Spurs 0-1 Aston Villa: Pochettino fails again versus the diamond

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.


Liverpool’s diamond closes the central space.

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.

southampton-2-spurs-3-1st-saints goal

Sherwood played a narrow midfield four.

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.


Aston Villa’s diamond set up.

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.


Rose finds the space out wide.

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.


Christian Benteke passes received, Spurs 0-1 Aston Villa.

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.


Villa’s diamond gets the ball back and Bacuna sets off.

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.


Bacuna crosses uncontested.

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.

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23 Responses to Spurs 0-1 Aston Villa: Pochettino fails again versus the diamond

  1. jod 13th April 2015 at 3:55 pm #

    Fascinating, Sherwood only managed us for half a season but apparantly that’s long enough to decide he’s only an “impact manager”. Personally I’d like to see someone manage a club for a couple of seasons before judging his ability but obviously I don’t have the kind of football knowledge you and Daniel Levy do.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th April 2015 at 4:10 pm #

      We did get to see how his brash talking in the end alienated players, and fans. It’s alright when he’s winning, the bravado can be ridden on like a wave, but when losing eg 4-0 at Chelsea, his knee-jerk reactions and calling out players doesn’t go down well. He makes an impact, but doesn’t have a long-term startegy. Once the motivational talking wears off, there is little left and bridges have often been burnt.

      • jod 13th April 2015 at 4:22 pm #

        In other words, just your opinion. Unles of course you’ve talked to all the players on how Sherwood’s style affected them, no ? As I said, when he’s been in the job for a couple of years you can see what he’s done. Until then pretending your bias is based on fact when there are no facts is pretty pointless.

        • james 13th April 2015 at 5:58 pm #

          With respect Jod, Mark’s opinion is what we’re all here for … – He’s not claimed to have discovered that Tim’s DNA has ‘IMPACT ONLY’ running through it – He’s simply offering his assessment as to whether the right decision was made to let him go. No one reading the article would have misunderstood what was meant.

          • jod 14th April 2015 at 8:18 am #

            If you say “I think Sherwood is only an impact manager” you are offering an opinion, if you say “Sherwood is only an impact manager” you are pretending its factual. Can you see the difference ?

          • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th April 2015 at 12:43 pm #

            Thanks for the kind words James.

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th April 2015 at 12:40 pm #

          Hi Jod, you obviously missed a nummber of quotes on various media sources by Vertonghen, Dembele, Holtby and others at the time. Also this interview with Eriksen which says a 1000 words. I guess we’ll agree to disagree and see what happens.

          • jod 14th April 2015 at 3:45 pm #

            “agree to disagree”, so it is just your opinion not factual ?

            • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th April 2015 at 5:40 pm #

              its my opinion based on the facts i have gathered. You seem to want concrete proof like a specific measurement of ‘impact’?

  2. Bobby B 13th April 2015 at 4:17 pm #

    Although a Villa fan, this is a quality script. Written with intense knowledge of the game. I simply cannot fault what has been written here. Hoping though, Mr Sherwood goes with a different plan next time as I cannot see you being fooled with the diamond again. Thanks for the much needed three points.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th April 2015 at 12:35 pm #

      Thanks Bobby, best of luck for the rest of the season.

  3. Horny Helen 13th April 2015 at 4:54 pm #

    I have waited until now to make an assessment of The Pooch. I am not that worried we did not finish in the top 4, what I wanted to see was some sort of progression of the players and of the way we adapted to his philosophy. Yes we have had a couple of great victories but we have had some extremely lack lustre displays, AVB all over again. Defensively we have not been at the races and our goals against confirms that. Possession V goals scored is also very poor. At times we have played some exciting football but those times are far too sporadic. On the all I am disappointed with what I have seen. Do we want to see another season of Pooch? Well I always say give a new man 2 years and back him to bring his players in to play the system he prefers, but I am worried next season will be very disappointing. He was very lucky at Southampton in that he inherited some very good talent. We need some experience adding to the squad first and foremost in the summer.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th April 2015 at 12:42 pm #

      After going through several managers in quick succession, I think we need to give Pochettino some time and see what he can do. Otherwise we’ll just have another new manager who won’t have the players he wants and we’ll be in a continual rebuilding cycle.

  4. bradical 13th April 2015 at 8:31 pm #

    I like a lot of what Pochettino does. I’m mostly concerned with his inability to make a tactical change. We should have at least one major tactical alternative. I’m okay with some of the losses. His high intensity style of play isn’t compatible with our current lack of positional depth. If our acquisitions this summer turn out better, we may not suffer from such fatigue next season.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th April 2015 at 12:46 pm #

      Hopefully he will get the players he wants and the ones that remain will have a better level of fitness. Being out of the Europa next season would also help. For the likes of Mason, Bentaleb, Kane etc they will have the understanding of what playing a full season in so many competitions is like and what it requires physically and mentally. Also most won’t have tournament play in the summer (Copa America apart) and no AFCON midseason.

  5. Geoff M 13th April 2015 at 11:28 pm #

    Poch has to think like a top T20cricket captain which is constantly changing plans before situations arise and outflanking opposing teams. Feel he will be shrewd enough next season with his own players in and Mitchell is a good reader. Keep the faith people,

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th April 2015 at 12:50 pm #

      It’ll be interesting to see who Mitchell targets, and the role of Baldini in transfers, given the statements about not spending big and nurturing talent from the academy or buying development prospects from other teams eg Dele Alli. Another interesting summer upcoming!

  6. Antony 14th April 2015 at 4:30 pm #

    Two years is a fair time in modern football to judge a man.

    My concern is that he seems like a “one trick pony” with only one idea in his head.

    I hope that I am wrong and that he shows more imagination when playing teams who know exactly what he is doing.

    For example how much imagination does it take to reverse your inverted wingers when playing a squad like AV?

    As usual being a Spurs fan is always a roller coaster ride!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th April 2015 at 5:42 pm #

      He will need more of a plan B that’s for sure. Next season, if he gets more of the players that he wants, then maybe we will see one.

  7. Zaph 14th April 2015 at 5:22 pm #

    First a reminder – I predicted Arsenal would pass City in the comments after the Spurs victory.
    (So I got one thing right this season…)

    Are the inverted wingers the problem here or is it the players? Poch spoke about there being a problem of mental fatigue. I saw plenty of games like this when the wingers weren’t inverted (Lennon) and I do think it’s more about mentality and momentum. when I played and coached you could ‘feel’ games getting away from you; sometimes big players with a certain character can turn that around (spurs lack that type); sometimes coaches – like Morinho with talent loaded benches – can switch tactics with substitutions to change games (didn’t succeed when we beat them 5-3 even though he had both).

    Players have dips in form, Bentaleb is clearly struggling lately, but maybe Pochetino doesn’t want Europa and is content to see how these payers respond to dips in form. Maybe.

    I really feel Poch doesn’t have the players to play the Biesa pressing game, so he plays the youngest, but they lack experience, and he lacks the defenders to cope with the normal response to the big press (long balls up to fast or strong forwards) especially when two of those defenders are essentially wingers half the time… Need a much superior covering midfielder than Bentaleb – someone like Roy Keane!

  8. YouShubes 19th April 2015 at 11:10 am #

    I always though the best way to beat the diamond was to go 4-4-1-1, with tradional wingers.

    To make it work though requires a Luka Modric/Paul Scholes type player, and there are just so many of those about right?

    While Dier is a good footballing CB, the passing ability of SuperJan is oft underestimated.

    Simeone has shown at Athletico that play 442 is possible using Bielsa principles.

    Do you feel that Poch can be too much of an idealogue?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th April 2015 at 12:30 pm #

      If you are asking if Poch is trying to play what is in his mind as ‘beatutiful football’ then no i don’t think he is at the minute. I think he is struggling to find a balance between what he wants and what the personnel he currently has can do for him. I don’t think he has implemented all of his principles and hopefully we will see this next season if he gets who he wants to run his system in the summer.

  9. Alex English 1st May 2015 at 10:09 am #

    Poch needs the energy of kids to execute his system!! It’s bound to fail with developed mature professionals who like to think the game through and read it cleverly!! I hope I’m wrong but I think he will always be found out down the strecht when opposing managers do their research.. He had no plan b at Southampton and he has none now.

    When we played arsenal away and defended in numbers was the only time I can remember him changing it up… And it worked!!! I wish he could have been more cautious in a few more games, ie Liverpool & utd. Especially when our young midfield core was starting to make mistakes.

    What makes me most sad though is the money we have spent and the time that has passed since luka left and we are still lacking an exceptional talent to fill that void. I hope that we are able to find one this summer.