Kyle Walker-Peters and Joss Labadie battle for the ball during Newport 1-1 Tottenham in the FA Cup 4th Round.

Newport 1-1 Tottenham: addressing left-sided imbalance

Finally finding balance on the left got us out of jail as our FA Cup clash finished Newport 1-1 Tottenham at a riotous Rodney Parade.

Somehow Spurs squeaked a replay out of a dire performance. Battling the elements and a fired-up foe, Mauricio Pochettino had to also address issues in our initial team selection. The search for balance on the left led to a late equaliser as Harry Kane spared our blushes. The match ended Newport 1-1 Tottenham ensuring at least a replay.

Tottenham imbalance vs Newport shape

On paper, naming a 3-5-2 with a ton of strength in central midfield and aerial power throughout seemed the way to battle a League two foe on a poor pitch in windy conditions.

Dembele, Wanyama, Sissoko in a midfield trio looked to offer the assuredness we wouldn’t get bullied in the middle of the park. Kane and Llorente up top provided size; hold-up presence and an increased goal threat that should dispatch lower league opposition.

Unfortunately, FA  Cup games are not played on paper. On a heavy pitch that tested touch and control, a ponderous midfield trio were pounced upon by a Newport team seeking to limit our time on the ball.

Newport’s set up was excellent for the conditions and to use their home field advantage.

Mike Flynn started his team in a 4-1-4-1 formation and pressed the hell out of our midfield. Joss Labadie and Ben Tozer denying Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele any time on the ball. Scot Bennett pushed up behind them to further restrict space.

Midfield push up to compress time and space, leaving Sissoko during Newport 1-1 Tottenham in the FA Cup 4th Round.

Midfield push up to compress time and space, leaving Sissoko.

The set up gave us two issues, which we struggled with in the first half.

Firstly we couldn’t build play through the middle of the park as we usually do as Dembele and Wanyama were immediately harassed.

Secondly, their formation used the strong wind. Newport gave us space between their lines of defence and midfield. However, the wind and our lack of skill players to buzz in this space meant we didn’t find it.

Any aerial passes often overshot this zone and were hoovered up by the Newport defence. Moussa Sissoko was the man who should’ve taken advantage. Sissoko was the key player in all of this as he was often left free by Newport’s press. However he is not the player to have as a number ten to exploit this space.

Sissoko left in space between the lines as midfield squeeze up during Newport 1-1 Tottenham in the FA Cup 4th round.

Sissoko left in space between the lines as midfield squeeze up.

As a result, Spurs often struggled to build any kind of attacking threat. Moussa Sissoko did manage one time to pierce this space as he burst through. Harry Kane got on the end of his cut back, but hit the outside of the post.

Newport long balls and long throws

Once Newport had regained the ball, they used the wind and their shape to their advantage. Long passes held up in the face of the blustery breeze. As a result, their wide players could charge forwards after them.

Newport won a number of throws from passes over our high defensive line that held up in the wind. Consequently, they could unleash the long throw-ins of Ben Tozer.

Tottenham did well on the whole to deal with these hurls in to the box. However, at the fifth time of asking, we didn’t defend the second ball. Tozer’s long launch was initially well cleared by Jan Vertonghen. However, Vertonghen and Kyle Walker-Peters then both failed to get out and close down Robbie Willmott.

Hesitating at the same time, Vertonghen and Walker-Peters gave Willmott the space he needed to pick out a cross.

KWP and Vertonghen don't close plus Trippier in 2v1 trouble during Newport 1-1 Tottenham in the FA Cup 4th Round.

KWP and Vertonghen don’t close plus Trippier in 2v1 trouble.

At the far post, Kieran Trippier was also in trouble. Juan Foyth had stayed put in his defensive zone. Our right back was suddenly marking two players and got caught in-between them.

Trippier then augmented his error by getting under the ball. Padraig Amond swept in to head home, sending their fans in to delirious states of disbelief that an upset just might be on the cards.

Spurs on the left

Imbalance ran throughout this Tottenham starting eleven.

Sissoko was not the player who could take advantage of the space that Newport left between the lines. Llorente up top was forcing Harry Kane in to areas he didn’t want to be. Dembele and Wanyama were not the combination to take on Newport’s fierce closing down in the middle of the pitch. Kieran Trippier was struggling to get forward in to crossing positions.

However, it was on the left where we struggled the most. Kyle Walker-Peters was played here and he had a tough time as a left wingback. Walker-Peters is a great prospect but he was knocked off his game by the harassing of both Willmott and David Pipe. It was also noticeable how Newport looked for the long ball beyond him as they sought to get forward. This led to their goal, which also saw Walker-Peters take a kick in the head in the build up before Tozer’s long throw.

At half time Mauricio Pochettino sought to address this. Son Heung-Min was introduced for Walker-Peters and Jan Vertonghen went to left back as we went to a 4-3-3.

Son was more of a threat, but Vertonghen also got in to some good crossing positions. However there was still an imbalance. Harry Kane was thrust in to a weird right forward role and Moussa Sissoko was still the player that needed to get between the lines.

4-3-3 formation with Harry Kane as right forward during Newport 1-1 Tottenham in the FA Cup 4th Round.

4-3-3 formation with Harry Kane as right forward.

Dele Alli changes the dynamic

It wasn’t until 66 minutes that we started to get a grip on this game. The introduction of Dele Alli changed that and righted an unbalanced ship. Llorente went off and Pochettino returned us to the 4-2-3-1 that we know so well. Suddenly Dele Alli was the man to expose the spaces between the lines that Sissoko couldn’t.

Dele Alli works the spaces between the lines during Newport 1-1 Tottenham in the FA Cup 4th Round.

Dele Alli works the spaces between the lines.

Within seconds of being introduced, Dele worked his movement in this space to pass in to Son Heung-Min for our best chance so far. However, Son couldn’t find the corner of the net as goalkeeper Joe Day thrust out a leg to deny him.

Ben Davies introduction the key

It’s not often that a left back is the key change. Many managers would throw on more attacking players chasing a goal. However, Ben Davies introduction was the final piece of the puzzle.

Pochettino’s move was key. Jan Vertonghen, who had over hit several crosses during his stint in the role, could return to centre back. Davies then gave us the left-sided balance that we needed by having a proper, rather than stand-in, full back. In nine minutes, he fired in two dangerous crosses, one of which won the corner from where we equalised.

The corner routine worked on Pochettino’s love of getting men to the near post. Usually it is a centre back, but Son’s run from the edge of the penalty area to provide a gorgeously sublime flick was outstanding. Harry Kane’s movement to drift off his marker for a far post tap in was equally impressive.

Son darts in to flick-on for Harry Kane to score during Newport 1-1 Tottenham in the FA Cup 4th Round.

Son darts in to flick-on for Harry Kane to score.

Kane’s concentration to watch the ball the whole way and avoid any nasty surprises from the surface ensured we were level at Newport 1-1 Tottenham.

Dele Alli almost wins the tie

Davies and Dele’s introductions had given us the team balance that we had been searching for. A dramatic winner was then almost achieved, as Dele was a whisker away from nodding us in to the FA Cup 5th round. Again he had exposed the space between the lines as he found a searching pass out to Son.

Not admiring the ball, Dele set off and indicated that he wanted it back. Another delicious pass from the growing Harry Kane catalogue almost found him. However, as Dele rose, he seemed to shirk the header with goalkeeper Joe Day’s fist arriving. The ball drifted past the post and the score remained Newport 1-1 Tottenham with the spoils shared and a replay back at Wembley Stadium.

Newport 1-1 Tottenham overall

A sub par Spurs performance, which wasn’t good enough. Whether it was the pitch, the elements, the venue or drones flying overhead, too many of the team were knocked off their stride or too casual against a spirited opponent.

However, two positives came out of this performance. Firstly, Mauricio Pochettino managed to address the imbalance that his initial selection caused. His reaction to make changes at half time and then the right moves in the second half have to be applauded.

Secondly, Tottenham teams pre-Pochettino would’ve been beaten in these conditions. Newport played their pitch and the elements well, but this Tottenham team is made of mentally stronger stuff. The belief to turn around what was a dire performance showed once more how resolute a unit we’ve become under Pochettino.

However, we need to learn not dig ourselves in to holes in the first place. That will be tested once again in the replay, where the spirit and energy of this Newport team cannot be underestimated.

Final score: Newport 1-1 Tottenham.
Spurs MOTM: Juan Foyth.

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14 Responses to Newport 1-1 Tottenham: addressing left-sided imbalance

  1. Reinert 28th January 2018 at 3:45 pm #

    This is what I thought, as well – great read. I am reading Mark, please keep writing! COYS

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 28th January 2018 at 4:06 pm #

      Cheers Reinert. Too many 1-1 draws recently. Hopefully this bad performance will shock the lads in to action!

  2. Charles Crawford 28th January 2018 at 4:59 pm #

    Take Lamela, Winks, Son, Eriksen and Dele away and you almost lose everyone with the deft little touches and rapier passes that make all the difference – the software of the team as opposed to the hardware.

    Sissoko again did as well as most (ir worked hard to no great effect), but as you describe the battle was lost in the middle where Wanyama and Dembele seemed to be overrun.

    Not helped by the ball bobbling on the grotty pitch – that slows down everything to the home side’s benefit.

    Glad that you gave Foyth a MOTM vote. He’s composed and sensible and arguably could play further forward Winks-like.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 28th January 2018 at 5:41 pm #

      The software and hardware analogy is quite a perfect synopsis of this one. I’m crossing my fingers that the rumours of us getting Javier Pastore are true as we desperately need someone who has similar programming to Eriksen.

      Foyth looked decent on the ball and I can see why he started his career further forward as a number ten. Whether central defence is where he stays remains to be seen, but I like what I’ve seen from him so far.

  3. christopher norman boyd waters 28th January 2018 at 5:48 pm #

    Loved the assurance and confidence of Foyth, particularly when coming forward with the ball on a tricky pitch. His strength and defensive play need improvement, but he has great potential.
    I’m worried that Wanyama (as with Sandro and Palacios in the past who started out brilliantly as DMs and then lost their way) is not the player he was. I always preferred Dier in that DM
    role anyway, as he looked more assured on the ball and passed it better, but Wanyama was
    still a frightening prospect for opponents (even if he did pick up too many yellows through
    reckless challenges). Despite the fact he’s only recently come back from injury, his performances suggest he’s even less of a ‘beast’ now, and more of a daft cow with its eyes caught in the headlights. A bit unfair I suppose ..but we haven’t missed him anything like we’ve missed Toby! Dembele was as cumbersome as Wanyama and Sissoko ..and Dier struggled too. So much for our midfield. Still was an old fashioned cup-tie with great
    excitement for the home fans, rotten weather, and a pitch our aristocrats are unused to. Newport thoroughly deserve their trip to Wembley, and it’s another lesson learned by our players. Don’t take any opponents for granted!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 28th January 2018 at 6:15 pm #

      Foyth was one bright spot in an otherwise poor performance. He made some mistakes but grew throughout the game.

      Wanyama is an interesting one. He looked really pensive and often got knocked around, something that never happens to him. I’m not sure he’s lost his status, but he’s not back to being the same player he was last season. At the minute Dier is the better choice.

      Fortunate to still be in the cup, but a replay when we have so many big games isn’t ideal.

  4. Matt 28th January 2018 at 6:31 pm #

    I agree we’d have lost this four years back. Poor performance but good teams find a way to fight another day. I think Vic will come back to form, he’s had a nasty injury fkr someone who relies on athleticism. Only issue with Foyth is he’s small for a CB. I’m old fashioned, I think you need 6ft + as a CB. Agree we need some craft to augment the ballast. Do you think Moura can provide it…?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 28th January 2018 at 11:54 pm #

      I’m not sure have to be 6ft + as players like Mascherano have shown that. However it is usually the rule. Foyth at 1.87m is plenty tall enough he just needs to bulk up as he looks undersized to deal with the physical stuff. He is still 20 though.

      Moura came to Europe with a big rep and hasn’t consistently done it. The talent is there, but it’ll take the right coach and the right team fit to bring it out of him. The premier league is a good place for him, whether we are a good fit for him is the big question. Personally I think he’s worth the gamble as he is the type of player we don’t currently have and need. We could well have a bargain if all the planets align.

  5. Andy B 28th January 2018 at 9:42 pm #

    Great analysis.

    I have liked the look of Foyth in every game he has played so far. His composure and quality on the ball is impressive. I wonder if he will end up as a defender or midfielder? I would say that his composure on the ball is even better than Winks and Eriksen.

    I used to get frustrated that Chiriches was never tried in midfield. I always thought he had the attributes to be a quality defensive midfielder. He was very skilful and I believe has always been played in the wrong position, throughout his career.

    I wonder how many other players got ruined by being forced to play in the wrong position? I think Joe Cole was one of them. Mourinho insisted on playing him on the left, just like Harry Redknapp did with Kranjcar. That used to frustrate me as well.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 29th January 2018 at 12:02 am #

      Foyth may well end up like Dier in defensive midfield. However, he does have all the hallmarks of a decent centre back in the making. Nowadays, centre backs need to be able to play with the ball, so I think he’ll really help us out with this.

      • Andy B 29th January 2018 at 1:15 pm #

        Yes I agree that it would be good news for Spurs future, to have a centre back, who is great on the ball. Someone who can carry the ball forward, dribble through players in midfield and also make pinpoint passes, to quickly transition from defence to attack.

        Alderweireld and Vertonghen are both excellent passers of the ball, so we are lucky at the moment.

        I think that centre backs who are composed and good on the ball have always been around, even though most of them are not like that. When you think of Bobby Moore, Franz Beckenbauer, Alan Hansen – all brilliant composed defenders. I wonder what they would be worth in today’s market?

        In current football, there are quite a few, like Mats Hummels, John Stones.

        An example of a former great Argentinian composed central defender was Daniel Passarella. What a player he was. The amount of goals he scored was unreal. Goal scoring centre backs, like him and Ronald Koeman are rare.

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 30th January 2018 at 10:48 am #

          Totally agree that good on the ball centre backs have always been around, and they have always attracted a premium price. For me, in this era of the game’s evolution its becoming imperative for all centre backs, and also goalkeepers, to be good with the ball. In the past, solid defenders who were average passers weren’t found out. However, with so many teams now pressing or on the flip side using their centre backs and keeper to quickly launch counter attacks, poor on the ball centre backs are getting exposed as turnover prone and in a sense left behind. We are lucky to have Vertonghen and Alderweireld who are good on the ball, but replacing these guys if they left would be high, as the better passing defenders carry a huge premium due to the way the game is now evolving.

  6. Chas 28th January 2018 at 11:24 pm #

    Agree with everything you have said, Mark, especially Foyth as MOM.
    I guess it’s hard to blame Poch for trying to withhold players for the upcoming ManU game, but at least the starting XI established a few things once and for all.
    * Dier is not a back 3 player. Despite so many starts his error rate is still a major concern. Much improved when moved up.
    * KWP simply isn’t ready.
    * Dembele played the wrong game on that pitch. His trademark dribbling just got him into trouble and loss of possession brought frustration which, in turn, brought silly fouls.
    * Llorente hasn’t the speed needed for Spurs’ game and should find it difficult to get further minutes.
    * Foyth deserves more gametime.
    * Without Eriksen and players who can run into holes like Son and Alli, we will always struggle. That first 45 minutes was like pulling a tooth!

    Now let’s get ManU!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 29th January 2018 at 12:11 am #

      Good points Chas. Agree with most of them. I think Kane and Llorente have a place but it’s against teams that will press us and we need to play on the counter attack eg Man City, Liverpool, Real Madrid. In this way we exploit their hold-up presence and aerial ability against teams that will leave space for us to do so.