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Maribor 1 Spurs 1: Tottenham struggle to break down Slovenians

Maribor 1 Spurs 1

Spurs struggled in the first half to break a resolute Maribor down and conceded just before half time. In the second period, the introduction of Iago Falque injected some pace and life to the Tottenham attack. It was no surprise that he was at the heart of the equaliser as it finished Maribor 1 Spurs 1.

Andre Villas-Boas once again went with a fairly strong side without Gareth Bale, Moussa Dembele and Emmanuel Adebayor. Kyle Naughton returned to left back and Jan Vertonghen was moved to his preferred centre back role to partner Steven Caulker. Andros Townsend came in on the left side, with Tom Huddlestone and Sandro forming the midfield trio with Gylfi Sigurdsson.

With a loud Maribor crowd, the match had more of an FA Cup feel to it against a lower league side. The home team were content to concede possession and try to play on the counter. The more dominant Premier League side had plenty of possession but struggled to play through a packed defence.

Midfield balance

It was from here that Tottenham really laboured to break the hosts down. We had 58% possession and took 17 shots at goal, but were unable to move the ball quickly through a combination of a slightly uneven surface and slow midfield passing.

After talking about the issues I had with the Tottenham midfield in our Spurs 2 Chelsea 4 match at the weekend, it was interesting to see the same thing happening here.

Tom Huddlestone has always been a deep lying passer of the ball, but has worked with a busier creative player alongside him in Luka Modric. Against Maribor, he once again had Sandro with him, who is a monster of a defensive player but looks somewhat out of sorts in the attacking third.

When playing with Moussa Dembele, Sandro spends the majority of his time at the base of the midfield. He breaks up attacks and drops in between the centre backs to bring out the ball. In this match, as against Chelsea at the weekend, the Brazilian spent most of his time in the attacking half of the field with Tom Huddlestone dropping deeper.

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Maribor 1 Spurs 1 Sandro was playing too high up.

Huddlestone likes to sit in front of the back four and move the ball around. Here, against a team that needed quick and incisive passes to break them down, Huddlestone’s slower, lethargic passing wasn’t what the team required. Everything was played square or side-to-side, when more vertical passes were called for.

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Maribor 1 Spurs 1: Tom Huddlestone sat far too deep to receive the ball and lacked any penetration to his passing.

Andre Vilas-Boas likes his midfield trio to work as an interchangeable system, but Huddlestone wanted to take up this deep lying ‘Regista’ role throughout the match.

The effect of him doing this all the time meant that Sandro was venturing forward in advanced areas and being asked to be a more creative passer, which he is not. The Brazilian passed the ball well until he was in the opposition half of the field when he was trying to do too much.

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Maribor 1 Spurs 1 Sandro’s passing goes astray once over halfway.

He did start the passage of play for the goal though, when his hooked ball across the box found its way to Iago Falque.

Sandro didn’t seem to have a target for his pass, other than lobbing it back towards the danger area, but it reached the Spaniard. After exchanging passes with Gylfi Sigurdsson, Falque’s cross was then parried by the keeper in to the path of Jermain Defoe. His powerful shot was blocked on the line, bouncing in to the path of Sigurdsson who prodded it home.

The goal was quite symbolic of the Tottenham performance, scrappy yet persistent.

Take nothing away from Maribor though, the hosts had a game plan and stuck to it well.

Maribor approach

Maribor lined up in their usual 4-4-1-1 formation with Marcos Tavares playing off Robert Beric.

In the first half they were fuelled by the home crowd and initially pressed through their attacking players, whilst the defensive midfielders dropped off. This allowed them to create a couple of turnovers in the first 45, including the one for their goal.

In the second, Maribor dropped off and defended deep, partly because of their lead and also due to the fatigue of the first half.

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Maribor pressed through their attacking players in the first half, then dropped off in the second.

They stifled the centre of the park so that this area was always crowded, which was highlighted by the goal-line scramble for our equaliser. They were also doubling up on our wide forwards of Lennon and Townsend in the first, and Falque in the second.

This had the effect of nullifying our crossing, where we completed 6 of 28 attempts, but this figure is misleading.

Three of these crosses were completed from corners, with a further 2 from free kicks, so in open play we were actually only able to complete a single ball in to the box. This came when Sandro took the ball on his chest and hooked it back across goal before Gylfi Sigurdsson scored.

Maribor’s approach of crowding the centre and doubling up out wide also gave us trouble in getting good quality shots at goal.

We took 17 strikes at their net in the game, but 10 of these were from outside the box. The Slovenians also blocked 5 efforts, 3 of which were in the area, including the one on the line to deny Defoe before Sigurdsson forced home the rebound.

Iago Falque

The introduction of Iago Falque made a big impact on the game and the Spaniard was heavily involved in the equaliser.

He may have completed all of his 27 passes and none of his 8 crosses, but his deflected cross was a big part of our equaliser. He also really got the wide forwards playing more of the game AVB wants them to.

Usually, we have Aaron Lennon playing wide as a winger and Gareth Bale comes inside looking to get in the box when Lennon has possession. In this match, those sides were reversed in the first half and Spurs looked unbalanced.

Aaron Lennon was receiving the ball to feet out on the right, but high above the 18-yard area. Andre Villas-Boas prefers that he receive the ball on the run and passed in to him deeper, so that he can cross or pull it back.

On the left, the ball was being played in to deeper positions, but to Jermain Defoe as he came out in to wide areas with the centre so crowded.

In the second period that changed with the introduction of Iago Falque and probably a reminder of how things should be done from Andre Villas-Boas in the dressing room.

“In the first half, we weren’t good,” reflected Andre after the Maribor draw. “It was a positive for the lads to come back into the game and produce a second half of such dominance.”

After the interval, Lennon was now getting the ball played through the defence in to deeper positions on the right for him to cross and pull back. Falque was receiving the ball in less advanced positions on the left, but coming in to the box when Lennon had possession.

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Maribor 1 Spurs 1 Tottenham played better in the attacking third in the second half.

It was from moving inside from the left flank in to the box when the ball was out on the right, that Falque created the goal.

The Spaniard had snuck in to the area to take Sandro’s hooked cross down and lay it off in to the path of Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Icelander then gave it back to Falque and his short cross was deflected off the keeper in to the path of Defoe. Jermain’s shot was blocked on the line, but Sigurdsson had continued his run and was first to the rebound to make it Maribor 1 Spurs 1.

Maribor 1 Spurs 1 conclusions

Without Bale, Dembele, Adebayor, and Assou-Ekotto this was a grafting performance against a tough team on an average pitch.

Spurs had the majority of possession and twice as many shots, but Maribor came to make it difficult and did a good job. They put plenty of bodies in the middle of the park and doubled up on our wide players. They also pressed us in the first half and were rewarded with their goal, before dropping off in the second to protect their lead.

Our balance without Moussa Dembele in the middle of the park was a concern, as the game didn’t really require a deep lying player in the ‘Regista’ mould against this opposition. Also if Emmanuel Adebayor had been fit, we would have had a better player to combat the numbers clogging up the middle.

An away point is still a good result with two of our three remaining fixtures at home. Lazio’s draw with Panathinaikos still leaves qualification from the group as a real possibility.

Final Score: Maribor 1 Spurs 1

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