Sometimes it’s not about the performance but the result. That was the case here, as we emerged with three vital points with it finishing Spurs 1 Everton 0 at White Hart Lane.
The key was the deployment of Moussa Dembele. Although this was completely wrong for a man of his skill set, it ended up with us notching the only goal of the game by taking advantage of his best attribute.
Tottenham set up and tactics
It was difficult to tell whether Tim Sherwood had gone for a very defensive 4-3-3 formation or what seemed more like a 4-2-3-1. Whatever the line-up, there were several factors that disjointed the system.
Firstly, Sherwood went for three box-to-box midfielders in the centre of the park. This wasn’t a great surprise given his dislike of holding players, but the way they were deployed was.
Nabil Bentaleb has floated deeper this season as a passing hub and he did so once again here. The surprise was Paulinho playing extremely deep alongside him and Moussa Dembele was the furthest forward of the three.
Paulinho is the most box-to-box midfielder we have and loves to get forward, so to see him sat so deep was a bit of a mystery. Maybe Tim Sherwood had wanted him to surge forward in a Ramires-esque way to arrive later in the box, but that just didn’t happen.
Moussa Dembele is more of a dribble-driving player who doesn’t pass the ball quickly enough. He is strong and able to carry it at his feet, but quick neat passing, especially in congested areas, is not one of his strong points. With Paulinho deeper and Dembele further forward, there was a real disconnect with Emmanuel Adebayor up front.
Secondly, the amount of space we gave to Everton by dropping off allowed them time on the ball to pick their passes.
Without the ball, we went in to a 4-4-1-1 defensive shape, but didn’t get up the pitch in order to press them. I looked in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Everton at how teams who have pressured the Toffees have had success. Tim Sherwood said the plan was to get higher up the pitch, but that just didn’t happen.
This allowed Everton to move the ball easily up in to midfield, with Gareth Barry and James McCarthy able to dictate the tempo. Only Leighton Baines, often the target for their passes, touched the ball more than the midfield duo.
Leon Osman does a job on Bentaleb… and us
Leon Osman was a major thorn in our side for the first ten minutes. He had four shots at goal that could have put them ahead, one of them forcing a brilliant save from Hugo Lloris.
The way he was dominating the game was quite simple. In the defensive phase he was denying the ball in to Nabil Bentaleb by man marking him every time we had possession.
This forced our defenders to have to look to either hit Moussa Dembele or Paulinho in congested areas or to go long to Emmanuel Adebayor.
Bentaleb found it difficult to escape the attentions of Osman and received the ball just 24 times – he is usually in the 50-70 range depending on the quality of opposition. He rarely received it from our defenders and when the teenager did get the ball, he often had to go backwards due to the pressure being applied.
After marking Bentaleb to stop the ball moving through him, Osman then just simply slipped into the space between the lines once Everton had won possession back. From there he was able to receive the ball and get three decent strikes at goal.
Fortunately Osman is not renowned for his finishing and failed to make us pay.
Floating Mirallas leaves the flank open
Everton’s other main tactical weapon was the deployment of Kevin Mirallas. The Belgian was expected to line up in the centre forward position without Romelu Lukaku, but Roberto Martinez gave him a floating role to drift from the right.
Presumably with Steven Naismith up top, this was designed to get a second attacker playing off him and to burst through past him. It also was a free hit with Christian Eriksen’s inside movement off that side. This often left a 1v1 full back battle on that flank.
Mirallas caused problems with his continual movement and also dribbling. One passage of play to blow past Michael Dawson and fire over sums up what the Belgian is all about. Electric pace and quick feet to go by almost anyone, but a lack of awareness of team mates in better shooting positions, resulting in a selfish effort at goal from a difficult angle.
With Mirallas and Eriksen drifting, this flank was open for a continual battle between Danny Rose and Seamus Coleman.
Both full backs got forward with Coleman firing a drive at Hugo Lloris’ near post after cutting inside. Up the other end, Danny Rose fizzed a pass across the box that Emmanuel Adebayor failed to connect with despite throwing himself at the ball.
Bad deployment of Dembele wins the match
Moussa Dembele being deployed in a more attacking role than the more obvious choice of Paulinho was hindering us in possession of the ball.
Dembele is excellent at winning the ball back, then shielding it and dribbling with his sizeable frame. He is not the quickest to pass it though, often sizing up his options before letting the ball go. This can mean he frequently passes sideways, as avenues to get the ball forward have closed.
It does mean he doesn’t turn possession over often, but this hinders the team if he is deployed further forward as attacks can be slowed down.
This was the case as Dembele took up some good positions, but performed his usual role as an attacking side switcher, rather than playing penetrative passes for others.
What Moussa Dembele is good at is dribbling and Everton were unable to shrug him off the ball once he had it in his possession.
The Belgian’s passing was accurate, but not of enough substance for an advanced midfielder. However, his ability to go past opponents with the ball was first class. It was his dribbling, which had been scarring the Everton midfield that won the free kick from which we scored the game’s only goal.
Dembele had been doing some sterling work to win the ball back. Along with Paulinho, the pair dispossessed Leon Osman. Nabil Bentaleb gained control of the loose ball and sent it forward to Dembele. The Belgian tried to spin Osman and set off once again, but was fouled.
Kyle Walker took the resulting free kick quickly and found Emmanuel Adebayor running in-behind through the centre of the Everton defence to score. In the Tottenham tactics we looked at how Everton had conceded goals recently from losing the ball and being hit quickly by a runner through the centre after the turnover. Despite the brief stoppage for the free kick, this was once again something quite similar.
Spurs 1 Everton 0 overall
This wasn’t a good performance, but we did gain the victory. After Steve Bruce last week, Tim Sherwood was once again tactically out thought by his opposite number.
Leon Osman man marking Nabil Bentaleb was causing us all types of problems moving the ball forward. Kevin Mirallas drifting inside allowed him to create overloads all over the pitch.
The deployment of Moussa Dembele ahead of Paulinho was also a mistake. The Belgian is good at retaining the ball and moving it from side to side to switch play, but he is not a penetrative forward passer or a player that gets in the box.
However, Dembele is a brilliant dribbler and having him taking on opponents was causing Everton problems. He was consistently beating his man and won us the free kick from which we scored the game’s only goal, landing three more vital Premier League points.
Final score: Spurs 1 Everton 0.