Harry Kane scores the winning goal during Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham in the Premier League.

Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham: breaking the narrow block

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 Eagles' narrow 4-3-3 formation during Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham.

The Eagles’ narrow 4-3-3 formation.

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.

Tottenham diagonals

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.

Dele Alli would see the next chance. Christian Eriksen was the pass provider. His long ball bounced agonisingly over Dele’s head. Any touch would’ve taken it past the onrushing Wayne Hennessey.

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.

Ben Davies in space out wide cuts towards the goal during Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham.

Ben Davies in space out wide cuts towards the goal.

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.

Serge Aurier in sapce against van Aanholt and Sorloth during Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham.

Serge Aurier in sapce against van Aanholt and Sorloth.

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.

A wide-open Ben Davies crosses for arriving Serge Aurier during Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham.

A wide-open Ben Davies crosses for arriving Serge Aurier.

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 in space down the right crosses to win a corner during Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham.

Aurier in space down the right crosses to win a corner.

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.

No defender on the back post leaves space for Harry Kane to score during Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham.

No defender on the back post leaves space for Harry Kane.

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.

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10 Responses to Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham: breaking the narrow block

  1. Zaph Mann 25th February 2018 at 9:04 pm #

    It’s remarkable that Spurs can play so poorly against these sides that pack the centre, but it all comes down to the awful quality of the crossing – from aurier in particular. Tripper is usually much better but his problem seems to be not getting far enough forward to cross from the same positions as Aurier – in these type of games.

    All said, Pochetino is still working wonders with this group of players

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 25th February 2018 at 10:19 pm #

      Against these teams I think we have to make a harder push to score early. Just to try and force them out of their shell. It isn’t easy though and therefore working on crossing is definitely something we need to improve on as it’s often the area opponents give up in order to pack the centre. This especially includes crossing on the run, which is a much harder skill and the likes of Aurier really struggle with. Lucas Moura’s ability to beat a man off the dribble will obviously help puncture these teams, but I do wonder whether Poch is satisfied with the current crop of full backs or if he will make moves in the market to add a quick full back that can actually cross the ball on the move?

  2. brian 26th February 2018 at 3:27 am #

    Hi mark

    Once again a very good summing up of the game,me old mate.that said.if we continue to creat some amny oppotunities,and not take them.It is at some point going to cost us dearly.I appreciate that this is a rather negative view point..But to control games so throughly and not come out with with some more convincing results,does not bode well.

    Regards Brian

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 26th February 2018 at 10:12 am #

      Hi Brian, we do need to take chances in order for these games to be more comfortable. That does rely on players finishing when they have the opportunity. Kane is our only reliable outlet at the minute, which is my concern. Others need to take their chances.

  3. Lennon 26th February 2018 at 12:48 pm #

    True Kane is our only reliable outlet but lets not overlook that he has been far from clinical in the past few games-he has admitted the same on two or three post match interviews. His conversion ratio of goals to attempts is actually 3rd or 4th after Aguero, Salah, Sterlling- though Kane tops the scoring charts. At the world cup, deep runs are often achieved by teams that convert their one or 2 chances in 90 minutes.

    Without looking a gift horse in the mouth- i think Kane also needs to improve his scoring rate on one-vs-one with the keeper to beat (in the past year he has scored maybe 3 out 17 such chances). Son also struggles on the same situation.

    Oops one more thing- other world class players have humongous assist stats (Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar average more than 15 assists per season, Salah is not far behind-Salah might jump Kane now on the queue to join Madrid-(not bad for Spurs).

    My criticism of Kane is actually meant to push him to improve on the very few things left for him to master.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 27th February 2018 at 4:49 pm #

      Some interesting points, Lennon. I would love to see some stats on 1v1 conversion if you have access to any?

      Kane can be quite selfish, which is part of teh reason why he does score so many goals, but I do get annoyed that he doesn’t pass in a number of situations and often opts to shoot. With his range and weight of passing i’m surprised he doesn’t elect to use this more as he is one of eth better passing strikers and consequently his assits numbers would be higher.

  4. Erik Zen 26th February 2018 at 3:00 pm #

    Great analysis as always Mark thanks!

    I think the chances thing just comes in phases. Didn’t we have a period last year where we were having an absurdly high conversion rate?

    The thing about Kane is that other strikers tend to have slumps where they don’t score. Kane has slumps where he *only* scores every game or so.

    Aurier: remember this is still his first season. Poch’s magic fullback transformation machine usually takes a year.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 27th February 2018 at 4:55 pm #

      We’ve had phases of both extremely low and high conversion rate, but I think we need goals from more sources – Dele, Lamela, Eriksen can all improve.

      It is still Aurier’s first season and he did join after it started so he does get a bit of a pass this campaign. However, he does need to work on his crossing this summer as it obviously needs some work. He is a bit like Walker in that he seems to move too quickly for his own good with the ball at times so his crosses are scuffed or out of control. Poch did improve Walker at this, so hopefully he can do the same with Aurier.

  5. Andy B 26th February 2018 at 10:35 pm #

    Another great analysis of a dull and dismal game.

    Does Roy Hodgson really deserve the atmosphere and great support of the Palace fans, when he sets his teams out to play the most tedious, boring football imaginable?

    There was a moment in the game that summed it up for me. Palace went on a rare attack and their fans celebrated like they had won the FA Cup.

    Their fans deserve medals, for sitting through that dross every week.

    I agree that Spurs need to address the right back situation. As you mentioned previously, if you could combine the pace of Aurier with the crossing of Tripper, then we would be sorted. But there is a bit more to it than that. Discipline and responsibility are important traits of a professional footballer. Aurier appears to be a bit of a clown. It is okay in the dressing room, but to bring his antics to the pitch is unprofessional and just a let down for the team.

    Sandro was a joker outside of the matches, but in games he took responsibility and was awesome. There is a big difference between the attitudes of those two players.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 27th February 2018 at 5:05 pm #

      Palace really didn’t have any ambition and I was surprised at this approach given how Hodgson has improved them. He also went with two strikers, so I was quite curious as to why he didn’t play 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 to see if they could bully our centre backs, as both Sorloth and Benteke are big units.

      Aurier is a bit of a clown and I think we knew that given his antics at PSG. For me everything seems to be happening a little to fast for him at the minute. This is both with and without the ball. Defensively he is often late and out of position or his speed gets him out of trouble. With the ball and he tries to go too quickly and maybe that is why he also missed the sitter on Sunday? His mind is often ahead of where his feet are. I’m still not sure if this is due to his natural nature and he therefore isn’t quite as good as we all first thought? Or if it is just the oft quoted “adaptation to the speed of the Premier League” period of transition? I think it’s somewhere inbetween, but I’d like to see Poch have a full summer with him to see if he can iron out some of the issues.