Fast ball and player movement overcame a disciplined defensive structure as our Premier League clash ended Brighton 1-2 Tottenham at the AMEX Stadium.
Brighton setup in a very efficient defensive structure. However, our speed to break their initial lines with quick ball or player movement created two goals, as our Premier League match ended Brighton 1-2 Tottenham.
Brighton’s dogged defence
What was surprising about this performance was that the Seagulls employed the same defensive structure as they had done during Brighton 1-1 Tottenham last season. Chris Hughton’s side initially kept a compact distance from back to front. Brighton was therefore very difficult to play through.
What’s more, Hughton’s team used wide midfielders Solly March and Anthony Knockaert as additional defenders. The pair would drop back in to form either a back five or a back six. This movement allowed Brighton’s full backs, Gaetan Bong and Martin Montoya, to pinch in close to their centre backs.
Knockaert and Montoya therefore allowed the back four to congest the penalty area. Even if Spurs found a way through, shots were frequently blocked or deflected. Two or sometimes three players got to the ball and gave little time to the shooter.
Brighton’s defensive scheme meant that they were stifling Spurs in their half of the field. However, being sat so deep, and with the wide players dropping in as auxiliary full backs, it meant that they could rarely get out on the counter attack.
Speed breaks lines
We were having trouble breaking Brighton down to fashion good chances. When we did create it was due to quick ball movement through either a player dribbling and beating a man or with one pass over Brighton’s compact shape.
We struggled with the long pass due to the conditions. Persistent rain meant that the ball skidded away from the runner. This factor denied Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose and Son Heung-Min getting round the back in the first half, as Eric Dier and Toby Alderweireld tried to get them in.
Kane was dropping increasingly shorter. The first image in this match report shows the kind of position he was taking up in the inside right channel, as he joined Son Heung-Min and Christian Eriksen in the advanced midfield trio. On forty minutes, Kane did so once more.
Kane’s ability to beat a man and play one-two saw him break through two lines of the Brighton defence. He was eventually trippied by Gaetan Bong to win a free kick. Brighton was beaten by the quick injection of pace in to the attack caused by Kane’s surge.
Kieran Trippier took the resulting free kick. His shot was stopped by Glenn Murray’s arm. Eagle-eyed referee Chris Kavanagh pointed straight to the spot. Kane sent Mat Ryan the wrong way and put us in to a deserved lead, Brighton 0-1 Tottenham.
Brighton’s shape shift
Down a goal, Chris Hughton changed his team’s shape at half time. Taking inspiration from Liverpool, Hughton had his wide midfielders, Solly March and Anthony Knockaert, stop playing as additional full backs. Instead, he had them operating as wide forwards. The pair would often stay up the pitch and not track back. The game suddenly opened up.
The ploy created big chances for Brighton and the duo of Knockaert and March would be at the centre them. Both players were looking for the pass through the channel between our full back and centre back.
March got in-behind Kieran Trippier twice, but on both occasions saw his cutback thwarted by a recovering Toby Alderweireld.
Knockaert was causing equal problems for Danny Rose, but it was on a switch of sides that he had Brighton’s biggest opportunity.
The Seagulls had been trying to get the ball in through the channel between Trippier and Alderweireld. Trippier had seen the danger this time and took up a good defensive position to make a play on the ball. However, Beram Kayal out muscled him and shrugged him over. Trippier hit the floor and Kayal could play in Knockaert’s run. The winger rounded Toby Alderweireld, but then couldn’t beat Paulo Gazzaniga with his off-foot.
Ball movement breaks lines
Brighton’s new shape had altered the flow of the match. However, the consequence of March and Knockaert not tracking our full backs saw spaces open up on the flanks.
Danny Rose became the spare man with Knockaert remaining forward. Rose made several bursts in to the box that saw him create good chances or try to get a shot away. He would then become the key player as Spurs struck a second.
The move for the second goal stared with Rose taking a throw-in deep in the Brighton half. Pressure on the ball meant it wound up quickly back at our penalty area. Eric Dier had expertly dropped in to create a back three with Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.
Dier’s precise pass to Erik Lamela broke Brighton’s lines and created the space that we needed.
As Lamela received the ball in acres of space, Lucas Moura and Danny Rose had overloaded Brighton right back Martin Montoya. Anthony Knockaert had not tracked and Spurs now had an overload.
Lamela found Moura whose neat touch put Rose in to the space he needed to deliver the cutback. Lamela arrived on cue to flick the ball in to the corner of the net. A better team goal that picked on an opponent’s weakness you will not see this season.
Caught on the counter
Two goals to the good and Tottenham continued to press for a third. Harry Kane had three chances to provide it, but on his third attempt we were caught on the counter.
Two goals up and in injury time it seemed unwise to keep flooding players forward. However, we did. As Eric Dier sprang Kane in-behind the Brighton centre backs it looked as if there would be only one outcome. However, Mathew Ryan’s save and Shane Duffy’s long ball allowed Anthony Knockaert to race in-behind Danny Rose.
Rose was caught too high and couldn’t recover. The rest of the back four was also lop-sided, as three Brighton men overloaded the space behind Rose.
As Rose raced back, he slipped trying to adjust to Knockaert cutting back around him. Paulo Gazzaniga had previously denied the Brighton man, but could do nothing as his shot this time fizzed in to the opposite corner.
The score was now Brighton 1-2 Tottenham and suddenly there was panic. Spurs bizarrely continued to push men forward, which was naïve given at what had just happened.
We almost gave the game away. With seconds left Knockaert had another chance to pick out the same corner. Fortunately he couldn’t and Gazzaniga was able to hold on to the ball as Glenn Murray arrived sensing a rebound.
It was the last piece of action and as referee Chris Kavanagh blew his whistle the relief was palpable. The final score was Brighton 1-2 Tottenham and three valuable points given the results of the last couple of weeks.
Brighton 1-2 Tottenham overall
Four bizarre minutes almost threw away 90 of excellent Tottenham work. Brighton had set up to stifle us in defence. Overcoming their dogged structure with quick ball or player dribbling had given us a deserved two-goal cushion. However, continuing to press and flood men forward for a third to put the game was unwise once the clock had gone past 80 minutes.
Back-to-basics was necessary after the last three matches of personnel and formation changes. A return to 4-2-3-1 with defensive help alongside Dembele and Lucas Moura not occupying Harry Kane’s spaces did the trick. Kane could’ve had more than the goal that he got. Rather than being the base of the diamond, Dembele had the freedom to drive forward with the ball knowing that he had cover behind in Dier.
Erik Lamela played extremely well again after coming on as a substitute. With World Cup fatigue in the squad, he looks one of the freshest and liveliest players who could allow others some much-needed rest.
It was a shame the defence couldn’t keep a clean sheet for Paulo Gazzaniga. The goalkeeper’s distribution was excellent throughout. He punched and collected well when under great pressure at corners. Gazzaniga also made some big and timely saves. What’s more our back four seemed more assured with him behind them. He surely now must move past Michel Vorm in the pecking order.
Final score: Brighton 1-2 Tottenham.
MOTM: Paulo Gazzaniga.