Spurs 1-0 Crystal Palace: between the lines and vertical passing

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 He also went with Dele Alli in a more withdrawn number eight role and had him make powerful rumbling runs from deeper.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.


Ali and Kane get between the Palace lines to run at their defence.

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.


Long switches out to Nacer Chadli, Spurs 1-0 Crystal Palace.

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.


Son, Lamela, Kane, Chadli and Alli get caught centrally.

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.


Palace get caught upfield and counter attack space is left.

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.


Eriksen and Son beyond the Palace midfield again.

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.

Subdued switches

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.

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27 Responses to Spurs 1-0 Crystal Palace: between the lines and vertical passing

  1. Stu 21st September 2015 at 2:06 pm #

    Ive been waiting to read an article so detailed and precise in its breakdown of our tactics for a long time. Really well done. Thanks

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st September 2015 at 4:48 pm #

      Cheers Stu, check back in after games for more match reports. be sure to follow on Facebook or Twitter or sign up for emails to get notifications of when match reports etc are up.

  2. will Elliott 21st September 2015 at 2:08 pm #

    Fair play to Spurs…but that was a God awful game & on that performance both teams should be ashamed…from a disgruntled palace fan!!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st September 2015 at 4:50 pm #

      If I was a Palace fan then I would be disgruntled after that Will, but I’m not and I was really pleased by many things Spurs did.

    • Alspur 22nd September 2015 at 2:34 pm #

      It might have been a god-awful game, if you’re a Palace fan, but as a Spurs fan, seeing us carve out over 20 chances on goal made for a highly entertaining match!

  3. Chris 21st September 2015 at 5:36 pm #

    Mr. Elliot, I’m sure its a tough pill to swallow, but we dominated in almost all facets of the game, and I enjoyed watching it. We still lack the ability to finish off an opponent, but that will come after some additional tinkering with the lineup. Spurs have a lot of positives to draw from the game, and if anything, our overall dominance provided the Eagles with a shameful performance. Before Sunday, we were a young team with a lot of potential, and we just used your Palace as a stepping stone on our way to becoming the dynamic and cohesive Spurs team of the future. COYS!

    Alli or Mason on Wed?

    Thanks for another good read!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st September 2015 at 9:25 pm #

      Spot on, not too many teams have dominated Crystal Palace like that as they had won 8 out of their 10 Premier League away games under Alan Pardew before yesterday. It was an impressive display of match control from us, just better finishing and more decisiveness in the final third required.

      I’m not sure if Mason will be ready for Wednesday and with Bentaleb and Dembele still out Alli should get the nod again.

  4. YouShubes 21st September 2015 at 10:32 pm #

    Mark I think you called it. Eriksen is the only one of our players who can pass vertically with any level of passing consistency….

    Our LHS is still our weak area as Dier tends to anchor the area between Toby and Kyle, there is insufficient protection esp when Chadli is on the left flank. Would love to see an article about the defensive positioning of our designated “attacking midfielder” adds to/hinders our press

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd September 2015 at 12:10 pm #

      I think having Mason to play as a number ten was a big miss here Shubes. He can move the ball vertically and more importantly play with his back to goal, which was what we needed in this game from this position. Pochettino does have a number of options to play as number ten now – Eriksen, Mason, Dembele, Alli – depending on what skillset he wants from the position for a particular game. Unfortunatley Mason and Dembele were out and Eriksen only fit enough for the bench so his options were limited.

      Dier and his partner do help out their full backs. Dier does tend to drift more to the right and his partner at the base of midfield the left, but he does cover over to the left if his partner and the full back on that side are caught forward and the ball goes that side. You also have to remember that the centre backs are tasked with helping out towards the flanks in the exceptional circumstances that there is no cover here from the full back or either defensive midfield player. This will often see Dier drop in to the back line (as he has far too much distance to get out wide and the CB is closer to the ball) and take up a centre back position, so it becomes more of a rotational defence than a positional one. So yes Dier does play more to the right, but i wouldn’t say there is insufficient protection on the left.

  5. papillon 21st September 2015 at 11:16 pm #

    YouShubes. Bacary Sako says on the official Palace web site that Spurs won because Dier and Ali were prepared to help out their full backs, Walker and Davies. This meant that Palace’s fast wingers were not able to take on Spurs full backs 1 to 1 so their threat was diminished/nullified. Palace’s speedy wingers have been key to their recent successes. In fact Zaha never managed one successful dribble before being substituted. This was obviously a tactical decision by Pochettino.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd September 2015 at 12:14 pm #

      Spot on Papillon.

    • YouShubes 22nd September 2015 at 12:29 pm #

      My issue is not with Dier who is doing an incredible job and seems to get better with every game. It is more the lack of cover coming from Chadli who while I understand the front 3 rotate and swap positions when attacking, I would have assumed that defensively they have designated areas to defend.

      Both Andros and Nacer are not always consistent in fulfilling their defensive duties in a way that say Lennon for all his issues could not be said to be anything but diligent in adhering to his defensive responsibilities.

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd September 2015 at 3:58 pm #

        Andros and Nacer are not the best defensively, but the wide players are tasked with pressing and tracking the opposition full backs.

  6. john w 22nd September 2015 at 3:55 am #

    All I can say is how great it is to be 19 and as talented as Alli. Was there a blade of grass that he didn’t touch several times? I expected to see us terrorized by Bolasie and crew but they were severely cut back by our defenders who were aided immensely by Alli in particular, Dier and in some cases Lamela and even Kane. A great team effort overall with Son a standout for his constant movement, harrying and appetite for action. Chadli is going to have to step it up if he wants to keep getting selected because we looked a different team once Eriksen joined the fray. Hopefully we will see similar efforts against Arsenal and City and provide a real challenge. Loris was fantastic as usual.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd September 2015 at 1:30 pm #

      Great comment John, Alli was again very good here, he’s looking quite the part. He is approaching essential status for the team and so Pochettino really needs to manage his development carefully so he doesn’t burn out by midseason.

  7. Zaph 22nd September 2015 at 6:04 am #

    Such narrow margins – we could easily have drawn at OT – the own goal etc… and and then Palace’s two strikes against the post. Look at what turned out to Man Utd’s winner at So’ton – the ball hits the post and straight to Mata, another day it doesn’t – Alli’s strike hit across by Kane is an eample – any touch by the keeper or Llamela is a goal.

    It usually evens itself out, so the overall patterns are better indicators, and the indications here were very positive.

    Dier seems pivitol – his speed is less of an issue in that position – and his passing “vertical” or not seems more incisive than Bentaleb’s and moe accurate than Mason’s (last season’s mid-two)

    – Formation wise – Don’t we effectively play a 3-4-3 once we have the ball? Dier(or another) being the centre of the 3)

    – Three clean sheets – I’ve been critical of Davies – and in this game it was Walker passing to the opposition to lead to the first post hit… BUT 3 clean sheets – can’t be that bad a defence.

    – AND I’m wondering is Full back the hardest position to play in the modern game?? It used to be the place you put your least able (mentally, sometimes ability) because it wsn’t the “spine” and there was a second line of defeence

    some questions for a future blog – maybe you should go onto Soccer Forum ?- a great site and open discussions as you have by far the best insight in reportage.

    • Alspur 22nd September 2015 at 2:44 pm #

      Agree with a lot of the points you’re making, Zaph…

      …but, don’t be fooled into thinking that Dier is slow – I think he’s one of our quickest players, as he showed when playing full-back, last season…


      • Zaph 22nd September 2015 at 4:19 pm #

        Blimey! Maybe it’s ‘speed of reaction’ or ‘the first five yards’ that gave me that impression – but he’s been great there too this season.

        • Mark 23rd September 2015 at 5:00 am #

          Zaph, I think you had it right. Dier’s top end speed might be pretty good, but his “acceleration” from a standing position is nothing to write home about. There was no question in my mind that he didn’t have the initial burst to play the full back position, and with the exception of a couple of games last season, I think he underwhelmed at left back while Walker was out with injury.

          To be fair though, I also had some serious doubts about Eric’s ability to hold down what is a very important position in Poch’s system(DM), and would go so far as to say that he’s performed above average in that role up to this point in the season. As Mark has pointed out in a couple articles already, he does get caught too far up field from time to time, but for the most part he’s played very good positional football, and has made several goal saving tackles in our box.

          TBH, I still can’t believe what I’m seeing from this 21 year old kid so far this season. Him, Alli, and Mason have definitely risen to the occasion this year at a time when I was wondering whether this team had enough talent to win games. If the team can find a way to get more balls into the box and past the keeper, I really like their chances of making a serious run toward the top 4.

          I still have issues with Poch’s lack of formational flexibility, but he has really done a good of shedding the players that don’t fit his system, and I do believe, with the help of another quality striker in January’s Transfer window , this team will be good for the next several years.

          • Mark 23rd September 2015 at 5:02 am #

            One correction, obviously I meant to say Dier underwhelmed at “Right” back season.

          • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 23rd September 2015 at 5:10 pm #

            Some good points Mark. We’re building a really good solid young team, one that will grace the new stadium for years to come. With players like Dier, Alli, Mason, Bentaleb, Eriksen and Son we have a great young core, with the likes of Pritchard still to come. I’m also keen to see what N’Jie can bring as we will really have pace to stretch teams now. I’m really excited to see what this team can do if it can stay together over the next 2/3 seasons. We’ve put some good building blocks in place and have the potential to go on to really good things.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd September 2015 at 4:11 pm #

      Some good points Zaph. We often see Dier drop in to make a back three to bring the ball out and it can look like either 3-4-3 or 3-3-1-3 in the initial phase when we have possession.

      The defence has been ok, we’ve got clean sheets but we have gotten away with a few seeing as Defoe, Rodwell, Cabaye and Sako have all hit the woodwork in our last two matches.

      Full back is the most changed position and its even harder to play now given that they are often required to be very attacking players, almost wingers, and also get back to defend as well. Being an execllent athlete with rapid speed is almost a prerequisite for the job nowadays – one of the reasons we probably took a punt on Yedlin.

      What’s the web address for soccer forum?

  8. Chris 22nd September 2015 at 11:20 pm #

    Well, you called it in your pre-match piece. There was tons of space between their midfield and back four for our forward line to drop off and receive the ball in. Sadly we didn’t really make much of it, and it took that break to get the goal.

    Perhaps Lamela’s natural role is as our Modric replacement – the assist-assister, deep lying playmaker. And Eriksen showed his brain with that first time pass onto Son – Lamela/Mason/et al would probably have controlled the ball and tried to run with it, rather than just move it immediately up the field.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 23rd September 2015 at 4:59 pm #

      Great comment Chris. Eriksen showed what we’ve been missing in his absence, the creative guile and the ability to think quickly. Interesting point about Lamela,he gives the ball away too often for me to play deeper.