Spurs 0 West Ham 3: unable to break down the box

It finished Spurs 0 West Ham 3 but this game was about a lethargic Tottenham team coming up against a Hammers side that stifled us by playing four central midfielders in a box.

West Ham’s stifling tactics

Without Andy Carroll and Modibo Maiga, Sam Allardyce effectively went 4-6-0, deploying a similar tactic to West Ham 2 Spurs 3 at Upton Park last season. In that game he tried to use three players to jam the middle, but this time, without a recognised centre forward, he went with four who played in a box shape.

When not in possession, West Ham were quick to retreat and sat deep. Mark Noble and Kevin Nolan were at the base of the box, with Mohammed Diame and Ravel Morrison playing higher up.


West Ham sat four central midfielders in front of their centre backs.

This gave central defenders Winston Reid and James Tomkins a screen and effectively got six players in the middle of the park, clogging up the space in this zone.

West Ham then kept two players in the wide areas, with Guy Demel being supported by Stewart Downing and Razvan Rat by Ricardo Vaz Te.

I’m not a big fan of average position diagrams as they can be drastically altered by players switching wings etc, but West Ham’s illustrates their stifling tactics perfectly. The four man box screening the central defenders is highly evident, as are the two players to defend in wide areas.


West Ham average positions.

The result with us playing so narrow was that West Ham were able to win the ball back due to having so many bodies in the middle of the park. These four central midfielders set up in their box, snuffed the ball out and won it back, with a large proportion of their tackles being in this central location.


West Ham tackles.

The problem for Spurs was that the space was out on the flanks where West Ham were playing 2v2. However, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andros Townsend were moving inside, in to all the congestion.

The full backs should have helped provide the width, but they did not get forward enough.

Spurs struggle to get the full backs up

As we’ve seen this season, our full backs are a vital part of our attack, especially with us playing with wide forwards rather than wingers.

Danny Rose and Kyle Walker have been excellent at firing forward, looking to receive passes in-behind their opposing numbers. This means that they can then provide short crosses or cut backs. Kyle Walker’s assist to Nacer Chadli in Anzhi 0 Spurs 2 on Thursday night was a prime example of this.

Without the highly attack-minded Rose, Kyle Naughton struggled to get forward down the left. He wasn’t aided by Gylfi Sigurdsson playing his usual role of moving inside.

Normally this isn’t a problem as it creates space for Rose to overlap, but here Sigurdsson was moving in to a highly congested area and Naughton was unable to get on the ball above the West Ham penalty area like Rose often does.


Spurs 0 West ham 3: Kyle Naughton passes received.

A similar pattern was emerging on the other side, where Andros Townsend was also moving in to this congested central area.

Townsend likes to cut inside on to his stronger left foot and shoot, but often ran in to the barrage of defenders in the middle. When he went down the outside, he did create some opportunities and also panic in the West Ham defence – his cross that Defoe flung himself at, but couldn’t connect with, being a prime example.

As on the other side, Townsend was rarely helped by Kyle Walker. Our right back usually has pace to burn, but here he looked like he was carrying an injury or was just tired from a long trip and playing 90 minutes in Russia.

Walker did see more of the ball, but like Naughton, he didn’t get it high enough up the pitch.


Spurs 0 West Ham 3: Kyle Walker passes received.

Spurs rarely get inside the box

The result of West Ham’s tactics to sit deep, allow no space in-behind, clog the middle with four central midfielders and play 2v2 in wide areas, meant that we rarely got in to the box to shoot. Most of efforts were from outside the penalty area, except from a rare moment when Jermain Defoe snuck in.

In line with how we’ve been creating chances this season, the opportunity arrived from a through ball looking to find a runner in-behind the defence.

In a rare moment, Paulinho was able to get on the ball in between West Ham’s four central midfielders and looked to slide in Defoe who had pulled off his marker.


Jermain Defoe gets on to Paulinho’s through ball.

Defoe was unable to convert as Jussi Jaaskelainen came rushing off his line, but had he done, then this game would have taken on a different complexion.

As it was, this was the only real moment when we opened up their defence, as Defoe was struggling for space to operate by playing so narrow himself.


Spurs 0 West Ham 3: Jermain Defoe passes received.

With his goals in recent matches, Defoe has earned the right to have a shout at the starting spot as our number nine. The problem for him is that he rarely gets involved in the build up play and has a tendency to operate narrow and on the shoulder. In this match, that style played right in to West Ham’s plans to sit deep and clog the middle.

West Ham take advantage on the counter

Sam Allardyce teams are well renowned for packing the six-yard box at corners and they opened the scoring by doing just that.

They not only get men close in, but they also spread them well across this area in order to try and control rebounds if the first effort is saved or parried.

Here, Winston Reid had his header stopped by Nolan, but the positioning of the five players across the six-yard box meant they were first to the loose ball. Jan Vertonghen was pushed in the back by Reid, but he didn’t appeal and the referee chose not to stop the play.


West Ham have the six yard box covered.

Whilst the game was at 0-0 West Ham rarely troubled on the counter, but after Reid’s strike, the match opened up and they capitalised.

Ricardo Vaz Te made it 2-0 with a fortunate ricochet, but the move started as a result of Paulinho being put under pressure by West Ham’s box in central midfield. As he was challenged the ball broke loose, but Dembele was beaten to it and Mark Noble was able to send Vaz Te scampering free.

The third also arrived on the counter and came after a hopeful ball was chipped towards the West Ham box. Diame pulled down the clearance and laid the ball forward to Ravel Morrison on the run.

With us having heavily over-committed when Morrison received the ball, we only had one man inside our own half. That was Michael Dawson and he was no match for the West Ham man’s speed, neither was he able to keep him going left on to his weaker side and the game was over.

Spurs 0 West Ham 3 conclusions

After the match Andre Villas-Boas said “You can always be vulnerable against teams that defend well, control the spaces well and make it difficult. They look to hit you on the counter and West Ham did that well.

And that is precisely what West Ham did here. They sat deep to deny space in-behind. Used four central midfielders to congest the centre. Then looked to play on the counter attack using the speed of Ravel Morrison and Ricardo Vaz Te.

To go against this, we really should have tried to exploit the wide areas, but weren’t helped by Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andros Townsend moving inside. They in turn weren’t aided by our full backs inability to get forward and offer support. Up top Jermain Defoe was playing extremely narrow and a striker with more lateral movement was needed here against a deep lying defence.

After a long trip to Russia, we looked tired and didn’t really move the ball around with any pace and West Ham were able to pick us off once they had taken the lead from a trade mark set piece.

Final score: Spurs 0 West Ham 3.

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10 Responses to Spurs 0 West Ham 3: unable to break down the box

  1. IoanX 7th October 2013 at 9:46 am #

    Very good analysis.
    The question for Spurs is that if they have a manager who can’t read, counter-attack and neutralise the tactics of the rival team, it will be very difficult for them to progress even having such a strong squad like the current one.
    It is also ridiculous to spend more than 100m without buying a dominant CB with pace when having in mind to follow a tactic of defending high in midfield.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 7th October 2013 at 3:48 pm #

      I think AVB can read it. Last season he seemed more flexible in his approach, whereas this term he is playing his 4-3-3 system and seems to be more rigid to it.

  2. Morten 7th October 2013 at 10:12 am #

    Good read. I think AVB is too one dimensional in his tactics and he doesn’t seem to be able to spot whats not working during the matches and change things. This really was a great tactical win for Allardyce.

    There is no plan B from AVB. When all the inside play doesn’t work. Gylfi and Andros always cutting inside clogging up the middle. AVB just keeps doing the same and doesn’t change the tactics one bit. Its so bad management really.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 8th October 2013 at 8:29 am #

      Interesting point about the lack of plan B Morten, especially as last term AVB always seemed to have a secondary option up his sleeve – the 3-1 against Man City at home being a case in point.

      This term, he does seem more rigid with his 4-3-3 system and goes for fresh legs to continue to try and overpower teams rather than switching tack, which is what he did more of last season and why i wrote his article on his game-changing substitutions.

      Maybe his long term ‘project’ is to make his 4-3-3, high line, pressing, through balls and cut backs system work in the Premier League and he is sticking to his guns to prove it…

  3. blotcher 7th October 2013 at 10:23 am #

    Good analysis. I don’t understand why Andros isn’t asked to swap wings. I suppose AVB put Lamela on to change things on the left. Soldado should have played, no disrespect to JD. I don’t know why it was necessary to play Walker and Dembele on Thursday in Anzi. They shouldn’t even have travelled in my view.
    The problem with the Europa League is that all that travel takes people’s minds off the next league game. We weren’t properly focused, manager, coaches etc. It’s not just the physical side. We didn’t work hard enough to support Townsend – when he got good balls in, there simply weren’t enough targets for him in the box.
    Really not good enough.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 7th October 2013 at 3:53 pm #

      I was surprised that Walker played against Anzhi, he seems to be in the starting line-up for virtually every match, highlighting we need reinforcements in the full back areas or potentially risk burn out here.

  4. El Tel 7th October 2013 at 11:29 am #

    Well done – good analysis. Odd that we’re complaining about our approach play when we conceded three goals but had we scored in the first half or early in the second , we would have found more room to create chances.

    We’ve scored six goals this season – one more than each of the bottom four teams. The Woolwich have scored 14.

    Sort it out Andre!!

  5. Chris 7th October 2013 at 11:47 pm #

    I’m just disappointed that anyone could look at this match and think that Defoe is the answer. And then for just about the first time we actually started putting crosses in, which is what we should be doing when Soldado’s on the pitch.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 8th October 2013 at 7:59 am #

      Defoe has been playing well, admittedly in the Europa League against weaker opposition, but i think something to do with his record against West Ham, Soldado’s lack of goals and maybe some media pressure in the build up got him the start here.

  6. Paulo 8th October 2013 at 10:51 am #

    Oh dear. What a shocker.
    Completely agree the analysis and some of the comments.
    I feel it was a mistake to send most of the squad all the way to Russia 2 days before this game and I can’t understand why there wasn’t a switching of tactics… last season AVB was switching Bale from Left to Right, to Centre and so on in search of space, this fluidity enabled Bale to search for space and find a way to be effective… I don’t get why the same can’t be done with Townsend, at least for 5minutes let him hog the left touchline and then see if the space would open up for Eriksen in the middle or perhaps Walker down the right.