Spurs 1 Swansea 0: Tottenham dominate the centre

A strong performance from our midfield trio saw us dominate our opening Premier League match at the Lane, as it finished Spurs 1 Swansea 0.

Spurs set up and tactics

Andre Villas-Boas lined us up in a 4-3-3, bringing in a more direct-running wide forward in Andros Townsend on the right for Aaron Lennon. This provided two more natural dribbling players who cut inside and shoot in the wide positions, rather than the wide forward/winger combo we saw at Crystal Palace.

This line-up did give away our hand that we would try and stretch the Swans by moving the ball quickly in to the wide positions. As a result of this, AVB went with three powerful players in the centre of the park in Etienne Capoue, Moussa Dembele and Paulinho.

All three are excellent ball winners with Capoue floating around in front of the defence, Dembele transitioning the play and Paulinho’s surging forward runs. It was in this central zone that Spurs really stifled Swansea throughout the match.


Tottenham tackles, Spurs 1 Swansea 0.

The ball would be won back then shifted out to the wide players. It was these quick transitions in play after regaining possession that saw us generate our best chances. Paulinho’s surging forward runs made it look as if he would be the player most likely to benefit. He saw his shot saved/cleared off the line in the first half. In the second, he burst through the defence only to be denied when 1v1 with Michel Vorm.

Out in the wide areas, the key players were Andros Townsend and Kyle Walker, as we’ll look at in a minute.

Swansea set up and tactics

Michael Laudrup once again went with his 4-2-3-1 formation, but started with Michu up top as Wilfried Bony once again was on the bench. Jonjo Shelvey operated in the advanced midfield role behind the Spaniard with Jonathan De Guzman and Jose Canas in the pivot. Pablo Hernandez curiously started on the right, with Wayne Routledge on the left.

With Spurs deploying three strong ball winners in the centre, this had the effect of over-running the midfield. I looked in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Swansea at how Jonjo Shelvey is used to vertically move the ball forward in to the final third. Here, both he and Jonathan De Guzman were trying to shift play up the park, but both were pushed back in to their own half and forced to play sideways. Anything forward was snuffed out or turned over.


Jonjo Shelvey and Jonathan De Guzman passes played, Spurs 1 Swansea 0.

It wasn’t until Michael Laudrup moved to bring Wilfried Bony in to the game that Swansea offered a threat. The switch also moved Pablo Hernandez back to the left and he started to thread through balls, linking up nicely with Laudrup’s other sub, Alex Pozuelo, who also impressed.

Walker key, Townsend pivotal

With Spurs dominating the midfield, the two key players creating the chances were Kyle Walker and Andros Townsend.

I’ve talked a lot this season about how we are trying to get runners in behind the opposition full backs to create shorter distances for crosses and cut backs. Here Kyle Walker was doing an excellent job of overlapping Andros Townsend, looking to get beyond Ben Davies.

I looked in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Swansea about how teams have generated chances from Davies’ left back zone. Here, Walker created the best two opportunities of the first half by getting in to the space behind him.


Kyle Walker passes received, Spurs 1 Swansea 0.

The first saw Ashley Williams head Walker’s cross against his own post. The second saw a neat cut back that Dembele attempted to curl towards the top corner, but Vorm tipped over.

Whilst Walker was proving menacing getting in behind the full back, Andros Townsend’s driving, dribbling runs were causing Swansea more trouble. Playing as a wide forward, he was receiving possession high up, midway inside the Swansea half. He would then dribble inside looking for a shot, but this would also free up Walker to overlap down the line.


Andros Townsend passes received and take-ons, Spurs 1 Swansea 0.

It was one of Townsend’s dribbles that saw him fouled in the first half, which should have been a penalty. In the second, a surging run saw him go down rather softly to earn the match-winning spot kick. The same player as in the first half, Jonjo Shelvey, was once again involved.

It was hard to tell whether Townsend’s momentum when he was changing direction to go past the Swansea player caused him to hit the deck or if he just dived. Shelvey could feel aggrieved, but after getting away with the one in the first half, the award of this one had a real scent of balancing up about it.

Roberto Soldado coolly converted the penalty to make it two from the spot in two Premier League matches.


After the kick went in, the game moved back Swansea’s way due to each manager’s changes.

Michael Laudrup’s side had a better balance about them with Michu playing off Wilfried Bony and Pablo Hernandez back on the left.

Andre Villas-Boas’ decision to remove Moussa Dembele for Gylfi Sigurdsson did two things. First of all it relinquished some control in midfield. Previously we’d been bossing this zone with Capoue, Paulinho and the Belgian. The removal of Dembele gave us one less destructive force in the middle of the park and Swansea came more in to the game as a result.

On the flip side, it secondly gave us a more attacking look to expose a Swansea side that was now opening up to try and get back in the match.

Prior to our goal, the Swans were defending deep and trying to play on the counter. Forced to come out meant that space opened up between their compact lines of defence and midfield. This was exploited first by Sigurdsson, then later by the introduction of Jermain Defoe.

Interestingly, AVB’s final change was to re-introduce the trio of strong, ball-winning players back in to the centre of the park, as Sandro came on for Andros Townsend.

Spurs 1 Swansea 0 conclusions

This was another strong performance by Spurs where we dominated the game. If we hadn’t hammered Tbilisi midweek, our failure to score from open play so far in the Premier League would be a worry.

The midfield trio of Capoue, Paulinho and Dembele controlled the match, pushing Swansea back and limiting them from playing their usual passing football. This really gave us the foothold to build our attacks and look to get in behind to play short crosses and cut backs.

Kyle Walker and Andros Townsend were key to doing this and the latter’s dribble drives proved to be the Swans’ undoing.

Final score: Spurs 1 Swansea 0

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4 Responses to Spurs 1 Swansea 0: Tottenham dominate the centre

  1. Gary fox 26th August 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    At last……an article that understands our tactics! Too many blogs on here are banging on about the need for a creative number 10 without realising that we already have the creativity but from paulinho and the wide players (rose and chadli being almost as vital as walker/townsend). If we bring in a Mata or an erikson then we risk that option losing its potency. You can unlock defences best by going around rather than through.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 27th August 2013 at 2:47 pm #

      Thanks Gary, the wide areas are important for creativity and the centre is where the power comes from. Rose and Chadli are equally as important as Townsend and Walker, but they didn’t have the same link-up as Kyle and Andros on Sunday. This should improve as they develop a better understanding.

  2. lunarsea241 27th August 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    Excellent as always, Mark (both pre & post-match).

    Can’t wait for your NLD preview. Do you think Townsend or Lennon would be a better choice to start on the right against them?

    RE: the comment above about the lack of number 10, I think we definitely still need one. The fact that we couldn’t get a goal from open play against a side which plays free, expansive football proves it more than anything. Soldado was feeding off scraps again.

    And when we play a “park the bus” side who sit deep & defend all match, a playmaker with an eye for a through ball is even more imperative in my opinion.

    Now that we’re close to signing Lamela (fingers crossed), who is more of a goal-scorer than a creator, unless we got a creative winger on the left (now that a certain Brazilian mercenary found his perfectly fitting club in Chelsea), we’re desperate for some creativity in the centre of the pitch.

    I still reckon Holtby could do the job and hope to see him in this position (he certainly managed at Schalke behind Huntelaar), but dunno what AVB thinks of him or how he’s been doing in training.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 27th August 2013 at 6:51 pm #

      Thanks mate. My latest post will answer your question about who should play on the right :-)

      Re the number 10, i think it depends on how much of the power game we want to play and who the opposition is. Where we want to dominate the midfield against a possession side (like Arsenal), then three ball winners like Dembele, Capoue and Paulinho should be employed. Against a side that sits deep and offers no space in behind, then a creative player like Holtby, Carrol or someone else we may bring in should be used.