A disjointed and lacklustre display see us come away with nothing from our Premier League encounter with the Potters, as it finishes Spurs 1 Stoke 2.
“It is my job and my responsibility to find the solution,” uttered Mauricio Pochettino after yet another post Europa League performance that lacked energy, but also direction.
Stoke came with a game plan that was simple and they executed it.
Mark Hughes has turned Stoke in to a fast breaking counter attacking team away from home. They sit deep and compact in their 4-3-3 formation and they look to create turnovers in midfield. Once the ball is regained, they spring forward at pace through Victor Moses, Mame Biram Diouf and Bojan Krkic.
As many teams have done to us at the Lane, Stoke started by taking away the middle of the pitch. They were content to drop off and crowd the centre, looking to hunt in packs whenever the ball went in to our midfield of Eriksen, Chadli, Townsend or Mason.
Etienne Capoue is our passing hub who drops between the centre backs and Mame Biram Diouf tracked him. Bojan sat just in front of our midfield to not allow short passes in to Ryan Mason; the rest sat behind in order to deny any entry passes to Chadli, Eriksen or Townsend.
We can see just how Stoke set up to trap here. They were content to give the ball to Kaboul and Fazio. Diouf tracks Capoue whilst Bojan in front and the rest of the Stoke midfield behind trap Chadli and Mason.
Kaboul’s out pass should be to Naughton who is calling for the ball, but the centre back rarely saw where the spaces were. We can see from his passes played in the match how he completed easy sideways passes, but anything forwards was turned over.
This lead to a slowing of the tempo, which wasn’t very high to begin with. It also meant that anytime we did move the ball out wide, it was easy for Stoke to get midfield numbers across.
Here Naughton has the ball on the sideline and Stoke are able to shift their midfield over to get three players around him. We are sat too narrow to move the ball quickly out to where the space is around the referee and thus it’s turned over.
Stoke’s trapping in the centre and wide areas was extremely effective. As we can see here, Eriksen manages to get a run in through the middle, but is brought down by N’Zonzi and Sidwell. If we did break their lines, they adopted an attitude of ‘they shall not pass’ and were content to concede free kicks.
Stoke counter attacks
What these traps then set up were quick counter attacks, as Stoke regained the ball and moved it quickly to Bojan, Diouf and Moses.
It paid off for them after just five minutes, as Bojan opened the scoring.
Nacer Chadli had the ball in central midfield, but was immediately set upon by three Stoke players and lost possession to Steve Sidwell. Notice also how Ryan Shawcross is running towards Christian Eriksen to challenge him should the ball run loose.
The ball then went square to Steven N’Zonzi who passed it towards Steve Sidwell, but in missing the former Fulham man, put it fortunately in to the path of Bojan.
We looked in the opposition scouting report at the speed of Bojan and Moses on the counter as both can run with the ball and make good decisions. Here he was instantly on our back line, which also had the run of Diouf to contend with, whilst Moses was also out on the break.
Bojan held on to the ball and fired a shot from just outside the box that deflected off Diouf on the way through, taking it past Hugo Lloris. Neither the referee nor his assistant saw the touch from Diouf who was miles offside.
Their second goal came from an equally swift transition. Danny Rose tried to clear towards Harry Kane, as he was under pressure from Diouf.
Ryan Shawcross picked up the flight of the ball extremely early and charged in to out muscle Kane and head forward.
With Stoke’s front three still up field, we had moved out and Younes Kaboul was way up from the rest of the back line. Danny Rose was also caught on the wrong side of Diouf and allowed the ball to go through the channel between him and his centre back, Fazio. Two major mistakes.
Stoke’s front three had filled their lanes and Diouf was in to cross for Walters who had broke in to the space where Kaboul should have been behind Fazio.
It was a goal that perfectly summed up our lack of cohesiveness and how disjointed we were.
Kane shows the way
Despite all that had gone on, we did actually show that we knew the way to play against Stoke.
We needed to be much quicker moving the ball so they couldn’t trap us as easily in midfield. But, as looked at in the pre-match scouting report, we needed to get in to their full back zones to cross. Stoke aren’t the force they used to be on crossing situations without the tandem of Huth alongside Shawcross.
After just three minutes we did just this. Townsend moved the ball swiftly to Eriksen, who in turn played it first time in to the run of Nacer Chadli. The Belgian broke in-behind Pieters and picked out a peach of a cross for Harry Kane.
The England U21 international threw himself at the ball and connected with a diving header, but couldn’t direct it in to the net. Instead it went straight back in to the arms of Asmir Begovic and Stoke were let off the hook.
It was a great piece of play and maybe it was too early to point the way through the minefield that was Stoke’s trapping midfield, but we didn’t capitalise on the tactic.
Our best chances before we scored arrived from free kicks. Lamela put in a tempting cross from one that Kane headed wide. The Argentinean also saw his shot from another set piece tipped round the post by Begovic at full stretch.
It wasn’t until Danny Rose got open on the left flank that he put over an appetising cross for Nacer Chadli to come in on at the back post this time. The Belgian made no mistake as he rifled home a thunderous volley.
Why we didn’t try to expose Stoke more from getting in to their full back zones only Mauricio Pochettino will know.
Whilst Stoke were patching up their backline with their substitutions, Mauricio Pochettino was making more curious changes.
At half time he made a straight swap with Lamela for Townsend. This move looked to be one to add jump to our rather lacklustre tempo with Andros looking lethargic from playing in Greece.
However, he also brought on Mousa Dembele for Christian Eriksen. I like Dembele as a player, but to introduce him alongside Etienne Capoue at this point was a strange move. With us chasing the game and needing to move the ball faster, Pochettino now had two that play at a slower rate in Capoue and Dembele.
It wasn’t until the standard Capoue off, bring a striker on change was made that this balance was addressed. Emmanuel Adebayor came on and had some touches that were indicative of his comments afterwards about preferring to play away. However, we did start to bring more of a threat as Stoke sank deeper.
Within 12 minutes we were back to 2-1 and had a chance to somehow level a game that we had no right of still being in. That was until Kyle Naughton was sent off. Typically it was from Stoke winning the ball back in midfield, as Victor Moses was straight on Ryan Mason’s first touch. Moses sprinted clear and Naughton’s petulant flick of his boot to bring him down summed up the frustration that he and many of the rest of the team were feeling.
Stoke did well to stifle our attack with their tactics. Along with Asmir Begovic killing time from the moment they went ahead, the Potters also frustrated us with their gamesmanship. This lead to us giving away silly, needless free-kicks and losing a man, which allowed them to kill the clock and momentum.
Spurs 1 Stoke 2 overall
This was one of the most lacklustre and disjointed displays seen from the side in a long while.
Post Europa League our awful record continues, but here we had way too much inexperience on the pitch. Harry Kane, Ryan Mason and Andros Townsend are not long off graduating in to the first team squad. Whilst Kyle Naughton and Danny Rose are still relatively inexperienced when it comes to Premier League football.
The average age of the side was just 24 and whilst it’s good to give youth a chance, too much inexperience also leads to a lack of knowledge in on-field game management.
Mauricio Pochettino has a lot to address. Getting a good blend of youth and experience is one thing, but developing a style and brand of football in his image should be top of the list. At the minute, the team look as directionless as Younes Kaboul’s captaincy.
Final score: Spurs 1 Stoke 2.