Spurs 0 Crystal Palace 0: failure to play around stifling centre

A lacklustre display sees us share the points with it finishing Spurs 0 Crystal Palace 0 at White Hart Lane.

The excuses were offered up after a match that will be remembered more for the flamboyant moments of individual skill than the overall quality of the football.

We had control of the possession, but Palace created arguably the better chances.

Palace block off the centre

The game was really dictated by Crystal Palace blocking off the centre. This is nothing new as a tactic against Spurs. We all know that teams that come to the Lane, sit back, block the centre and play on the counter give us problems. That is exactly how Crystal Palace set up here.

As we looked at in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Crystal Palace, the Eagles have been very porous through the middle recently. Whether Neil Warnock moved to play with three in central midfield to plug this or if it was because that is how you play against us, we won’t know. Whatever his reasoning, it was effective.

Anytime we had the ball, Palace would drop and get in to their defensive shape very quickly. Jedinak, Ledley and McArthur would patrol the centre of the pitch to keep us out of here. They were aided by the back four playing extremely narrow to back them up and force turnovers to instigate counter attacks.


Palace’s midfield trio.

They were supported by the tireless work of Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie who would drop in to defend the wide areas and then burst forward to support Chamakh.

Once they had regained the ball, Palace were looking to get it as quickly as possible to Zaha and Bolasie in order to create chances off their dribbling.


Bolasie and Zaha were dynamic dribblers in wide areas.

The two players were a constant thorn in our side, showing some unique pieces of skill in order to get in to shooting and cut back positions.

Formation flow for Soldado

After being benched for Wednesday’s trip to the Bridge, Roberto Soldado got the nod here and Mauricio Pochettino tried to get players up in support of him.

Christian Eriksen was cutting inside from the left, Lamela from the right and Harry Kane was making runs from a number ten position off the Spaniard. What all their movements combined to do was get players around him and a number of chances came his way. Invariably these were created from wide areas as Palace blocked off the centre.


Roberto Soldado passes received, Spurs 0 Crystal Palace 0.

These opportunities often afforded him the chance to strike the ball first time, something Soldado relishes and it was surprising he rarely hit the target.

Christian Eriksen’s inside movement allowed Ben Davies to get forward on the overlap and play in a low cross. Soldado swiveled and fired first time, but saw his side foot fly over. Later in the half, Eriksen chipped in a short cross but Soldado headed over.

His best chance came from Palace’s recent big weakness, as we went right through the centre. Again it was Eriksen providing him with the opportunity, but Soldado could only slice wide as Brede Hangeland slid in to challenge.


Soldado in through the centre.

The chances were sporadic, but gave the Spaniard plenty of opportunities to make one count.


With Palace playing deep and compact, Mauricio Pochettino made a number of changes, but left it to late to introduce some width in Aaron Lennon.

Nacer Chadli had replaced Erik Lamela, but drifted inside from the left. Paulinho came on for Ryan Mason, introducing a player that would try and get in the box more, but at the expense of a passer through midfield.

The problem, as it was for much of the game, was sideways and backwards passing caused by Palace keeping their defensive shape. The ball movement was slow and lacked a real cutting edge, something that has been extremely prevalent at the Lane once more this season.

There was also a distinct lack of pressing which also slowed the game down. As looked at in the Tottenham tactics, pressing Palace is a way to create errors and turnovers closer to their goal and their vulnerable centre backs. Here we tried to lay off and encourage them out, but as several teams have shown this season, the way to beat Palace is to get after them early.

Palace almost nick it

With us offering only fleeting glimpses of a breakthrough, Palace almost took all three points after Jason Puncheon cracked a shot off the bar.

The chance came from a corner – set pieces had given us trouble all afternoon – as they got in through our right back zone. This was an area that Yannick Bolasie was heavily exploiting against stand-in full back Eric Dier.

Moments after the ball rebounded off our bar, Puncheon did have it in the net, but was several yards offside when put clean through.

Spurs 0 Crystal Palace 0 overall

This wasn’t one for advocates of flowing team football. The odd pieces of flamboyant skill mixed in to the match were the only highlights. Zaha, Bolasie and Eriksen all showed some tekkers to liven up what was a dull encounter.

Mauricio Pochettino offered up the excuse of ‘tiredness’ with our third game in six days. This is completely acceptable given the three quick fixtures on the bounce, but he has a huge squad to choose from so the ‘freshness’ he desired could’ve come from giving others a run out. How is he going to cope given the busy Christmas period coming up?

Fatigue may be one thing, but there was a lot of youth in the side, maybe too much at this level. Bentaleb, Mason, Kane and Dier are all relatively new to playing in the Premier League after coming through the ranks either here or in Portugal.

Add to this that we had Eriksen (22), Lamela (21) and Davies (21) on the field, making seven of our starting eleven under 23 years old. Maybe this is too many and a too young core when often in these types of matches guile, game craft and match management experience are required.

It seems to be a case of one-step forward, one back at the minute and once more we are left with more questions than answers.

Final score: Spurs 0 Crystal Palace 0.

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8 Responses to Spurs 0 Crystal Palace 0: failure to play around stifling centre

  1. pete 8th December 2014 at 5:35 pm #

    Very good analysis. How the ball never goes in the net after Soldado touches it defies analysis however. It also defies percentages and physics. It is bizarre. Palace are very good away from home. Will be interesting at their place on January 10 however.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 9th December 2014 at 12:05 pm #

      Soldado’s finishing has become a scientific conundrum!

  2. Zack 8th December 2014 at 9:18 pm #

    Great read once again!!! Whenever we come up against a team that packs the center and stays back for the counter, we should play Eriksen in the middle to pick out tricky passes and play Lennon to provide that all important width. We should also aim to get a proper left sided winger in during the transfer window as well so that we have more options out wide. Would J Rodriguez fit the bill?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 9th December 2014 at 12:07 pm #

      Rodriguez is another inverted wide forward when on the left. I actually think his game is remarkably similar to Nacer Chadli, so i’m not sure how much benefit he’d bring other than he knows Pochettino, his system and has scored goals in it.

  3. brian 9th December 2014 at 4:20 am #

    Once again,your analysis,is spot on.The worry is,that we still do not seem to have the wherefore too overcome,the system that the opposition,in the majority,sets up against us,when at the Lane.To blame the width of the pitch,is very lame,as other Tottenham sides,have overcome the problem,over the years.Even in seasons,when we have not been all that marvellous.So where in,does the problem lye..With the players or our tatctics.It has after all,been like it now for some time.Perhaps I just need patience..

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 9th December 2014 at 12:14 pm #

      The pitch is only 1 metre short of regulation (67m to 68m), so i’m not sure width is much of a factor, but we do have a greatly shorter pitch which does come in to play when opponents sit back. Although you could argue that they’d just sink deeper if our pitch was longer.

      I think the problems lie somewhere between our players not being right for Poch’s tactics so he is adapting them to try and fit. I also believe that when with Southampton he didn’t have to face as many sides that he would have to break down. More teams will sit back and play counter attack at and against Spurs than they would do against his Southampton team, even at St. Mary’s.

  4. Soulchan 9th December 2014 at 9:38 am #

    Althogh I fall a sleep while I was watching the game, – the game started 12am in Korea time -I think I saw Dier’s ability of attack this game.

    He should be playing at center when Walker get back but there was good sign at him. Well, maybe it’s too late to be seen because Walker’s about to be back.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 9th December 2014 at 12:15 pm #

      That game was enough to make anyone fall asleep Soulchan ;)