A tough game sees us get to grips with, but fail to punish, the hosts press, as it finished Bournemouth 0-0 spurs in our Premier League clash.
It’s becoming trendy to press Spurs. Off the back of a thorough examination of our ability to handle Leverkusen’s hounding ball recovery, Eddie Howe brought wave after wave of pressure. In fact, both teams spent large portions of the match trying to squeeze the life out of each other, which made for a frantic encounter. Good chances were at a premium though. Tottenham gained a grip as the match wore on, but a lack of clinical finishing meant it ended Bournemouth 0-0 Spurs at the Vitality Stadium.
The Cherries opened the game with relentless pressing of our centre backs and Victor Wanyama dropping in. Eric Dier and Jan Vertonghen found themselves instantly under pressure and were often forced to either go long or back to Hugo Lloris. He was then shut down and had to resort to downfield clearances.
It made it extremely difficult to move the ball out to gain any kind of control. Without a hold-up man up top, any clearances were not sticking and just turning possession over. With Victor Wanyama also quickly closed down, we could not build through the middle third.
This is where our new 4-1-4-1 formation has a weakness. Without the strength of Mousa Dembele close by to twist and turn away from would be pressers, Victor Wanyama can become isolated.
Bournemouth set pieces
Bournemouth were building some pressure and it often manifested itself in set pieces. Free kicks from our loose challenges to regain the ball were frequent. Erik Lamela was lucky to stay on the field. His rashness was almost punished with a second yellow card as he cuts an increasingly frustrated figure with his current slump in form.
The Cherries also gained a number of corners, 5 in the first 15 minutes to be exact. Curiously four of these were played short. Whether this is something they’ve identified prior to match was unsure, but it resulted in the best chance of the game.
I’ve talked before about our set up at corners and the three-man zone that we use to defend the edge of the six-yard box to stop the opposition getting a run at Hugo Lloris. Everyone else goes man-for-man, but the three-man zone – occupied by Rose, Lamela and Dembele in this match – stays in tact.
Teams that can affect this zone by either stretching it or dragging it around have had success against us at set pieces. Maybe this is what Bournemouth were trying to do with their short corners, as it worked.
They affected it by running Josh King short towards the corner taker. This dragged his man marker Dele Alli with him. The first mistake was that Danny Rose saw King’s run and went with him, stretching this zone, which should’ve stay in tact. Rose’s responsibility is to stop player’s getting in front of him, but Alli was covering, so he could’ve stayed put.
The second error came as Jan Vertonghen tracked Dan Gosling’s run. I’m not sure why we had a centre back on Gosling, but that’s who Jan picked up, so we can only assume that was his detailed marker.
As gosling went in-behind Josh King’s run, Erik Lamela was also dragged forwards, again vacating the zone. Like Rose, he needn’t have gone. Two players were now taken away from here, leaving just Mousa Dembele.
Vertonghen then committed the error of not fully going with Gosling. He stopped and turned, as if he was supposed to be picking up someone else and was worried where they were. As this was happening, Charlie Daniels ran off Eric Dier and in to the big hole created by Rose and Lamela’s exodus from the six-yard box.
Daniels got to the ball and sent it goalwards, but once again Hugo Lloris was there to pull off another miraculous save. Thwarting Leverkusen on his own line midweek, here he somehow deflected the ball up on to the bar and over. His cat-like reactions are the reason why he leads the Premier League in save percentage.
Spurs navigate the press
Bournemouth were making it extremely uncomfortable for us, restricting any time and space on the ball. They were closing down from the front, but also retreating well, quickly regaining a defensive shape once we crossed halfway.
They were getting numbers to and around the ball. This often saw them gang tackling our players. We weren’t doing ourselves any favours by trying to play short, neat, first-time passes, especially in this restricted space.
Bournemouth were able to do this because their shape was so narrow once they had set defensively. If their press was broken, they stacked up two banks of four and kept them contracted, within the widths of the penalty area.
The space for Spurs was thus naturally on the flanks. However, we didn’t use it. Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen drifted inside and Kyle Walker and Danny Rose only sporadically got forward to attack these areas.
There were clues for us to make this happen. Kyle Walker put in a couple of nice crosses. Son Heung-Min also made a clever out-to-in run from wide that was untracked. Jan Vertonghen found him with a Toby Alderweireld-esque long diagonal pass. However, despite beautifully bringing the ball down, Son was flagged offside.
We needed more of this, to stretch and loosen up Bournemouth’s press much sooner than we did. Without a hold-up man, Dele Alli was thrust in to the role over the smaller Son.
As the ball was directed Dele’s way, it began to stick with increasing frequency. The standout moment being a Hugo Lloris clearance that Dele Alli brought down and laid off to Danny Rose. Dele didn’t admire his work, taking the return, nutmegging two Bournemouth players before Erik Lamela surged through and hit the angle of post and bar.
Spurs get on the centre backs
Alli playing higher started to give us an out ball. It wasn’t sticking all the time, but we gained much more traction than Son was able to achieve.
After 45 minutes of frantic pressure, Bournemouth also began to tire. Coming out for the second half, they played a much more reactive game. They were trying to win the ball back in the middle or their own third. Then they would look to hit the runs of Callum Wilson or Jordan Ibe, then substitute Max Gradel, running the channels.
Bournemouth were very quick back in to their shape in the first 45 once we had crossed halfway. In the second they became slightly slower and it opened up space between the lines. We looked at how teams have cut them open through the middle by getting on their centre backs in the Bournemouth vs Spurs preview. We started to achieve that with increasing regularity as the second half wore on.
Mousa Dembele became an increasing factor. His dribble drives broke the Harry Arter and Dan Gosling axis, allowing others to float in to the spaces created between the lines. Dembele’s surge and pass found Dele in here on 48 minutes. Now straight on the centre backs, Dele turned and unleashed a rasping drive that was well saved by Artur Boruc.
Next it was Christian Eriksen’s turn to float in to this space. He was now also up on the Bournemouth centre backs and his neat flick sprung Erik Lamela.
Lamela raced through, but didn’t have the foot speed, or the guile, to cut back on his right foot to escape the pursuing Simon Francis.
Just 15 minutes of the second half down and we were in to this space running at the centre backs once more. Again, it was Dele Alli as he took the pass, drove forward and fed in Son. The sliding Harry Arter blocked his shot as Bournemouth were being stretched to the limit.
Try as they might, Spurs couldn’t break the home side’s resistance and it remained Bournemouth 0-0 Spurs. These spaces in front of the centre backs were being opened up, but we weren’t generating the end product. Son had a second effort blocked in a similar manner. On 88 minutes, Eriksen again drifted in this space to play a neat pass in to Erik Lamela that also saw his shot blocked on the edge of the area. Spurs just couldn’t find a way through.
Bournemouth 0-0 Spurs overall
A disappointing display coming off a stern examination of being pressed by Leverkusen. How much the early kick-off played a factor is unknown, but it was interesting to see our most lively players, Walker and Dembele, didn’t play midweek.
Mauricio Pochettino made a big call by going with Son Heung-Min up front. He said that he felt the game would suit Son in his pre-match interview, but it quickly became apparent that we needed a hold-up player. Vincent Janssen’s strength and ability to take in long clearances would’ve seen us escape Bournemouth’s early pressing much easier.
The 4-1-4-1 system has seen us do many good things, but it is becoming as predictable as last season’s 4-2-3-1. Opposing mangers are now scheming against it and we need to have some versatility. Victor Wanyama was overwhelmed as the lone defensive midfielder at times. Although he has the ability to handle two opponents with his strength and tenacity, it should be the exception rather than the rule. I’m also questioning whether we need Eric Dier’s better distribution in this role when Toby Alderweireld returns to the back four? If an increasing number of teams are going to press us then we need a much better ball player in this role and the return of the Dier, Dembele partnership.
Final score: Bournemouth 0-0 Spurs.
MOTM: Mousa Dembele.