Crystal Palace 2-1 Spurs: Pardew wins battle of the middle ground

We let a one-goal lead slip, as our Premier League clash finishes Crystal Palace 2-1 Spurs at Selhurst Park.

Fitness, late goals and ending games strongly have been the hallmark of Spurs victories recently. At Selhurst Park, we failed to close out a match from a winning position, letting Crystal Palace back in to a game in which they finished the stronger.

The key to the control of the match was in the centre of the park. Up to, and including taking the lead, Spurs bossed this part of the pitch. However, Alan Pardew’s changes allowed his side to back in to the game, as they took advantage of Christian Eriksen’s soft defensive play and poor positioning to score twice.

The story before and after the game was all about Alan Pardew’s return, but the match resembled his Newcastle side’s visit to the Lane earlier this season. His team that day were extremely poor in the first half and were lucky to be just down a goal at the break. After the interval they were much improved, scoring the winner with a cross from the left, just as they did here.

Spurs boss the first half

We controlled the first half and it all stemmed from outworking and outnumbering the Eagles in the middle of the pitch. We’d looked at this area in the keys to Crystal Palace vs Spurs as both Pardew and Pochettino like to get extra bodies in to this zone to try and control it.

The opening 45 saw Pardew’s men not only outnumbered in here, but also playing a more counter attacking game, they were forced back. The Eagles were only looking to engage the ball at halfway and this condensed the space and slowed the tempo.

Pardew had set up with his three central midfielders, but they were outnumbered. Townsend and Chadli were drifting in centrally to join Kane who was coming short. Just deeper than them, Eriksen was buzzing around Dembele and Stambouli as we often had six players in here.


Outnumbering Palace centrally.

With Palace dropping off and trying to be hard to play through, this congested the area. Our numerical advantage meant that we were good at regaining the ball, but the slowish tempo that it was moving at didn’t see us make the most of the possession we had.

The problem, as it has been many times this season, was lack of width. Our full backs are supposed to provide this and they were getting forward, but all too often they were moving in to this central area too.


Full back Danny Rose drifts centrally.

As a result there were a huge number of bodies and this zone was difficult to play through. There were chances though and these came from either getting the ball moving forward quickly or by getting it wide.

Spurs wide and between the lines

Chances were few and far between in the first half, but when the moments of opportunity arrived, they came from getting men wide or between the lines.

After the early probing in the middle, Nacer Chadli drove in to the penalty area looking to earn a spot kick. He should’ve stayed on his feet, but went over anticipating being sandwiched between a pair of Palace tacklers. The Belgian had got open by drifting all the way over to the right flank and getting in to this space between Palace’s three central midfielders and their back four.


Chadli loose between the lines.

Our best chance of the half also arrived in this fashion. In a rare moment when the ball was moved quickly forward, Mousa Dembele fired a pass across the turf in to Harry Kane’s feet. The striker had drifted in to this pocket of space between the lines and suddenly we had time and space to work, as Eriksen also got free in here.


Kane and Eriksen between the lines.

The ball was moved quickly over to Kyle Walker who had got himself up the pitch and in to a crossing position on the right. Christian Eriksen drifted in to the area unmarked and as the ball ricocheted off the Palace defender, he should’ve fired us in front. The deflection sent the ball just behind him and with the Dane stretching, he sent his shot wide of the gaping net.


Walker provides width to cross for Eriksen.

Although the chances were few and far between, getting a man free in the space behind Pardew’s midfield is how we would take the lead.

Palace counters

With the game in the first half being very much played in the Palace end, the home team were forced to play a number of long balls forward.

The sheer number of bodies in the central area of the pitch meant that the Eagles couldn’t play through here. They looked as if they wanted to get Barry Bannan on the ball to move it around, but he simply didn’t have the time or the physical presence to cope with Dembele or Stambouli.

Palace were looking to play on the counter as they tried to lure us out by engaging the ball at the halfway line, but they were often reduced to playing it long due to the congested central area.

Their two most attacking moments arrived this way. First of all Glen Murray was put clean through, but saw Hugo Lloris flying from his line to pounce on his shot. Later in the half, Dwight Gayle tried to race on to a long ball, which was sent over the head of Federico Fazio. The Argentinean eased him off it by giving him a gentle shove in the back. Luckily for Fazio he got away with what could’ve been a sending off incident.


After a tight first half, the game sprung in to life in the second after just three minutes.

Harry Kane opened the scoring, but the goal would arrive from getting a player between the lines in to the space behind the Palace midfield. That man would be Nacer Chadli, who had drifted in from his staring position on the left. Mousa Dembele found him with a vertical pass through the Palace central midfield trio.


Chadli free between the lines.

This pulled the Palace centre backs towards him, allowing Harry Kane to slip away in to the inside right channel. As Chadli was challenged, he managed to get the ball through to Kane and the striker, still with plenty to do, found an exquisite finish as he fired the ball in to the corner of Speroni’s net.

The goal had been coming, but seemed to spark Crystal Palace in to life as they went more on the attack.

Palace comeback

At half time, Alan Pardew sent on Adlene Guedioura in place of the undersized Barry Bannan. The Scot was having a tough day of it and Guedioura gave Palace more solidity in the middle of the park. Although Pardew’s side never truly controlled this zone, it did allow them to win the game, as they took advantage of Christian Eriksen’s soft defending and poor positional play without the ball.

Momentum swung with Palace’s penalty. It arrived from some continued pressure that led to several throw-ins down our left flank. Benjamin Stambouli made an ill-advised and stupid challenge in the box on Joe Ledley, but Eriksen somehow managed to escape his share of the blame.

Palace won a throw-in down by the corner flag and what ensued looked like a designed passage of play. Guedioura came short inside the penalty area to receive the throw, but Puncheon and Ledley also made runs, in different directions. Puncheon towards the thrower to drag a defender with him. Ledley in the opposite direction to receive the flick round the corner from Guedioura.


Eriksen is slow to react.

Christian Eriksen was supposed to be marking Joe Ledley, but was slow to react, letting the Palace player run off the back of him to receive Guedioura’s pass. With Ledley now in a dangerous position, this forced Stambouli to come over and help. The Frenchman always tries to be strong and first to the ball, but his rashness was exposed with his ill-advised lunge in an attempt to win it back.

Dwight Gayle converted the spot kick and Palace were back on level terms.

Just as the penalty was won, Mauricio Pochettino was cueing up a change to add more solidity to our midfield. Seeing the impact Guedioura was having, our head coach was about to send on Etienne Capoue for Andros Townsend.

After the spot kick, he still sent Capoue on. This put him at the base of midfield with Stambouli and pushed Mousa Dembele further forward to create a very strong triangle.

What he also did was push Christian Eriksen out to the right. The Dane is excellent on the ball, especially when he is in the centre. However, as we’ve often seen when he is pushed out wide, his defensive positioning is lacking and opponents have exposed this.

Whether Alan Pardew made his next change because of this, we won’t truly know, but we can only assume that he did. The Palace manager then sent on Wilfried Zaha to play on Eriksen’s side.

The passage of play for their winner started with Eriksen seeming to have control of the ball, but Zaha showed greater tenacity to win it back from the Dane who went softly in to the challenge. Having won it back, the ball was then played to Guedioura who sent it out to Jason Puncheon on the wing.

Puncheon crossed the ball in, but it was headed clear, straight to Eriksen. He miscontrolled it as it came down, but then lost it again as he was out muscled by Joe Ledley.

The Palace player then passed the ball out to Wilfried Zaha, which brought Kyle Walker out. Eriksen tried to double up on the tricky winger, but offered the softest of challenges as Zaha blew past him with very little effort.

As the winger drove in to the box, Jason Puncheon was able to get free by pulling away to the edge of the area. The defensive errors, of which Eriksen had made three in this passage of play, were compounded as Etienne Capoue was slow to react and Mousa Dembele turned his back on Puncheon’s shot.

Second penalty?

There was still time for some more controversy, as we pressed looking for an equaliser.

It started with a Palace throw-in deep in their half that saw Etienne Capoue win it and play the ball forward to Harry Kane. He exchanged passes with Roberto Soldado and appeared to be felled in the area by Joe Ledley as he surged through. Referee Anthony Taylor gave nothing and our hopes of a comeback went with it.

Crystal Palace 2-1 Spurs overall

The game really centred over control of the central area. We had it throughout the first half and took the lead, but should’ve done more to press home our advantage. Alan Pardew addressed this at half time and although his side were never truly in control of the central midfield area, they did enough to get a foot hold back in the game.

The contest was turned around by exposing individual errors and Christian Eriksen’s lack of defensive positioning. The Dane may be one of the best in the Premier League on the ball, but he needs to toughen up his challenges in the defensive phase and improve his positional awareness.

Final score: Crystal Palace 2-1 Spurs.

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20 Responses to Crystal Palace 2-1 Spurs: Pardew wins battle of the middle ground

  1. Andy B 12th January 2015 at 9:18 pm #

    Thank you for your brilliant analysis and clarity on the game.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th January 2015 at 12:58 pm #

      Cheers Andy, thanks for reading.

  2. SirRog 12th January 2015 at 10:44 pm #

    Mark, don’t you think that the game was crying out for Lennon in place of Townsend? I don’t know what Lennon’s done to fall so far from favour, but it must be pretty bad – tried to get off with Poch’s missus, maybe?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th January 2015 at 1:03 pm #

      I’m not 100% sure what Lennon has done either. I’ve heard reports of some comments he has supposed to have made and that he has fallen out with Pochettino. He is a better option to Townsend, but it doesn’t look like he will be near a matchday squad for Spurs anytime soon.

      • SirRog 13th January 2015 at 8:11 pm #

        Lennon was on the bench against Palace, though, wasn’t he? For me, having him there and then not using him seemed like rubbing his nose in it even more than not having him in the squad at all!

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th January 2015 at 12:14 pm #

          Maybe he and Pochettino have settled their differences or maybe it is to put him in the shop window by acting as if nothing is wrong…

  3. Reinert 13th January 2015 at 11:44 am #

    Great reading Mark! Because of my job, I could only see the first half, I thought we were doing alright! The score was depressing, when I checked after the match. What do you think should be done with the current squad. Do you think we have the players to give us natural width when we need it? Do you think we have the grit in all our players to dig in and win against these so-called “lesser teams?” It really is spursy to expect loosing these matches..Anyways, Kane bags another, and Eriksen looks better for every match. Verts is also sounding positive in the interviews: We are building a core her, don’t you reckon?

    Cheers and COYS

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th January 2015 at 1:15 pm #

      Great comment Reinert, some good questions. I’m interested to see who Pochettino brings in as width doesn’t seem to be something he is looking at. He wants this to come from his full backs, so i don’t see him going after anything other than inverted wide players. Of course i only have the media rumour mill to go off and a lot of the players we are linked with aren’t or never will be targets, but just used to shift papers or get page views.

      I think grit and game management are something we lack in some areas, but this often comes with experience. A lot of our lads are 25 or under and are still to develop this ability to manage a game, especially away from home in front of a bouncing atmosphere. They will learn and make better decisions eg Stambouli in this match, but we do have quite a big and potentially physical team to stand up to the challenge once they have developed the ability to manage a game.

    • ultrapunch 13th January 2015 at 10:44 pm #

      “Eriksen looks better for every match”. I thought he had a poor game Reinert. As Mark has highlighted his tackling, positional play and defending was poor in this match. He’s good on the ball, but when it comes to defending he is often a liability.

      • Reinert 13th January 2015 at 11:10 pm #

        You are right, probably, I haven’t seen the second half. In most matches Eriksen does a lot of invisible work, he runs more than most (the fifth most in the league, I think I read), which makes it hard to read the real impact of his game. I agree he sometimes looks out of place, and his defending needs a lot of work (in MP’s style, it seems everyone defends and presses). I have missed many matches beacuse of my job this season, and have been reading up on the matches mainly in this blog, so yes I have read the pieces highlighting Eriksen: I have the impression that Eriksen is bedding in to be a solid attacking midfielder, I wouldn’t go as far as to call him a liability. Even though others in his position in our squad defends better, they do not add as much up front.

        As for him having a poor game, I can’t say, I only saw the first half. After what I read, he was not alone about playing a poor game – there is a certain synergy that players like Eriksen needs, to shine up front, aand according to this article our rhythm was broken. I would love to see us tighten up more in these kinds of games. Sorry for the novel-length answer.

        • ultrapunch 14th January 2015 at 12:12 am #

          He was a liability, when defending, on Saturday in the 2nd half. His tackling can be feeble and he can sometimes be easily brushed aside. However the same criticism can be levelled at Oscar and Fabregas for Kane’s first goal versus Chelsea. Chadli can also be brushed easily off the ball at times and he’s a big lad! I definitely DON’T consider Eriksen a liability.

          I think you will find that Eriksen and Kane cover more ground, during a match, than other Spurs players. Eriksens work rate cannot be faulted. However his tackling can be. Still no player is perfect and they can all have off days.

          • Reinert 14th January 2015 at 1:11 am #

            Ah, I see. Yes, I also compare him to Oscar and Fabregas. I kind of miss Siggy and Dawson in these kinds of matches. I guess we will look to Burnley for consolation :)

            • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th January 2015 at 12:21 pm #

              Hoping the player’s sense of pride will kick in for a much better performance tonight!

  4. Reinert 13th January 2015 at 7:18 pm #

    Yeah, you are right – that is something that amazes me every time I watch us play now a days – we are an extremely young and very capable squad! It bodes so very well for the future, and already now we can start to flirt with the top 4. I did not see it coming this year, already. I really hope Lennon (and others) rolls up his sleaves, and that our players buy into the MP philosophy, and make this year ring with progress! Paul Mitchell, hopefully, is going to help ascertain our development. The future is all ours, and it is lilywhite ;)

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th January 2015 at 12:20 pm #

      It does look like we are building for the future with the young talent we are bringing through and also signing. It just will need time and patience from everybody and to not sack another manager.

  5. Zaph 13th January 2015 at 8:51 pm #

    Pardew probably planne dto bring Zaha on anyhow, poch can’t legislate for Eriksen making 3 errors in one sequence… that’s the problem bringing Salgado on – Eriksen needs to almost exempt from defensive duties, but three up?

    HEY anyone know if the cup game willl be televised – if so by whom & where?

    • ultrapunch 13th January 2015 at 10:52 pm #

      Eriksen took a lot of stick from his Danish manager earlier this season for his poor play when not on the ball. Everybody has to do their fair share of defending, even attackers as Kane proves. Eriksen is often feeble when it comes to defending as is Chadli. They are both often feeble when attempting to tackle.

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th January 2015 at 12:27 pm #

        Very good point Ultrapunch. I would hope this is something they would work on in training given Poch’s passion for pressing.

  6. Scorpio 14th January 2015 at 10:25 am #

    I think given Dier’s problems at RB and Chiriches decent performance in the same position, I would love to see Dier at CB partnered by Vertongen to help him during the game. Chiriches will probably play RB.The real problem is in the attacking positions where the team lacks quality replacements. Hence one of Chadlli or Eriksen should start to provide a decent goal threat. Eriksen has played a lot of games and probably needs a rest. I would keep him on the subs bench. My team would be

    Chiriches Dier Vertongen Davies
    Stambouli Dembele
    Lennon Paulinho Chadli
    Ade if his attitude has improved ??? He may play well to get a transfer.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th January 2015 at 12:26 pm #

      Tonight’s selection will give some more clues on how seriously Pochettino will be taking this competition as he wasn’t too happy at the extra game after last week’s draw. I too would like to see Dier get some time at centre back, although he seems to have disappeared from the squad a bit these last few weeks, only making the bench against Man Utd and last week’s game with Burnley.