Christian Eriksen was a menace in the inside right channel as our Champions League Group E clash finished Spurs 3-1 CSKA Moscow at Wembley.
Hoodoo? What hoodoo! We finally lifted the curse at the national stadium with an emphatic win to round off our Champions League Group E fixtures. Christian Eriksen was the star of the show. The Dane was back to his magnificent best, manipulating and pulling the strings through the inside right channel. The final score ended up being Spurs 3-1 CSKA Moscow but it could’ve been more.
Eriksen in the inside right channel
CSKA came with a relatively simple game plan. They would sit back in their 4-4-1-1 defensive shape and look to hit the colossal 2.03m Lacina Traore. They rarely troubled. When the striker did win anything Spurs would hoover up the second ball.
CSKA’s shape, which saw a flat midfield four, gave them two defensive issues. Firstly, their lines were often so flat that they allowed plenty of space between them. Secondly, their was always space in the inside right channel. This area was rife for the infield drifting Christian Eriksen to exploit.
Eriksen started from the right and just buzzed in and out of this space to conduct the Tottenham attack. He created the first real opportunity of the game after just six minutes. A beautiful switch across the field from Jan Vertonghen found Kyle Walker. He then headed inside for the racing Eriksen to cross the ball in to the box.
Dele Alli nodded just wide with goal gaping.
Two minutes later and another injection of pace found Eriksen through the inside right channel again. This time it was the excellent Harry Winks with the ball. His measured pass took out all three lines of the CSKA defence to set Eriksen away.
Racing to the by-line, he couldn’t find the necessary angle to pick out Harry Kane in the centre.
The tone was being set and the CSKA weakness was being probed. Just twelve minutes were on the clock as Eriksen got in through inside right channel once more. A neat triangle with Kyle Walker and Harry Kane released the Dane 1v1 with goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.
Eriksen, who usually passes these opportunities in to the corners of the net, couldn’t find the angle.
CSKA Moscow long ball
We were playing our best football in the Champions League at Wembley, but were caught with a sucker punch.
Our attack was coordinated and purring. However, our defence was surprisingly shaky and discombobulated. We had coped well with their long balls out for Lacina Traore to win or hold up. We had simply either won the initial header or taken the second ball, as CSKA were slow to get support around him.
However, we took our eye off the ball on 32 minutes. Whether our defence had been given little to do or the fact that Traore wasn’t the furthest man forward in the attack was unsure. We switched off and were caught.
The passage of play started with some rare CSKA pressing. They closed down and forced Eric Dier in to a misplaced pass that went out for a throw. The ball then went back to Bibras Natcho. Seeing the run of Zoran Tosic in-behind, Natcho looked to pick him out. His pass, however, was under-hit, causing Tosic to have to check his run.
This saw Tosic get first to the ball before the bigger Jan Vertonghen. Meanwhile Alan Dzagoev had run forward seeing what might happen ahead of the pondering Eric Dier. Our centre back was caught between sticking with Traore and tracking Dzagoev. By the time he had recognised the danger man going beyond him, it was too late.
Whereas we’d misfired in front of goal, Dzagoev made no mistake. Years ago Dzagoev had been heavily linked with signing for Spurs, now he’d put CSKA 1-0 up.
Eriksen inside right channel again
The response from going a goal down was excellent. The team could’ve rolled over thinking that the Wembley curse was striking again. Within five minutes and we were level as Christian Eriksen got through the inside right channel once more to pick out Dele Alli.
Eriksen, again forming a neat triangle with Kyle Walker and Harry Kane, started the ball rolling. His pass in to Kane saw Harry hold it up at the edge of the box. Although Kyle Walker cut in too early to confuse matters, Eriksen didn’t admire his pass and followed it. He lost his marker and was off through the inside right channel once more.
Walker may have been initially offside, but riding our luck, Eriksen took the ball off him to cross. Dele Alli, who had fluffed two good chances before, made no mistake. He took the ball expertly down and guided it in to the far corner of the net. Wembley erupted with an equal measure of joy and relief. Back on level terms it was Spurs 1-1 CSKA Moscow and the tide was beginning to turn.
Pochettino’s subtle formation switch
Getting an equalisr and with Christian Eriksen destroying CSKA Moscow through the inside right channel, Mauricio Pochettino made a subtle change. He moved Son Heung-Min to the right, Dele Alli to the left and Christian Eriksen in to the centre.
The switch was an attempt to free our full backs, but it was a highly dangerous one. Kyle Walker and Christian Eriksen had dovetailed so nicely and been the chief tormentors of the CSKA defence down the right. In the centre, Dele Alli had been missing chances, but was getting in to the areas to get them. To alter this was rolling the dice.
However, Pochettino’s gamble was to address the issue of Son Heung-Min and Danny Rose down the left. Son was staying wide, which was hindering Rose’s ability to overlap. Son was switched to the right and instructed to play narrower so both full backs could now overlap. The move was risky, but paid immediate dividends as we went 2-1 up.
Eriksen, now in the centre, came short and picked out Rose’s superbly timed burst in-behind. Son and Dele, who were now the wide players, had both brought their full back markers inside to narrow them, allowing both our full backs to be free.
Eriksen’s exquisite lofted pass saw Rose being able to punch the ball across the six-yard box with his instep to the waiting Harry Kane. It was pinpoint, incisive, beautiful and deadly to watch.
Spurs down the right
The switch of formation didn’t last long. Fourteen minutes in to the second half and Georges-Kevin Nkoudou replaced Son Heung-Min. The sprightly winger was put on the left and Eriksen returned to the right. The Eriksen and Walker partnership then proceeded to provide the ammunition once more.
Walker’s measured cross picked out a wide open Harry Kane in the six yard box , but he somehow headed over. Eriksen then lofted another beautifully weighted chip pass in for Kane to scissor kick a shot that was well saved. Kane then almost got to another cross in from the right, but was flagged offside with the goal gaping.
A cross from the right, and the introduction of Toby Alderweireld, combined to make it Spurs 3-1 CSKA Moscow.
Alderweireld has been a big miss and the standing ovation he received upon his introduction showed just how much his returm means to Spurs fans. His ability to move the ball just hasn’t been replicated during his time out. His first pass, a 40-yard cross-field diagonal to Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, was a trademark way to return.
Soon after, Alderweireld was heavily involved in the move to put us 3-1 up, providing an incisive vertical pass through two lines of the CSKA defence. It was a pinpoint ball to Harry Kane who was free on the right. Kane turned and rumbled down the sideline before swinging in a great cross for the arriving Dele Alli.
Alli’s header again picked out the keeper when either side would’ve seen him score. However, Akinfeev palmed the shot up in the air before somehow kicking it in with his flailing leg. One of the strangest own goals you will see, but nethertheless, it was Spurs 3-1 CSKA Moscow with breathing space now achieved.
The score could’ve been added to. Alderweireld had a glorious chance with an unmarked header in the six-yard box. Again the cross was from the right. In a week or two those will be flying in for the returning centre back.
Spurs 3-1 CSKA Moscow overall
A night of positives for Spurs. The Wembley hoodoo was laid to rest, the return of Toby Alderweireld gave such a lift and Christian Eriksen was simply sublime.
Europa League qualification was also assured. Having criticised the format of the competition for years, it feels a tad hypocritical to celebrate now that my team has gained entry via the backdoors that I dislike. Twenty-four teams qualify for the Europa League through their failure to make it in the Champions League. They are parachuted in after the initial knockout rounds and then again after the group stages. Failure should not be rewarded and it also devalues what could be a great second European competition. To make it in to the last 32 draw in this way feels a tad hollow and not earnt like a European place should be.
Final score: Spurs 3-1 CSKA Moscow.
MOTM: Christian Eriksen.