Spurs 1 Sunderland 0: going from long to between the lines pays off

We failed to qualify for the Champions League, but still achieved our highest Premier League points total thanks to a Gareth Bale thunderbolt, Spurs 1 Sunderland 0.

Tottenham controlled possession, tempo and thus the game, as we obliterated a Sunderland side by 35 shots to 8 as the objective at the Lane was taken care of.

We started off by going long, then switched to shifting play between the lines, which finally paid off in the last minute of the ninety.

Sunderland set up and tactics

Paulo Di Canio has lined his previous sides up with Danny Graham as a lone striker, but here he went for Conor Wickham playing just off him in a 4-4-1-1.

The Italian has encouraged his sides to press and pick up the tempo, so going with two strikers, it looked as if he was going to give this game a real go. That, combined with Adam Johnson and James McClean in the wide positions, it appeared as if Sunderland were looking to get two strikers in the box and provide them with a barrage of crosses.

However, this unfortunately failed to materialise, as the Black Cats dropped off and were content to get numbers behind the ball. What’s more, they were doubling up on Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon in the wide positions and trying to play on the counter.

When in possession, Danny Graham was acting more like a hold up player, whilst Conor Wickham would look to move forward past him hoping for a through pass. The pair were occasionally showing some dangerous glimpses, but they didn’t see enough of the ball or receive any support from their midfield.

David Vaughan and Alfred N’Diaye were kind of caught in the middle. The central midfield duo were not often able to get up and support their strikers, but also left space between themselves and the back four.


Ni’Diaye (4) and Vaughan (15) are cut off.

Spurs were unable to expose this space until the introduction of Moussa Dembele, as we played a long passing game for much of the first half.

Spurs tactics and long passing

Andre villas-Boas lined us up in a 4-2-3-1, but the fluidity of this side was much more apparent than usual.

We’ve seen players changing positions, but Gareth Bale, Clint Dempsey and Aaron Lennon were frequently switching places, as we attempted to escape the double teams.

When in possession, the ball was being transferred from back to front extremely quickly. Michael Dawson, Jan Vertonghen and Tom Huddlestone were all looking to swiftly pass either out the flanks or down the middle.


Spurs moved the ball over distance in the first half.

I’d looked in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Sunderland at how turning their slow centre backs was an effective way to create chances. It seemed here as if AVB was encouraging this, as well as transferring it wide to attack the out of position Jack Colback and Sebastian Larsson in the full back areas.

One such pass lead to one of three penalty shouts, as Huddlestone arrowed a long ball over the centre backs for Gareth Bale to run on to. Beaten for speed, Larsson hauled him down and somehow the Welshman was given a yellow card for diving.


Tom Huddlestone goes long to Gareth Bale.

The play highlighted two things. Firstly, with Sunderland dropping off, how we pressed them quickly to create a turnover. Scott Parker, who had an excellent match, met David Vaughan with a crunching tackle. Secondly, the long-passing game after the ball then squirmed loose and ended up with Huddlestone who pinged it forward.

The problem for Spurs was that this was a rare moment when we were able to get in against a dogged defence. The reason it was difficult was that we weren’t taking advantage of the space between their central midfielders and centre backs highlighted above. This long ball game was bypassing this area and as a result, we failed to create many decent chances before the introduction of Moussa Dembele.

Moussa Dembele fills the gap

With Spurs failing to fill the space between the Sunderland lines, the introduction of Moussa Dembele changed all that. The Belgian replaced Scott Parker and bedded down in this zone, receiving the ball, and then trying to dribble forward and create chances.

Instead of quickly looking to go long, we were now moving the ball over much shorter distances, looking for Dembele between the lines.


Spurs 1 Sunderland 0: Moussa Dembele passes received.

As a result, this zone in front of the back four suddenly became very active and a key area.

Aaron Lennon was cutting across it when fouled by David Vaughan, who was then given a second yellow and his marching orders. Then with game almost up, Lennon once again was moving through here when he delivered the ball to Gareth Bale for the decider.

Deja Bale

The Welshman had frequently switched positions across the advanced midfield three, but played a prolonged period on the right in the second half as we chased a goal.

The winning strike had a remarkably similar look to the goal that had beaten Southampton 1-0 in our previous home Premier League match. In that game, Jack Cork had closely marked Gareth Bale before he moved out to the right flank. After the shift, Cork was then trying to help Luke Shaw by stopping the Welshman coming inside.

However, a Lewis Holtby run took him away and left Bale one-on-one with Shaw and we know what happened next


Spurs 1 Southampton 0: Gareth Bale isolates Luke Shaw 1v1.

Here, when the ball was delivered out to Bale, he was isolated 1v1 again. The double team, which had been frequently coming in the wide areas, was slow to materialise. Jack Colback was late on his rotation to help out Adam Mitchell who had just come on.


Spurs 1 Sunderland 0: Gareth Bale isolates Adam Mitchell this time.

Mitchell started off by doing a decent job by cutting off Bale’s left-sided drive. However, as the Welshman dropped his shoulder, as if faking to go down the alley that Mitchell wanted him to, he then cut back inside and the Mackems man was done for. Game over!

Spurs 1 Sunderland 0 conclusions

Sunderland were disappointing here given they’d lined up with two strikers and then played like a team that had come to park the bus and scrap a 0-0 draw. We didn’t really help the cause by playing a lot of long passes in the first half in attempt to play at a high tempo, turn their centre backs and attack the full backs.

The switch in the second half after the introduction of Moussa Dembele meant we went from long passing to playing between the lines and it was much more effective. As Andre Villas-Boas commented afterwards, it was a great effort from all the players to do our job of winning.

“In the first half, we didn’t create as many chances as we wanted. But it was an excellent second half, a great effort from everyone. We pushed forward and in the end, we got what we deserved.”

The winning goal summed up much of our season, a great collective effort from the team and a moment of individual brilliance from Gareth Bale.

Final score: Spurs 1 Sunderland 0.

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