We surrender a two-goal lead in our Premier League clash as it finishes Spurs 2-2 Stoke at White Hart Lane.
We have only ourselves to blame. We were playing well, horizontally and vertically stretching Stoke, looking in control of a highly winnable game. The withdrawal of Harry Kane not only removed the focal point we had up top, but also took away the player that was dragging the Stoke centre backs out, allowing others to run in to the space created. The result was giving up a two-goal lead, as it finished Spurs 2-2 Stoke.
The pull effect
There was a lot going on here, but the most important factor in us taking control of the game was the effect Harry Kane was having on the Stoke backline.
Without Ryan Shawcross, Stoke’s centre backs have a real makeshift feel about them this season. Coupled with this is the lack of the powerhouse ball winner that is Steven N’Zonzi screening in front of them and there is now an area to exploit. Mauricio Pochettino obviously identified this before the match and decided to target it.
Pochettino went about this by having Harry Kane drop off the front and look to pull one, or both, of the centre backs with him. This movement drew attention, allowing other players to run in-behind in to the space he created. Kane, or one of his teammates, could then deliver the pass to create a scoring chance.
The first half was littered with these opportunities, some more prevalent than others.
Kane played a delicious scoop to Eriksen, much like his pass at Old Trafford for the Dane, to get things started. It continued with Mason chipping one over for Chadli and then Eriksen also playing an exquisite lob pass for the Belgian. Had Chadli’s clumsy over hit touch not let him down; we could’ve opened the scoring even earlier.
The pick of them, which highlighted this pull effect was the Harry Kane chip pass for Ryan Mason. Kane had come off short, dragging Stoke centre back Marc Muniesa with him, giving Mason a huge channel to run through.
Kane delivered the ball and Mason stretched out a leg to try poke it past Jack Butland. The keeper denied him in what was a pivotal moment in the match with us already a goal up.
Kane’s next pass from pulling away from the centre backs and coming short would get the result it deserved. The striker came out towards the touchline, dragging centre back Geoff Cameron with him. This left one centre back in the middle picking up Mousa Dembele and Ben Davies could charge in to the channel created.
Davies showed good speed and strength to hold off the challenge of Jonathan Walters who was forced back to track him. He then played an excellently controlled lob-cross for Nacer Chadli to spank home.
The move not only highlighted the pull effect to draw the centre backs out that Kane was having. It also showed the horizontal stretching we were trying to do, by getting the full backs forward in to wide areas.
Our second goal started with the pull effect of Harry Kane and was finished by getting a man forward in to a wide area to cross. We were getting our full backs up the field in to these wide areas in order to stretch Stoke out.
We looked in the 5 keys to Spurs vs Stoke at how the Potters try to defend narrowly and they started the game out this way. Here we can see how Kane has come short, looking to get Chadli’s run in-behind, but Stoke are compact, narrow and snuff it out.
In order for the vertical pull effect of Kane to work, we needed to stretch Stoke out across the width of the pitch and we began to do this. Ben Davies and Kyle Walker were getting up the field in to some good crossing positions.
Our opening goal arrived from a corner, but the passage of play that forced it came from Kyle Walker bursting forward on an overlap. Walker was able to pull the ball back to Ryan Mason. He saw his shot deflected out for a corner.
The corner routine would’ve pleased Pochettino. It is one we have seen time and again under his management, the vacant near side of the six-yard box routine.
In this set-up, which looks like it is practiced regularly on the training ground, we leave the near corner of the six-yard box empty. Three good aerial players are stacked in a bunch towards the middle and back of the six-yard box. They then charge in to the vacant space as Eriksen delivers a driven cross. Being on the run, they look to be first to this spot at the corner of the six-yard box and head home.
Both Spurs goals had come from our full backs getting in to wide areas. Walker to set up Mason who won a corner for the first. Davies for the second as the Kane pull effect paid dividends.
In the second half, the game could’ve been out of sight as we again stretched Stoke horizontally. Chadli got in down the left and his exquisitely curled ball picked out Kane charging in to the six-yard box. Harry flicked the ball on towards the goal, but saw his effort brilliantly saved by Jack Butland.
Loss of the pull effect
Spurs were doing well and creating chances from Harry Kane pulling off the front. Nacer Chadli was the main beneficiary making some very intelligent runs in to the spaces Kane created. Sometimes he was found, often he was not, but Chadli’s movement, like at Old Trafford, was excellent here once again.
The removal of Harry Kane was the real turning point in the match. This not only took away the focal point up front, but also the player that was dragging Stoke’s centre backs around.
After Kane went off, Nacer Chadli was put up top. He didn’t have the same effect as he was playing on the shoulder and looking to run in-behind. This allowed Stoke’s centre backs to simply just drop off 10 yards and hoover up any of the balls played up to or over the top for him.
This allowed Stoke back in to the match along with the introduction of Stephen Ireland.
Stoke splitting our back four
Before Stephen Ireland came in to the game, Stoke were creating chances and they were doing it by having their front three filling the lanes between our back four. We looked at this in the 5 keys to Spurs vs Stoke, as it was a major part of their 3-0 win at the Britannia last season and something they continue to do.
One of Stoke’s best chances of the first half illustrated this perfectly. They got the ball in on a cross with their front three players filling the spaces between our back four. Mame Biram Diouf got free inside the six-yard box, but put his header straight at Hugo Lloris when it seemed easier to score.
Stoke filling the lanes between our back four, along with the introduction of Stephen Ireland, got them back in to the game.
Stephen Ireland takes over
Stephen Ireland’s introduction came at the right point . Harry Kane had just been withdrawn and Nacer Chadli going up top meant our formation wasn’t as compact as it was with Kane dropping in. This left an area for Ireland to go to work in the spaces between the lines as he pulled Eric Dier all over the place.
With Stoke’s front three filling their lanes, Ireland’s pass down the inside left channel allowed Joselu to run on to the ball.
The Spaniard drew an extremely cheap and unnecessary foul out of Toby Alderweireld inside the box to win a penalty. Arnautovic promptly dispatched it giving Hugo Lloris no chance.
He then filled the outside lane himself as Diouf and Joselu broke with him for Diouf to glance home the equaliser.
Not content with a draw, Stoke went for a winner and Ireland almost provided it as he Diouf and Joselu filled the lanes between our back four once again. Arnautovic’s cross just forced Ireland to have to get under the ball and head it upwards, just enough to take it over the bar.
We should’ve been out of sight, but then Stoke were back in the game and could’ve won it. To take a point with it finishing Spurs 2-2 Stoke seemed incredibly harsh given the work we’d put in.
Spurs 2-2 Stoke overall
The game really could have finished anything from 6-3 to 2-3 with the chances that were on offer. Like at Old Trafford, being clinical in front of goal was once again lacking when opportunities presented themselves.
Whilst Harry Kane was on the field and pulling Stoke’s centre backs around, we had the chances to put them away. We didn’t take them and were made to pay. After Kane was removed, the threat to drag their centre backs out to create room for others to run in to was gone.
Many will bemoan the lack of a centre forward to come off the bench, but the right centre forward is needed. We have players that can run in-behind, but a striker that can come towards the ball, as well as get in himself in the box to finish is required.
Final score: Spurs 2-2 Stoke.