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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.