A controlled and measured display saw us take all three points, as our first match of the new Premier League season finished Crystal Palace 0 Spurs 1 at Selhurst Park.
The first half was a battle of styles; the second hinged on us taking the lead and Ian Holloway’s response to throw caution to the wind.
Throughout the game though, the one consistent factor was our ability to expose the Eagles’ full back paring of Dean Moxey and Joel Ward.
Crystal Palace set up and style
Ian Holloway lined his sided up in a 4-2-3-1 with the intent to not ship an early goal and be put on the back foot. I’ve often talked of how Andre Villas-Boas likes to go for a quick strike in away matches and maybe the Palace boss feared a fast Spurs start here.
As a result, the Eagles’ tactics were extremely negative in the first half. Mile Jedinak and Kagisho Dikgacoi were positioned in front of the back four to crowd the centre and break up our attacks.
In front of them, the trio of Owen Garvan, Stephen Dobbie and Dwight Gayle played deep and narrow, which left a gap to Aaron Wilbraham up-field on his own.
Without the ball, Wilbraham offered token pressure, but Palace waited for play to cross halfway before bringing any additional bodies as they sat deep.
This allowed Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen to easily advance the ball forward. The pressure only came once play was moved to Paulinho, who was being loosely shadowed by Dwight Gayle. It was difficult to tell if Gayle had been instructed to deny the pass in to the Brazilian or if he was just ordered to shadow him, as Paulinho was finding it far too easy to escape his attentions.
As a result, virtually every tackle was made in their own half, as Palace were content to concede possession and territory.
With the ball, prior to Ian Holloway’s triple change, Palace were playing very narrow and trying to get full backs Moxey and Ward forward to provide crosses. The problem for the pairing was that with them sat so deep, they couldn’t get up to support the attacking play and so offered little threat.
Spurs’ long switches
Andre Villas-Boas lined us up in a 4-3-3 with Nacer Chadli and Aaron Lennon playing high up as wide forwards.
In midfield, Paulinho played at the base and dropped deep to take possession from Dawson and Vertonghen. Ahead of him, Moussa Dembele was executing his usual dribble-drives, but when the Brazilian burst forward, he would drop in to cover. In advance of them both, Gylfi Sigurdsson was moving out to both flanks to create triangles with the wide forwards and full backs.
Spurs were favouring to attack down the right side, but with Palace sat so deep and looking to double Aaron Lennon, the play was often being switched quickly to the left.
Danny Rose was the target for a number of these passes, as we can see from the length of the lines of the balls played out to him below. Michael Dawson seemed to be looking for him often and at one point, Kyle Walker even hit him with a pass played across the field from a position wide on the right.
All of this was an attempt to get our full backs forward and expose Palace in-behind theirs. These quick long ball transitions across the field were altering the point of attack so that we could use the space before the defence could shift over.
Spurs expose the Palace full backs
With the ball being retained well, the game plan was to release runners in to space behind the full backs.
I’ve talked, and posted, about how Spurs will be looking to create goals the “Andre Villas-Boas way” i.e. from passes played through the defence to runners on the other side. This then allows either a direct shot to be taken, or in wide areas, the ball to be squared, cut back or a low-driven cross attempted.
Through much of the first half, this was highlighted extremely well by the interplay between Kyle Walker and Aaron Lennon.
Kyle played 22 passes to Aaron, the most between two Tottenham players, a large number of which were up the line and in-behind Palace full back Dean Moxey.
Lennon would bring the Palace full back short; lay the ball back to Walker and then spin in behind.
Walker would hit him with the through pass, leaving Lennon in a position to cut the ball back or cross.
It started as early as the fourth minute and forced several good challenges from Dean Moxey to prevent a cross coming in. In this example, Lennon went for Soldado at the near post when a pull back to Sigurdsson would have been the better choice.
The through ball and cut back wasn’t just limited to Aaron Lennon. After the interval, Roberto Soldado was thread through behind full back Dean Moxey. The Spaniard’s cut back pass was beautifully in to the path of Gylfi Sigurdsson, but he fired inches wide.
The goal, when it arrived, was also created in a similar fashion from a cut back pass.
Crystal Palace had been trying to double Aaron Lennon due to these runs in-behind in the first half. Five minutes in to the second 45 and he received the ball in space out on the right.
There was no need for a pass to played in-behind this time, as Dean Moxey was slow out to meet him and the double team did not materialise quickly enough.
Lennon was able to move forward in to the area unchallenged and take on the Palace full back. As he got to the by-line, he looked to cut the ball back with a short, chipped pass. Moxey had blocked several of these already, but this time it struck him on the arm for a penalty.
Roberto Soldado coolly converted the spot kick, but Lennon, who had been getting in behind the Palace full back all game, created it.
Ian Holloway’s response
With Palace sat so deep and conceding possession, Ian Holloway’s response was a throw back to his Blackpool days.
The Palace manager brought on two strikers in Chamakh and Phillips, whilst Jonathan Williams was introduced as the midfield distributor, as Holloway went 4-3-3.
Soon after, Palace arguably created their best opening. Some nice play from Williams found Dikgacoi in the centre of the park. His pass over the top saw Kevin Phillips race free, but for better control he would have been in 1v1 with Hugo Lloris, but the signs were there.
Palace were coming more and more in to the game as a result of their three forwards playing with better width than in the previous 4-2-3-1 formation. Williams also gave them a better balance in midfield.
On the flip side, they were also more open at the back.
Both Defoe and Chadli had good chances to wrap the game up before the Phillips –Dikgacoi combination worked again. The diminutive Phillips nodded Dwight Gayle’s cross back in to the path of Dikgacoi who saw his shot saved by Hugo Lloris.
Crystal Palace 0 Spurs 1 conclusions
This was a decent performance by Spurs given the negative tactics employed by Crystal Palace until the first goal went in.
We held the ball, kept possession, causing the Eagles to have to chase. Play was switched quickly from side-to-side in an attempt to get in to positions where we could expose the Eagles’ full backs with a pass slid in-behind to a runner on the other side. We created several good opportunities this way, wearing down the Palace defence in the process.
The goal arrived from the penalty spot, but there was as sense that full back Dean Moxey was fatigued when the ball went out to Aaron Lennon in space. He was slow to challenge, content to let Lennon have the ball up to and in to the box.
We’d been trying to get in behind the Eagles’ full backs all game. One simply passage of play achieved this in order to carve out the winning opportunity.
Final score: Crystal Palace 0 Spurs 1