A shrewd tactical switch by Mauricio Pochettino sees our Europa League match finish Qarabaq 0-1 Spurs in Group J.
It was a slow burner in Baku as our Europa League Group J clash started out as a war of attrition. A half time tactical adjustment to switch the sides of Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-Min opened up the game and a lively second half ensued. It gave the Dane the freedom he needed to pull the strings and the South Korean the opportunity to get in to shooting lanes with the two combining to set up the only goal as it finished Qarabag 0-1 Spurs.
The game opened up with Qarabag enjoying some decent possession and moving the ball neatly. It didn’t last long though as our pressing forced them back and they became a reactionary team for the rest of the match. This saw them frequently drop off if they couldn’t win the ball back within a few seconds and then try to clog the centre.
These tactics largely nullified Harry Kane and to an extent Christian Eriksen, but where we did have joy was down the right side. Dele Alli was pressing extremely effectively here and was backed up by Son Heung-Min. The game’s first chance came from Alli closing down and recovering the ball, then moving it inside for Ryan Mason to have a speculative shot that was easily caught by the keeper.
Not long after and we were in down this side again. Toby Alderweireld got forward to loft a perfect ball in to the path of Kieran Trippier. His pull back went straight to Dele Alli, but the youngster snatched at the volley and skewed the ball wide.
The space was there though and it was just a case of exploiting it. Son was getting free, but Toby Alderweireld was also able to creep forward.
The addition of Alderweireld
Eric Dier dropping in to form a back three has been standard practice this season, but against Qarabag it allowed Toby Alderweireld the time and space to move forward down the right. The Azerbaijani side didn’t have enough players to mark him and dropped off so far that he often had acres to move up in to.
This allowed Alderweireld time and space on the ball; permitting him to execute his range of passes that often got our attack moving. He created the chance for Trippier to cross for Alli and then in the second half put a beautifully weighted ball in that Dele Alli clunked off the post.
Pochettino switches Eriksen and Son
Having seen the success we were having down the right side with Alli’s pressing, Son’s running and Alderweireld creeping forward, Mauricio Pochettino made a switch. For the second half, he moved our most creative and offensively destructive player, Christian Eriksen, to this side and had Son drift in to the middle from the left. The ball was instructed to go through Eriksen and the game opened up.
There were barely five minutes on the second half clock when the first good opportunity arrived. Son and Eriksen played a neat one-two on the edge of the penalty area, before the South Korean laid the ball square in to the path of Dele Alli, who chocked on the shot and ended up stabbing the ball goalwards.
Minutes later and the pair were at it again. The ball went through Eriksen once more and Son, who had drifted in from the left, pinged a rasping shot against the bar.
The game was now becoming quite lively. Getting Eriksen in the space down the right that was there in the first half, but didn’t have a creative player in, was now being exploited. You could sense a something was coming and the Danish magician dribbled from the right once more. He drew a crowd that he was too quick for to tee-up Harry Kane inside the box.
Kane took the ball, swivelled and unleashed a shot towards the top corner. It looked like it would ripple the net, but it was pushed over by keeper Ibrahim Sehic. A corner followed; then another.
Set piece special
We’ve seen, and talked on here at length, about the improvement in our set pieces this season and they are becoming a real weapon. They can break open tight games or provide a moment from which to increase an advantage. Against West Ham it was the latter. Here, it was the former.
We’ve often seen, and discussed, the vacant corner of the six-yard box routine that Mauricio Pochettino loves us to run. Usually it has Toby Alderweireld or Eric Dier charging towards the empty space at the corner of the six-yard box and leaping to meet the incoming driven ball. This time, in a variation, it was Son Heung-Min who nipped out from on the goal line to get in this space to meet the driven ball.
His flick-on sent the ball goalwards, right in to the danger area. A faint nod off the forehead of Harry Kane took it in to the net and we were ahead, Qarabag 0-1 Spurs cueing raucous scenes of celebration.
It was another brilliantly worked set piece. One that obviously has been practiced on the training ground as Mauricio Pochettino searches for different looks to throw the opposition off. The one constant is Eriksen’s delivery. It can seem strange to the untrained eye when the ball hits the first defender or is too low, but he is always aiming to hit this area at the corner of the six-yard box with pace and curl. When it comes off, the results are devastating for the opposition. Here, it was terminal and there was no way back.
Qarabag 0-1 Spurs overall
The job was to get three points and we did that with a comfortable performance, even if it didn’t translate to an easier scoreline. You could always sense that a goal was coming, which is one of the many positives about our style of play under Mauricio Pochettino.
The travel, 10pm local time kick off and a very average playing surface all didn’t help and contributed to a slow start. The switch by Mauricio Pochettino to move Christian Eriksen to the right and play through him was eagle-eyed by our head coach. We were having success here and moving the Dane over and running the match through him opened Qarabag up.
Eriksen created six chances and touched the ball more times than any other player. The link up between him and Son was impressive in open play; the only surprise was that two combined from a set piece to create the winner.
Final Score: Qarabag 0-1 Spurs.