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.
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.