Spurs failed to exploit the space being afforded around Marcelo Brozovic and paid the penalty as it finished Inter 2-1 Tottenham in Champions League Group B.
Tottenham did more than enough to put away Inter Milan in Champions League Group B. However, for all of our possession and good chance creation, we fell to two sucker punches that made the score Inter 2-1 Tottenham in the San Siro.
Space around the six
Tottenham failed to exploit the space being afforded around Marcelo Brozovic. The Croatian was playing as a number six in Luciano Spalletti’s 4-3-3.
As equally good as Inter were at pressing and causing us problems playing out, the knock on effect was that the Italians were also leaving gaps around Brozovic. As a result, he was often being dragged around and out of position, creating spaces for Christian Eriksen to play in.
Eriksen became our chief creator in what was a frustrating first half that was epitomised by Harry Kane’s glaring miss. Spurs managed to navigate Inter’s press to play out. As a result, Marcelo Brozovic was drawn out, allowing Eriksen to peel off the back of him.
Eriksen’s neatly lofted pass saw Harry Kane pull off the back of his marker, round the keeper, but then fail to get a shot away.
The move really highlighted Spurs way to goal in a first half short on chances. After the interval, it would be Eriksen himself who would take matters in to his own hands. He once more drifted in to the space off Brozovic, turned and got a stinging shot away.
Samir Handanovic made a good save, but the ball rebounded back to Eriksen. He sent it back in to the net via a deflection and a poor flappy hand attempt of a save by the keeper. A goal that was as scrappy as the game was, but equally highlighted the gains to be made in the space off Brozovic.
Two minutes later and Spurs should’ve wrapped the game up. Christian Eriksen drifted in to the huge space off Brozovic once again as Inter pressed.
Eriksen then played in Erik Lamela whose shot was destined for the top corner, but got a slight deflection that took it just wide.
Further chances followed to take a two-goal lead. Serge Aurier dragged the overstretched Brozovic out wide. Aurier dribbled past him and played in Lamela brilliantly. Lamela once more saw his shot denied by the goalkeeper. As Son Heung-Min put the ball in the net, Harry Kane was flagged offside.
Substitutes change the game
Spurs were in control, but lost the game with poor substitutions. Lucas Moura came in to the match and was devastating in attack, but ended up having his defensive frailties exposed.
Harry Winks was neat on the ball, but didn’t have the defensive awareness nor legs to cope with Inter’s rampaging full backs.
Danny Rose was brought on, which saw Harry Kane removed. The switch also took away an additional aerially strong defender at corners. All of these factors, combined with some Mauro Icardi brilliance, saw Inter snatch an unlikely win.
Spurs exposed on the flanks
Erik Lamela and Son Heung-Min had done an excellent job assisting Serge Aurier and Ben Davies against Inter’s full backs, Kwadwo Asamoah and Milan Skriniar. The removal of both Lamela and Son for the defensively weaker Harry Winks and Lucas Moura left our full backs exposed and allowed Inter to get back in to the game.
Our formation switch to a 4-3-2-1, did not help both Winks and Moura, and potentially the Tottenham team either. With five minutes to go, we were caught extremely narrow as Winks got stuck inside, which allowed Asamoah to steam forward.
Winks then compounded his positional error by then not stopping Matias Vecino in his tracks and permitted him to find Asamoah with an easy pass.
Whilst this was happening, Mauro Icardi, who had been initially hurt in a challenge with Ben Davies, walked forward untracked. His volley from Asamoah’s cross was stunning and unstoppable. Inter were level with a moment of pure genius.
Set piece disaster
Set pieces have been the bane of Spurs this season. Yet another dead ball situation cost us as three things went horribly wrong.
Firstly, Mauricio Pochettino has moved away from his traditional defensive corner structure. We used to have three men in a zone along the six-yard box line to deal with anything in front of goal. They use the six-yard box line on the pitch in order to set their defensive position. These players stay zonally and only vacate once the ball has been cleared.
This season we have been using just one or two players positioned along the six-yard box line. Danny Rose was the only player in this position when the corner was taken. It could possibly be argued that Lucas Moura was also supposed to be a zonal marker, but his actions took him out of the equation.
Lucas Moura, who inexplicably darted and dashed up field as the ball came in, then committed the second error. Whether Moura was gambling on a counter attack is unclear, but his vacation of his position allowed Matias Vecino in to acres of space.
Vecino was afforded the room to score the winner as his marker, Serge Aurier, was blocked off by Icardi. Aurier did very little to fight through the block. He just simply stopped and this was our third error.
It could have been argued that if Harry Kane were still on the pitch he would’ve added someone in this area to challenge Vecino. Kane does take up a near-post positions at set pieces and may well have done something. However, that is just pure speculation, but also doesn’t aid our set piece defensive setup when he was removed from the game.
As a result of all of these errors, Vecino had the easy task to head the ball in to the gaping net to make the score Inter 2-1 Tottenham for the most unlikely of wins.
Inter 2-1 Tottenham overall
The game highlighted our season so far. We found a weakness – the space around Inter number six Marcelo Brozovic – but didn’t exploit it. We then made some changes in both personnel and formation that resulted in us becoming dysfunctional defensively. Ultimately, we succumbed to poor defending at a set piece.
Back-to-basics really needs to be the mantra of this Tottenham team to get out of our current poor form. World Cup fatigue may be playing a part, but we need to go back to a tried and trusted formation – either 4-2-3-1 or three at the back – and restore Pochettino’s three-man zone across the six-yard box at corners. Too many easy headers are being given up close to goal this season.
Too much tinkering with line-ups, formations and set piece defence is currently dong more harm than good. The majority of the squad have had no preseason to practice them and it is costing us in big moments in matches.
Final score: Inter 2-1 Tottenham.
MOTM: Christian Eriksen.