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