A determined display brought us back from two goals down, as our Europa League Quarter-Final 1st leg finished Spurs 2 Basel 2.
The score gives us a chance to go through, but injuries to key players leaves us with plenty to do in Switzerland.
Basel set up and tactics
Andre Villas-Boas pointed out that Basel have a wealth of Champions League experience in the run-up to the game and it proved to be the case here. Whilst their personnel has changed this term, the Swiss Champions put on a performance that highlighted their seasoned conditioning in Europe’s premier competition.
Coach Murat Yakin went with a 4-3-3 and it was his trio of front players that did all the destructive work going forward.
Marco Streller led the line and moved out in to the channels to win the ball in the air, hold it up and link the play. Valentin Stocker drifted in from the left, probing the channels with his passing and cutbacks. Mohamed Salah was bursting through our inside left channel to get shots away and latch on to through balls. It was through here that much of the damage was done, as we’ll look at in a second.
Without the ball, Fabian Frei anchored a trio of more defensively minded midfielders. They congested the central areas in order to stop Gareth Bale getting up a head of steam. Then when we played the ball wide, Mohamed Elneny would shuttle out to their right to double on the flanks, whilst Geoffrey Serey Die would do the same to the left.
Basel expose our inside left channel
Basel’s trio of attackers gave us a torrid time all evening and but for better finishing, they could have scored more.
We looked in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Basel how they attacked heavily down their right side, which could mean problems for our left sided players. They did just that here, as they ruthlessly exposed us through our inside left channel.
Marco Streller led the line and gave William Gallas plenty of trouble in the air. I also outlined in the Tottenham tactics how Gallas poor aerial ability could see us struggle and Streller exposed this often.
He was the target for any long balls forward, but played the channels on both sides very well, often interchanging positions with Stocker and Salah. He received several passes played towards or in to the area, as well as getting on the end of cutbacks, one of which resulted in Basel’s opening goal.
The move started with a hopeful ball forward from the back, which Valentin Stocker took down. After a deflection off Streller, he slid the ball in through our inside left channel for a streaking Mohamed Salah. Benoit Assou-Ekotto was caught inside and out of position as the Egyptian raced on to the through ball.
Salah then squared for Streller, who turned Naughton beautifully, but his shot cannoned back off the base of the post straight in to the path of Stocker. The Swiss international had continued his run, as all three forwards ended up overloading our defenders in the box.
It was a move that summed up much of what Basel tried to do on the night; feed in passes to utilise Salah’s pace against our left back.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto was caught out of position on the first goal, but found himself substituted later in the game, as Jan Vertonghen went to left back. The Dutchman did better, but within minutes of the switch, Salah raced through once more, only to put his shot over the bar when one-on-one with Brad Friedel.
The Egyptian was alternating his play well. He would start wide, then come inside as he went through our inside left channel and in to the area. From there, he could either pass or shoot.
Spurs are too narrow
Andre Villas-Boas opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation with Gareth Bale playing off Emmanuel Adebayor once more. Lewis Holtby came in to the starting line-up for Gylfi Sigurdsson, who would find himself introduced early in to the game for the injured Aaron Lennon.
The problem for Spurs after Lennon went off was width, as Basel were playing three centrally positioned midfielders.
Lewis Holtby was playing wide on the left, but always coming back inside, whilst Gylfi Sigurdsson was doing the same down the right. Even though Holtby, Sigurdsson and Bale did switch positions throughout the match – Bale did move out to the right when Sigurdsson went to the left – it all remained rather narrow.
As a result, we only attempted 10 crosses from open play in the match, way down on our average of 22 per game this season. As looked at in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Basel, getting behind their full backs is one the keys to beating them and we didn’t do that enough here.
All too often we went through the middle, creating very little by doing this.
A rare exception was Gylfi Sigurdsson’s through ball to Lewis Holtby (1). Scott Parker hit the rebound against the German with the goal gaping, which could have really swung momentum in the game.
When the goals did arrive they came from play emanating in the Basel full back zones.
Emmanuel Adebayor drew us back to 2-1 after Gareth Bale received a pass in behind left back Kay Voser (2). Bale put the ball in to the box and after a deflection and Adebayor missed the first chance, he hooked in the return from Scott Parker.
The equaliser (3) came from Gylfi Sigurdsson getting in to the zone behind right back Markus Steinhofer who was caught up field. The Icelander received a nice guided pass from Moussa Dembele out wide on the left. Sigurdsson stalled on the ball, as he turned inside which let Steinhofer get back. However, Jan Vertonghen then charged past him to take defenders away, allowing the Icelander to cut inside and unleash a shot that deflected past Basel keeper Jan Sommer.
Overall, without Aaron Lennon, we just didn’t get the ball wide and round the back often enough in the final third. Having central players operating on the flanks as inverted wingers saw us cut back inside all too often, despite Gylfi’s goal when doing this.
After his equaliser, we didn’t push on, as Basel stifled us in possession due to their trio of central midfielders.
Spurs 2 Basel 2 conclusions
This was a game really decided by the effective play of Basel’s front three. The trio were constantly switching positions and looking to play Mohamed Salah in through our inside left channel.
Our lack of width played in to Basel’s hands, as their three central midfielders were able to keep Gareth Bale quiet. Aaron Lennon going off early was a blow, as he provided an effective outlet in the 24 minutes he was on the pitch. After he went off, Gareth Bale really should have gone to the left to give us some width to get in behind Basel’s full backs, which was where their weakness was.
Possibly being with out both Bale and Lennon could see us struggle to generate the width required in the second leg.
Final score: Spurs 2 Basel 2.