Tottenham get in-between the lines all afternoon before finally making it pay with it finishing Spurs 1-0 Crystal Palace in our Premier League clash.
Son Heung-Min was the hero, but his energetic and direct play typified what was a suffocating Spurs performance. Relentless pressing saw the ball won back quickly and often. It was then transferred forwards with speed and precision, which culminated in the game’s only goal as it finished Spurs 1-0 Crystal Palace.
Tottenham between the lines
We looked in the Spurs vs Crystal Palace preview at how the Eagles like to have their midfield squeeze the ball whilst their back four will drop and stay goal side. They want to win the ball back, but they also don’t want to overcommit and get caught out by having their back four push up behind. Thus they play a reactive type of defence rather than being on the front foot. This creates space between the lines and it was obvious that Mauricio Pochettino wanted to exploit this by his selection and tactics.
Our head coach went with three men with pace that like to pick up the ball running forwards towards goal rather than play with their back to it. This saw Erik Lamela, Son Heung-Min and Nacer Chadli selected in the advanced midfield spots behind Harry Kane. He also went with Dele Alli in a more withdrawn number eight role and had him make powerful rumbling runs from deeper.
This selection of players, coupled with a willingness to move the ball quickly forward with swift vertical passes, saw us dominate the early exchanges. Vertical passes doesn’t mean sending it long from beack to front, but can also be directly forwards over 10-15 yards as they often were here. Countless times we got Son, Lamela and Alli on the ball beyond the Palace midfield alowing them to run at the Eagles exposed back four.
Alli had this great run that lead to an early shot, but Erik Lamela, Son Heung-Min and Nacer Chadli were also at it to develop shooting opportunities. Lamela saw an effort tipped round the post, Chadli one caught by a diving save and Son several that were deflected wide for corners.
What was impressive was not only the movement, as Son, Chadli and Lamela would switch positions, but also how were moving the ball vertically forward. Often it would be played around at the back between Vertonghen, Alderweireld and Dier. However, once the Crystal Palace forwards had been shifted about enough to give up chasing, it would then be moved swiftly forward up two or three levels in the team.
Son, Lamela and Alli were all recipients of these vertical passes, but Nacer Chadli was the most interesting to watch for an additional reason. The Belgian was playing his usual role of drifting in from the left, but was also found with a ton of diagonal switches from Dier and Alderweireld – way more than we usually see – as they sought to speed up play and move the ball up to him.
One of these such diagonals lead to our best chance of the half. After moving the ball around to drag Palace’s forwards about, Toby Alderweireld sprayed a pass out to Nacer Chadli that bypassed the Eagles midfield. Chadli took it down and a succession of quick passes took it square to Dele Alli, who had made another one of his later runs from deep. Alli pinged his shot first time towards the corner of the net, but saw his driven effort pushed away by a sprawling save. Harry Kane jumped on the loose ball as it rebounded off the gloves of Alex McCarthy, but could only direct his effort across goal as Lamela stormed in anticipating a cut back for a tap in.
The passage of play, like many others showed what we were doing well. It also highlighted the fact that we were getting up to the penalty area, but not inside it to get higher quality chances often enough. Of our 22 shots in the match, just 9 were in the box and only 2 were on target. The problem, as we’ve seen in many a match under Mauricio Pochettino was that the nice free-flowing stuff through midfield lead to bunching as everyone converged on the penalty area. Our head coach does love to overload central areas, but here it was once more causing congestion and a barrier to entering the box.
Palace ping the posts
Spurs were dominating possession, territory and pretty much every part of this match through pressing and then swift forward ball movement. For much of the game our centre backs were camped on the halfway line. However, the two closest efforts of the match, apart from our goal, saw Palace twice ping the posts. On both occasions it came from a swift counter attack as the Eagles looked to get out on the run whenever they had the ball.
As soon as Crystal Palace got possession they were looking to use the pace of Yannick Bolasie, Wilfried Zaha, Bakary Sako and Jason Puncheon. They would often send searching balls forward in to space beyond our defence for these four to run after. This let Bolasie execute his driving dribbles along with Puncheon’s energy and ability to find a teammate. After Zaha went off, it was interesting to see Alan Pardew bring on another player that likes to make runs off the shoulder and look for the ball in-behind in Frazier Campbell.
It was sending the ball quickly downfield that saw Crystal Palace almost twice take the lead. Alex McCarthy’s long clearance started a succession of play that ended up with Kyle Walker retrieving possession, but then sending the ball straight to Jason Puncheon. He then worked it quickly over to Yohan Cabaye who saw his curling drive ring back off the upright.
After the interval and Bakary Sako was also denied by the post courtesy of Hugo Lloris’ magnificent diving save. This time the play had been sent quickly out to Pape Souare on the counter and his early cross caught us out.
Eriksen provides the key
With us getting play so often between the lines, but lacking a true number ten to carve open the Crystal Palace defence, the introduction of Christen Eriksen was a change that the game was crying out for. Within two minutes of the Dane entering the action and we were in front.
The passage of play predictably involved the two things we were doing well. Getting men between the lines and swift vertical ball movement. Throughout the match we’d been effective at this, but lacked the cutting edge to get beyond the penalty area often enough. With Crystal Palace caught forward when Erik Lamela won the ball back, suddenly the Eagles were up-field and out of position. Space to execute was everywhere.
Erik Lamela, whose ball recovery throughout the game was excellent, showed good strength to regain it on the edge of our box. He then sent it forward to Christian Eriksen who was immediately out on the run and already in the space beyond the Crystal Palace midfield with Son Heung-Min.
One touch from Eriksen sent it forward to the South Korean who was already on the Palace backline with Brede Hangeland exposed. This was key. Hangeland had the height, strength and power advantaged during the game and looked solid when surrounded by teammates. However, there were several times in the match where he was left 1v1 in space against Son, Chadli and Lamela and they were able to dribble around him to expose his lack of speed and mobility.
Recognising he had the legs on Hangeland and with open field to head for, Son went directly past the Norwegian, firing a low and hard drive at goal. The ball was on Alex McCarthy in a flash and he couldn’t get his legs closed quickly enough. The shot went straight through them, clipping his heel and pinging up in to the back of the net, Spurs 1-0 Crystal Palace.
After the goal, both managers made changes, but there was very little action resulting from them.
Alan Pardew took off a defensive midfielder in James McArthur and brought on a more attacking advanced player in Jordan Mutch. He also replaced Bakary Sako with Patrick Bamford and instructed him to play up with Frazier Campbell as he went 4-4-2.
Seeing Palace caught out from a counter attack for the goal, Mauricio Pochettino then tried to get fresh attacking breakaway speed in to the game. Clinton N’Jie came on for a tiring Son Heung-Min but had just two touches. Our head coach then resorted to trying to shut down the game by bringing on Tom Carroll for Erik Lamela. He had Carroll play alongside Alli and Dier as a midfield trio in the hope that Tom could get a handle on the ball and dictate possession.
Spurs 1-0 Crystal Palace overall
The signs were good, not only in this game to overpower a Palace side that has been excellent on the road, but also longer term. After playing games earlier in the season where we’ve controlled large portions of them only to be pegged back later on, we are now starting to win these matches.
We were extremely dominant here, but still continued to lack that cutting edge in the final third to get in the penalty area and score multiple goals. With only one goal in the bank, Palace were always a threat to sneak an equaliser. They were aided by some dubious defending, especially on Cabaye’s shot off the post, which continues to affect our game. Arsenal and Man City might not be so wasteful as Qarabag and Crystal Palace.
If we are able to start finding the net regularly in games, then coupled with how controlling we have been in our pressing and ball retention, we could go on a serious run.
Final score: Spurs 1-0 Crystal Palace.