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.
Where Spurs had success was with dribbling. Lucas Moura was able to beat a man, which then draws additional help in to collapse a defence. However, it was Harry Kane who would prove pivotal.
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.
Yes, Mark…. it was a real white-knuckle trip, that spell of injury time, and it was almost like we had a death-wish!
It crossed my mind that we needed a captain in a better position, such as Vertonghen, to pull his players back and retain some degree of defensive sanity.
I’ve never been a fan of striker captains, but I’m probably well offside there.
Pleasing, however, was the standout distribution by Gazzaniga who always found a man with time to receive the ball, rather than Vorm, and Hugo’s “here’s the ball – deal with it” approach. Certainly, for me, the most comfortable playing-out-from-the-back from Spurs in several years.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
White knuckle ride is right, Chas. It was crazy to keep chasing a third goal at that point. If there is 60 minutes on the clock then ok, a third goal kills the game dead. But with 77 minutes gone, getting the second goal should then mean just closing the game down. Attack with 3 players and drop the other 8, make a few subs to kill the momentum, the usual stuff. Our in-game management hasn’t been the best this season.
I’m not fussed with a striker captain as I think natural leaders are needed throughout the pitch. Yes the captain is the only one who can talk to the ref etc but I think natural organisers and leaders are needed in defence and midfield also.
Big improvement. I don’t understand why sometimes we break the press then slow play down or even play it back and try to break the press all over again. We have such quality and with Moura and Son, pace; I’d love to see us play snappier vertical balls and get those AMs on the ball quicker.
Zaph Mann says
Matt – I’m with you. And not only when we break the press – often when we get between the lines unless wing backs see 90% chance of a cross or through-ball, they check back – pass back and often especially if The othereiwse marvellous Eric Dier is in a slow/slack play, gift possession in a dangerous position.
Is it player confidence and caution? Or over-coaching into a system?
Lampard/Eriksen/The on-form Kane (who oddly reappeared at the end of this game – didn’t score but had 3 shots) – they try things – get deflectiosn, makes things happen – from dangerous positions press the issue – Rose and Walker are both lousy crossers, but in hot positions things often work out.
btw Rose Man of The Match – joking!
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
I think its a mixture of player confidence and caution to retain possession rather than get involved in a back and forth turnover-turnover style game, Zaph. Poch wants to control tempo so we play at our pace and unless their is a clear window, we do tend to turn down an aggressive pass as opposed to retain the ball.
Zaph Mann says
I agree with you – that’s the intention – and when it works it’s achieved a lot, however when we get sloppy in the back 6 it effectively presents a turnover of possession IN A MUCH MORE DANGEROUS place – Bentaleb went because of this – better to take the risk high up the pitch than where one pass puts them through on our goal. The only played who seems fully reliable in possession lately is Llamela.
Having said that I have been frankly amazed at what they’ve achieved over the past few years – once in the top four – it can happen, but three times in a row with this squad is frankly amazing.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Yes that is frustrating, Matt. It seems as if we break the press and get up field that we fell we’ve done job one and then we reset before going about job two, breaking down the opposition defence.
Andy B says
An interesting read.
What is it with the 2-1 scoreline? That is now 4 games in a row and the Newcastle game, making it 5 out of 7.
Two brilliant goals in a row by Lamela.
I have started wondering if Moura and Lamela are most effective as impact subs?
Moura did nothing in this game. When he came on late against Inter, it was like Bale vs Maicon.
It was good to see Kane finally wake up, right at the end of the game. He started playing like his old self.
I was pleased with Gazzaniga, but in my opinion, the man of the match was Knockaert. He was a very tricky opponent and gave Spurs problems every time he had the ball in an attacking position. He is an excellent player and way too good to be playing for Brighton.
I thought that Spurs best player was Alderweireld. He has been consistently our best player, so far this season.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
The 2-1 scoreline is a strange phenomenon. If its in our favour then long may it continue. The lack of clean sheets this season does concern me a bit, as we’ve been amongst the stingiest defences since Poch has been manager. The set pieces issue is at the heart of it, but we’ve also seen some lax defending.
Lamela seems to have a good impact off the bench. His energy at that point in the match when legs are tiring is a factor. Lucas is a starter or a sub for me. I think he is dangerous whenever there is space and he can dribble. His speed and change of direction is frightening. Good for any time in the game. I really think that Poch has options with Lamela, Son and Lucas. Two of them could possibly start if Dele is going to play from deeper and the three of them – Son, Lamela and Lucas – rotate two positions.
Knockaert was decent when attacking. I felt he blew too many defensive coverages in the second half – especially on our second goal – and the big miss when 0-1 was pivotal. Alderweireld was good as always. He made two good cutback blocks that prevented Solly March from opening up our defence. He didn’t try as many long passes as usual and I felt that stifled us in the first half. For me, Gazzaniga was more deserving for making saves when called upon – he crucially didn’t spill the Knockaert shot at the end even though it was a routine save, in the wet the ball can easily squirm out. I wouldn’t have had faith in Vorm to do the same. His distribution was also excellent and he really stood up to the crowding and shoving Brighton were trying to do to unsettle him at corners – especially after all the recent talk at how we are weak at set pieces. He moved up the pecking order to number two for me.
Andy B says
I understand why you and Pochettino vote Gazzaniga as man of the match. I think the main thing was that he stepped into this game with no notice, in bad weather, with experience of only one premier league game, 10 months ago. For that, you could say he deserves it, because he didn’t look out of his depth. In fact he looked confident and assured.
I also liked the way he distributed the ball. I was particularly impressed with one of his kicks, which was accurate to the fullback and demonstrated his confidence.
Normally a goalkeeper would only get man of the match, when they have made some fantastic saves, to win the game. He wasn’t called upon to make a fantastic save in this game.
I certainly think he should have been ahead of Danny Rose, for the Man of the Match, who Hoddle voted for. Rose played well, but is still not at the level he was before.
It is one of those subjective things. You could ask 100 supporters and they would all have various opinions and may nominate someone completely different.
It is really too early to say that Gazzaniga is better than Vorm already. Let’s see how he is doing, after another 10 games.
I hope that he ends up being a top keeper. We will see.
You know what I’m going to say about the captaincy.
Who would you want out of our squad leading you into the pitch.
One vote per contributor
Serge (for the seriously delusional and unhinged)
You know who I’m voting for.
Re closing games out…
Last year we were nailing it and even at Toon we stayed strong first up,
Actually we were nailing it even better two seasons back when we conceded only 30 goals.
a) a Fergie fanatic
b) a former elite centre back
c) a superb man manager
d) an overly emotional South American football manager who struggles with the pragmatic demands of English football in the “closing out eminently winnable games” caper
e) a tactical master who uses the aggressive press and play out from the back to great advantage
f) secretly wants to marry Sue Porters
g) desperately covets the Carabao Cup
Pick your odd one out