We expose the centre backs through attacking beyond the full backs as we win our Premier League clash Spurs 3-1 Aston Villa.
In a big week where the games come thick and fast, the first hurdle was cleared by doing just enough to keep Aston Villa at arms length. The game never looked in doubt, but was nervier than it should have been. That was until Harry Kane wrapped up the three points to make it Spurs 3-1 Aston Villa in the 93rd minute.
On a night where Aston Villa were under scrutiny from their new manager sat in the stands, I expressed how we needed a fast start to put them on the back foot. We got it and it came from attacking the space behind right back Alan Hutton, a theme throughout the first half.
Mousa Dembele opened the scoring with a powerful, driving run. He held off and threw aside Ciaran Clark like a rag doll, but the tactic was all about getting behind Hutton to leave the central defender exposed.
There were only two minutes on the clock when Dembele scored, but in the opening minute, we’d also looked to run Harry Kane in-behind Hutton to get him 1v1 on to Clark. Hutton was caught up-field, as he was looking to get in a crossing position. Kane was wheeling away seeking to get in-behind him and on to Clark as we recovered the ball and played it forward.
This time the move wasn’t successful as Kane’s heavy touch took the ball out for a Villa throw, but it set the tone for what was to happen.
Just a minute later and Hutton was dragged forward to close down Christian Eriksen. The Dane laid the ball back to Danny Rose and we had pushed Dembele, Kane and Lamela on to the remaining three Aston Villa defenders in their back four.
This left them man for man and Rose sent the ball looping over Hutton’s head in to the space behind for Dembele to chase. Clark should’ve had the Belgian covered, but he got sucked in too close and simply did not have the strength or speed to outmuscle Dembele after he was lured in.
Continuing to attack Hutton
Looking to run a player on to Ciaran Clark due to Alan Hutton’s high positioning was a theme that continued during our major moments of the first half. Harry Kane was sprung loose, as Eric Dier played a ball through the channel to get behind Hutton, leaving the ambling Clark to chase again.
Kane retrieved the ball, cut inside, but saw his shot deflected up and over the bar for a corner.
After this period of dominance, Aston Villa made a subtle change to counter it. As Clark was being exposed, they pinched their full backs in closer to their centre backs to give them some help. This meant that the space for us was on the outside of them and this is where we added a second just prior to half time.
One became two, as Danny Rose got behind Jordan Ayew. He was supposed to be helping Hutton, as the right back was pinching in to aid his centre back, but got caught.
This gave Rose acres of space and time to consider his options before putting in a cross. As the first ball in was partially cleared, Dele Alli, who had neatly checked his run at the edge of the penalty area, cushioned it down and drove it back in to the corner, 2-0.
Disjointed Aston Villa
We were doing enough to keep Aston Villa at arms length, but they weren’t doing themselves any favours. In naming his side, Kevin MacDonald had gone with trusted players, ones that he felt could travel forward quickly with the ball at their feet.
The problem for Villa was that they could rarely progress it through midfield to do this with the closing down of Dembele, Alli and Dier. This saw a really disjointed flow of play any time they had possession. They didn’t have the time nor space to get the ball down and run with it on the counter attack like MacDonald had wanted, but they also had no focal point up top. Gabriel Agbonlahor was drifting out wide looking for something to run on to, which left him a peripheral figure. Scott Sinclair was the main threat until Rudy Gestede came on and gave the Villains a target.
Second half switches
The introduction of Rudy Gestede at half time gave Aston Villa a target for which to send balls forward to and then work off. Jordan Ayew was moved centrally to play off the big man and it saw Aston Villa gain a foothold in the match.
The second half did start off meandering for the first 20 minutes as we saw a turnover-turnover pattern of play. One side would get it, make a mistake or try an overly aggressive pass, leading to the other team having it and doing the same. Neither side could gain much of an advantage or test the other keeper.
This scrappy turnover-turnover theme saw Aston Villa get back in to the match. They won a throw-in out on our left and the ball was lobbed to Rudy Gestede. He tried to chest it down, but it went straight to Dele Alli to turn possession over. Alli then pondered allowing Kieran Richardson to get a foot on the ball and knock it loose, turning possession back over again. The ball bounced around and then ended up with Ryan Mason. He and Eric Dier then got in each other’s way, loosing the ball back to Villa’s Jordan Ayew. Through several errors by each side to gift the ball to the other, Ayew now suddenly had possession in a very threatening area. He cut inside and unleashed a shot, which deflected in off Jan Vertonghen to complete what was a messy passage of play.
The goal ignited Aston Villa to push for an equaliser. They almost got it as Rudy Gestede beat Hugo Lloris to a cross at the back post. Our keeper came flying from his line, but was left punching air, as Villa’s big man was first to the ball and almost directed it in to our empty net.
Back to attacking the beyond full backs
It was a nervy ten minutes, reminiscent of the Anderlecht match. We had burst in to a lead, but not having taken advantage of our chances when on top, we were now being clawed back.
That was all put to rest with a clinching goal in stoppage time. The move was arguably the nicest passage of passing play throughout the entire evening. We had tried to build an attack down the right, but through sheer weight of numbers, we were forced to send the ball back to Hugo Lloris.
Our keeper’s quick decision making saw him send it sharply out to Ben Davies and suddenly we had space with which to move forwards. Davies exchanged passes with Josh Onomah and continued to run up the field. Having got goal side of Carlos Sanchez, this sucked Ciaran Clark towards Davies and away from Harry Kane. Davies then fed the ball in to Christian Eriksen, which had a knock on effect of pulling Kieran Richardson towards the Dane. This left Erik Lamela now free to run in to the space beyond the full back, the tactic we had been trying to do to pull the centre backs out.
With Lamela in acres of space, Joleon Lescott was forced to come across and Villa’s defence was now all over the place. Clark’s decision to step up and check Davies’ run had knock-on consequences for the rest of his back four.
Lamela had time and could easily have taken on the shot given the space that he was in. However, he had the awareness to punch the ball with his instep back across the area for the waiting Harry Kane to rifle it in to the top corner, game over.
Spurs 3-1 Aston Villa overall
We had Aston Villa at arms length for most of this one, but the last 15 minutes were nervier than they needed to be. We didn’t press home our advantage after going 2-0 up and it left us vulnerable to chucking the three points away.
Closing out games, especially against weaker opponents that we expect to beat, is the next step our young squad needs to take.
Final score: Spurs 3-1 Aston Villa.