Spurs 1 Everton 0: bad deployment of Dembele wins the match

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.


Spurs sit off.

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.


Osman man marks Bentaleb.

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.


Nabil Bentaleb passes received, Spurs 1 Everton 0.

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.


Osman gets free to fire 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.


Moussa Dembele passes played, Spurs 1 Everton 0.

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.


Moussa Dembele take-ons, Spurs 1 Everton 0.

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.


Dembele gets fouled taking on Osman.

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.

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16 Responses to Spurs 1 Everton 0: bad deployment of Dembele wins the match

  1. George 10th February 2014 at 5:15 pm #

    Interesting analysis. I sort of thought in a way that Everton out-thought themselves. They were too pre-occupied with stopping Spurs. Man marking Bentaleb can only work for so long. Once Spurs got to HT at 0-0 I thought they would win. Sherwood is right in looking more at what our players can do than what the opposition’s can do. But the slow starts must be a worry. Lennon’s role was interesting, more central at times. 2nd half that worked well and he did a great job defensively. Everton’s pressing and organisation was fantastic at times. Thought Barry was excellent but they needed to score earlier – they had nowhere to go after HT.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 11th February 2014 at 1:26 pm #

      The slow starts are beginning to become a worry. Everton really were lacking a player who could finish and we definitely can’t give more decisive teams this kind of start.

  2. Allspur 10th February 2014 at 6:25 pm #

    I seem to recall Dembele and a lot of other Tottenham players being caught numerous times in possession which did my head in.The everton boys were snapping at they’re heels at every opportunity and winning the ball a lot.That’s the way they like to play.Our tempo seems much slower and Dembele in particular doesn’t like being harried.I don’t think we covet possession of the ball enough like the top teams.We need to hate giving the ball away so cheaply.Also we need to support better the player in possession which we did not do against Everton.Sometimes we can be a bit too casual.Enjoyed the analysis.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 11th February 2014 at 1:43 pm #

      Thanks Allspur. Everton are quick to the ball in order to recover it, so we needed to move it much quicker in order to get them to drop their press sooner and wear them out. Once Bentaleb was closed off, we didn’t have a second option.

  3. TheBull 10th February 2014 at 7:55 pm #

    I miss the AVB style. I’d settle for 12th place this season if it meant we would get our style to work as planned next season. Instead we are back to the Spurs way, kicking randomly and trying to score from individual efforts and not a clear-cut playingstyle. Also, get started on freekick and corner training guys! Not 1 goal all season, after 150 corners and 50 freekicks??

  4. Ross 10th February 2014 at 8:30 pm #

    Bull I’ve absolutely no idea how you could possibly miss any part of what avbs game was about .it was always negative , painful to watch and consistently lacked any creativity in the final third . You are clearly either mad or just winding us up. What you fail to accept is that different opponents require different tactics , strategies and selection . Tim has looked
    At the scale of the game and the opponent and played it safe , and we won. He may revert to 2 up top on Wednesday who knows but either way we are ten times more dangerous that when avb has us playing posession wins football with no width and o risk taken . . Ever .

    • Paulo 10th February 2014 at 9:54 pm #

      Hi Bull and Ross,

      I basically get what the Bull is saying, under AVB we had a strategy. It was a strategy which wasn’t working but it may well have been the “right” strategy which needed a bit more time… Looking from another angle AVB’s style wasn’t that dissimilar to Mouriniho and Chelsea…. 1 up front, 2 holding… and look at them right now?!?

      Anyway – it’s time to get behind Sherwood, and catch Arsenal in the league!

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 11th February 2014 at 1:33 pm #

        Agree that under AVB we had a defined strategy, despite it not panning out. Tim Sherwood doesn’t seem to have much of a game plan and seems to be working it out on the fly at the minute. Phrases like ‘we had a good talk to the lads at half time’ or ‘we looked at what they were doing’ are becoming more common.

  5. Scottie 10th February 2014 at 8:59 pm #

    As a blue, feeling very frustrated and fed up, I must say that if it was a half decent ref in charge of this game there would have have been 2 major decisions made. 1- the free kick was taken completely out of position giving an unfair advantage. 2- how Battenburg didn’t see that as a penalty on Seamus Coleman is rediculous. Both decisions killing off the great game Everton have taken to you. We should have come away with a point if not all 3. Good luck lads. Scottie

    • Paulo 10th February 2014 at 9:59 pm #

      Don’t worry Scottie, a couple of weeks ago a ref awarded a penalty against us and sent off Rose for completing a perfectly timed tackle!

      Anyway, according to Martin Keown it wasn’t a penalty and that’s good enough for me!!!

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 11th February 2014 at 1:34 pm #

        Keown is a Gooner as well so what more can you say!

  6. Paulo 10th February 2014 at 10:02 pm #

    I haven’t seen a first half like the Tottenham-Everton match since the Everton-Tottenham match!

    Away team domination, creating ample chances and woeful finishing.

  7. AnythingButPenalties.com 11th February 2014 at 11:11 am #

    Very interesting. I totally agree about Dembele, very frustrating; so great in possession but he slows down our play. We just don’t seem to have enough movement in midfield.

    Sherwood’s obsession with playing Bentaleb comes at the expense of moving Eriksen out left. Surely Eriksen is wasted there and should play as a number 10?

    Everton seemed to win the ball off us too easily. We were very lucky they didn’t have a decent finisher and that we had Lloris.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 11th February 2014 at 1:38 pm #

      I would like to see Eriksen moved in to the middle also, especially against better opponents. Playing against weaker teams it can work to have him drifting in from the left to get extra bodies in the middle. These teams can often sit back and pack the centre of the pitch, so it makes a player like him more difficult to mark in this case.

  8. Will from Jersey 11th February 2014 at 7:08 pm #

    Great analysis as always. For me, it is getting excruciating to watch Spurs under Sherwood. In my view, we are winning because we’ve got a really talented squad. I think this has been grossly overlooked, and with a top coach we could really go far. Look at how thin Liverpool’s bench is compared to ours. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, we acquired 7 quality players this summer that made us into one of the deepest teams in the premier league and perhaps even the world. Even with very little (so far) from Chadli, Soldado, Lamela, & Capoue and even Hotby. ( look who were they were linked with in January-Juventus, Napoli, and Dortmund-btw, top quality teams with world class coaches)They are quality players who have made us a formidable team. So with a world class coach we could compete for the title next year, no question.

    But right now, compare the way we play with the way any of the top 4 play, and even include Everton in that bunch. We look lost, as if Sherwood just rolls the ball out there and says “have a go boys”. And you just have to look at the top 4 to know that great managers-Pellegrino, Rodgers, Wenger, and Mourhino-make all the difference. I agree that at times this year we were hard to watch under AVB, but with 7 new players, plus playing in 4 competitions (and taking each competition seriously), I think he was playing very conservatively, trying to get points and move forward while keeping mistakes and risk to a minimum, and it was working, whether anyone wants to admit it or not. Highest point total in premier league history last season for Spurs, best winning percentage of all time for Spurs, etc. etc. But It’s time to move on-and I get that and accept it. But we need a coach worthy of the players and talent that we have assembled. COYS!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th February 2014 at 10:56 am #

      Great comment Will. I sort of agree with you about us winning because we’ve got a good squad. For me the tactics just seem to be quite similar, but the formation is adapted to include Soldado against weaker teams that we should effectively bully. Other teams seem to have figured out the way we play now (through Bentaleb, Eriksen drifting, hitting Ade early to feet etc), so it isn’t a surprise anymore and can adapt accordingly now as they’ve had time to see what Sherwood is looking to do. That’s where a good manager comes in as he can vary the look and the style of play to set up against an opposition. It’s all well and good to pound mid and lower table teams, but you have to be smarter against the top boys.