Tottenham went with Harry Kane as a number ten with varying success as it finished Spurs 1-0 Crystal Palace at White Hart Lane.
What is it with close run games against Crystal Palace at home? Despite being dominant for large parts, Spurs couldn’t find the finishing touch. A set piece goal from Victor Wanyama decided it, as it ended Spurs 1-0 Crystal Palace. But, the focal point was Harry Kane as a number ten.
Palace’s medium block
The game revolved around Crystal Palace’s approach. Alan Pardew went with a 4-1-4-1 set up in a medium block and it both bolstered and hindered his side.
Without the ball he used Jason Puncheon and Lee Chung-yong in front of Joe Ledley to try and deny us playing through Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier. It didn’t work and often left space between the lines. The movement of both Dier and Wanyama, coupled with Eriksen, Lamela and Kane in front, just simply overran Palace in midfield.
With the ball, Pardew’s setup aided their game of getting it rapidly out to wide players Andros Townsend and Wilfred Zaha. They got on the ball, but then struggled with their service. Frequent over dribbling, shooting or poor crossing saw Connor Wickham cut a lone and frustrated figure.
Spurs defend and attack the wide areas
It was the play of our full backs that really stifled Crystal Palace from getting anything done.
Kyle Walker and Danny Rose’s tracking of Zaha and Townsend was pretty much perfect. Whenever the pair received the ball, Rose and Walker were there, straight on their first touch. If they couldn’t pounce and strip the ball, our full backs were forcing Zaha and Townsend backwards.
Alan Pardew tried switching the sides of his wide men, but they still didn’t get any joy. Rose and Walker had been briefed on what to expect and weren’t giving them an inch.
The same couldn’t be said going the other way. Both Rose and Walker weren’t just tracking back, but also thundering forward. Townsend and Zaha weren’t tracking them well at all. Joel Ward and Pape Souare behind them were getting sucked inside covering Lamela and Eriksen, leaving space down the flanks for Rose and Walker.
Rose was particularly active. Winning several corners and almost darting in through the inside left channel. A better touch and he would’ve been celebrating the opening goal. His winning of corners would be key though.
Harry Kane as a 10 between the lines
It wasn’t just in the wide areas that we were active. Crystal Palace’s medium block set up of trying to deny the ball through Wanyama and Dier left space between the lines.
We’d looked at the areas left around defensive midfielder Joe Ledley in the Spurs vs Crystal Palace preview. They were here once again for us to exploit.
Mauricio Pochettino deployed Harry Kane as a number ten. Maybe this was to utilise this space or to get additional firepower on the pitch against a usually stubborn opponent? It actually ended up achieving both. Kane was popping up in these vacant spaces between the Palace lines and shifting play out to the marauding full backs.
Kane would then get in the box to give support to Vincent Janssen. Rose and Walker would put the ball in as we sought to get numbers in the penalty area.
The tactic was effective, but the finishing touch wasn’t forthcoming. Palace often cleared to saftey or blocked the shots. Kane did rip one effort just past the post. It seemed as if this could be another long, frustrating day.
In the second half, the chance of the match arrived at Vincent Janssen’s feet. Kane had dropped incredibly deep to pass the ball forward to Erik Lamela. He, Janssen and Dele had all got between the Palace lines of midfield and defence.
Lamela found Alli, who in turn dinked a beautifully weighted and spun pass in to the path of Janssen. This was the moment. The net was surely going to bulge, but Janssen fluffed his lines and skewed his side-footed chip wide.
At half time Yohan Cabaye came on for Joe Ledley. Cabaye, like Palace’s setup both bolstered and hindered his team.
With the ball his passing was excellent. Cabaye was then getting further forward than Ledley and having a greater influence on the attack. Receiving the ball from Townsend in a great position in our penalty area before skying over the bar showed the threat that he could be.
He was also hindering his side. Cabaye is a master of the dark arts, but needs a defensive midfielder alongside him. This is because he can get drawn forward looking to pressure the ball and leave space between the lines behind him.
As the second half wore on, the space between the lines began to open up. It culminated in the only goal of the game, where everything came together. Kane was free between the lines. Rose got in untracked down the flank. We then won a set piece, which we’d been dangerous at all game.
Strong set pieces
We’d looked at Crystal Palace’s vulnerability at set pieces in the match preview. We could’ve taken the lead earlier in the game from at least one. Toby Alderweireld missed a glorious free header at the near post in the first half. Victor Wanyama also headed one over when he was free in the box.
The game would be settled by a set piece. It was the culmination of a lot of good work and all of the above factors.
Harry Kane dropped off and got himself free between the lines behind Yohan Cabaye.
Kane then fed it out to Danny Rose who had slipped away from his marker, Andros Townsend. He was late tracking Rose, as right back Joel Ward had gone with Dele’s inside run.
Rose fizzed a ball across the near post, which was put out for a corner by Damien Delaney. In his challenge with Vincent Janssen, Delaney was injured and had to go off. This was crucial. Delaney had been marking Harry Kane at set pieces. Victor Wanyama then screened Delaney’s replacement, James Tomkins, at the back post. This allowed Harry Kane to run free.
Tomkins then tried to recover, but Kane jumped completely unmarked to head the ball goalwards. In his panic, Tomkins ran right past Victor Wanyama, who had slipped away from his marker, Pape Souare in the confusion.
Wanyama virtually had the freedom of the six-yard box as he flicked the ball in to the roof of the net from point blank range. The quick change of direction on the ball gave Wayne Hennessey no chance and White Hart Lane erupted in to euphoric celebration. Finally the deadlock had been broken, Spurs 1-0 Crystal Palace.
The goal was timed perfectly. After much huffing and puffing, it gave Crystal Palace very little time to respond. About the same amount of time as Andros Townsend had to react to Erik Lamela nutmegging him with the deftest of dribbles.
Spurs 1-0 Crystal Palace Harry Kane as a 10
After months of 4-2-3-1 and being able to name the starting line-up, Mauricio Pochettino went with another interesting twist. Starting Harry Kane as a number ten gave plenty of food for thought.
This was at home to Crystal Palace, a game where we needed to be more aggressive with our selection. Two strikers is much more feasible than, say, away to Man City.
The move had both positives and negatives for me. On the plus side, Kane was able to exploit the space that Crystal Palace have always given up between the lines. His movement of the ball was good and he often made the right choice of pass.
On the downside, it can force Kane to come much deeper. I’d hate to see him become a victim of the ‘Rooney effect’. He did have 6 shots in the match, but 4 were from outside the box and only 1 was on target. Kane is the Premier League’s reigning golden boot winner for a reason. He finishes moves off inside the box. 23 of his 25 Premier League goals last term came from within the 18-yard area. He can hit a long-range screamer, but it is the exception rather than the rule.
He also struggled when the game was congested and time was at a premium. Other teams won’t afford him such time and space.
It is too early to judge whether this is a successful move or not. Pochettino certainly didn’t use Dani Osvaldo as a number ten off Rickie Lambert every week at Southampton. However, it does offer a plan B and formational flexibility, which I like and is the step we need to make this season.
Kane may well transform in to his boyhood hero Teddy Sheringham, just as Eric Dier has evolved in to his idol, defensive midfield destroyer Roy Keane.
The key may well lie in who is around him. So far, for me, Kane has definitely looked better when played as a number ten in a 4-1-4-1 with Dele Alli alongside him. Kane doesn’t have to come as deep for the ball and can make late, untracked runs in to the box. He also has Dele’s service, which was such a huge part of many of his goals last season.
Just as we had to be patient for the winning goal at the Lane on Saturday, these next steps of how the team evolves will take time. Nothing should be dismissed nor eulogised about on just one performance.
Final score: Spurs 1-0 Crystal Palace.
MOTM: Vincent Janssen.