Mauricio Pochettino’s plan to pull the counter attacking Baggies out backfires, as it finishes Spurs 0 West Brom 1 in our Premier League clash.
West Brom were without a win in the Premier League and had just a single goal from open play as the rolled up to the Lane. Maybe it was on the cards that they would take advantage of a very sluggish Spurs side from a set piece.
The Europa League hangover has been well documented, as has the stat about us losing half of our games following a Thursday night at the continent’s second table.
Having left six players at home, and with only Hugo Lloris getting the nod from the eleven that started in Belgrade, their shouldn’t have been a cause for fatigue.
However, we looked off the pace from the start.
The first indicator was at the kick-off. Usually Mauricio Pochettino has two players lined up to one side and they race downfield towards one of the full backs. The ball is sent towards them in order to put the opposition under instant pressure.
Here the ball was casually played backwards and ended up with Younes Kaboul who moved it around from the back as we tried to pull West Brom out.
It wasn’t the usual start, but this seemed to be the plan to draw the counter attacking side out.
We’d looked in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs West Brom at how the Baggies had conceded a goal inside 5 minutes in three of their four Premier League matches so far. Their opponents had pressed them, before dropping back and playing on the counter once ahead.
Our usual high pressing game wasn’t in evidence here. Maybe this was the plan to draw West Brom out or maybe we just weren’t at the races. We were sitting a lot deeper though and then trying to break forward. The chart below shows our tackles (crosses) interceptions (diamonds) and clearances (circles) and pretty much everything except for our fouls committed (black triangles) was in our own half.
Mauricio Pochettino bemoaned our slow start, telling Sky Sports: “The beginning was difficult. We played very slow at the beginning of the game.”
But it was difficult to tell from his comments if he had wanted us to press high with high energy? Or if he just wanted us to play with energy once we had regained the ball, so that we could counter attack with speed from deeper?
The strategy wasn’t helped by West Brom’s set up.
Baggies central strength
Whether West Brom have taken a clue from other sides that have played us is up for debate, but getting players in to central midfield is the way to take us on.
Alan Irvine had his midfield play lop-sided as Graham Dorrans stayed out on the right, whereas Chris Brunt tucked in from the left. With Stephane Sessegnon coming short, this got four players in to central midfield.
This had the effect of forcing us wide where the Baggies could trap the ball with the help of the sideline.
What this did was turn us in to a crossing side. The flanks were where the space was against the four West Brom men in central midfield and hence why the Baggies have a lot of clearances (circles) and challenges in their own penalty area from our crosses. Joleon Lescott was excellent in their back four and his clearances, along with general play to break up our attacks, was a constant menace all afternoon.
We attempted 41 crosses in the game (32 from open play, 9 from corners) with the majority coming from the West Brom left. This flank was where Chris Brunt was drifting inside leaving Sebastien Pocognoli to cope.
We are not usually such a cross-heavy side, so West Brom’s set up was really forcing us out of our comfort zone.
The other effect of their midfield, which was often sitting with their back four squeezed in right behind them, was that we couldn’t get in to the space between the lines. We have been relying on doing that this season so we can get Lamella, Chadli and Eriksen running with the ball.
Our most dangerous attacks came when we were able to get a player in to this space and both times it was Christian Eriksen.
His first run and pass was almost latched on to by Emmanuel Adebayor.
His second was from a quick free kick whereby he got the ball on the other side of West Brom’s midfield four.
This was just after Mauricio Pochettino had made a brave substitution. He introduced Paulinho and Roberto Soldado for Mousa Dembele and Nacer Chadli and shifted to a 4-1-3-2 formation.
This was an extremely aggressive move to try and get players between the lines, whilst also introducing a second striker up top. The ploy almost worked. Eriksen ran in to the space, but his lofted pass for Adebayor was partially blocked and Ben Foster raced out to punch the ball clear just before Soldado could get to the rebound.
Other than this though we struggled to create. Our only shot on target came from a Roberto Soldado first time shot at Ben Foster. Predictably it came from a cross with West Brom forcing us in to the wide areas.
West Brom crossing
Whilst we were being forced to cross, the Baggies are naturally a crossing side. This is how their chances arrived with the three best coming from corners.
Joleon Lescott saw his goal bound shot hit teammate Craig Dawson in the face from a James Morrison corner. West Brom had four players bunched centrally and Saido Berahino on Hugo Lloris to work the situation.
Later, Craig Gardner saw his driven shot well saved as the Baggies worked a 2v1 situation from a corner to square the ball for his pile-driving effort.
On 74 minutes their goal arrived, as they ran their central bunch corner routine once more, again with Saido Berahino on Hugo Lloris.
This time James Morrison pealed off the back of Etienne Capoue and Erik Lamela to nod home.
Mauricio Pochettino tried to respond by introducing Aaron Lennon for Etienne Capoue as he went 4-4-2. Lennon is able to put in a decent cross, and given West Brom were forcing us in to doing this, it wasn’t a bad idea.
He did put one cut back ball in from his more preferred right wing, but we were unable to convert.
Spurs 0 West Brom 1 overall
This was a flat performance, but it was hard to tell if the tactics of trying to invite West Brom out were at fault or if the players were just lethargic?
The Baggies did a good job of forcing us out of the middle and in to becoming a crossing team, something we don’t want to entirely be. Opponents are beginning to recognise the importance of getting men in to central midfield against us and Mauricio Pochettino is going to have to solve this.
The shift to a 4-1-3-2 was a very aggressive counter move, but we may need a more solid plan with the increasing number of teams playing the now vogue diamond formation. A shift to 4-3-3 against these sides may be what’s called for.
Final score: Spurs 0 West Brom 1.