A dominant display sees us control the half spaces as our FA Cup clash finished Fulham 0-3 Spurs at Craven Cottage.
Fulham’s Kevin McDonald must have felt hung out to dry. Exposed by his team’s formation, the defensive midfielder was left with far too much ground to cover. He was stretched and pulled all over the place as we ran riot in the half spaces around him. The match finished Fulham 0-3 Spurs as we took full advantage.
Control of the half spaces
From the start, the game had a very open feel to it. Fulham were set up in a 4-1-4-1 formation and playing with a very high defensive line.
The issue the Cottagers had was that they were leaving far too much space around defensive midfielder Kevin McDonald. Spurs had Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli drift in to the spaces around him and simply opened Fulham up.
Able to get both Dele and Eriksen on the ball in these central pockets meant that they could unlock the game for others. Harry Kane was constantly looking to run in-behind to receive through balls from the pair. Kieran Trippier was bombing on down the right flank to whip in crosses.
Dele and Eriksen filling the half spaces created all three goals as we ran out easy winners to make the final score Fulham 0-3 Spurs.
Trippier down the right
Kieran Trippier had an outstanding game. His ability to get forward was greatly helped by Christian Eriksen drifting inside in to the pockets of space around Fulham’s defensive midfielder. Eriksen’s movement not only dragged Kevin McDonald around, it also sucked in left back Scott Malone. This gave Trippier acres of green space to gallop in to.
Trippier fired in a team-high eight crosses from open play, but it was his quick thinking and reactions that saw us take the lead.
A turnover of possession after having got in to the half spaces saw Fulham centre back Tim Ream try and play out. Ream over hit his pass towards left back Scott Malone and it went out for a throw. Immediately reacting, Trippier grabbed the ball and hurled it up the line for Christian Eriksen to race in-behind the recovering left back.
With Harry Kane darting in-behind Fulham’s high line, he timed his run superbly to stay onside, meet Eriksen’s cross and slide the ball home to make it 1-0.
Trippier’s runs and crosses caused issues for Fulham all afternoon. Our right back was also heavily involved in our second goal. Again he linked well with Christian Eriksen as the pair’s dovetailing movement opened the door once more.
The passage of play started with us quickly recovering the ball in midfield after we’d turned it over. Our speed of regaining the ball after losing it was impressive all afternoon, but particularly so here. As soon as we had it back, the excellent Harry Winks wasted no time in picking out Trippier’s forward run.
Once again, Christian Eriksen had drifted inside to get free in the half spaces around Fulham’s Kevin McDonald. Eriksen’s movement had kept the left back playing narrow, freeing Trippier to race up the line.
As soon as Trippier had the ball, Eriksen made his move to float over and help. Trippier found him with a neat pass back inside. Eriksen now had time and space to pick out his target.
Harry Kane, playing on the shoulder of the centre backs once more, snuck in-behind to divert the cross past the keeper to make it Fulham 0-2 Spurs. The away end erupted and a sense of ease emerged that the tie was close to being put away.
High line vs ball in-behind
Fulham also played with a high defensive line. This was a curious decision given the lack of pace at the back and our ability to get Eriksen and Dele in between the lines to pick them apart.
Throughout the game we tried several long balls over the top. Toby Alderweireld’s pinpoint pass that was plucked out of the sky by Dele was one great example. If only Dele could’ve supplied the finish after cushioning it down and we’d be talking of a goal of the month contender.
But it wasn’t just the long ball over the top. We also played through the high line and ran on to passes. Christian Eriksen had a glorious chance in the opening minutes that saw his contested left-footed shot pushed round the post.
We finally got our reward from running in-behind the high line by adding a third to make it Fulham 0-3 Spurs. All of our good work from the afternoon went in to the goal. Quick ball recovery in the middle of the pitch started it. Rapidly moving possession forward to get Christian Eriksen on the ball in the half space around the defensive midfielder then followed. Dele Alli in the opposite half space was next and then the precision pass for Harry Kane’s run beyond the high defensive line.
The goal was a beautiful piece of football to watch and a culmination of everything good that we were doing on the afternoon. Kane made no mistake to fire his shot home at the near post, completing his hat trick and making the score line Fulham 0-3 Spurs.
The goal put the tie away and ensured progression through to the FA Cup quarter Finals. All that was left was for some nice touches by both managers. Former Spurs midfielder Scott Parker was introduced to solid applause. Likewise, former Fulham man Mousa Dembele entered the action to the adulation of both sets of supporters.
Fulham 0-3 Spurs overall
In need of a confidence boost, this game certainly provided it. Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli’s control of the half spaces destroyed Fulham defensive midfielder Kevin McDonald. Both Eriksen and Dele’s ability to then pick out Harry Kane for through balls and Kieran Trippier to cross saw us create and dispatch three goals.
Mauricio Pochettino named a strong line up. Is this a sign that Pochettino is now taking this competition seriously or was it merely to regain confidence that was knocked at Anfield and in Gent?
Return of Jan Vertonghen
Jan Vertonghen’s absence has left a huge void that we have struggled to fill. The return of the Belgian alongside Toby Alderweireld brought a calm and assuredness that ran through the whole team. It wasn’t just Vertonghen’s defending that we missed, but his positioning too.
What has been noticeable over the past few weeks is that our centre back pairing hasn’t been splitting as wide to stretch out opposition defensive coverage. That has meant that Victor Wanyama has had less space to work in when he drops in and he’s made errors or turnovers in dangerous positions.
The return of Vertonghen saw a very visible reminder of just how far apart he and Alderweireld can play. The knock on effect was just how much more Victor Wanyama dropped in to create a three to bring the ball out. Wanyama had so much more space here and it improved his game, he made fewer turnovers and improved his ability to start attacks moving.
Final score: Fulham 0-3 Spurs.
MOTM: Christian Eriksen.