Tottenham were dumped out of the FA Cup by a determined Leeds side that pressed relentlessly from the first minute when not in possession. On the ball, they went over the top of our high defensive line, as it finished Leeds 2 Spurs 1 at Elland Road.
Neil Warnock is no stranger to having played Andre Villas-Boas. The two met when the Englishman was in charge of QPR and the Portuguese had taken over the reigns at Stamford Bridge.
The match was more famous, or infamous, for John Terry racially abusing Anton Ferdinand than the 1-0 scoreline by which QPR won by. Warnock’s men harassed Chelsea when not in possession, trying to press them at every opportunity. Then, when they got the ball, they repeatedly played it over the top, attempting to get in behind the high line deployed by Villas-Boas.
Heidar Helguson latched on to a long pass over the top and was brought down by David Luiz for a penalty in the ninth minute. Later in the half, Jose Bosingwa saw red as Shaun Wright-Phillips raced through on to a long ball from his role wide on the left and the full back brought him down. Chelsea finished the game with nine men, as they picked up seven yellows and two red cards.
Despite their numerical advantage, QPR only enjoyed 42% possession in the match, but played a massive 54 long balls, as they looked to hit the channels over the top.
This match, although played out by the different teams, had a very similar feel to it.
Warnock sets his team up the same way again
Last season in that match against Chelsea, Neil Warnock lined his side up in a 4-2-3-1 with a central midfielder (Joey Barton) playing wide right to help cover full back Luke Young. He did this to counter Juan Mata and Ashley Cole down the Chelsea left.
On the other side he went for Shaun Wright-Phillips in order to utilise his pace to get in behind the high Chelsea line. Adel Taarabt was deployed to link the play between Heidar Helguson playing as a central striker and the two-midfield holders of Derry and Faurlin.
Here, Warnock once again went with two holding midfielders in Rodolph Austin and former Spur Michael Brown to chase and close down. However, in order to nullify Gareth Bale down the left, he deployed a central midfielder in Paul Green to help cover young full back Samuel Byram. This was much like he had done by going with Joey Barton to cover Luke Young last season.
Up front he opted for Ross McCormack to play as a number nine in the absence of Luciano Becchio, with El-Hadji Diouf playing the linking role he had utilised Adel Taarabt for. Luke Varney worked in from the left as Wright-Phillips did and it was he who they were trying to hit with passes over and through our high defensive line.
AVB rings the changes
With injury to Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor away at the African Cup of Nations, Andre Villas moved Clint Dempsey up front, as he went back to a 4-3-3.
Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon were deployed as wide forwards, whose job it was to get up and run off Dempsey in to the spaces behind the Leeds defence. The idea was right, but Tom Huddlestone likes to drop deep and try to dictate play from an almost ‘Regista’ type role. This left Scott Parker as the main source of attacking passes, which he can do, but is not his forte.
Parker did play several balls down the channels in to the space between the lines though. This released Bale, Dempsey and Lennon in the first half. Bale had the best chance, having switched wings with Aaron Lennon to get away from the Green/Byram double team. The Welshman couldn’t finish, as he cut in from the right wing to be denied by Leeds’ goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown at his near post.
This pass through the defence down the channel between centre and full back was a feature all game. We tried it many times, but the best example was when Dempsey fired wide with the goal gaping at 0-2. Kyle Naughton hit Aaron Lennon on the run from wide on the right and he squared for Dempsey at the back post, who could only shank his shot wide.
Dempsey’s miss was a microcosm of Spurs attacking play all afternoon. Good movement and passing in the build-up, but lacking a predator to finish chances off.
In defence, we were also lacking solidity and it was here that we lost the game.
AVB rung the changes to partner Jan Vertonghen alongside Steven Caulker, with Benoit Assou-Ekotto on the left and Kyle Naughton on the right. At home, this might not have been a bad choice, but away and deploying a high line, which requires familiarity and communication, all four looked like strangers.
Neil Warnock was looking to expose AVB in behind our high line once again and the defence’s lack of cohesiveness made it easier for Leeds to create chances.
Leeds grab goals by getting in behind
After looking to get in behind and play balls over AVB’s Chelsea defence, Neil Warnock had his Leeds side attempt the same ploy here.
In that match Adel Taarabt was the instigator, putting in Heidar Helguson to win the penalty and Shaun Wright-Phillips as Bosingwa was sent off. Here, El Hadji Diouf was heavily involved in both goals; one was fortunate, the other highly calculated.
The first started in the midfield when a speculative ball forward from Michael Brown saw Diouf flick a foot at it. This caused the Spurs defence to freeze, allowing Luke Varney to run in behind from his left-sided position and finish across Brad Friedel who had stayed well back in his goal.
The second saw our high line exposed again, as Diouf played a calculated lobbed ball in behind Steven Caulker and Jan Vertonghen. The defensive pair didn’t communicate whether to push up and play offside or drop off and McCormack ran in behind to gather Diouf’s pass and finish.
Leeds were unlucky to only score twice from getting in behind our high defensive line with balls lobbed over or through our defence. McCormack had two other excellent chances to score when through one-on-one with Brad Friedel in each half.
At the end of the first, he got in behind the defence from Varney’s flick on. In the second 45 he took a long speculative ball from right back Samuel Byram after Benoit Assou-Ekotto had slipped. Brad Friedel was again back in his goal, but was able to deflect a poor shot behind for a corner.
Leeds 2 Spurs 1 conclusions
Neil Warnock defeated Andre Villas-Boas with pressing and playing balls in behind when his QPR met Chelsea and went for much the same approach here.
QPR had very little possession in that match and Leeds only had 42% this time, but harried and harassed Spurs every time we got the ball. This prevented us from dictating the play through the midfield, with Gylfi Sigurdsson and Tom Huddlestone very ineffective given little time on the ball.
AVB gave credit to Leeds after the match for how hard they worked to close us down.
“That was down to Leeds and how they set up, they got into our faces and made it difficult for us, so credit for them for being so competitive.”
When Leeds had possession, they looked to move it forward and put it in behind our centre back pairing.
AVB had rung the changes, especially down the spine of the team, which was surprising seeing as he didn’t have either of his strikers. Hugo Lloris, Michael Dawson and Moussa Dembele would have added a much need steel to the side in the absence of a true number nine, which meant that getting goals was always going to be a problem.
Dawson and Lloris’ organisation and communication skills would have also been invaluable here in sorting out where it really went wrong, at the back.