This wasn’t the ideal audition for Tim Sherwood, as we crashed out of the Capital One Cup, with it finishing Spurs 1 West Ham 2 at White Hart Lane.
The game turned out to be a victory for the long ball when our crossing seemed to be on top.
Spurs set up and tactics
We all wondered how Tim Sherwood’s team sheet would look and the stand-in coach went for tried and trusted over the new signings. With the exception of Etienne Capoue and Vlad Chiriches, who had to be included with no other fit defenders available and Michael Dawson suspended, Sherwood went with players who were used to the English game.
The reason for this was the throwback to old-school English football. Sherwood lined us up in a 4-4-2 formation with two out and out wingers. The midfield consisted of one ball winner and one passer. Whilst up top, one front man was dropping off while the other runs in-behind. There was something very ‘back to basics’ about it. The set up also echoed of an interim coach sending the side out with an easy to understand way to play, as he hadn’t had time to implement what he wanted.
The target of the team was simple, work the ball wide in to crossing situations, which was done in two ways.
Starting from the back, the ball would either go to either Moussa Dembele or Gylfi Sigurdsson in midfield. One of these two would then shift play out to the wide player and follow the pass in order to create 3v2 situations on the flanks with the full back joining in. This then allowed a crossing situation to be worked.
The second method was by hitting the ball straight up to Emmanuel Adebayor, often in to his feet. He was frequently the recipient of a direct pass out by Chiriches and Capoue from the back, with the ball travelling over some distance to reach him.
Once Adebayor had the ball, he would then shift it out to the wide players, then move towards the box looking for a cross to come in.
Overall, we attempted a massive 40 crosses in the game according to WhoScored.com!
Whilst a bit draconian, the ploy did have the affect of stretching a West Ham side that was set up to congest the middle.
West Ham set up
Sam Allardyce usually gives us a different looking formation, but his team is always set up to congest the middle and play on the counter against us.
He did this earlier in the season in Spurs 0 West Ham 3, where he played with a false nine and had four men set up in a central box screening the defence.
Here, he opted for a very defensive 4-3-3 formation, but constantly had Jack Collison Alou Diarra and Matt Taylor sat centrally without the ball. They formed a band of three straight across, sitting just in front of the back four to limit space between the lines.
When we moved the ball wide, the outside player (Collison or Taylor) would shuttle across to help his full back if Joe Cole or Matt Jarvis hadn’t tracked back from supporting Carlton Cole.
When in possession, which wasn’t very often prior to Emmanuel Adebayor coming off, West Ham were looking to hit long balls up to Carlton Cole. He was trying to win headers and knockdowns in order to bring Matt Jarvis and Joe Cole in to play.
The problem for West Ham was that Carlton Cole wasn’t being that effective in the air – he only won 3 aerial duels – and so the ball was coming back quickly. This allowed Spurs to dominate the possession and push the Hammers back.
That all changed with the introduction of Modibo Maiga. He won 5 aerial contests in his 25 minutes on pitch, created the equalizer and then nodded home the winner.
Spurs cross to get in front
With us set up to cross, we took the lead after breaking quickly from a West Ham corner.
The ball was swiftly moved to Jermain Defoe who had taken up a wide position and was onside for once. West Ham were over-committed, so they weren’t set-up defensively and no one was covering Emmanuel Adebayor who had burst through the centre.
It was a very good goal scored in transition, taking advantage of our speed and ability to hit quickly on the counter. Something our side looks better set up to do rather than trying to break down sitting teams.
West Ham long balls pay off
With us scoring through a cross, West Ham turned the game around through their use of long balls and the introduction of Modibo Maiga.
Once the Mali international entered the action, West Ham suddenly had someone who could win the headers and create knockdowns.
West Ham were also helped by the withdrawal of Emmanuel Adebayor.
Without the Togolese front man on the pitch, we had no focal point for our direct passes out of defence. Lewis Holtby is an excellent mover of the ball, but doesn’t have the strength or height to be a hold-up man like Adebayor. Without this focal point, West Ham gained more possession and were able to move players up the pitch in support of Maiga
What’s more, Maiga did a better job of isolating himself against Vlad Chiriches than Carlton Cole did. Vlad does not have the greatest presence in air and this is how the Hammers equalised.
Maiga jumping against Chiriches won goalkeeper Adrian’s long punt down field. Without Adebayor on the pitch, West Ham now had several players up in support, as they weren’t being forced back by his hold-up play.
Matt Taylor got on the knockdown from Maiga’s header and picked out Matt Jarvis cutting behind Kyle Walker.
Maiga then scored the winner, but a long ball forward to him started the move.
He knocked the ball down with Ravel Morrison scooping up possession and working it wide to Mohammed Diame. The Senegalese’s wickedly over hit cross went beyond everyone, but Matt Jarvis, aided by the wind, was able to keep it in play.
The ball was recycled from Jarvis back to Morrison who worked it wide to Diame once more. This time his cross was a much better effort and Maiga rose between Etienne Capoue and Kyle Walker to head home, sending us crashing out.
Sam Allardyce always preaches spacing in the box. This is so that his players cover the front post, middle and someone at the back stick to scoop up anything that is overhit or flicked on.
Here, West Ham spaced the box well on both Diame’s crosses.
Spurs 1 West Ham 2 conclusions
Bottom line this was bad defeat where we once again didn’t kill off a team when we were on top.
It was a very basic approach and it’s difficult to assess whether this is the way Tim Sherwood sees us playing? Or, if it was a temporary strategy having just had a couple of training sessions?
What’s more you have to factor in if these were the players he wants to use or whether it was a second string for a supposed weaker competition?
Once again, as Spurs fans, we are left with more questions than answers. Sunday’s trip to Southampton should reveal a little more.
Final score: West Ham 1 Spurs 2.