Christian Eriksen and Luka Modric battle for the ball during Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs.

Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs: battle of the midfield trios

Afforded space to hurt each other, the midfield trios were at the heart of a thrilling Champions League encounter that finished Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs.

Bold, brave and ultimately brilliant. Mauricio Pochettino made calculated gambles, as he backed the team to perform in the intense cauldron of the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. Space was given, but also conceded in midfield, as each team benefited and suffered from matching up three versus three. The outcome was a score of Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs.

Tottenham’s 5-3-2

Mauricio Pochettino is becoming a master of handing in a team sheet that consequently springs a surprise on the field. This time it was a back three of Davinson Sanchez and Toby Alderweireld flanking Eric Dier. What’s more, Jan Vertonghen was at left wing back, but there was also a central midfield trio of Harry Winks, Moussa Sissoko and Christian Eriksen.

The midfield trio had the most interesting dynamic. A deep lying and a more forward thinking playmaker combined with a powerful dribbling runner. Playing Real Madrid there was suprisingly very little defensive prowess, but a trio more focussed on instigating counter attacks.

Matching up with Madrid’s own trio that included two playmakers, Pochettino had decided to ditch defence in favour of options that were better in space on the ball. It was a calculated risk as each trio afforded the other room to operate. Albeit at the extreme over the whole game, this screenshot highlights each midfield’s attitude to afford and benefit from the space.

Eriksen and Sissoko afforded space but so too are Modric and Kroos during Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs.

Eriksen and Sissoko afforded space but so too are Modric and Kroos.

Luka Modric and Toni Kroos have given Eriksen and Sissoko acres between the lines. However, should Spurs turn the ball over then the Madrid men are in threatening positions to torch the space that the Tottenham duo have left.

It would ultimately be this affording of the other midfield trio space that would cost each team a goal.

Madrid attack our left back

Eyeing up Jan Vertonghen at left back, Real Madrid started the game by trying to isolate and attack him. The ball was often whisked out to the quick-footed Achraf Hakimi to run at Vertonghen one against one.

Vertonghen dealt with the task expertly. He was rarely beaten, picking the right moments to stay on his feet or slide challenge. Madrid tried to increase the pressure as Cristiano Ronaldo often tried to run beyond him. However, Vertonghen’s positioning and focus to not bite on the first move, trick or flick saw him rarely passed.

Vertonghen was aided by the decision to play Toby Alderweireld at left centre back. Alderweireld’s turn of pace and reading of the game saw the pair combine expertly against Ronaldo and Hakimi.

Tottenham’s trio exploit space

The match had opened with each midfield trio playing through the other and Madrid focussed on attacking Jan Vertonghen. Real Madrid had gone close, but it would be Tottenham that would take the lead through exploiting the space being afforded in the middle of the park.

Harry Winks had acres of room as Kroos, Casemiro and Modric had become wildly separated.

Winks receives the ball from Sanchez with acres to move during Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs.

Winks receives the ball from Sanchez with acres to move.

As a result, Moussa Sissoko equally had space to receive the ball. He had time to neatly pass up the line to the overlapping Serge Aurier who had rampaged forward. Our midfield combination had suddenly taken Madrid’s trio out of the game. Kroos, Modric and Casemiro had all been navigated past by the play of Winks and Sissoko.

Aurier beats Marcelo to draw Ramos out from centre back during Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs.

Aurier beats Marcelo to draw Ramos out from centre back.

A knock-on effect now saw Marcelo drawn out and Sergio Ramos across due to the danger Aurier posed. Harry Kane was left one against one with Raphael Varane in the middle as Fernando Llorente moved in to overload.

Aurier made no mistake with a dangerously delivered low cross. Harry Kane went to flick it in, but a deflection off Varane saw the ball diverted past the helpless Keylor Navas. An exquisitely deadly move as the knock-on effects of bypassing Madrid’s midfield trio unfolded to put Spurs 1-0 up.

Aurier and Sissoko

The goal saw some superb combination play between Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko before Serge Aurier delivered the telling cross. The blend of Sissoko and Aurier down our right was really causing Madrid problems. The pace and power was often too much for Toni Kroos and Marcelo to handle.

Our duo had twice started alarm bells ringing before the goal. Aurier’s run and cross won a corner that saw Harry Kane’s bullet downward header repelled by a good save from Keylor Navas. Sissoko then somehow took on Aurier’s pass with some kind of high leg kick to burst down the line. His cross was just too high for the arriving Christian Eriksen.

Following the goal, Aurier continued to get forward, with his low shot fizzing off the diving Keylor Navas’ fingertips.

After the interval and the pair continued to cause Madrid problems. Aurier’s speed gave Marcelo headaches, which included a desperate recovery lunge that the Madrid man should’ve been booked for. Aurier also crossed with confidence, including a dangerous ball straight through the six-yard box. Sissoko’s pace, power and a renewed confident touch with the ball in his stride equally gave Kroos and Marcelo issues.

Madrid’s midfield trio answer

Tottenham’s midfield trio had landed the first blow, but Real Madrid’s would answer. Modric, Kroos and Casemiro had been afforded plenty of space by our own midfield’s zonal marking, even when striker Fernando Llorente dropped in to try and make a four.

Modric and Kroos find the holes in Tottenham's zonal marking during Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs.

Modric and Kroos find the holes in Tottenham’s zonal marking.

The Madrid midfield trio would create the opening as the hosts answered from the penalty spot. Serge Aurier started and then compounded their move as he tried to atone for his initial error.

Aurier had initially played out well from a tight situation, linking well with Moussa Sissoko. However, as he took a return pass, his heavy touch and poor attempt to try and kid a foul turned possession over.

Real Madrid suddenly had space to work with Tottenham’s midfield trio stretched. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric were rapidly into the pockets of space afforded around Winks, Eriksen and Sissoko.

Kroos and Modric find space amongst Spurs midfield trio during Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs.

Kroos and Modric find space amongst Spurs midfield trio.

Two intelligent passes found Kroos running straight through our back line and clean in on goal. In attempting to recover, Aurier had raced across. In a last ditch attempt to block or put off Kroos, his clumsy challenge allowed the German to collapse to the floor to win the spot kick.

Ronaldo coolly converted to level the score up at Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs just before half time.

Spurs diamond shift

With the space each midfield was getting, Mauricio Pochettino made a change at half time. The diamond setup we’ve seen recently was restored in order to constrict this zone.

Diamond formation to restrict central space during Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs.

Diamond formation to restrict central space.

Luka Modric and Isco still found pockets of space between the diamond. However, the play was now more frequently forced out to the flanks, where the next big moment of the game would arrive. Hugo Lloris pulling off an absolute wonder save from Karim Benzema’s header.

Casemiro and Hakimi had combined out wide to cross for the French international. Benzema surely thought he’d scored, but Lloris thrust out a trailing leg to thwart his goal bound header. Another incredible save for Hugo’s portfolio of goal line denials.

Long ball Llorente

The move to position Fernando Llorente at the top of the diamond suddenly brought him more in to the game. Llorente had initially been included to provide increased hold-up presence and an out ball should we be under heavy Madrid pressing and pressure.

Llorente’s deeper starting position suddenly brought his aerial ability in to play. He had much more room to size up and get a leap on his opponent. Two big moments followed in two tantalising minutes that almost swung the match.

Firstly, Llorente won the initial header from Hugo Lloris’ long kick downfield. Llorente then received the ball back before serving Harry Kane with a perfectly weighted through ball. As we waited for the net to bulge, the usually ruthless Kane saw his shot tipped around the post by the anticipating Keylor Navas.

Seconds later and Llorente was flicking on the long ball again. This time Christian Eriksen raced clear and in to the penalty area. Eriksen had a ponderous game where he was often caught delaying or picking the wrong option. You could see what he was thinking in going for the near post, but a shot across goal or even a cutback to the arriving Harry Kane were better choices.

Spurs switches

Tottenham were starting to gain a bit of a hold on the match and were forcing the issue. Sissoko and Aurier were making purposeful forages down the right. Eriksen and Kane had great chances from Llorente’s flick-ons.

Mauricio Pochettino then decided enough was enough and removed Llorente for Danny Rose. Expecting he might take over at left back, Rose slotted in to the left hand side of the midfield diamond. Christian Eriksen moved to the point to work off Harry Kane.

The switch gave Spurs added defensive impetus. Rose’s frequently helped thwart Madrid’s attempts to continue to attack Jan Vertonghen. However, without Llorente it was tougher to make the ball stick up front. Little trouble ensued though and the 90 minutes ended with the score remaining at Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs guarding an excellent away point.

Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs overall

A sensational performance by every Tottenham player on a night we’d waited for since 2011.

Mauricio Pochettino gambled with his opening selection and choice of his central midfield trio. Two levels of passing player and a destructive runner were bold, brave and ultimately paid off with a goal. However, what we got from the trio utilising space, we also gave up. The lack of defensive presence was exploited, along with Aurier’s impetuosity, in conceding the penalty.

The goalkeepers took the headlines with two world-class saves to deny each team’s centre forward. However, on a night when each Tottenham player shone, Harry Winks was the brightest light of all. Unfazed at having to often defend large spaces and play under pressure, Winks showed a maturity and use of the ball that belied his years. He, like the rest of this young Tottenham team, is only going to improve with experiences like this.

Final Score: Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs.
MOTM: Harry Winks.

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11 Responses to Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs: battle of the midfield trios

  1. YouShubes 18th October 2017 at 7:46 pm #

    Does the return of Wanyama make it easier for us to play the diamond for the return leg..Can you see Dele who is as big as Kane and more mobile than Llorente play as the frontman.

    The two of them even swapping positions to draw out the opposition?

    I really thought the trio of Luka, Kroos and Casemiro would cow Winks into playing a more subdued game. Would love to see if Real could handLe the powerful DRIBBLING that is mousa demebele. Cannot think of anyone who plays like him.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 18th October 2017 at 10:19 pm #

      Would love to see Dembele out there too. I think 2 weeks just may be too soon for him to get to the required fitness level and match sharpness. Wanyama could play at the base of the diamond, but again not sure he makes it back to the required levels in 2 weeks time after such a long time out. I do have a concern about his passing tho, as the player at the base needs to be a good distributor.
      Dele could play that role. He is definitely much more mobile than Llorente. However, Dele is decent in the air, but nowhere near Llorente’s standard. I think Poch will return to 3-4-2-1 for the next game rather than the 5-3-2 we saw here.

  2. Chu2ks 18th October 2017 at 8:19 pm #

    What a choice of formation! What a performance! Harry Winks! This was what I thought Bentaleb could be and more. Much more. I watched the game twice (working from home today. Yeah, right!), and I just marvelled at how he received the ball, shielded it, and almost invariably looked for the forward pass option. The lad will go far, if he keeps working hard to improve. The negative in midfield was sadly Eriksen, who didn’t seem to get going, albeit he has set lofty standards this season, that could be hard to sustain. His piece of “Isco-skill” on Isco was quality though.

    Loved seeing Sissoko drive, and if he was more confident, which is surely coming with his increased game time, he will eventually start shooting more. With this midfield diamond-ish role Sissoko plays, do you see Dele Alli performing it, if Poch persists with the Llorente-Kane partnership in games against possession obsessed sides?

    All in all, this was a very tactically sound, mature game from Spurs. They need to see that the Bernabeu is the same as Wembley, and stop this phsychological hoodoo from derailing what could be a great season for us.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 18th October 2017 at 10:30 pm #

      Winks was superb. A real coming of age game. His composure and use of the ball instigated so many of our attacks. Just wonderful to watch.

      Eriksen had a disappointing game by his high standards. He didn’t do anything wrong defensively, but he was uncharacteristically ponderous with the ball. The counter attack situation where he had options left and right, delayed and was disposed from behind summed up his night perfectly. He’s been our saviour so many times that he’s allowed the odd off night.

      Dare I say it, but Sissoko has been very decent these last few games! Much more confident on the ball and cutting out the clumsy and heavy touches.

      Dele could play at the top of the diamond, however I think he’s better in a 3-4-2-1 where he can work off the spaces that both Kane and Eriksen create. I’m not sure if both Kane and Llorente play in a 5-3-2 that too much traffic will be created for his well timed runs in to the box to be unhindered and therefore successful.

  3. Erik Zen 18th October 2017 at 10:31 pm #

    Great report!

    To be fair, Eriksen was marked out of the game.

    Also reckon Llorente has made a case for being used instead of Dele in the league until the kid recovers his mojo.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 18th October 2017 at 10:39 pm #

      I think your namesake just had a slightly frustrating night for a player of his standard. He wasn’t bad, he just didn’t play near his top level.

      Llorente did well, but I am not sure we see the pairing of him and Kane again unless we are playing a high pressing team eg Liverpool or Man City. Therefore with the Reds next it will be interesting to see how Poch goes this Sunday.

      • YouShubes 20th October 2017 at 7:05 pm #

        I think Jesus reads your blog and sticks with the 352 you’ve been suggesting for a while Mark

        hopefully then Davies will be back allowing us to return SuperJan to centre-back. I can see wainks and Dyer in the middle as per the emails Gareth Southgate has been pestering Poch with esp with Real Madrid game in mind

  4. Chas 19th October 2017 at 1:59 am #

    Although I did wish for Llorente and Kane together pre-match, it was only because Alli was AWOL – and I didn’t see the shape we were going to play! Hats off to Poch… brilliant.
    I also reckon Sissoko and Aurier play very well together. They seem to have an instinctive understanding of what each will or should do. On their Real performances, they are going to give Liverpool a few headaches. I just hope Winks is there too.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th October 2017 at 11:09 am #

      I’m curious with everyone having played so well what Poch does for the Liverpool game. Does he reward the team that played or rotate Dele, Trippier, Davies back in? With us playing on Tuesday and facing Liverpool on Sunday there is plenty of time for recovery, its not like a Wednesday to Saturday turnaround. However, the flip side is that he does also have West Ham the following Wednesday to worry about and how seriously we will take the league cup?

  5. Matt 19th October 2017 at 1:20 pm #

    I expected Winks to shine in this massive test. Not because of my tactical genius (I leave that to you Mark!) but because he has an authority and calmness. I think he can become Modric quality.

    Is a £40m bargain an oxymoron? Whatever, Sanchez is a snip in my view. He’s only just 21!! Aurier will be a great signing I think, he defends extremely well if he stays on his feet and that can be coached. Well done Sissoko who’s turning things around.

    And Poch is becoming quite the tactical Mourinho. Minus the stultifyingly dull football!

    I think we should play Llorente against Liverpool for the reasons you state. We struggle against their press.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th October 2017 at 4:58 pm #

      Super impressed with Sanchez so far. Scary to think he is going to get better as he matures, settles in to the team and the Premier League! Tackling and defence apart, his passing has really caught my eye so far, very underrated dstributior of the ball!