A narrow and deep defending opponent was overcome through use of the wide spaces as it finished Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham at Selhurst Park.
Tottenham needed the full 90 minutes to finally overcome a dogged defensive effort from Crystal Palace. The Eagles played very narrow and deep to restrict space in the middle of the pitch. However, they could not hold out as a Harry Kane header made the final score Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham.
Palace’s low narrow block
Straight from the kick off Crystal Palace retreated and set out their stall for how the game would be played. The Eagles set up in an extremely defensive and narrow 4-3-3 formation. Three holding midfielders screened the centre backs as they sought to keep Spurs out of the centre.
The formation was effective as it looked to disrupt the Tottenham passing lanes. However, it faced a number of issues.
Firstly, the three holding midfielders were unable to get forward and provide any kind of out option to clear the ball and get up the pitch. Secondly, wide forwards Andros Townsend and Alexander Sorloth were asked to help out defensively as their full backs pinched in towards the centre backs. As a result, they too struggled to offer an out ball.
Crystal Palace were blocking up so much of the centre of the pitch that throughout the first half our best chances were created from diagonals. These passes were often delivered from the half spaces just off the sides of the Eagles’ midfield trio.
Harry Kane was the first to benefit. Patrick van Aanholt miscontrolled Dele Alli’s drifting diagonal pass. The defender’s miscue fell straight at Kane’s feet. However, Wayne Hennessey rapidly racing from his line smothered the instant shot.
The third diagonal pass came from a set play. Eriksen’s free kick this time found a wide-open Ben Davies racing in from wide.
Wayne Hennessey upended Davies, but referee Kevin Friend turned away the penalty appeals.
The move highlighted the space in wide areas that the full backs were enjoying, something we needed to exploit more.
Spaces for Serge Aurier
Serge Aurier had a Jekyll and Hyde game. Three foul throws and none of six crosses completed was the downside. However, he found himself as the key man in attacking spaces, won the corner from which we scored the winner and made a last ditch goal saving tackle on Alexander Sorloth.
Throughout the first half, Sorloth was doing a good job retreating to help van Aanholt against Aurier. The Norwegian’s defensive work allowed his full back to play narrow and help his centre backs out.
As the match wore on, Sorloth tired and van Aanholt was slow to get out and help his team mate. As a result, Aurier became increasingly free and a growing figure in the game.
Enjoying the space, Aurier combined with Christian Eriksen to create a guilt-edged chance for Harry Kane. The striker somehow skewed the lofted cross past the post from just yards out.
Aurier then benefitted from the space once more to fizz in a driven shot that was well saved by Wayne Hennessey.
Roy Hodgson reacts
Seeing the growing influence of Aurier, Roy Hodgson switched the sides of Alexander Sorloth and Andros Townsend. Palace’s January arrival was clearly struggling and therefore Townsend’s pace was needed to help Patrick van Aanholt against Serge Aurier and the newly arrived Lucas Moura.
The issue for Hodgson was that he just transferred the problem to the other side of the pitch. Ben Davies was therefore now able to take advantage of Sorloth’s tiredness and positioning.
The big moment of the match then arrived as both of our full backs could expose the spaces that were appearing. Davies took advantage of Sorloth down the left. From the opposite side, Serge Aurier steamed past Andros Townsend to a meet the low cross.
The perfect cross was not met with the adept finish it deserved. Aurier somehow got the ball caught under his feet and completely missed the shot with the goal at his mercy. In a game of few clear-cut chances, Aurier had spurned the best of them.
Deep far post corners
Head in hands and frustrated at his glaring miss, Aurier marginally redeemed himself by forcing the corner that won us the match. Our right back once more got forward in to the space being left by the narrow playing van Aanholt and his wide forward in front of him.
Aurier’s cross was deflected out by Luka Milivojevic, winning a corner. Spurs had thirteen corners in the match, but interestingly won the game with a deep cross routine.
With Crystal Palace having no defender on the back post, Spurs did try the ploy before Harry Kane eventually won the game. However, Christian Eriksen over hit both previous attempts with the ball sailing too far and harmlessly out for a goal kick to the joy of the Palace fans.
The third time was the charm. Eriksen put this attempt right to where Harry Kane was peeling away towards the space at the back post.
Kane’s underrated strength to keep grappling defenders off him again came to the fore. Damien Delaney couldn’t stop him moving to the position that he wanted and getting his head first to the dipping cross.
The header was just as good as the cross to the back post. Wayne Hennessey could only flap a hand in its direction as Kane feathered the header back past the keeper and over two defenders on the line. He wheeled away in celebration as the away fans went wild. The outburst of celebration, but also relief was tangible. The deadlock had been broken with the score now Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham.
Unlike against Rochdale, Spurs then made no mistake running out the clock. The ball was shifted wide and more corners were won, which were taken short to keep play up the other end. Time ran out and with a final score of Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham three valuable Premier League points were on their way back to north London.
Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham overall
Persistence to move the ball wide finally paid off. Crystal Palace defended so deep and narrowly that these space were open to Tottenham all afternoon.
We did take a while to get going though. Erik Lamela and an inside drifting Christian Eriksen were not the players required to attack these wide spaces. The introductions of Lucas Moura and Son Heung-Min made a real difference, but it was the willingness of Serge Aurier and Ben Davies to keep getting forward that finally made Palace pay.
The pair could’ve combined for the winner if Aurier had been able to prod home Davies’ cross with the goal gaping. However, Aurier will be able to point to having a hand in earning the corner that won the match.
Final score: Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham.
MOTM: Ben Davies.