Mauricio Pochettino struggles against a team playing a diamond once more as our Premier League clash finishes Spurs 0-1 Aston Villa at White Hart Lane.
Tim Sherwood may have taken the headlines, but this match was about Mauricio Pochettino struggling against a team playing a diamond formation once again. Since arriving on these shores, the Argentinean has failed to get to grips against teams playing this way and it resurfaced once again in Spurs 0-1 Aston Villa on Saturday.
The reason that Pochettino’s sides, both Spurs and Southampton, have struggled against it is two fold. The first is that it congests the centre, an area Pochettino likes to dictate with inverted wide players trying to create a numerical advantage. The second is that this central zone sees his side matched up 4v4 in here, so that it cannot overrun the opposition.
The first manager to recognise this was Brendan Rodgers. He saw his Liverpool side playing a 4-3-3 defeated twice by Pochettino’s Southampton. In the third meeting at St. Mary’s he went with a diamond midfield and saw his team run out easy winners with it finishing Southampton 0-3 Liverpool. Pochettino moved to coach us, but Rodgers continued with his diamond system, again causing us all sorts of trouble in Spurs 0 Liverpool 3 earlier in the season.
Its not just Brendan Rodgers, Tim Sherwood’s first game in charge of us saw him pitted against Pochettino’s Saints. Interim Tim also went with a diamond midfield.
That game saw us run out winners, as it finished Southampton 2 Spurs 3, as did the return at White Hart Lane in which Sherwood bested Pochettino once more.
Roll on Saturday and Pochettino should’ve known that a diamond midfield was coming once again. Sherwood has set his side up this way in Villa’s previous matches and against him when in charge of Spurs. The set up once more gave Sherwood the victory, his third in a row over Pochettino.
Aston Villa’s diamond
Aston Villa once more went with a diamond midfield, allowing them to get four players in to the central zone and stifle our attacking play. Carlos Sanchez sat at the base of it with Tom Cleverley and Fabian Delph just ahead and Jack Grealish at the top.
By crowding the centre, this took away the space Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli were looking to exploit. Both drifted towards the middle and often got in each other’s way. This then cut off the supply line to Harry Kane and his speculative 30-yard drive just before half time highlighted his frustration at the lack of space and service.
Villa’s set up not only took away the central space, but it also allowed them to hinder us bringing the ball out.
Playing with Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor up top allowed them to push on to our centre backs when we had the ball at the back. Jack Grealish, playing at the head of the diamond, would them pick up Nabil Bentaleb who was trying to drop in-between the wide splitting Eric Dier and Federico Fazio. This often gave us trouble bring the ball out or really slowed down the speed at which we could move it forward, as the ball went side-to-side to navigate this pressure.
Failure to get it quickly wide
Against a diamond, the space is out on the flanks and the ball needs to be moved quickly out here before it can shift over. Mauricio Pochettino went with inverted wide players and so this was always going to be difficult.
The rare chances, and we did infrequently work them, came when we managed to quickly get out in to the space. The best opportunity came as Christian Eriksen picked up the ball centrally and fed in Danny Rose who had stormed forward from left back.
However, Rose took a touch, which narrowed the angle and saw his driven effort across goal kicked away by Brad Guzan.
This should’ve signalled where the attacking intent needed to be. As we looked at in the keys to Spurs vs Aston Villa, the Villains’ full back zones have been weak since Tim Sherwood took over and we needed to attack them more readily.
There were the occasional signs of joy. Another neat pass, this time from Harry Kane to Nacer Chadli, also got us in through the Villa left. In the second period Harry Kane whipped a curling left footed shot just inches over the bar after good work down the flanks once more. The opportunities were few and far between though.
Villa moving the ball forward
Aston Villa only had 42% of the ball, but they moved it forward at great speed.
We looked in the keys to Spurs vs Aston Villa at how Tim Sherwood wants to shift the ball directly up to and through Christian Benteke in the same way he had done with Emmanuel Adebayor. He does this to take advantage of the big man’s aerial and hold-up play to make the ball stick up front, but like Adebayor, running the offence through him keeps the striker involved and thus interested in the game. If they are not involved for long periods they will stop making runs and going for the ball, therefore this way keeps them invested in working for the team and using their key advantages of size, strength and aerial ability.
Christian Benteke received the ball 56 times here, the most of any Aston Villa player. His strike partner, Gabriel Agbonlahor, had just 10. They were always looking to get the ball up to Benteke whether it is to win in the air or across the ground in to his feet. He gave Eric Dier and Federico Fazio a torrid time, especially on the only goal of the game.
The goal, when it came, was a result of the midfield diamond doing its work and then taking advantage of Benteke’s aerial ability.
The ball, as it was for much of the afternoon, was sent quickly forward for Benteke and he challenged Fazio for the header. Neither player won it cleanly and as we scooped up the loose ball, Jack Grealish immediately nicked it back as Aston Villa’s diamond closed.
On seeing them win the ball back, Leandro Bacuna immediately set off from right back, blazing past the trotting Christian Eriksen.
The ball was quickly moved out to Bacuna and neither Eriksen nor Rose, who was distracted by the run of Tom Cleverley, put enough pressure on the ball.
As a result, Bacuna could cross easily. Benteke on the move out jumped a static Federico Fazio who didn’t even get off the floor, making it Spurs 0-1 Aston Villa.
They had been trying to get the ball forward to Benteke win the knockdowns or lay it off and then work crossing situations and it finally paid dividends.
Villa moving the ball quickly forward didn’t stop there and they created two other very good chances. A ball sent long for Benteke saw him win the flick on to send Gabriel Agbonlahor racing through. He cut inside and saw his shot ring back off the post.
In the dying moments another ball up to Benteke saw him turn and slide in the forward running Fabian Delph. Michel Vorm came out and excellently closed the angle to save and deny a second goal.
I’ve written before about Mauricio Pochettino’s use of substitutions and they were again extremely questionable.
First up, with the space being out in the wide areas, it was a surprise he didn’t switch Nacer Chadli and Andros Townsend over, or at least trial it for a period.
His change to bring Roberto Soldado on for Nacer Chadli did try and get someone on to run in-behind with Harry Kane dropping in to the number ten role. It didn’t solve the problem of width, but did at least try and stretch the field vertically. Kane’s chipped pass through to an offside Soldado indicated what Pochettino was trying to achieve. We had trouble with being offside all afternoon as we did with wayward passing, which was again, at times, horrendous.
His second change, the routine bringing off of Andros Townsend, just introduced a similar inverted wide player in Erik Lamela, albeit one who is better defensively.
The third change was a positive move, as he gave DeAndre Yedlin his debut. Vlad Chiriches was struggling to get forward and influence the attack down the right, so bringing on the attacking speedster was an assertive switch. Often Chiriches and Townsend had occupied the same space or were looking to make the same run as the pair looked like a tandem that wasn’t used to working together.
Yedlin didn’t get long on the field, but was looking to get on the front foot. He was slightly at fault for the Delph 1v1 chance, as a moment of hesitation saw him trail the Villa man’s run and he was unable to recover. Hopefully he will get more chances over the remaining games though.
Spurs 0-1 Aston Villa overall
A week on from Burnley and it’s worrying that we seem to have mailed this season in already. Again, there were far too many wayward and haphazard passes and the energy that was there to see us come up with last minute winners has all but drained away.
Tim Sherwood tried to hide the smug smiles and make all the right comments afterwards. However, his celebrations at the final whistle and wry grins during interviews showed how much this meant to him.
To anyone questioning why we let him go, Sherwood is an impact manager. There is only so far his heart on sleeve brand of motivation goes before it wears off or causes player relation breakdown. Aston Villa will discover that next season.
However, credit to him here, his team played like they wanted it more. His diamond shape again bested Mauricio Pochettino, who needs to find an answer for this setup.
Final score: Spurs 0-1 Aston Villa.