An unbalanced Tottenham come back from two goals down to gain a share of the points, as our Premier League clash finishes Spurs 2-2 West Ham at the Lane.
Mauricio Pochettino praised our players as brave to dig out a draw in the last ten minutes. Sam Allardyce was left fuming at what he thought were some questionable decisions. The reality was that once more our fitness and never give up attitude kept us going until the final whistle, earning a point with 12 seconds to spare.
The game ebbed and flowed around a number of factors, the most crucial of which started off in the midfield.
Central midfield battle
Prior to the match in the keys to Spurs vs West Ham we looked at how the central midfield battle has been crucial to the last few meetings between the two sides. Sam Allardyce had tried to get four men in here to overrun both AVB’s and Sherwood’s teams that had three central midfielders. Against Pochettino, this just squared up to be 4v4 as or new coach likes to have a drifting player, usually Christian Eriksen, in to the centre.
Here, it was curiously 3v3 as Allardyce went with a defensively minded 4-3-3. Mauricio Pochettino on the other hand unbalanced the side by dropping Christian Eriksen and opting for Erik Lamela and Andros Townsend. This retained Mousa Dembele as the number ten, but shifted Lamela to the left where he looks awkward and uncomfortable.
The moves by each manager left a very defensively minded West Ham trio in Song, Kouyaté and Noble up against a solid ball recovery unit in Bentaleb, Mason and Dembele. Both trios had control of the game at various points. The West Ham unit were defenisve, but they did leave space between the lines, we just didn’t exploit it.
Erik Lamela has been popping up in these areas and running with ball in recent matches, albeit from the right. However, here he was trying to drift inside from the left, but was far less effective and looked like a fish out of water being so left-footed. He was very good defensively at winning the ball back, but then didn’t really know what to do with it. It wasn’t until he switched to the right that he became the influence on the game that he should have been.
Coupled with this, the lack of Christian Eriksen meant we also missed his guile at popping up between the lines, something he would do on the last minute penalty.
The result of this was that we were restricted to long-range efforts in the first half, as we rarely got in-behind West Ham. On the two occasions we did, it was due to moving the ball forward quickly and vertically. We’d looked in the keys to Spurs vs West Ham at how the Hammers’ centre backs were susceptible to being turned and this is how our best opportunities arrived before the interval.
Danny Rose first of all sent a long ball over the top for Harry Kane to run on to. The striker managed to get in-behind, but saw his right-footed flick around keeper Adrian skim off the post.
The two players then switched roles, as Kane became provider with a deft chip pass over the West Ham trio of defensive midfielders. Rose ran on to it, but again couldn’t finish as Adrian closed the angle.
Spurs sloppy errors
Whilst the central midfield tactical battle was fascinating to watch, the errors in touch and passing from Spurs were not. These were frequent throughout the first half and continued on from the Liverpool match. Mousa Dembele’s turn straight back in to a West Ham player was one low-light; Kane’s pass to no one and out for a throw was another. Ironically, it would be two errors that would see West Ham open the scoring.
West Ham crossing
Even without Andy Carroll, West Ham are a crossing side and it was two balls in to the box that saw them score twice.
Aaron Creswell was the main threat to deliver, getting forward from his left back berth. The full back provided the ball in for West ham to open the scoring, but the passage of play started with a sloppy error from Mousa Dembele. The Belgian was harassed by Alex Song, which forced him backwards and then in to miss-controling the ball.
The passage of play also saw Andros Townsend fail to cover back. Whilst he has been doing well to get forward recently, Townsend has been guilty of letting his man go. The most obvious examples were in the Sheffield United match on both their goals. Here Townsend was tracking Cresswell as we tried to clear.
However, once West Ham regained the ball, Townsend had let the left back surge forward unmarked to get in to a crossing position.
The ball delivered by Cresswell was wickedly on-point, splitting Eric Dier leaping backwards and Jan Vertonghen trying to get forwards on the cover. Cheikhou Kouyaté made no mistake as he appeared inbetween them to head the Hammers in to the lead.
The West Ham second goal also arrived via a cross. The move started after a turnover with a quickly played long ball forward that got Diafra Sakho in-behind Danny Rose. His cross in to the box went straight through to Mark Noble covering round on the other side. Noble sent another ball in and Sakho appeared behind the offside Enner Valencia to volley the ball in to the ground and in to the net at the far post.
The Hammers could’ve added a third not long after from another cross. Mark Noble, who was lucky to be on the field at this point after just fouling Bentaleb, swung in a dead ball that Enner Valencia almost guided home, only to be denied by a diving Hugo Lloris.
With the Hammers 2-0 up, the game swung on a number of factors.
In no particular order, the first was the introduction of Christian Eriksen. When he came on, we suddenly had the man we needed to get between the lines; it just took him two switches of position to become that player. He was first put in to the number ten role of the man he replaced, Mousa Dembele. He wasn’t that effective at getting in to this space with Kouyaté and Song sinking deeper. He was then moved out to the left and finally in to Ryan Mason’s deeper midfield role, whereby he became a growing presence.
The second factor was the removal of Mark Noble. The West Ham man was lucky to be on the field after a challenge that warranted a second yellow card. Sam Allardyce then removed him and replaced him with Carlton Cole. Suddenly the Hammers trio of defensive midfielders became a duo and Christian Eriksen became more of a factor after his switch deeper without Noble to pick him up.
The third was the introduction of Carlton Cole for Mark Noble. This removed a player from the Hammers defensive central midfield trio, making them more attack-minded and open. It turned out to be not a great deal, as we didn’t profit until Cole then went off with a hamstring injury. This was because it saw them lose the player who was holding the ball up for them when they cleared their lines. As a result, West Ham sunk deeper and deeper, inviting pressure and finally conceding a penalty.
The fourth factor was Mauricio Pochettino’s changes. In an effort to pull the game out, our head coach tried everything. His first move was to bring Eriksen on. This was to get a player between the lines that could hurt the Hammers. The problem was that despite the stinker Mousa Dembele was having on the ball, he was a presence pressing off it. His removal lost this and so whilst we gained something between the lines, it was mitigated by the lack of ball recovery up field.
With the first change having little effect, the second was to move to a second striker number ten formation. Soldado came on up top, pushing Harry Kane in to the number ten role, with Eriksen out on the left. This again had little effect as West Ham added their second goal just after, which seemed to knock the side.
The final change to bring on Nacer Chadli for Ryan Mason and move Christian Eriksen deeper in to the departed player’s role had the necessary effect that Pochettino was looking for.
A deeper Eriksen changes the game
With Pochettino searching for a way to change the game, moving one of his forward players backwards did just this. The departure of Mark Noble helped, but Eriksen created space for himself by moving up the pitch from a deeper starting position.
The equaliser arrived from a corner, but it was Eriksen who earned it by surging forward from his much deeper role.
The Dane jetted off from inside his own half to get up in support and take the ball off Erik Lamela. He saw his shot blocked, but gathered the loose ball to cross again, earning a corner off Aaron Creswell.
Lamela then took a short corner to Eriksen due to the wind blowing and moving the ball. The Argentine then put in a cross, causing Adrian to come forward and punch straight in to the path of Danny Rose. His scuff/shanked shot went straight in to the turf and bounced up awkwardly for the Hammers keeper. This caused Adrian to make some weird early jump as he misjudged the flight of the ball, meaning he was completely out of position. It ballooned past him in to the net and we had a lifeline.
With the score at 1-2 and drifting in to injury time, Eriksen then moved forward and popped up between the lines once more. However, on this occasion, his through pass went straight in to the path of Harry Kane, but the striker saw his shot blocked.
After being denied, Eriksen would once more drift forward to get in between the lines as the clock ticked towards 95 minutes. Hugo Lloris sent the ball downfield and as Eriksen trailed the play, he mopped up James Collins header clear. He then exchanged passes with Harry Kane and how he emerged with the ball as three West Ham players challenged him is testament to his skill and persistence. The return pass to Kane saw him bundled over in the box by Alex Song and a penalty was the only decision with 12 seconds of injury time remaining.
Adrian tried his best to mess with Kane by knocking the ball off the spot and playing for time and it seemed to work. The striker’s spot kick was far from the corner and easily saved by the keeper going low to his right.
However, Adrian failed to push the ball away and control the rebound. Karma for his antics? Maybe. The ball rebounded off his gloves and back in to the middle of the goal. As it rolled out, time seemed to slow down as Kane and Collins stole towards it in a race to be first to the rebound. The striker won and swept it in to the empty net, sending the lane in to delirium. A point had been salvaged where none looked likely.
Spurs 2-2 West Ham Overall
This was another performance that was testament to our newfound fitness and resolve this season. This is again positive, but just like the Fiorentina match, we should’ve done better from the off and converted our chances.
In a big week for Mauricio Pochettino and the club, this was another flat performance after a Europa League match, which is worrying with Wembley now in sight. Despite rotating half of the team from Thursday night, there was a distinct lack of energy and zip to our play, with the sloppy passes and turnovers highlighting this and not helping. A side like Chelsea won’t be as forgiving.
Pochettino really needs to decide if he is going to go for the Europa League. Playing those who will be starting the League Cup Final against Chelsea in Florence will see us struggle at Wembley with the travel involved. What’s more, we may well still get dumped out of the Europa League too even by playing our best XI. This is where the squad must come in to play.
Final score: Spurs 2-2 West Ham.
Another great post Mark. Is it time for Poch to experiment a bit with how the team lines up? We do seem leaky at the back (just gone 2 down in Italy as I’m writing). Rodgers has had a bit of success with 3 at the back (although ‘arry and Hoddle couldn’t make it work). Might something like this work:
Lloris – Dier Fazio Vertonghen – Walker Bentaleb Mason Rose – Lamela Eriksen – Kane.
Fazio can do what Vlaar did for the Dutch at the WC – hold position and shut the door; and Verts & Dier are capable of covering the flanks. Rose & Walker are freer to get forward and provide some width – or add bodies against an attacking 3 – and Lamela and Eriksen have more space to operate where they like to, between the lines, joined by Mason (or Dembele) surging from deeper. Chadli for Rose if the opposition don’t offer much down their left. Seems a weird suggestion to free up the attack by adding a defender but might it give a more solid screen for lloris?
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Great comment MurphyN. I have peddled the idea of three at the back before and written a coupe of posts on the system, but more often against teams that play 2 strikers. It would provide cover for Fazio, who is vulnerable to pace. It does also allow Rose a bit more freedom as he has been great going forward, but can be out of position defensively. Width has also been an issue and it would get the wing backs further forward to potentially supply this. We have become a bit stagnant and predictable, so some different formations may just mix it up a bit and throw opponents off-guard.