Spurs 2 Norwich 0: inside left channel key

A mesmerising performance saw us dominate the Canaries throughout the 90 minutes of our Premier League clash at White Hart Lane. Our use of triangles and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s runs through the inside left channel, saw it finish Spurs 2 Norwich 0 and it could have even been more.

Tottenham set up and tactics

Andre Villas-Boas once more went 4-3-3 and the most interesting feature was the midfield trio of Moussa Dembele, Paulinho and Christian Eriksen.

Dembele was the hub, but the roles played by Paulinho and Eriksen evolved as the ball was moved from the defensive to the attacking third.

When Michael Dawson or Jan Vertonghen were in possession, both Dembele and Paulinho dropped in to form a triangle with the centre back, allowing any press to be negotiated. When the ball was here, Christian Eriksen took up a central role to build the triangle in to a diamond. The centre back at the base, Dembele and Paulinho in front, with the Dane at the top.


Dembele and Paulinho help transition the ball out.

As the ball was transitioned from the defensive third forward, Christian Eriksen floated to the left and Paulinho moved to the right. This flipped the triangle from having two at the base to just one, as the Dane was floating from the left and Paulinho the right.


Eriksen and Paulinho filled the central left and righth channels.

These two filled these lanes and they were especially prevalent on the second goal, which we’ll look at in a minute.

This triangle in midfield was also fluid, as when Dembele moved forward to the head, Eriksen and Paulinho would fill the left and right channels at the base.


Dembele moves forward and Paulinho/Erisken rotate to keep the triangle.

This had the effect of pulling the Norwich markers all over the place, as they wanted to sit deep, but the rotation pulled them out of position.

Norwich set up and tactics

In the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Norwich the biggest danger from the Canaries was the right-sided combination of Steven Whittaker and Robert Snodgrass. The pair have combined well so far this season, with Snodgrass cutting inside to cross and Whittaker offering options on the overlap.

Here Norwich wanted to play down this right side, but were constantly pushed back by the Tottenham press and our high full backs.

The energy with which Norwich were closed down was impressive for this early in the season and resulted in us controlling the game with 70% possession. When the ball was lost, it was quickly pursued and won back. A number of times this was in the Canaries’ half.


Tottenham pressure, Spurs 2 Norwich 0.

The result of the pressure wasn’t just turnovers from tackles, but also forcing the Canaries to clear the ball long, as they had no short passing options.

As a result, Spurs not only won the ball back, but Norwich’s persistence in trying to work something with Snodgrass down the right saw him often thwarted by the excellent Danny Rose.


Canaries’ final third passing, Spurs 2 Norwich 0.

Ironically their best chance of the first half arrived when they actually worked a ball down the left and in-behind Kyle Walker for Nathan Redmond to run on to. Ricky van Wolfswinkel met his cross, but Rose blocked his effort.

Christian Eriksen, he floats from the left

Christian Eriksen was impressive on his debut and here he floated from the inside left channel in to central areas as he had done for Ajax.


Christian Eriksen passes received, Spurs 2 Norwich 0.

His movement was excellent and as highlighted in the clips above, he formed a nice partnership with Paulinho. Whilst the Brazilian was bursting forward from his staring positions alongside Moussa Dembele, Eriksen was moving outside as Gylfi Sigurdsson moved in. Intriguingly, he also darted in to central areas ahead of Roberto Soldado whenever the Spaniard came short.

As looked at in the article “What Christian Eriksen brings to Spurs” the Danish international is not a passing trequartista, but a more direct player. Here that was on display from the off, as he dribbled in to the area, nut-megged one defender, beat another and then got a shot away. It was one of three efforts in the match and although his passing earned him an assist, goals will also follow.

Gylfi Sigurdsson fills the inside left channel

Although our pressing and movement of our midfield three was impressive, the defining moments arrived when Gylfi Sigurdsson ran through the inside left channel.

As looked at in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Norwich, the Canaries centre backs are excellent in the air, but passes on the ground through the inside channels can hurt them. Just as Everton had opened them up with Pienaar and Jelavic through the inside left channel, the runs of Gylfi Sigurdsson did that here.

The first arrived after a sweeping pass from Moussa Dembele out to Danny Rose on the left. His early curling ball found Roberto Soldado in a central area. The Spaniard’s control to chest it down and lay it off for Christian Eriksen was superb. The play had developed so quickly, that the Dane was still in his central position with Dembele having received the ball from the centre backs moments earlier.

His pass to Sigurdsson rampaging through the inside left channel between Michael Turner and Steven Whittaker was exquisite, as was Sigurdsson’s finish.


Gylfi Sigurdsson charges through the inside left channel.

The goal, like many of our chances this season, was created by a pass to a runner cutting through the defence. This allows the cutter to shoot or provide a cross or square the ball from a shorter distance (usually inside the box), thus increasing the chances of scoring.

The Icelander’s second also arrived after a Christian Eriksen pass got a runner in-behind. This time the Dane was floating in from the left as he picked out a pass to Paulinho. The Brazilian had charged forward from his position alongside Moussa Dembele to fill the inside right channel.


Eriksen finds Paulinho in-behind the full back.

With Paulinho now in the space behind the full back, he could pick out a short, low-driven cross to Sigurdsson who had ran the inside left channel once more.


Paulinho crosses for Sigurdsson to add a second.

Gylfi started off by jetting through the space between Michael Turner and Steven Whittaker, but then finished off the move by getting beyond the full back.

With Norwich sitting deep, the ball had to be moved quickly in transition to open them up and on both occasions it was.

Spurs 2 Norwich 0 conclusions

There was a lot of impressive work going on here, something echoed by Andre Villas-Boas in his post match comments.

The pressure applied without the ball was immense and both the right and left flanks did well to push their opposite numbers back. Sigurdsson and Rose did an especially good job to keep Norwich’s usual combination of Snodgrass and Whittaker quiet.

The fluid nature of our triangles was key in drawing the opposition markers out in to areas they did not want to be. Christian Eriksen and Paulinho were at the heart of it, moving to the inside channels from their starting positions when the ball was with the centre backs.

When in possession, the ball was being moved quickly to hit the cutting runner. Not only for both of our goals, but also in creating other chances too.

Overall, this was an excellent performance and the score could have been more were it not for Sebastien Bassong. The former Spurs man made several key challenges to stop Soldado, blocking his shot in the first half and sliding in to stop crosses reaching him for tap-ins in the second.

With Vlad Chiriches and Erik Lamela still to be fully integrated into this team, exciting times lie ahead.

Final score: Spurs 2 Norwich 0

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8 Responses to Spurs 2 Norwich 0: inside left channel key

  1. Boon 17th September 2013 at 12:46 am #

    Hey Mark. First off, I’m a big follower of your site for a long time now. Many of my tactical insights and understanding on Tottenham were built from your tactical blogs. So thanks for that.

    On the match itself, are you sure it’s 4-3-3? The starting position was surely 4-2-3-1. Refer: http://www.whoscored.com/Matches/719967/MatchReport/England-Premier-League-2013-2014-Tottenham-Norwich#live-average-positions

    However, the fluidity of movement for Tottenham made things more complicated as you’ve outlined. Throughout the many phases of Spurs’ buildups and attacking phases, they were at times 4-2-3-1, others 4-3-3.

    The movement between Paulinho, Dembele and Eriksen that eventually led up to the second goal is the midfield rotation system that AVB was obsessed about.

    BTW, do you happen to be regular commentator at http://bleacherreport.com/tottenham-hotspur ? Many cheers!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 17th September 2013 at 10:53 am #

      Hey Boon, glad you like the blog and thanks for following. Your comment got held in my spam queue as it had 2 links in it, so apologies if it didn’t appear right away, but i don’t currently comment over at Bleacher Report. Will check it out, do you contribute over there?

      As far as i could see, we were playing 4-3-3. The subtle difference between that and the vogue 4-2-3-1 is the position of the wide players who are deeper and operate more as wingers in this latter formation. In 4-3-3, which uses wide forwards (rather than wingers) higher up, this then relies on your full backs to get forward more to provide the width. The midfield is also less segmented in to defence and attack as you have with the double pivot in 4-2-3-1, allowing greater fluidity.

      I’ve seen our line-up listed as 4-2-3-1 and even a defensive 4-3-3 on some sites, so i tend to go with my own judgement, but happy to discuss as there’s always a lot going on in a match.

      • Boon 17th September 2013 at 8:41 pm #

        Bleacher Report – Oh, thought you might be one of the regular commentators there who shares the same first name. I’m active there, though have not contributed to any articles as of yet.

        From your argument of what constitutes a 4-3-3, looking at all the games that Spurs have played so far, and comparing their average player positions with other teams well known to be playing 4-2-3-1, there was indeed a subtle yet consistent difference in positioning to fullbacks and wide forwards. They play forward that a case could be made that it’s a 4-3-3. This includes both games where Spurs were generally believed to be playing 4-2-3-1 (Crystal Palace and Norwich).

        In these two games, however, the average position of the 3 central midfielders are forms a triangle with a traditional No.10 at the tip, close to the striker. The other matches where Capoue started, the Frenchman was the tip right in front of the centerbacks and behind his two midfield partners, where the midfield triangle was inverted. It is this setup that AVB is known to be his favorite formation back in his Porto days, as you would probably know. AVB was also mentioned that Spurs will be using 4-3-3 this season, coinciding with around the time where Spurs were using Capoue as the sole holding midfielder, whereas last season there was rarely any mention of 4-3-3, which to me suggests that AVB sees this formation as 4-3-3.

        Clearly these are two different setups, where the central trio is flipped around, but I’m inclined to agree that they can both be seen as 4-3-3, even though I don’t rule the other out as 4-2-3-1 either.

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 18th September 2013 at 10:26 am #

          Haha, a case of mistaken identity :)

          Some excellent research you’ve been putting in there. If you want to learn some more about 4-3-3 then this is a really good video on how to play the system with a rotational midfield. It’s not 100% what we are currently doing, but if you note the phases of play then the next time you’re watching a game, you’ll see a lot of this going on… http://youtu.be/CXWq34XByjc

          • Boon 18th September 2013 at 7:25 pm #

            Yeah, I came to view the video recently, and was looking at Spurs’ games through the lens of phases of play, switching points of play, switching of player positions and rotational movements – it was fascinating. Spurs were doing those in the home matches versus Tbilisi and Norwich. I thought that Sandro, Carroll and Holtby were more eager to switch and rotate about their positions than Dembele, Paulinho and Capoue who were a little bit more sluggish and static in comparison so far. The former mentioned trio were actually more fluid and fast in their play – though it has to be said it was only one game against a weak opposition.

            What seemed obvious in the Norwich match was that Paulinho, Walker and Townsend were doing rotation movements, or at least switches of positions on the right flank (albeit imperfectly). If that didn’t work, possession was recycled back, and then quickly switched play with a long diagonal ball to Rose, who now has the space to attack on the left flank. The build-up of the first goal was like that. The space opened up between left back and left centerback that allowed Sigurdsson to run in for the goal, was the result of the quick switch followed after the rotational movement that served to shift Norwich slightly to the right in the first place.

            The build-up to the second goal included the rotational movement in midfield between Eriksen, Dembele and Paulinho, which resulted in the Brazillian having some space to run forward into. Townsend actually wanted to cut in there to shoot I think, but actually pulled Norwich across, leaving Paulinho free to receive Eriksen’s pass and assisted for the 2nd goal. This slightly reminded of the movement of Hulk (Townsend) and Belluschi (Paulinho) of AVB’s Porto, where Hulk would cut in, Belluschi would simultaneously run on the outside to provide overload on the right flank. Perhaps this Townsend/Paulinho combination can be further developed on, as there might already be a good base there for AVB to work with already.

  2. Danny 19th September 2013 at 2:17 am #

    Great article Mark. Unfortunately, I could not see the game, but I was delighted to come back and see the score line. Most highlights only really showed Siggy’s two goals, but from them and from the reviews I’ve read, it seems Eriksen had a fantastic debut. I can’t wait to see him continue to improve and be the playmaker we so desperately needed. I couldn’t have agreed more with your last line: this year is going to be very exciting, and I can’t wait to see what Lamela has to offer. COYS

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th September 2013 at 3:29 pm #

      Thanks Danny, Eriksen did play well, providing a much more effective link to Roberto Soldado, who often has looked a bit isolated. I can’t wait to see how he combines with Chadli and Lamela as the three haven’t played together yet!

  3. Lavon 23rd September 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    Keep up the good work.