A flat performance at the Lane was hindered as much by our own fatigue and formation as it was by the Cottagers’ style of play. The result, three precious Premier League points dropped, as it ended Spurs 0 Fulham 1.
Fulham set up and tactics
There were no real surprises from Fulham, as they went with their usual 4-4-1-1 formation with Bryan Ruiz playing off Dimitar Berbatov.
Ashkan Dejagah and Damien Duff filled the wide midfield roles and Fulham played massively down the Iranian’s side. They went 54% of the time at this flank, compared to just 25% down Duff’s left side according to Whoscored.com. This lead to the Irishman tucking in and coming in to the middle of the pitch, allowing John Arne Riise to occasionally get forward on the overlap. Fulham’s main threat, and goal, came from the right after Spurs’ play was broken down and a counter attack launched.
When not in possession, the Cottagers dropped off, sat deep, soaked up the pressure and played on the counter. I looked in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Fulham at their penchant for intercepting the ball and hitting on the break and that was in evidence here.
They were content to let our defenders have possession and wait for the first pass in to midfield before bringing any kind of pressure on the ball. Scott Parker and Moussa Dembele were frequently fronted by two Fulham players once receiving possession. This countered the Belgian’s ability to make his usual surging runs forward, something Martin Jol must have keyed on given his praise of Dembele before the match.
Spurs set up and tactics
Given the extra time played at the San Siro, Andre Villas-Boas naturally made a number of changes for this match. It was his switching of players in to other positions within the formation, along with their movement and thus our play that hindered us here.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto was moved in to a left sided midfield role, whilst Gylfi Sigurdsson, who has been playing so well on the left, moved over to the right. The problem for Spurs was that the movements of these two, combined with those of Gareth Bale and Emmanuel Adebayor, left a huge void that needed filling by a ‘proper’ number ten.
When in possession, Emmanuel Adebayor was moving out to the left side looking to get involved in the build up play, but he wasn’t getting in to central locations. Gareth Bale, who has been playing as a more direct-dribbler in the number ten role than a passer, was pulling out to the right.
This really meant we had no one getting in to the box until Jermain Defoe came on. With Dembele and Scott Parker being shut down at source, it also meant that we had no central passing hub moving between the lines until Tom Carroll entered the fray.
As a result, we struggled to break down Fulham’s stubborn resistance of sitting deep until these two entered the action. By then, the Cottagers were already a goal up.
Fulham score through the full back zone
In our Europa League tie Inter 4 Spurs 1 the Italians were able to create all of their goals through attacking our full back zones. Fulham were able to notch the only goal of the game in the same way, delivering on a swift counter attack as they had been playing all afternoon.
I identified in the Tottenham tactics preview for Spurs vs Fulham how the Cottagers like to push their full backs on. This can leave them exposed, but here it provided the game-winning goal.
It was a shame, seeing as we had come out with renewed energy after the interval. The formation was also looking better with Vertonghen at centre back, Benni at left back and Clint Dempsey at left midfield.
The move came after good attacking play from Spurs, as Gareth Bale fired a shot at Mark Schwarzer, but the Australian goalkeeper was quick to initiate the counter.
He rolled the ball out to Sascha Riether in the right back zone and he swiftly headed forward in to space. With Spurs off balance from the previous attack, he wasn’t challenged until the halfway line, but an easy pass to Dejagah between the lines took three of our players out of the game.
Riether than motored forward. With our high line and Benni caught up field in the attack, he took a return ball from Dejagah in our left back zone.
Dimitar Berbatov was already in the space on the wrong side of Steven Caulker and Kyle Naughton wasn’t close enough to make up the ground.
Sascha Riether didn’t even have to take a touch before squaring to Berbatov to prod home.
Carroll and Defoe change the game
With us down a goal, Andre Villas-Boas recognised the need to get someone in the box and also introduce a passer to break down the now sitting Fulham. He brought Jermain Defoe and then Tom Carroll in to the game within quick succession and these two were instrumental in providing some kind of comeback.
We were heavily attacking down the left, but with Damien Duff coming inside, the limited space with Fulham sat so deep was down the right. After Carroll and Defoe were introduced, this is where we created several good chances from the zone in behind John Arne Riise.
Tom Carroll was moving the ball to this side, but was also looking for a through pass, something that had been extremely lacking prior to his introduction. Jermain Defoe was getting in the box and on to the end of crosses and cut back passes, something Emmanuel Adebayor had failed to do.
After their introduction, Steven Caulker was found with a pass in behind Riise and he squared for Defoe to hit a shot on the swivel. Mark Schwarzer easily saved it.
A few minutes later a similar pass in-behind Fulham’s Norwegian full back found Gareth Bale. The Welshman crossed for Defoe, but again he could only fire straight in to the body of the keeper when either side would have resulted in an equaliser.
Spurs 0 Fulham 1 conclusions
Fulham are a stubborn team who sit back and play on the counter. We’ve had trouble breaking these kinds of sides down at the Lane this season and this was really no different.
I looked in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Fulham at how teams who have had success against the Cottagers have pressed them quickly when they’re in possession. We failed to do that here due to fatigue and the formation, despite Andre Villas-Boas saying we played with “effort and desire.”
We were also hindered due to the lack of a player who could be a passer in between the lines. Tom Carroll’s introduction highlighted this and it’s a wonder that we didn’t start with either him or Lewis Holtby in the number ten role, knowing that Fulham would back off.
Up top, we really needed a striker who was looking to get in the box and Jermain Defoe fitted the bill more than Emmanuel Adebayor. The Togolese man is good at dropping off and linking the play, but here we required a poacher who could get in amongst a team that was sitting back. Defoe did have his chances that he should have taken, but he should have started given Adebayor played 120 minutes in the San Siro to his 57.
The performance was similar to Spurs 2 QPR 1 at the Lane where Andre Villas-Boas tinkered with the line-up before correcting it and we recovered. Here he made the correct moves to right the wrongs, but we just ran out of time.
Final score: Spurs 0 Fulham 1