Repositioning Christian Eriksen in to defensive midfield opens the gateway to goal as it finished Crystal Palace 0-1 Spurs at Selhurst Park.
Mauricio Pochettino may not be a gambling man, but he reshuffled the deck several times until he had the hand required to win. Repositioning Christian Eriksen, the ace in the pack, in to defensive midfield proved to be the winning move. The Dane scored the crucial goal to make the final score Crystal Palace 0-1 Spurs and earn three vital Premier League points.
Sam Allardyce also rolled the dice. The Eagles went with a setup that initially saw Wilfried Zaha start on the opposite side to usual. Allardyce wanted Zaha to attack Ben Davies rather than the much quicker Kyle Walker, who could keep pace with the Ivory Coast international.
Compact Crystal Palace
The first half saw both teams nullify each other with their tactical ploys. Without the ball, Crystal Palace pressed at the right times and also knew when to drop back in to a compact shape. Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend got through a ton of work. The Palace wide players not only pressed up to try and stop us playing out. The pair also dropped back to defend the wide areas. As a result, the Eagles could keep their back four tight and narrow to block the centre of the pitch. Consequently, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Harry Kane had little room to work in.
Ahead of the back four, Allardyce deployed his usual three screening midfielders. The trio wanted to take away the space between the lines. The key man among them was James McArthur. His versatility to drop and take away the lanes Dele Alli likes to run was pivotal.
Pivotal Eric Dier
Usually Eric Dier starts on the right of the back three. However, Dier started in the middle as he is our biggest and strongest centre back. Mauricio Pochettino went with him in this position to match up with Christian Benteke aerially. As Crystal Palace frequently goes long to Benteke and works off the knockdowns, Dier was the man tasked with dealing with this first ball.
Benteke was having success at winning the first challenge, but it wasn’t massively destructive, as Spurs would often win the second ball. The biggest moment came as he won a header that Andros Townsend hoovered up. Townsend returned the ball to Benteke in space, but he scuffed his shot from the edge of the area in to the grateful arms of Hugo Lloris.
After twenty minutes, Mauricio Pochettino made a switch. Eric Dier was moved in to defensive midfield. His repositioning was made for two reasons. Firstly, Spurs didn’t require three centre backs to deal with Benteke. Secondly, as Benteke was an aerial threat, Dier would front him to allow Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen to clean up behind.
The plan worked. Benteke was often crowded out or couldn’t get the ball to Zaha and Townsend. Spurs gained greater control of possession, which allowed us to move up the pitch much easier. However, chances for both teams still remained at a premium.
Injecting some speed
In Swansea 1-3 Spurs, Mauricio Pochettino went tinker ballistic as he shuffled and reshuffled the team to find the optimum formation. At half time, our manager once more made changes.
Spurs were passive and playing at a slow tempo in the first 45 minutes. Sissoko and Son were introduced to add speed in wide areas to attack and stretch the narrow Crystal Palace defence.
The pair could also cover Zaha and Townsend with their speed to mitigate them defensively. Sam Allardyce had started Wilfried Zaha on Ben Davies flank. In the first half, Spurs had to double up on him. Mousa Dembele and often Dele Alli were dragged back to aid Davies to contain the Palace man. With Sissoko and Son wide, the pair were already in position to shut Zaha and Townsend down before they could get going.
Repositioning Christian Eriksen
The biggest move at half time was to reposition Christian Eriksen. The Dane had been operating just off Harry Kane, but was struggling to find pockets of space amongst a congested Palace defence.
Switching to 4-2-3-1 with Sissoko and Son coming on, Eriksen was moved in to the pivot alongside Eric Dier.
As the Eagles threat was coming from long balls up to Benteke, along with Zaha and Townsend out wide, Eriksen was given a free role. Dier would take Benteke along with the centre backs. Our wide players handled Zaha and Townsend, leaving Eriksen as the spare man.
Eriksen was allowed to float and take the ball from Dier, as Spurs sought to get four men ahead of him at all times.
Sissoko and Son stretching the Palace team out created the internal pockets of space that Eriksen likes to roam in and create from. With Spurs getting men ahead of the ball, the Palace central midfield trio was becoming stretched.
Removing McArthur crucial
James McArthur was having a good game. Replacing him for Yohan Cabaye was the move that unsettled Palace’s defensive shape. Christian Eriksen was consequently afforded the space he needed to win the game.
Prior to the switch, McArthur had formed a very destructive trio with Jason Puncheon and Luka Milivojevic. Yohan Cabaye entered the match and played much higher than the other two. This proved crucial.
A long ball up to Christian Benteke saw him battle once more with Eric Dier for control. Dier won the ball and Spurs could break. Christian Eriksen, now starting from a deeper position, could float forward in to the space that James McArthur had been occupying. Yohan Cabaye was caught high and out of line with teammates Puncheon and Milivojevic.
With Palace’s midfield trio pierced, Eriksen now had time and space to drift forward. Harry Kane found him with a simple pass. Eriksen took the ball, sized up the shot and unleashed a fiercely dipping drive towards the corner of the net. Wayne Hennessey made his best effort to get over and stop it, but was defeated by the flight.
Golazo had struck again and broken the deadlock, Crystal Palace 0-1 Spurs and the away end was bouncing.
Spurs kill the game
A goal up, Spurs did an excellent job of killing the game, especially the additional seven minutes after an unfortunate injury to Mamadou Sakho. The ball was kept in play down by the corner flag for a number of them, but Pochettino continued to tinker.
Moussa Sissoko switched sides to help Ben Davies following Zaha’s move back to his flank. Sissoko made a number of timely challenges as he used his size and speed to his advantage. A particularly necessary steal of the ball in injury time and subsequent run forward was vital to quell Palace momentum. Zaha raced back, fouled Sissoko and received a yellow card for kicking the ball away. His frustration at his inability to escape Sissoko’s clutches was clearly visible.
Right back Kieran Trippier was also introduced, as Pochettino sought to tinker some more. The combination with Kyle Walker down the right was brief, but interesting. The pair combined to fashion a neat crossing opportunity as Walker stole in-behind left back Jeffrey Schlupp.
Time ran out and it finished Crystal Palace 0-1 Spurs with a potential banana skin avoided. Three vital points were in the bag to keep the pressure up on Chelsea.
Crystal Palace 0-1 Spurs overall
A real attritional grind that saw Mauricio Pochettino tinker until he found the winning formula.
Repositioning Christian Eriksen in to a number eight role off Eric Dier proved to be the move that was decisive. Eriksen could stealthily shift forward from a deeper starting position, making him harder to mark. As a result of Yohan Cabaye entering the game and becoming detached from his midfield partners, Eriksen had the space he needed to decide the contest.
Final score: Crystal Palace 0-1 Spurs.
MOTM: Christian Eriksen.