Exposing their weak right side wasn’t enough to counteract our sloppy defensive errors, as it finished Spurs 1-2 Monaco at Wembley.
It felt like the final. 85,000 raucous Spurs fans decked in lilywhite made for an amazing atmosphere and awesome sight inside Wembley. Whether it was the size of the pitch or nerves on the big stage, we suffered first night Champions League jitters. Costly defensive errors are ruthlessly punished at this level and it was too much to recover from as it ended Spurs 1-2 Monaco.
Monaco stifling tactics
Monaco came with a game plan. They didn’t want to be worn down by covering too much ground and so they kept their shape narrow and compact. Defensively, they rarely pressed the ball when our centre backs had it, instead opting to only close down our full backs. They wanted to stop Kyle Walker and Ben Davies getting forward to create from the flanks.
Once the ball crossed halfway, they were tucking in and shrouding the centre. There was no space between the lines and we were regularly crowded out as we tried to play in to the final third.
Our advanced midfield trio rotated frequently in here. Whether this was to combat what Monaco were trying to do or just part of the game plan was unsure. Christian Eriksen, Son Heung-Min and Erik Lamela all spent time on the left, right and at the number ten position.
Monaco’s shape gave us issues, which were compounded by our slow ball movement. Whether it was the occasion, nerves or not wanting to make a mistake, it wasn’t quick enough. Players were taking three or four touches and cross field ball switches were going through three players when they needed to go through one or directly.
Spurs sloppy errors
Spurs were controlling much of the possession of the ball. Monaco were content with this as they were controlling the tempo.
The speed of the game made us very ponderous with the ball and with our decision-making. It ended up getting us into trouble and in a two-goal hole.
The first saw Erik Lamela inexplicably take the ball from Eric Dier. Lamela then lost it and both he and Dier were out of position. Bernardo Silva then raced the other way straight at our unprotected centre backs.
Jan Vertonghen obviously didn’t get the brief that Silva is all left foot. He duly showed him on to his favoured side and could only stare at the sky as Silva unleashed a rasping drive in to the corner of the net, Spurs 0-1 Monaco.
Monaco then added a second. A short throw was returned to Djibril Sidibe and as he crossed, Thomas Lemar had slid by the pondering Dele Alli and Son Heung-Min.
Lemar rose and saw his first header blocked before lashing the rebound in to the roof of the net, Spurs 0-2 Monaco.
Two goals that were preventable, highlighting how mistakes are punished at the Champions League level.
Harry Kane right-sided raids
Monaco was looking to slow down our full backs. Kyle Walker had the speed to overcome their attentions; Ben Davies did not. It ended up with us creating a whole host of chances down our right side. Left back Djibril Sidibe was often caught high, forcing centre back Jemerson to come over and help.
It started with just two minutes on the clock. Walker in full flow rampaged down the right and looked to have got clear, only to force a corner.
Minutes later and this time Harry Kane pulled out to this flank in to the space left by Sidibe. The defence was sucked over and Kane’s cross picked out Son Heung-Min arriving unmarked at the back post.
Son beat the keeper, but not Kamil Glik on the line.
Ten minutes later and Kane was at it down the right again. Sidibe was caught high once more, meaning that Jemerson was pulled out and shrugged off by our striker. Kane then tried to pick out Eriksen, but both he and Lamela had a swipe at the ball, but failed to connect cleanly.
Kane was causing trouble down this side and on 28 minutes he was in-behind once again. Dele Alli rumbled through midfield and looked to slide in his run beyond Jemerson once more.
He just didn’t have the speed to run away from the centre back and the ball was cleared from Kane’s feet for a throw.
It was this nearly, but not quite, theme for Harry Kane that continued down the right side. However on 44 minutes it all changed. He again got behind Sidibe, pulling Jemerson over to force a corner.
We’ve often seen the near post corner for Toby Alderweireld, but this time there was a nice variation on it. Rather than have Alderweireld and Dier hit the vacant near post, we ran Alderweireld off two screens. One from Dele Alli to cause separation from his marker. The second from Eric Dier to stop the near post markers from moving backwards.
Erik Lamela only had a postage stamp to aim for. His corner had to be high enough to clear Dier, but low enough to find Alderweireld coming in behind. It was perfectly executed and the header flew home, Spurs 1-2 Monaco.
The first half had seen us play too slowly. This was in part due to our own cautious build-up, but also because of Monaco’s stifling tactics.
At the interval Mauricio Pochettino made a change. Mousa Dembele came on for Son Heung-Min and we returned to the tried and trusted setup of last season.
Dembele influences the game a great deal with his size, strength and power. However, here he just gave us a simple ball to puncture the first line of Monaco’s defensive structure.
Dembele set up in the space behind Monaco’s front two in their defensive scheme and offered an out ball. With Eric Dier frequently dropping in to the back line, Dele Alli rarely did this in the first half. With Dembele on, it gave us a higher starting position to launch attacks and more importantly, momentum.
The move also pushed Dele Alli further forward and he became a bigger influence on the game. Just three minutes after half time and Alli popped up in the inside-right channel to force a good save from Danijel Subasic.
Whilst Dembele was a good change, Mauricio Pochettino then made one that didn’t work. Vincent Janssen coming on for Erik Lamela killed the momentum we were building. Harry Kane was forced deeper where he isn’t as effective and we lost Lamela’s energy and closing down.
Spurs continue right-side raids
With Alderweireld’s goal and the score at Spurs 1-2 Monaco, Harry Kane had been the chief creator and tormentor down our right side. After the goal, others got in on the act. Just seconds after Alderweireld’s strike, Erik Lamela swung a ball in that just evaded the stretching Dele Alli. Going in level at half time would’ve really shifted the momentum.
After the interval and theme continued. Harry Kane once more rumbled in-behind Sidibe, only to be blocked by Jemerson’s swift recovery.
We then created the chance of the half. Vincent Janssen got in down the right side behind Sidibe, bullied Jemerson off the ball and laid it in to Harry Kane.
Kane took a touch when a first time strike might have been the better choice. He then sent a tame effort with his left foot in to Subasic’s hands.
First of all he was inches away from latching on to Janssen’s through ball. Again Sidibe and Jemerson had been sucked in, allowing the runner off them.
Then, he swung in a cross from the right that found Dele Alli free on the other side. Alli skewed his shot wide across goal. It was the last chance of the match, but could do nothing to stop the score being Spurs 1-2 Monaco as time ran out.
Spurs 1-2 Monaco overall
While the quality of opposition might not have been one of Europe’s elite, we still got a lesson in how defensive lapses are punished at this level. Monaco were clinical and concise when the opportunities presented themselves.
Our speed of ball and player movement wasn’t what it usually is. Whether this was the increased size of the playing surface, nerves or Monaco’s setup, only the players themselves will truly know.
We did create a host of opportunities down the right side, many of them from Harry Kane’s runs. However, we didn’t take full advantage of them or be as ruthless as we needed to be with them at this level.
Final score: Spurs 1-2 Monaco.
MOTM: Harry Kane.
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