Christian Eriksen sen-sen proved to be the match winner again as the Black Cats’ tactics failed to stop our talisman making it Spurs 2-1 Sunderland.
The officials may have been a little confused over the offside law, but there was no doubt over Christian Eriksen’s fourth game-winning goal of the season.
Sunderland central trio
The Black Cats came to frustrate and their set-up indicated that this would be a day for patience. It all stemmed from Gustavo Poyet’s tactics, as the Sunderland coach went back to a formation he showed up with at the Lane in the Premier League last season.
We’d looked in the keys to Spurs vs Sunderland at how Poyet has been trying to shut out the centre where the Black Cats have been porous this term. Three centre backs combined with a trio of central midfielders did this to an almost obsessive degree.
Poyet lined up with Jack Rodwell, Sebastian Larsson and Adam Johnson in front of his three centre backs and their aim was to crowd us out in the centre. An area we all know that we love to frequent with our inverted wide players that like to drift centrally.
Free kick frenzy
Teams that crowd the centre and sit back have been a problem for us for a number of seasons. It’s the book on how to play Spurs if you are the underdog. We’ve seen the likes of Newcastle, Stoke and West Brom, to name just a few, give us trouble by playing that way at the Lane.
These tactics were blown out of the water as we took an early lead, the best way to loosen up a deep-lying team. The goal arrived from a free kick in a decent area as Benjamin Stambouli was fouled bursting in-behind the trio of Sunderland central midfielders.
The Black Cats fouling is something we looked at in the keys to the game given they have racked up the most yellow cards in the Premier League. This was a rare moment that we got behind their three central midfielders, something that would also happen on Eriksen’s winner.
After the ball was played out to Kyle Walker, naturally it would be Eriksen that floated it back in to the centre. Santiago Vergini who we identified as a liability in defence before the game, scuffed his clearance straight to Jan Vertonghen. Super Jan sent the ball back with interest and a wicked deflection off John O’Shea put us in front.
In theory, it was the goal the game needed in the hope that it would pull Sunderland out of their counter attacking tactics. It did loosen the game up, until they equalised through a free kick of their own.
Sunderland’s tactics were to stifle through the centre and hit on the counter attack through the use of long, direct passing.
Starting with two up front, Gus Poyet was looking for his side to hit Steven Fletcher to hold the ball up or Jermain Defoe running in-behind. Straight after our goal, directly from the kick-off, the ball was sent from back to front for Defoe to run on to. It was partially cleared and Fletcher’s nifty back heel put Defoe inside the area where he went over looking for a penalty.
The pattern was set and the Black Cats continued to look to get the ball in quickly to their new front man. Defoe, as we know, has always had trouble with staying onside and the new Mackem was caught offside 4 times in the first half.
It was the one time where he looked off, but wasn’t flagged, that lead to Sunderland getting back on level terms. The ball was sent forward for Defoe, who was coming back from an offside position. Vertonghen’s anger at the lack of a call saw him needlessly and stupidly lunge through the back of Defoe ages after the ball had gone. Vertonghen vented his fury at the linesman, the same one who would call him wrongly offside later in the game – for those of you who like a conspiracy theory!
After seeing a free-kick in a similar position last week saved at Man City, the Swede found an even more accurate strike this time, giving Hugo Lloris no chance. John O’Shea was nestled in our wall and did a good job of peeling out of the way to let the ball through, whilst also disturbing Mousa Dembele’s ability to jump. A well worked free-kick.
Spurs shoot from range
What Sunderland’s tactics of stifling the centre were doing was forcing us to shoot from range. With Nacer Chadli and Christian Eriksen drifting in to the centre, we were going far too often in to the middle and forced to shoot from distance.
Often our shots were blocked, but this didn’t stop Christian Eriksen firing a decent drive through the crowd that Costel Pantilimon clawed over.
Just before half-time Harry Kane struck the post. His well-hit effort skimmed across the surface from outside the box, past the keeper and pinged out off of the upright.
If only to highlight Sunderland’s tactics further, Christian Eriksen’s piece of juggling skill to evade two of the midfield trio before firing past the post merely enforced what was going on.
To be fair to Mauricio Pochettino, he did try to solve this. After the interval, he had both our full backs pushing extremely high up. He threw on a big target man who is decent on crosses in Emmanuel Adebayor and had Walker and Rose try and supply him.
The problem for both full backs was accuracy, as the penalty area was congested and their radars were off. The pair combined to complete just 3 of 16 attempts, but it would be a cross, of sorts, from Andros Townsend that would see Eriksen win the game.
Eriksen beats the block
All game Sunderland had set up in this low block with three centre backs masked by a trio of central midfielders. A rare occasion when we got behind them saw us take the lead from a free kick. Christian Eriksen would then pop up with the winner, as we got behind them once more.
At this point Sunderland had come increasingly in to the game. We were pushing forward and they hit with some dangerous counter attacks. Danny Graham had missed a guilt-edged chance as Hugo Lloris palmed out Adam Johnson’s shot straight to him. Then, Patrick van Aanholt was caught forward trying to under lap Johnson as Sunderland sensed grabbing a winner.
Kyle Walker intercepted his pass and the excellent Eric Dier immediately pinged the ball forward for Andros Townsend to gallop clear in to the space van Aanholt had vacated.
Sunderland were now caught with men up the pitch by the speed of the counter and completely unbalanced. Of the midfield trio, Johnson was caught forward, Larsson had to rotate over and Rodwell was trailing the play.
As Townsend cut inside, his pass was meant for Harry Kane who had got between the lines. It was just behind the youngster, but ended up going through to Eriksen who had burst forward from inside our half.
The Dane’s cool finish saw him sweep the ball in off the post and celebrate yet another game-wining goal, his fourth of the campaign, all in 2-1 victories.
Eriksen had again covered an insane amount of ground, highlighting once more Pochettino’s fitness regime paying dividends.
Sunderland had been pushing for a winner of their own and going behind saw them come out of their shell once more. In a neat passage of passing play, something Poyet has brought in since his time at the club, Danny Graham fired a shot that Hugo Lloris pushed round the post.
The resulting corner was cleared, but Jan Vertonghen was flagged offside on the breakout.
A stranger decision you will not see, as Vertonghen, clearly in his own half, was denied his second of the match.
Spurs 2-1 Sunderland overall
“I think we played much better than Sunderland during the game and in the second half I think we were the better team.” purred Mauricio Pochettino after the match.
Sunderland operated in the mould of the type of team we have historically struggled to break down. To find a winning goal, once more at the death, is a step in the right direction to solving the riddle of how to take on sides that play us this way.
Final score: Spurs 2-1 Sunderland
Another insightful piece from Mark, thoroughly enjoy reading your analysis, because it is so accurate and in your pre-match articles, you almost always correctly identify the key areas of the game. Regarding our overall tactics, I feel, we look a lot more informed on the pitch under Pochettino, and apart from the LFC game(where I think Pochettino was a bit naive, but in his defense, he was still experimenting a bit), have matched our opponents at least from a tactical point of view. Even in the 3-0 defeat to CFC, we were very much on top before they scored. The ManC game was unlucky, and the CFC game at the lane, and AFC at the Emirates were great results. Also, we seem to be moving the ball a lot faster versus smaller teams, when they counter, and we counter their counter, which has allowed us to score a lot of goals this season. Our fitness levels have been terrific, and we’ve avoided the general long injury lists, so credit to Pochettino there, and Eriksen, and Kane just cover so much ground. We seem solid defending set pieces, but offensively, there is a massive scope for improvement. I don’t get why Eriksen is firing them in low at the near post, if no one is going to attack it. I’d like to see us stick Kane around the near post, with Fazio at the back post, and vary the length, to keep the opponent guessing, Vertonghen can attack the corner from deep, while Chadli can roam around the penalty spot. Looking at our squad, we look solid in just about every department. Lloris is one of the best GKs, Fazio-Jan is a rock solid partnership at the back, with a wonderful set of traits between them, Walker at right back, and Davies and Rose at LB, look really good, especially in 1v1s, but definitely need to work on their crossing, perhaps Pochettino should have them practice drilling it in low into a dangerous area, with Kane & Chadli attacking them or providing decoys to free up space for the other too attack into. Moving on to midfield, I think 1 spot in our pivot belongs to Bentaleb, while the other is up for grabs. I don’t want to see us sign a new midfielder just yet, because I believe the answer could lie at the club. I like Mason, he moves the ball forward very well, and reminds me a bit of Modric, but I’m not overly convinced of his physical presence, especially as Nabil too, is a bit of a-on the ball player. What Mason does well though, is that he plugs in the gaps, when Eriksen and Kane press, taking up good intercepting positions, to start a counter high up, as seen vs ManC in particular, he is also willing and able to get into the box. Paulinho is very inconsistent, and I’m still not too sure what his best role is. He can run around a lot, has decent skill, but often, neglects his defensive duties, so I’d have him sold soon. Capoue looked the part a while ago, and seems a solid DM, but I don’t think a midfielder not capable of pressing high, and still getting into solid defensive positions can be part of Poch is system, and Capoue strikes me as a lazy player. He has a very good passing range, and reads the game well, but he needs to be able to press high, and recover into part of a solid defensive shape. He did this at the start of the season, but then for some random reason, wanted to attack more and more and was nowhere to be seen for the goals. Stambouli seems like an all action midfielder, with a bit of positional naivety. He can press high up, is assured in possession, and really looks like the proper man for this system. My only qualm with him, is that his positioning is a bit naive, and I’d really prefer a bigger, more physical player in that position. Apart from that, like Mason, he plays those vertical passes very well, and is very forward thinking with his passing. Dembele is a tricky one, he is perhaps the most talented member of our squad, a silky smooth dribbler, very solid in the tackle, which has stats prove, has had a success rate of over 60%, averaging over 2.5 tackles since he’s joined us. He also has size to complement this.He can pick a pass at times too The problem with Mousa, like Capoue, is that he is lazy. He won’t press high up, and his defensive efforts in the defensive third are often half hearted, hence, such few clearances, and blocks. Also, his passing is to sideways and backwards, he needs to be more adventurous with his passing, and shoot more!!!. Overall, I think Stambouli looks the best fit atm, but Mousa has the best potential, we should give all a run till the summer, and if all fails, look at someone like Schneiderlin who would be perfect, or McCharty who would be decent too, or take a gamble on Song. Moving further forward, Eriksen is pure class in attack, and the central attacking spot is his own. On the left, Chadli has been brilliant, got goals, and assists, made some excellent runs, (telling that all his goals are from inside the area), and can drive at defences. Up front, Kane looks a proper quality striker. He may not have great pace, but he can pick a pass, shrug off defenders, hold the ball up, beat his man, shoot from range, and is constantly on the move. Fits Poch’s pressing style too. Only issue in attack, is on the right, and I hope Lamela can make the spot his own. Lamela has looked good this season, but I feel he needs to stick wider to his flank, before peeling in upon receiving the ball, like Ribery, Robben, Hazard and all other inverted wingers do, his starting position is too central. While I’d love Depay(mainly plays off the left), I think we should perhaps look at a cheaper option like Konoplyanka(mainly plays off the left), or Yarmolenko. Mirallas has been linked, and I like the idea of him, he can play off the right and the left, gets involved in goalscoring situations, and I don’t think he would, in the long term impede Lamela’s progress either. Apart from that, we just need a bit of cover in some positions. Reid and Ings on frees look good to me, perhaps we could look at a goalscorer like Soriano, also to come in as cover, or play cup games. Tactically speaking, once we take the lead, like yesterday, versus smaller teams, I’d like to see us push up and press hard, make it a lot tighter, and give us a chance to win it higher up. If they pass the initial press, we can drop deep, and hit them on the break. Another tactic I’d like to see us try in the future, in big games, is a type of man-marking. Wherein, a tricky player like Aguero or Sanchez, notorious, for their great runs on and off the balls are handed onto a specific player, however, only upon them entering a offensive position, i.e, in the final 3rd. So, let’s say Benji is doing the job on Sanchez. He ignores him, and forms the block until Sanchez moves into a position, from where he can threaten our goal, when Benji looks to mark him, and allow a forward player, to make up the numbers in the block. I’d also like to see us target specific players who are weak on the ball, and press them hard when in possession. We are starting to look dangerous on the break, however, when in possession, versus a deep sitting team like Sunderland yesterday, I do feel we need another Chadli-esque runner, who will make runs in behind, forcing the defenders to make decisions, and move out of position; Lamela needs to do this a lot more from the right, also think we could do with a bit more pace and directness in attack. Another solid aspect of our game, has been, that once we have gotten in between the lines, we haven’t been indecisive, versus Arsenal, we looked a bit unsure, but we have improved markedly, we do not dwell on the ball too much either. One more aspect we should look at, is that once we lose the ball, we should try to press very hard, for 5-7 seconds to win it back. However, if we cannot, the back 4 and midfield 2 need to be in position, with the front 3 actively pressing the player on the ball, and Eriksen taking up intercepting positions. The last aspect that we need to look at, is building a winning mentality. We seem to be doing well on this front, as seen by the number of late winners we get, but we need to keep this going. Eriksen has a deadly strike, and the opposition block his shots for long, but as they tire, in the dying minutes, he can effectively get his shots away. Having another able long range shooter in Kane helps too. Also, feel Eriksen needs to at times drop a bit deeper versus teams sitting deep, to orchestrate our play, spread it into the final 3rd before taking up a goalscoring position.
Overall, I am pleased with the amount of progress we’ve made this season, and remain very optimistic. Sorry for such a rambling post. Also, really love your blog, and look forward to your next piece
-Sharky- (@Belgian_Hotspur- twitter)
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Great response Sharky. We do seem to be making progress under Pochettino. I get what you are saying about Eriksen’s corners and i have to agree, a lot do seem to be played low in to the near post and are often cut out or inaccurate. We have been better at set pieces so far this season though, almost up to the total number of goals we scored last season. For a team that has not been historically good at set pieces this isn’t saying much. However, we are making progrees but there is still room for improvement and work on the training ground is needed.
Interesting point about man marking, it’s something we see much less of in these days. Managers now tend to prefer to cut off zones that players like to operate in rather than mark them specifically, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t work.
Pressing is something we’re seeing more of and the team seem to be doing it with increasing frequency recently. This is probably linked to the fitness regime that Pochettino is implementing. I did hear rumours that he had changed his tactics earlier in the season as he felt the players were not in the physical shape to carry what he wanted out. So maybe the increase in pressing recently is linked to them getting fitter.
Thanks for reading. COYS!
Great response Sharkey. I agree with your very informed and succinct comments. Can’t you get a job as an adviser to Poch? :-)
Interesting that by your analysis Eriksen lost us the previous game, and won us this one (see posts). without that we’d have 2 points instead of 3…
Those Kms travelled stats are astounding – and perhaps explain why he’s a liability defending late on.
The stuff about crossing accuaracy is interesting – Walker & Rose don’t really look up, or even if they do, have enough deftness to change their delivery to a specific target, so it’s usually hard and hopeful (and lowish otherwise it flies out the other side). Remeber these crosses are often made after a 70yd run. It’s a mixture of ability with the ball (Hoddle/Modric?fabregas) and movement within the target area, and numbers(options).
Rose is important in that he’s getting in there, and once (for the first time this season?) Walker arrived in the 6 yd box to near connect.
Did anyone, at the ground, see what happened defensively while the FBs were up there on the end of and attack – who covered – how was it covered. TV doesn’t let you observe such things.
And what of Kane – one of his poorer games? In off the post and he’s the hero, instead of Eriksen…
The other big issue: Sunderland had 3-4 CLEAR scoring opportunities; you are amoung the best analysts of the patterns of play, so can you explain why Spurs can allow so many clear cut chances (same vs Palace). I know it’s only 3-4 a game but they are clear cut and without a world class keeper and luck we’d be mid-table. West Brom, Stoke…
The system is not working fully, or is it?
Under Redknapp, we gambled, often having just Modric and Hull-man as midfield two against 5 with four forwards
helter-skelter but won most games
Is Poch gambling on Lloris saves? This won’t work against the top teams…
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Hi Zaph. Yes I did say that on the ball Eriksen is one of the best in the league, but when tested defensively he is a liability. Against Palace his lack of defensive qualities were highlighted and it cost us, but here it was all about his attacking abilities, which i say again are among the best in the league.
I was at the game and when the FBs were going forward, Stambouli was dropping between the centre backs to fill in and compensate. As for Sunderland’s clear cut opportunities, they often came from us being over-committed. Sunderland were being very direct with the ball – 1 in 6 of their passes were classified by OPTA as long. But they are a quite decent passing side when they have time and space on the ball, such as for Graham’s shot at the end which Hugo palmed away for the corner that lead to Vert’s disallowed goal.
Poch knows he has a good keeper that can bail him out. I wouldn’t say he specifically gambles on this, but he knows having Lloris is a plus. Interestingly if you look at OPTA ‘big chances allowed’ stats, these were 1.3 per game in Redknapp’s last season, 1.52 in AVB’s only full season, 1.58 in the AVB/Sherwood season and are currently 1.95 under Pochettino. Says something about our defending style, rotation of CBs and openess in games.
Fascinating OPTA stats, that seem far too low – it seems that we allow 3-6 ‘big chances’ per game! Nevertheless, do you have a theory as to why Redknapp’s ratio and Pochettino’s are so different? here are two hypotheses:
1. That Redknapp’s teams sat deeper and therefore had men in numbers (however I remember front sixes which included effectievly 4 forwards and Modric & Hudd as our defensive cover…)
2. That the whole division is allowing more ‘big chances’ – A look at the goals totals might indicate that?
Also You praised Dier; one of the thing I look for when at live games (vs. TV) is what the defenders are doing to prepare in case, when in possession, a move breaks down. You see some defenders switch off (Kaboul?) others look around, call attention, adjust position… which of our defenders is doing what?