A fighting comeback from a goal down saw us emerge with three vital Premier League points, as it finishes Fulham 1 Spurs 2 at Craven Cottage.
This was a remarkably enthralling end-to-end game from two teams essentially trying to play on the counter.
Spurs set up and tactics
One of the interesting points from our weekend draw with Man Utd was Andre Villas-Boas playing with two midfielders sitting much deeper to screen the back four.
Here, our Portuguese coach continued with that tactic. Against Man Utd he paired a more defensive player in Sandro with a man that could carry the ball forward in Moussa Dembele. Here, he was even more obvious with the tactic as he went with two defensive stoppers to screen the back four in Sandro and Etienne Capoue.
The result of having two more defensively minded players was that one had to link the play with Paulinho in the number ten position.
With Capoue opting to play the deepest, this meant Sandro was tasked with this role, something he is not accustomed to. As a result, in the first half we really only created chances from longer balls hit forward that missed out this area of midfield.
Paulinho fired over after jinking past several defenders, but the move was initiated from a quick counter attack off a Fulham corner. Jermain Defoe stung Martin Stekelenburg’s palms after a long ball forward from deep in our half by Paulinho bypassed the midfield. Erik Lamela drove forwards unchallenged from deep and saw his deflected shot tipped over.
The problem was that Fulham were sitting very deep in order to invite us on and play on the counter themselves. This effectively made one of Sandro or Capoue redundant and it was no surprise to see the Frenchman switched for Lewis Holtby at half time.
Fulham set up and approach
I speculated on a couple of things Rene Meulensteen might do in his first match in charge of Fulham in the Tottenham tactics for Fulham vs Spurs.
The first was whether he would continue with Kieran Richardson at left back or return John Arne Riise to the role? The other was whether Dimitar Berbatov would be redeployed up top rather than playing off a central number nine?
John Arne Riise came back in on the left and Meulensteen used his workhorse effort to get up and down the line. Ahead of him Alex Kacaniklic was moving inside in to central areas, this allowed Riise to explode past him and cross the ball.
Fulham still predominantly attacked down their right though and here Ashkan Dejagah and Sascha Riether held their width in an attempt to put in crosses. The Cottagers were one of the lowest crossing teams in the Premier League under Martin Jol, for Meulensteen they attempted a whopping 32 balls in to the box.
Although the bulk came from Dejagah and Riether on the right, the better chances came from Riise’s crosses from the left.
Berbatov runs Fulham’s play
On the second point of speculation, Dimitar Berbatov was redeployed as a target man. Rene Meulensteen really tried to move the ball directly to him from deep so that others could work off him. The Bulgarian was involved in everything good that Fulham did.
The Cottagers were sitting deep and playing on the counter. When either the sheer mass of bodies or the tough tackling of Scott Parker broke down our attacks, they hit Berbatov directly with long balls from the back and midfield.
With the ball at his feet, the Bulgarian was moving play out to the flanks so that they could get in to crossing situations. Up at the penalty area he was trying to create for others.
His assist on Ashkan Dejagah’s goal was an exquisite pass, but summed up what he and Fulham were trying to do all evening.
Michael Dawson’s errant pass saw Scott Parker pounce on Paulinho as he tried to control it. The ball then went straight to Berbatov who guided a pass to the unmarked Ashkan Dejagah who was racing in from his wide starting position. The turnover was a mistake from Dawson, but then to only back off from Berbatov and give him time and space only compounded the error.
Spurs attack the left back
After taking the lead, Fulham went in to their shell even more. They had been sat deep and only engaging Spurs at the halfway line. Now they were backing off in to two banks of four on the edge of their penalty area.
As looked at in the Tottenham tactics for Fulham vs Spurs, the Cottagers’ left back zone has been their area of weakness all season. This has been because Kieran Richardson has filled the role and is more of a midfielder than a full back. John Arne Riise is a much better defender, but we exposed him here in two ways.
Firstly, due to Kacaniklic coming inside and Riise bursting forward meant he could be hit in transition. Secondly, after AVB switched Aaron Lennon to the right, both he and Kyle Walker had the beating of Riise 1v1 in a foot race.
This saw us focus our play in the attacking third with moving the ball early to Walker and Lennon so that they could isolate one-against-one with Riise.
As a result, most of our chances came from or through John Arne Riise’s left back zone.
Both of our goals were created from possession or pressure originating in or from the Fulham left back area.
The first arrived as Kyle Walker put in a cross from here that Martin Stekelenburg could only push out for a corner. Walker’s set piece delivery was only partially cleared to Vlad Chiriches who powered home a spectacularly hit first-time drive.
Walker’s work on the winner was much more direct, as his pass inside to Lewis Holtby was curled with venom in to the top corner.
The German had been excellent after coming on and he was constantly looking to overload on this right side against the weaker Fulham left.
Once on the ball, he was wanting to move it with neat vertical passes. He was almost rewarded, as his chipped ball, again from Fulham’s left back zone, saw Paulinho’s header brilliantly saved by Stekelenburg.
Although the go-ahead goal arrived after 82 minutes, the game was not finished. Hugo Lloris made a great save to claw away a deflected shot by Berbatov. Pajtim Kasami then struck a post before the final whistle.
Fulham 1 Spurs 2 conclusions
This was an excellent showing of character and resolve from Spurs and as Andre Villas-Boas said afterwards “we really needed to dig deep to find the strength to come back. “
With Sandro and Etienne Capoue in the starting line-up, this had all the hallmarks of a restrictive game that Spurs would look to dominate in midfield. However, even with those two on the park, it was still an end-to-end contest.
The game opened up even more with Andre Villas-Boas’ aggressive use of his substitutes bench.
Capoue for Holtby was a necessary move to bring in to the game a player who could transition the ball between midfield and attack. To then withdraw Sandro for Nacer Chadli was really rolling the dice, but then saw us go on to score twice.
The issue for AVB was that he had run out of changes and couldn’t bring on anyone to offer protection to the back four once we were in front. Therefore, the game remained remarkably open as both Fulham and us had chances to win it.
Final score: Fulham 1 Spurs 2