Six days, three games, nine points, we couldn’t have hoped for better! Both sides looked a touch jaded, but Tottenham exposing the space between stand-ins Stephen Kelly and Philippe Senderos meant that the final score finished Fulham 0 Spurs 3.
Andre Villas-Boas made a couple of changes from the side that beat Liverpool on Wednesday, with Kyle Naughton coming in for Kyle Walker at right back. In the centre, Steven Caulker started in place of William Gallas, but the Frenchman was needed early due to injury to Michael Dawson.
Substitutions played a big role in this game. Spurs were able to replace Dawson and Bale with quality contributors. Fulham lost Sascha Riether and it was his replacement Stephen Kelly who Tottenham took advantage of.
Fulham lined up in their usual 4-4-1-1 formation, but opted for Dimitar Berbatov playing off Mladen Petric.
When they used this formation at Stoke, it meant that the Bulgarian was playing a lot deeper. He was therefore much more involved in the build-up play, but got less strikes at goal.
Berbatov is a fine passer, but he is a better finisher than Petric and this role takes away from his ability to get in to the box. As we looked at in the Tottenham tactics preview, Fulham have been playing through balls down the middle for Berba to latch on to. With Petric up front it mean that the Bulgarian was much more involved, but further from goal.
He was the target for any long balls played forward from the back, as well as short, neat passes in the midfield and got himself on the end of a ball pulled back in the box. But this was the key that stopped him being a major threat in the match. Rather than being on the end of through passes in to the area, as he has been when Bryan Ruiz was playing behind him, here Berba was the supplier of passes played through to Petric.
Fulham also switched up their play due to Petric leading the line. In the Tottenham tactics preview we’d seen how the Cottagers created their chances through the centre, aimed at Berbatov’s runs. With Petric up front, Fulham opted to move the ball wide and play low driven-in crosses.
Fulham have attempted the fewest crosses in the Premier League, so to see them try 23 here was a surprise. Although, Petric nearly opened the scoring from one such low cross by John Arne Riise, which he blasted straight at Hugo Lloris.
Out of Fulham’s six chances in the match, three were from low driven crosses and one from a corner.
Spurs lined up in more of a 4-2-3-1 in this game with Moussa Dembele partnering Sandro at the Base of midfield. In previous matches, we’ve seen us line up more in a 4-3-3 with Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon playing higher up as wide forwards. Here, the two played a bit deeper, but with more width in an attempt to expose Fulham’s full backs, giving us more of a 4-2-3-1 shape.
We also really pushed on our own full backs in attempt to get both Jan Vertonghen and Kyle Naughton up the field. This was done to press Fulham when they were in possession and create overloads in these wide areas when we had the ball. It was no surprise that both Spurs full backs touched the ball more times than any other player.
The full backs for both sides were key here and it was when Fulham’s Sascha Riether left the game through injury, that Spurs pounced all over his replacement.
Spurs expose the inside left channel
Sascha Riether was only on the field for 27 minutes, but after his departure, Spurs were able to get at the space between Stephen Kelly and Philippe Senderos. Both players are not starters for Fulham, with Senderos coming in for the suspended Brede Hangeland, whilst Kelly was on for Riether. Spurs were able to take advantage of this by going at their weakness.
If we look at our passing in the final third in the first 27 minutes whilst Riether was on the pitch, we can see how the ball is moved wider to John Arne Riise’s left back zone. Spurs also attempted a couple of through balls originating down the inside-right channel.
After Riether went off, we can see the area down our right in to Riise’s left back zone is minimal, whilst we peppered the area behind new right back Stephen Kelly. This is also where two of our three goals came from, both despatched by Jermain Defoe.
After Sandro put us in to the lead with his speculative shot, our second goal was nicely created out on the left as the Brazilian found Gylfi Sigurdsson behind Kelly. The Icelander then drove towards the area down the inside left channel, wrong-footed Senderos and squared for Defoe to score.
Clint Dempsey created the third goal with a beautifully weighted through ball. Again, the move took place down the Fulham inside left channel, but this time it was a pass rather than a driving run. The American’s through ball was played to perfection down the channel between Philippe Senderos and Stephen Kelly to Jermain Defoe who was lying in wait behind the Irishman.
Defoe’s second composed finish of the day secured all three points, but in a game of few chances, this channel was a source of opportunities after Sascha Riether departed.
Fulham 0 Spurs 3 conclusions
A massive week culminated in both teams’ third match in six days and it showed in a tight game that was settled by Spurs exposing the inside left channel and some clinical finishing.
Mladen Petric had a couple of decent chances for Fulham, but if Dimitar Berbatov had been up front, he probably would have taken them.
With the Croatian up top though, Fulham changed their game to provide low driven crosses, rather than the through balls for Berba that we have seen in recent weeks. They were successful in supplying them with our full backs pushing up and exposing the space in behind, so this was a good tactic, its just Petric couldn’t finish them off.
Up the other end, Jermain Defoe was showing what a clinical striker could do when given a sight of goal despite not seeing much of the ball. The Spurs sniper received the fewest touched of any outfield player that didn’t come off injured before half time, but proved to be the most effective when he did get it. But isn’t that what Jermain Defoe does?
And the question remains – is that good enough against the top sides?