We go to the long, lofted pass early and often, as our Capital One Cup Semi-Final first leg finishes Spurs 1-0 Sheffield United at White Hart Lane.
Mauricio Pochettino is known for his love of quick vertical football, but rarely have we seen him go to the route one game.
Before the match our head coach said that he wanted us to play with ”intensity, at a high level and tempo” but not many of us were expecting it to mean long ball. Spurs often went over the top, proving to be Sheffield United’s undoing as they tired.
Blades cutting edge
Despite arriving late and delaying the kick-off, Sheffield United were a serious threat in the first half. It was expected that the Blades would drop off and play deep on the counter, and they did. But they also pressed intelligently when they had numbers forward, forcing turnovers.
Sheffield United were engaging the ball at the halfway line or on the first pass in to our midfield.
They were very good in getting back in to position and adopting their defensive shape in order to force us out of the middle of the pitch. They went with three central midfield players who were responsible to do this, as they tried to deny us passing through here.
When they regained the ball, they tried to break swiftly on the counter, as they looked to get it out to Jamal Campbell-Ryce. The winger had the legs on Ben Davies and produced several good crosses, including one that fizzed through the six-yard box.
The Blades were getting numbers in to the penalty area, but they weren’t just playing on the counter attack. When they had men forward from either an attack or a set piece, they would then press in order to make it as difficult as possible to be hit on the break themselves.
This saw them create chances from turnovers in our half. Stefan Scougall had their best opportunity as Ben Davies’ pass was intercepted on the edge of our area, which saw him fire past the post.
Sheffield United’s tactics proved effective in the first half, but also saw them consume a lot of energy.
Route one Tottenham
We’ve seen a number of teams come to the Lane, play compactly, close off the centre of the pitch and make themselves difficult to break down.
Whether this was something our analysis team picked specifically up from scouting Sheffield United? Or if it’s Mauricio Pochettino’s latest solution to breaking down a compact team? I’m not sure. But, the long, lofted pass forward or over the top may be his new tactic to loosen these types of sides up.
In order to do this, Pochettino re-introduced Emmanuel Adebayor, a player that has height, strength and good speed.
Interestingly though, the first long ball was sent forward for Andros Townsend to try and latch on to, after just 1 minute and 50 seconds. Ryan Mason had the ball and without any pressure on him, looked up and went long.
Townsend was cutting inside from his starting position out on the right and just failed to latch on to the ball.
Just three minutes later and we were at it again. This time Benjamin Stambouli had the ball and without pressure on him sent it long for Emmanuel Adebayor to run after.
Unfortunately, the head of the Sheffield United defender flicked it safely back to the keeper.
Although we were trying to build through midfield to keep Sheffield United honest and not just to play this long pass, it remained a sporadic feature of the game. Our best chance arrived on 34 minutes, as another long ball was sent over the top for Adebayor to chase after. Again there was no pressure on Christian Eriksen when he delivered the pass, showing it to be a tactic rather than just a clearance.
The Togolese striker managed to extended his left leg and bring it down beautifully. However, he could only spoon his shot over the bar under challenge from the recovering defender.
Before the interval, this was our best chance except for set pieces. Eric Dier twice headed Andros Townsend free-kicks goalwards. One forced a stretching save, the other just past the post.
The lofted long balls over the top continued after half time. Four minutes after the interval and Christian Eriksen, again under no pressure, chipped one in-behind. Andros Townsend was caught offside when it looked as if the pass was meant for Emmanuel Adebayor.
Sheffield United tire
As the second half wore on, Sheffield United began to tire and sank deeper. This saw them struggle to get out and our possession increased as we were able to hem them in. With Emmanuel Adebayor also tiring due to lack of matches, Mauricio Pochettino introduced Roberto Soldado.
Although Adebayor seemed the perfect striker to play this lofted pass game with his height and strength, Soldado is also a good choice. The Spaniard is/was very good at running in-behind on to lofted passes to strike the ball first time. His volleyed goal when he was one of Europe’s top marksmen for Valencia against Atletico Madrid highlighted this perfectly.
It was apt that another chipped pass over the defence led to the only goal of the game.
With Sheffield United tiring and their defence sitting deeper, it allowed Jan Vertonghen to move forward in to their half. Again with little pressure on the ball, Vertonghen saw Soldado’s run and aimed to pick him out with a deft chip over the defence. Soldado, whose touch has been one of the few things that hasn’t been questioned, brought the ball down exquisitely and as it bounced past Jay McEveley, he inexplicably handled it, penalty.
Andros Townsend converted the spot kick to make it Spurs 1-0 Sheffield United. With 20 minutes remaining, we looked in pole position to push for a second.
Having taken the lead and with Sheffield United visibly tiring from their exertions, it looked good for us to add a second. However, it didn’t arrive as we lost momentum when Paulinho came on.
The change was a curious one. At 0-0 to remove Benjamin Stambouli for Paulinho would’ve been a roll of the dice move to try and grab a goal. Taking off the holding player for a more attack-minded driving force from midfield that could get on the end of the chipped passes. It would’ve been a gamble, but one worth taking if the game was goalless.
However, Stambouli was doing an excellent job at hemming Sheffield United in with his ball recovery and recycling. They were struggling to get out of their half, the pressure was building and Stambouli was a major reason for this. Without him, the Blades were able to get out of their half much easier, as space opened up in the zone he had been patrolling.
Expecting us to step up the tempo and go for the jugular to add a tie-swinging second, our play suddenly lacked the zip it previously had. The Blades were able to get up our end to earn corners and throw-ins, breaking up any kind of flow and momentum was lost.
Spurs 1-0 Sheffield United overall
To take a lead in to the second leg is an advantage, albeit a slender one. Sheffield United will be happy with their performance, but we also denied them an away goal. This could be valuable if the second leg goes to extra time when these come in to play.
Mauricio Pochettino’s use of the long ball was an interesting tactic here. Whether this is his new way to loosen up deep sitting sides or just specifically a weakness our scouting team has spotted will be a point to watch for.
Final score: Spurs 1-0 Sheffield United.