An open and entertaining game saw our Europa League clash finish Dnipro 1 Spurs 0 in Ukraine.
A pitch that wasn’t in very good condition contributed to the action, with the home side more accustomed to the bobbling ball than us. The key for Dnipro was the speed of their transitions to move play forward. We created chances from attacking the full back areas after increasing the tempo of our play.
Tottenham set up and tactics
With a perfect record in the Europa League, there was something very Andre Villas-Boas like in Tim Sherwood’s set-up.
The new coach went 4-3-3 with inverted wide forwards who both like to dribble. With these two cutting inside, both full backs looked to bomb on in support and overlap.
It didn’t stop there. In midfield he also used three powerful players that were looking to regain the ball and then two would move forward whilst the most defensive players sits. The holding player (Capoue) was also tasked to drop between the centre backs to move the ball forward in the initial phase of possession.
The back four were also playing quite a high line, which Dnipro looked to exploit by getting payers in-behind. It really seemed as if we had gone back to August.
What’s more, we were trying to fashion chances in the Andre Villas-Boas way. The team were looking to slide through passes in-behind the opposition full backs in order to get in to shorter crossing and pull back situations.
They key trio in this ploy were Nacer Chadli, Danny Rose and Roberto Soldado.
Spurs attack the full backs
Whether this was by design to attack right back Artem Fedetskiy or not, we had much of our success by getting down his side and in-behind in the first half.
It was difficult to move the ball accurately on the surface with it bobbling around, but quick increases in the tempo allowed us to do this.
With just 12 minutes on the clock, Nacer Chadli skipped past the full back and cut a short cross back for Roberto Soldado. The keeper deflected the Spaniard’s glancing header away from goal. Chadli was looking menacing though.
Roberto Soldado, whose build-up play was impressive in this match, then sprung Danny Rose with a beautifully weighted through ball behind the full back.
Rose’s cross picked out Chadli unmarked and he side footed over, but the trio were involved once again. Chadli’s movement was often drifting in to the centre to join Soldado, allowing Rose to overlap and put in several short crosses.
After the interval, Tim Sherwood switched Chadli and Townsend over. This was a curious move as Townsend was having trouble dribbling with the ball on the surface and the combination of Chadli and Rose were giving Dnipro trouble.
As Townsend went to the left, our best chances after the interval came from getting in-behind the full back down the right.
On 55 minutes, our best chance of the match arrived as we increased the tempo once again.
Kyle Naughton received a quick pass from Nabil Bentaleb. The full back then took a touch, checked inside and fed an excellent reverse ball in to Paulinho who had shrugged off the full back and spun in-behind. The Brazilian then squared across the goal to Roberto Soldado, who was waiting at the far post.
It would’ve been the move of the match, but the Spaniard failed to finish as the ball skipped off the surface and he shinned over. It was a shame as he was visibly frustrated and having played some excellent link balls all evening, would’ve been the goal his performance deserved.
The right side was the target once again later in the half as Christian Eriksen got in-behind the full back this time.
Soldado neatly flicked the ball round the corner to send the Dane down the line in to space behind the full back, whilst he set off for the penalty area.
Eriksen waited and then pulled an excellent chipped pass back to the Spaniard, but his volley deflected off the closing defender and over.
Whilst Soldado had been let down by the pitch, Dnipro seemed to have based their tactics around it.
Dnipro’s quick transitions
A surface can be a great leveller, especially if one team is a possession-based side, whilst the other is looking to regain the ball and move it forward quickly.
Juande Ramos set his side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with his team pressing high up for the first 20 minutes, looking to profit from any errors on the surface. With his side only having played pre-season friendlies, to expect them to keep up this level of pressure would’ve been too much and potentially fatal.
After 20 minutes, his side then dropped off and looked to regain the ball once it had moved it in to midfield, with some very tough tackles going in.
Jaba Kankava and Ruslan Rotan were the main men in winning it back, with the latter then looking to hit quick balls in-behind for centre forward Matheus to run on to.
This was proving an excellent tactic against our back four who were playing extremely high up.
Rotan had looked for Brazilian striker twice, but had seen Brad Friedel clear and Danny Rose cut the other out. The third time he found Matheus in acres of space as he ran in-behind our high line once again. Rotan had won the ball back and then quickly moved it forward.
Fortunately Mattheus’ finishing was very preseason, as he took his time and could only fire a weak effort straight at Brad Friedel. This channel between Rose and Vertonghen seemed to become the target for Dnipro’s quick transitions.
Mattheus never looked like scoring, but he won the penalty from which Dnipro took the lead from again running this same channel.
The ball was won back in defence and quickly moved forward to Mattheus on halfway. This pulled Michael Dawson way out of position as he went hastily after the striker.
Mattheus played a one-two with Roman Zozulya and then raced down the inside left channel between Rose and Vertonghen once more.
The striker had dived in trying to win a penalty in the first half. This was the softest of decisions as he waited until getting to the penalty area before going down this time.
Dawson, Rose and Vertonghen had all had a little nibble at him as he ran from halfway, so it looked as if the referee’s decision was influenced by a combination of the three challenges. The extra roles at the end won him more points for artistic impression.
Yevheniy Konoplyanka scored the spot kick and was the star man for Dnipro. His dribbling on an uneven surface gave us fits down the right side, whilst his turn of pace was impressive as he cut inside on his right foot to shoot or cross. It’s easy to see why so many are interested in him.
Last 10 minutes set pieces
After the penalty, the last ten minutes saw both sides have great chances from set pieces, as the score and the lead could have changed multiple times.
A free kick from Ruslan Rotan saw Michael Dawson play two Dnipro players onside, but both missed the ball and Brad Friedel had to make a reaction save.
Then Roman Zozulya, who was proving a pest to our defence with his movement to get up alongside Mattheus, saw his header from a corner hit the post.
For Spurs, Paulinho saw his low shot clawed away from the near post after Michael Dawson hooked Christian Eriksen’s corner back across goal.
Nacer Chadli then failed to react quickly enough as Nabil Bentaleb sent another Eriksen corner across the face of the goal.
Dnipro 1 Spurs 0 overall
Tim Sherwood labelled the pitch a ‘disgrace’ and it did contribute to what turned out to be an open and attacking game with much entertainment.
To those that point out that the surfave was the same for both sides, this is true. However, when one is a possession-based team and the other is looking to hit quickly and long on the counter, it can be a great leveller.
Dnipro were very effective in their tactics of transitioning the ball rapidly to Mattheus and could have scored more than the one goal that they did.
Spurs did create chances from getting behind the full backs and this should be an area of focus for Tim Sherwood in the return leg at White Hart Lane.
Final score: Dnipro 1 Spurs 0.