Reading 1 Spurs 3: Dembele and Sandro win the points from the pivot

Reading 1 Spurs 3

On a super Sunday, Spurs put on a super performance! Andre Villas-Boas was celebrating each strike with the same fire and passion that the Tottenham team were playing with, fuelled by a tremendous away support. Our first three points of the season are in the bag and we’re off and running as our trip to the Madejski finished Reading 1 Spurs 3.

It was a very typical display from an Andre Villas-Boas coached side. Ball possession and retention were at the forefront of probing the Reading defence looking for weaknesses at every opportunity.

At the heart of the performance in the pivot of AVB’s 4-2-3-1 system, Moussa Dembele and Sandro controlled the game. The two were the difference in the match and the signs of another promising midfield partnership are being born.

The right side

Spurs lined up in a familiar 4-2-3-1 which we’ve seen every game so far this season. Prior to this match, with Jake Livermore partnering Sandro in the double pivot, I’ve outlined the gap in between them and the attacking players on a few occasions now. We saw how Moussa Dembele bridged this space in the second half of our match against the Canaries, which finished Spurs 1 Norwich 1 and you can read here.

Dembele was again the bridge between the base of the midfield and the attackers, as we can see from an average position map of the match. This doesn’t tell the entire story of how he and Sandro operated. as the two worked as an interchangeable pair, with Sandro given more licence to roam than expected from a defensive midfielder. We’ll take a look at their relationship further in a minute.


Reading 1 Spurs 3: Dembele bridges the gap between Sandro and Sigurdsson.

Reading started in a 4-1-4-1 formation like we saw them use at Chelsea rather than the 4-4-2 they went with at home to Stoke. The Royals really weren’t allowed to do anything in the first half by the way Spurs controlled the ball and the flow of the game. Spurs enjoyed 70% possession before the break and completed 86% of their passes.

Brian McDermott made a switch at half-time to create the 4-4-2 line-up predicted in our 5 keys to Reading vs Spurs. He brought Adam LeFondre in to the game, which carried a greater threat in the second half and he created their consolation goal for Hal Robson-Kanu.

The key area for Spurs was down the right, with 39% of the our attacks going this side to take advantage of Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker’s pace against the ageing Ian Harte. It was no surprise that both Walker and Lennon set up a goal each by getting behind the Reading defence down this flank.

Reading 1 Spurs 3 Shots in the box

In our 5 keys to Reading vs Spurs we identified that we had to get more of our shots away from inside the area.

Prior to Sunday’s encounter, we had taken the 3rd most shots in the Premier League, but only 33% of these were from inside the box, one of the lowest percentages.

At the Madejski, we again got a lot of shots away, but of our 22 efforts at the target, this time 13 were inside the area (57%), a marked improvement on the 33% before this game.


Spurs got 57% of their shots in the box.

The prime gunslinger was Jermain Defoe, who took nine shots in the match and six were from within the 18-yard area. He hit the target with just two of these efforts, but both resulted in goals.

Much has been said on the subject of Defoe being able to play as a lone striker, but on this occasion I was impressed by his energy and willingness to work the channels. The one important thing Emmanuel Adebayor brings to Spurs is his movement, but at Reading, Defoe’s willingness to run the channels opened up opportunities for him.


Reading 1 Spurs 3: Jermain Defoe receives the ball down both left and right channels.

Can Jermain do it against better teams than the Royals though?

Moussa Dembele and Sandro run the game

Moussa Dembele certainly has changed the dynamic of the Spurs midfield since his arrival from Fulham. Starting in the pivot alongside Sandro, the two acted as an interchangeable pair, with one holding and the other going forward.

More often than not Sandro acted as the holder, as the Brazilian would drop in between the centre backs in order to collect the ball and bring it forward. It looked as though he would be the holding player all game, but on several occasions he moved up the field past Dembele who would drop in for him. This allowed Sandro to move unmarked in to advanced areas of the pitch and allow Dembele the freedom to work from deeper. The two caused problems for the Reading midfield all afternoon, as they were always available to receive a pass, overloading the Royals in central areas.

If we look at their passes received in the game on Stats Zone, we can see how deep Sandro comes to receive the ball, but also how far up the pitch he gets. This licence to roam is not usually seen from a holding player and it’ll be interesting to see if it continues in matches against better opposition.

Moussa Dembele was filling in for Sandro on occasions, but doesn’t drop quite as deep to pick up the ball, but was always available in the middle third of the pitch.


Reading 1 Spurs 3: Moussa Dembele and Sandro passes received.

As for the passes they played, both used the ball well to help Spurs retain possession, with Sandro competing 85% of his passes and Dembele a whopping 91%.

Sandro moves the ball square in his own half, but once he crosses half way is looking to shift the ball out to Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker on the right.

Moussa Dembele had a lot more of the ball and frequently went backwards in his own half, whilst moving it both square left and right once across the halfway line. His passing lines are very horizontal as he kept the ball moving from one side to the other.


Reading 1 Spurs 3: Moussa Dembele and Sandro passes played.

When not in possession, both players were immense in winning it back. Spurs would not have had 58% of the ball for the match without them, as they read the play, intercepted and tackled well all afternoon. The strength of Dembele saw him make four tackles and an interception, whereas the ever-industrious Sandro made a tackle, five interceptions and he won all six of his aerial duels.

These two were the heartbeat of the side and it will be exciting to watch this partnership grow this season.

The two halves of Gylfi Sigurdsson

If Moussa Dembele and Sandro were running the show, Gylfi Sigurdsson was having a mixed afternoon. He started off well in the first 45 minutes, but his game went awry in the second period before being substituted.

If we look at Sigurdsson’s first half display we can see that he receives a lot of the ball across the final third, about 10 yards outside the penalty area.


Gylfi Sigurdsson passes received 1st half.

When analysing what Gylfi Sigurdsson brings to Spurs we saw how much he scored and assisted on goals down the inside right channel for Swansea. This is where he created the opening goal for us with an incisive pass.

The Icelander received the ball in his favoured channel, before slipping it in behind Ian Harte for the much quicker Aaron Lennon. The nippy winger was then able to cut the ball back for Jermain Defoe to score.


Gylfi Sigurdsson splits the defence from his favoured inside-right channel.

In the second half, Gylfi Sigurdsson did operate more down the right side of the field.


Gylfi Sigurdsson passes received 2nd half.

However, more of his passing was going astray in the second half, as well as seeing him turning the ball over by holding on to it too long. After completing 87% of his passes before the interval, he completed just 64% after.

Hopefully this was just due to tiredness from jet lag after playing for Iceland in the international break and nothing more serious.

Reading 1 Spurs 3 defence

One factor of particular note was the display of the defence. Spurs coped extremely well with Reading in the first half and had very little cause for concern other than the last 5 minutes of the second.

William Gallas had to clear off the line from Adam Le Fondre in the 86th minute after Brad Friedel had to push a cross from Garath McCleary out. The goal was then conceded when Le Fondre crossed for Robson-Kanu in the 90th.

It was a shame that such an industrious display didn’t return a clean sheet, but one thing we dealt with extremely well was Reading’s propensity to cross.

We highlighted the Royals plan to put balls in to the box in our keys to Reading vs Spurs article and they didn’t disappoint, putting in 35 crosses during the match. This was well above their average and the pleasing point was that only 3 were successful as Gallas, Vertonghen and both full backs stood firm.


Reading only completed 3 of a massive 35 attempted crosses.

Reading’s goal did come from a cross, as Le Fondre found Hal Robson-Kanu at the back post, but by that time the match was well and truly out of sight.

Reading 1 Spurs 3 conclusions

It was a great performance by Spurs and one that I felt has been on the cards for was while, as identified in the article ‘8 positive points of progression under Andre Villas-Boas.’

In that post, the first three points of improvement relate to ball possession, retention and chance creation. The boss likes his team to hold possession so if we have the ball, the other team cannot score. We did this well against Reading, having 70% of the ball in the first half and 58% overall.

AVB also likes to retain it through accurate passing and again we did that, completing a very healthy 85% of passes in the match.

This allows his teams to move the ball, probing the opposition for weaknesses and then opportunities can be created. As a result of our possession, retention and movement, we had 18 chances in the match and were well worth our three goals.

Moussa Dembele and Sandro were immense in midfield both with and without the ball, whilst Jermain Defoe’s movement in the channels was key.

Things are most definitely looking brighter and it looks like the players are gaining a greater understanding of what Andre Villas-Boas wants from them.

“In the end, you have to praise the players because they were tremendous. The focus, the responsibility and their desire was present during the 90 minutes and they felt completely committed to winning the game for the fans.”

Final score: Reading 1 Spurs 3

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