A switch in formation saw us unable to break down the Foxes’ low block, as it finished Spurs 1-1 Leicester City in our Premier League clash.
Low blocks have long been the frustration of this Tottenham Hotspur side. Parking the bus, 11 men behind the ball, call it what you want. We have struggled to create high quality chances and then put them away. It was no different on Saturday. It finished Spurs 1-1 Leicester City despite getting our noses in front at White Hart Lane.
Spurs formation change
This season has seen Mauricio Pochettino opt for a 4-1-4-1 approach. With Leicester City’s threat on the counter attack, he made a subtle change to go 4-2-3-1 here. Two men in defensive midfield as opposed to one to cope with Leicester’s twin striker counter attack approach. Most teams that defend deep and counter attack do it with just one striker. Leicester’s twin forward approach has always given us trouble due to the extra man.
The interesting twist to the formation in the first half was that Mousa Dembele played much deeper than Victor Wanyama. It seemed a curious approach as Dembele is much more destructive with his twisting and turning dribbles executed further up the pitch. The only reason for it was that Leicester were content to let our centre backs have the ball and were only closing down on our first pass in to midfield. Dembele is much better against the press and more comfortable on the ball than Wanyama, so he could evade and escape this easier. Otherwise it was a pretty ineffective move that stunted our attack. After the interval, the pair switched back, giving us a much better balance.
Spurs switches in play
What the formation also brought back was the return of our high playing full backs. In the 4-1-4-1 setup, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose have curbed their overlapping runs to be much less frequent. We looked at the Foxes’ narrow setup in the Spurs vs Leicester City match preview. With the removal of one advanced midfield player, our full backs now had more space to get forward.
Kyle Walker was particularly aggressive in his positioing. So too were our midfielders and centre backs in trying to fire the play out to him.
The ball was often sent over great distance to try and get it to him with time and space before the Leicester left side could race out from their narrow positions to close him down.
Walker provided the best moment from open play in the first half. Jan Vertonghen swung a perfectly weighted pass from the other side of the field that he could take down in his stride. Racing to the by-line, Walker pulled the ball back for the arriving Dele Alli to thump his shot against the bar.
Over on the other flank and Danny Rose was also getting forward. We’d looked in the match preview at how teams have exposed right back Danny Simpson more than left back Christian Fuchs.
Whereas the less frequent higher percentage chances were coming from attacking Fuchs down our right – Alli and Vertonghen both hit the bar – many more half chances came from attacking the Simpson down the left. The best of these saw Rose fire two shots, one of which was well saved and another in to the side netting.
Also resulting from attacking down the left were a large number of free kicks. Leicester was determined not to let Spurs get goal side in to any good attacking situations. This saw us win a number of set pieces down the left flank, but also to the left side of the penalty area.
Christian Eriksen and Vincent Janssen both had dead ball efforts that just passed by the post.
Our goal would also arrive from a dead ball situation. We won a free kick on the edge of the box after good work down the left. Christian Eriksen chipped it in to the area and Vincent Janssen tussled with and pulled over Robert Huth. The Leicester defender was quickly back to his feet and seconds later as Janssen got the ball under control, Huth returned the favour by hauling him down. This time referee Bobby Madley saw it and pointed straight to the spot.
Many pundits called it soft or not a penalty at all. However, Huth clearly reached over Janssen’s shoulder, grabbed a fistful of his shirt and makes a pulling back motion with his arm that continues as Janssen goes over. A stone wall penalty under the new rules on shirt pulling and grappling however much they think he flopped.
Janssen coolly despatched the penalty. Given it was his second in a week that was just off centre; he will have to be wary in the future. Ensuing spot kicks will see goalkeeper’s standing and waiting for his decision rather than trying to pre-empt him.
Leicester counter attacks
Leicester’s low block had proved particularly effective. They were content to sit deep, take away space between the lines and play extremely narrow to congest the centre of the pitch.
When Leicester won the ball back, they would look for quick passes forward and often over distance. These had two aims. Jamie Vardy and Ahmed Musa running the channels outside our centre backs or Riyad Mahrez for him to execute his jinking dribbles.
Leicester did have some joy. One such passage of play ended up with Mahrez whipping in a dangerous cross that Shinji Okazaki headed just over. Another saw Vardy just fail to take the ball with him when he would’ve been clean through on goal.
Leicester would get back in the game via a long searching ball for Vardy on the counter attack too. Eric Dier headed the initial pass away. The ball bounced just in front of Victor Wanyama. This made it difficult for him to do much with it as the pace had been taken off. Rather than try and flick it forwards, Wanyama opted to send it back to Jan Vertonghen. However, getting his angles wrong, Wanyama nodded it straight to Jamie Vardy.
The Leicester striker didn’t hang around and was off trying to run in-behind. Dier kept him out towards the by-line, but knowing he had support arriving, Vardy jabbed a blind pass back across the six-yard box. Ahmed Musa and Shinji Okazaki were racing forward to try and get in the box. Musa slid in at the back post to power the ball in to the net off Hugo Lloris, Spurs 1-1 Leicester City.
The goal was opportunistic, but highlighted Leicester’s ruthless streak that was so apparent in their title run. One error from Wanyama was seized upon and punished. Jan Vertonghen then didn’t help by not committing to tracking anyone. Kyle Walker was left with a choice of whether to cover Okazaki or Musa. He was just a fraction late to block Musa as the angle of the pass became apparent that he would be the only one that could get to the ball.
Hugo Lloris has made several sprawling saves as he’s rushed across his line recently. This time he couldn’t keep it out and it was now Spurs 1-1 Leicester City.
Subs change the game
Spurs were in largely in control of the pattern and pace of the game until Claudio Ranieri started to change it. Ranieri made extremely good use of his bench. Jeffrey Schlupp gave them better defence down their left. Leonardo Ulloa came on and gave them hold-up play. Leicester were failing to make the ball stick when it was sent forward before Ulloa’s introduction. After he entered the fray, Leicester began to gain a foothold higher up and they started to dictate the play. They arguably finished the game slightly stronger than Spurs.
Whereas Ranieri made good use of his changes, Mauricio Pochettino waited too long to make his. 83 minutes were on the clock when he made his first substitution. Georges-Kevin Nkoudou came on and had a positive impact through running with the ball. However, it was far too late, as was the introduction of Harry Winks. He had only a few minutes and couldn’t impact the game or have an affect on the Spurs 1-1 Leicester City score line.
Spurs 1-1 Leicester City overall
Mauricio Pochettino is encountering new problems with teams that press and hound us. However, the problem of sides that defend deep and counter attack continues to haunt us. Being clinical in front of goal remains an issue and it is especially prevalent in these games when good chances are at a premium.
Christian Eriksen continues to struggle. He needs to be a central figure in games like these with space between the lines at a premium. The real lack of a lock-picking alternative highlights where Mauricio Pochettino needs to be shopping in January.
Final score: Spurs 1-1 Leicester City.
Spurs MOTM: Victor Wanyama.
1. harry 2. kane two answers there…..two matches in a row the ref scored for us
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Kane is a big miss. Both pens correctly awarded, Refs doing their job.
Andy B says
I was thinking the same during the game about bringing on subs. Why on earth did he not bring on Nkoudou and Winks earlier, to liven it up and change the tactics? Nkoudou should have been brought on after 60 minutes and Winks soon after.
I never understand the point of bringing on a midfielder, with just a few minutes to go unless you need to run down the clock. I mean what can Winks do when he is given just a few minutes?
Eriksen should have been taken off, because he was ineffective. It is a shame that Spurs couldn’t get Isco to give him competition. Everywhere else, we seem to have at least 2 players for every position, except for a creative playmaker.
The nearest we have is Tom Carroll, who isn’t really progressing and may be more effective if he played in the Spanish or Dutch leagues. Saying that, it cannot be easy for him to progress when he only gets a bit of game time here and there. I do like his incisive forward passing. He is always positive on the ball, but doesn’t really suit Pochettino’s pressing tactics, off the ball. It may be time for him to play for a team that suits his talents better.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Great comment Andy B. Yes I couldn’t understand why Poch left it so late given that the game swung about 10 mins before he started to make changes. Winks really had no time to make an impact.
Carroll is best off being shipped out. He is just not going to make the grade here as the quality of the squad has moved on and he has not developed with it. Isco is the kind of player we need, but given his comments and the money we’d need it doesn’t look likely. We need to scour Europe for a young and developing hidden gem.
Mark, do you think we could have gotten a better result if we played a formation same as Leicester just to match them, but in a more attacking sense, Son and Jaansen striking, (though i prefer son on the left this would be an exception, given the opposition) GK on the left, Dembele and Wanyama in mid.
Also agree that MP has to make sub’s earlier. GK looked good when he came on
With the NLD up next, the result was a worry as I was looking us to start building momentum 2 or so games back.But given the magnitude of the game I expect the team that beat city to show up…
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Good question David. Matching their formation is an option as we wouldn’t be overrun in midfield. The only question would be if it left us short at the back vs Leicester’s two strikers?
We really need to score a couple midweek to boost confidence in front of goal ahead of the NLD!
Something I really like about the 4-1-4-1 is that it actually allows us to use our wide midfielders for width. In the double pivot, we tend to rely on the full-backs for width and to try and play through the middle with our attacking 3 and the striker. That’s fine mid-season onwards when we’ve hit full steam, but for now we don’t seem sharp enough to pull it off. Giving players like Son and Sissoko good starting positions to attack from out wide and stretch defences seems to be the better option. Son was absolutely on fire when he was picking up the ball practically on the touchline in an advanced position, instead of the 4-2-3-1 where he often doesn’t have such a good starting position and sometimes fails to join the attack altogether because he’s too deep.
The 4-1-4-1 may not always be the best option even at this stage of the season, but I don’t like how Poch seems to have moved away from it completely in order to get Dembélé back in the side (even though Dembélé was superb last season, we were functioning perfectly well without him).
*functioning perfectly well without him so far this season
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Both formations have their uses. I felt Poch went back to the 4-2-3-1 as that should’ve stacked up better against how Leicester play. I wouldn’t say Poch has done it to incorporate Dembele, as Mousa played higher up alongside Dele Alli in the 4-1-4-1 against Bournemouth.
I do agree that Son needs to be wider as he’s more effective there. Sissoko hasn’t been crossing which is strange as that is one of his strengths.
I really liked seeing our full backs be so aggressive again as I feel we need to play to our strengths. If We’re going to play 4-1-4-1 and not ask the full backs to be so aggressive then I feel we need more natural wingers e.g. N’Koudou and Sissoko out wide.
Overall I think we should pick the team, formation and style of play based on the opponent.
Reidar Pedersen says
Dissapointed with the result, and once again lack of clear-cut chances. Though liked the fact that our full-backs getting more involved in the final third as you were mentioning. Hear a lot of shouts for our numer one striker here, but just as important is the loss of Toby… his awareness in our build-up play is essential to the tempo of our attacks. Great read again Mark – keep at it?
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Thanks Reidar. Toby is a big miss as his distribution and game management are exceptional. We are def much calmer and in control at the back and he gives us extra leaping ability and an additional threat at set pieces. Desperately need him back for the next 2 games!
John Noon says
Stone Wall penalty! You acknowledge that Jannsen clearly fouled Huth in the same phase of play, that then is DEFINITELY NOT A STONE WALL PENALTY.
Madley is the same dodgy ref who gave Spurs a late penalty in the third round of the FA Cup last season when the ball hit Nathan Dyer!
PS – that apart your analysis isn’t bad
Memo to John Noon.
Typing in upper case is offensive
As is you patronising PS.
Patting Mark on the head for his analysis as “not bad” suggests , perhaps, that you are a mentor.
I’d love to hear some deeper thought from someone so experienced.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Thank you Chas, beautifully put.
What do you think of our build-up in recent games? I think without Toby, who contributed a lot to our build-up from the back, we suffer in possessing the ball and our play of build-up from the back. During the Leicester game, Eriksen often came down from his position to where Wanyama and Dembele were and it looked like he was frustrated with the ball usually staying with Rose or Walker or Vertonghen and trying to help with the build-up. I thought with Dembele, our build-up would be much easier but last game it didn’t quite look like that and it looked like we rely a lot on our center-backs and fullbacks for advancing. I wonder what your thoughts are.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Good question Jay. Our build up suffers without Toby, no question. Eric Dier doesn’t have the same passing range, even though he can hit a decent pass. I feel we also suffer in defensive midfield. Wanyama is amazing at recovering the ball but his distribution is rarely aggressive or penetrates lines. It is mainly short, sideways or backwards. I feel that in moving Dier in to central defence we lose his distribution from defensive midfield. When Toby is back, although I love Wanyama’s hustle, I’d like to see Dier back at CDM.
Dembele still looks a little rusty to me. I thought he did well against Leicester and was surprised to see the negative outpourings in places like twitter. I think he is still getting to grips with playing with Wanyama. I feel Dembele and Dier’s skill sets compliment each other better and of course they know each other’s games from last season together and thus have chemistry. Playing higher up in the new 4-1-4-1 system also seemed to throw Dembele a bit last weekend against Bournemouth.
I think to improve our distribution from the back, we need this Alderweireld, Dier, Dembele triangle at the base of our formation. That will stop players like Eriksen having to come deeper for the ball. He can then play higher up and do his destructive work in more advanced areas.