million.

    In terms of tactics, substitutions, level and style of football and results, Pochettino is worse than AVB and Sherwood and is on par with Juande Ramos.

    Since Redknapp left, the quality of football has got worse and worse.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th December 2014 at 5:06 pm #

      Difficult to compare as we had Modric, Bale and van der Vaart back then. The team does lack an identity though. Hopefuly the hiring of Paul Mitchell will bring us some players that fit in with a consistent way of how we want the side to play.

  3. Chris 12th December 2014 at 9:36 pm #

    I wondered if him hooking off Soldado was because his patience had finally snapped. Even I’m getting a bit close to thinking it’s just never going to work for him.

    Felt we were worse after the changes. Remember the good old days when we used to be questioning Redknapp and AVBs substitutions? What is it with our managers… Hope it is to save Soldado for the weekend, but even that would seem like a strange justification.

    Glad to have Walker back, and I thought Chadli looked good playing in this system too. Dembele missed a fairly obvious chance to put Chadli on a run in the first few minutes of the game, but otherwise did pretty well in that position, I thought. And Stambouli also looked good.

    • ultrapunch 12th December 2014 at 10:22 pm #

      The fans of all football clubs query their managers substitutions, Chris, when their team loses. It even happens with Chelsea fans, but they don’t lose very often under Mourinho!! It’s not restricted to Spurs!!

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th December 2014 at 2:38 pm #

        He is irritating, but I actually think Mourinho is the best manager in the Premier League at using his substitutions and timing them well.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th December 2014 at 2:37 pm #

      I do wonder about why Soldado always seems to get the hook early in games. Sometimes it is tactical ie to put a bigger body and hold-up player up top in Kane or Ade. Other times i’m half thinking that it’s because he is going to play the next game, then he never does and so frustration may well be a part of Pochettino’s decision.

      He always looks dejected to come off and i’m not sure it’s helping his very fragile confidence. Also, a lot of players get goals in the last 10 mins of games when defences tire, so i always think leave him on and if he grabs a goal it’ll do him the world of good. Also leaving him on would say to Soldado that the manager has faith in him.

      I always thought that AVBs changes were actually one of the better parts of his coaching lol.

      • Chris 13th December 2014 at 3:45 pm #

        True – actually the only real annoyance with AVB was when he bought Lamela on (or did he start him… I forget) against Arsenal. I had in my mind that he was going to introduce him slowly during the season and throwing him on in that match seemed the wrong thing to do.

        More generally it wasn’t his in game changes, but rather his change of approach. I was ok with those very solid 1-0 wins and was hoping he’s stick with them while getting the players who could work in the system (and/or have our squad slowly get used to them).

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th December 2014 at 5:15 pm #

          Yes i remember that well, Lamela came on as a sub in that game which seemed a bit desperate given he was fresh from signing. Especially after he managed Lloris integration in to the starting line-up quite well.

          I think the change of approach was to do with the continued berating he was getting for the quality of the football. It’s a shame he bowed to the pressure. Maybe this came from the boardroom as well as the fans, but the media were all over him too. Given time he may have done something with that side. Although the play was slow, we were really dominating games. A few more months of practice in the system along with players getting used to the league and we may have seen the attacking side pay off, as he certainly had the defensive phase working. All ifs, buts and maybes though.

  4. Dr JAB 13th December 2014 at 10:42 am #

    Hi Mark

    The usual excellent analysis of a disappointing game. I am in agreement with Matt about nearly falling asleep with the pace of the game. A couple of good points were Walkers return & display until tiring and Dembele’s opening half.

    Tactics are how one achieves a strategy or game plan. One needs to stand back and question Poch’s strategy. My understanding was that he was hired to implement a strategy of a pressing high-energy game. That seems to have gone out of the window for now. Is it because the resources at his disposal are not the correct ones. With the exception of Lennon, Walker, Rose all our players are pedestrian. Every club, including Besiktas know that when they get the ball run fast at us as we are so slow. Crystal Palace game a good example.

    Resources. The ability to step up when joining a big club and to adapt to the EPL are 2 key issues. This is also a problem. When established competent players eg Klinsman, Berbatov, van der Vaart joined they performed at the highest level. The EPL teams are littered with Spurs debris of players who had potential but could not raise their game. Routledge and Sigurdsson on sunday are prime examples. Have a look around the clubs for Spurs rejects.Plenty. For the 2nd part of this argument one wonders if Vlad, Capoue, Chadli, Paulinho, Stambouli, Soldado will make the transition to the EPL.

    Culture, values & ethos. Companies develop over time a specific set of values which new people, when joining the company, imbibe. When one company merges with another this is often lost. This could be the case with 7 new players coming in and changing the ethos that defined Spurs as encapsulated in our motto. One gets a sense of a more mercenary incentive rather that to contribute to building the business.

    Who to keep/throw away. We are sitting with a lot of problems of average players or those who’s skills have declined. I have always been a big fan of Kaboul but injuries have rendered him a liability. Naughton, Townsend, Rose plus many of the imports fall into this category. We need to have the political will to offload many of these and take the hit.

    Poch: Too nice. Naive.Out of his depth? In appointing Kaboul as captain he has erred as we sit with another Dawson problem. Should not be in the team. Ade made VC to try to motivate him. Tactical issues with no width and poor substitutions. Even all of us, as coaches from the couch can see this as your analysis demonstrated. Having said that I am not in favour of dismissing another manager. We need continuity. And positive results!!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th December 2014 at 2:59 pm #

      Great post Dr JAB. There is no doubt that Pochettino has adapted his tactics. From what i’ve read and rumours i’ve heard, I pin this down to two reasons. Firstly he doesn’t have the players to play how he wants. Secondly, he is now with a team where opponents will often sit back and say ‘break us down if you can and we’ll hit on the counter attack.’ All teams that have won at the Lane this year – WBA, Newcastle, Stoke, even Liverpool – have been counter attack sides. The teams we’ve beat – Everton, Southampton – have been more aggressive and thus leave spaces to get in to. Pochettino is not used to this as when at Southampton he wouldn’t face that many sides who would counter attack him. He has to figure out how to deal with this.

      Tactics link with your point about culture. We don’t seem to have an identifiable one since we’ve started to chop and change managers. Talk of playing ‘the Spurs way,’ is now just that, talk. We are nowhere near the teams of bygone days playing neat, nice passing football, mixed with flair and skill. We need an identity back and that goes hand-in-hand with tactics. Pochettino has a reputation of playing high-energy, intense pressing and attacking football and that is the stamp he should put on the team. To link to your point about resources, players recruited in to the club should have those strengths as their core skills. Only players that fit the bill should be recruited, not just because they are a star name.

      Poch, like AVB, maybe learning a bit on the job, but he needs to stamp his mark on the team. Making Kaboul captain as he was rumoured to be the popular choice among the dressing room kind of sums up his trying to please everyone approach. He needs to do things his way and have us play in his style, even if it upsets a few people.