The inside right channel proves to be the avenue to victory as our Europa League clash finishes Spurs 3-1 Qarabag at White Hart Lane.
A shaky start tuned in to a comfortable evening that should have been put to bed earlier than the 86th minute. Chances were plentiful, but there was always the threat of an equaliser. That was until Erik Lamela wrapped up the game to make it Spurs 3-1 Qarabag and net us the three points.
The inside right channel proved to be Qarabag’s soft spot, but it took us a while to find it. In the intervening time their shape and quick counter attacks were causing us problems
Qarabag shape and counter
The Azerbaijani side set up as many visitors to White Hart Lane in the Europa League do, to frustrate, congest the centre and counter. Qurban Qurbanov’s side did just this. They set up in a 4-1-4-1 formation that dropped off, blocked the middle and looked to blast forward with neat one-touch passing counter attacks.
Often we just come up against a central trio playing at the same level, but Qurbanov’s side used a midfield triangle to create layers and congest the space between the lines.
This of course was important against us as it stopped our front four of Son Heung-Min, Dele Alli, Erik Lamela and Andros Townsend.
These four were naturally gravitating in towards the centre, and before they started to get a good amount of rotation going, just caused congestion.
Qarabag were easily able to snuff out our attacks by sheer weight of numbers and then looked to counter at pace. They started a good break forward that saw Reynaldo shank a tame effort at Hugo Lloris. Then, they took the lead from the penalty spot.
A breakdown in play as Andros Townsend lost the ball as he tried to cut in through the centre saw Qarabag break. Eric Dier then sold himself in the middle of the park, letting Qarabag in to oceans of space when he should’ve just tried to slow the attack down and let us regroup.
The passage of play finished with the ball at the feet of Ansi Agolli who was fouled by Kieran Trippier’s awful defensive positioning. The right back got too far square on and for some reason jumped in to planting his feet, which gave him absolutely no room or time to adjust them. Agolli went over and the referee had no choice but to point to the penalty spot.
Richard Almeida tucked away the penalty kick, giving Hugo Lloris no chance even though he went the right way.
After quickly going a goal down, we did respond. Getting in to the Qarabag inside right channel between centre back Rasad Sadiqov and left back Ansi Agolli was the path we took and heavily involved in all three goals.
Our equaliser arrived from our third corner, but the setup for it could be tracked all the way back to our first corner of the game.
The opening corner that we won came about from Son Heung-Min getting loose in the inside right channel and having his shot deflected behind.
Andros Townsend swung the resulting corner in and Eric Dier set a beautiful screen to block off two Qarabag defenders, leaving Toby Alderweireld with a clean run at the cross. The Belgian centre back headed over, but this clearly spooked Qarabag’s defence for the next set of corners that lead to our equaliser.
The second corner was won by Andros Townsend getting in to the inside right channel this time. He was found by a long ball forward from Eric Dier that saw Townsend in space, but his cross was blocked.
The corner was played short to Kieran Trippier who then saw his cross deflected out for our third of the game. This time Townsend opted for another ball in with a similar trajectory to the one that had found Alderweireld’s head. Qarabag, having been blocked off and outpowered on the first one, double-teamed both Dier and Alderweireld. This left Son Heung-Min completely free in the six-yard box, as his marker, Richard, went to help on Alderweireld.
The South Korean stabbed home the ball as it curled in perfectly to his feet, levelling the scores.
Alli in the inside right channel
Dele Alli had an excellent game and a lot of his good work was done in the inside right channel as he abused centre back Rasad Sadiqov. Alli was instrumental in our go-ahead goal as he lead the centre back a merry dance.
The passage of play started with some excellent pressing and ball recovery by Toby Alderweireld. Our pressing and closing down was exceptional all evening and it was good to see it rewarded on such a well-worked goal. By now Qarabag, who had been so disciplined in their defending, were starting to wobble as they were letting players get loose between the lines.
One of those was Son Heung-Min who received the ball in space and then fed Dele Alli in through the inside right channel.
Ali showed an exquisite touch and then span back towards the goal as Sadiqov tried to recover and slid by. Alli waited for him to pass, exhibiting calm and composure as he took a touch, looked up and picked out Son to place his second of the evening in to the corner of the Qarabag net.
Alli was not done there though. Minutes later and he was in-behind once more, again in the inside right channel. This time Andros Townsend found him as Alli had slipped beyond Sadiqov for the second time.
Unfortunately for the youngster, he took a touch and waited too long, allowing the Qarabag keeper to come out and be on him by the time he tried to shoot. The move was nice though and highlighted something else we were trying to do. This was getting a runner in-behind from either short slipped through passes like this or longer ones played forward.
Alli was a menace in this channel all night and by the end of the game the frustration for Sadiqov was clear. He petulantly got in to a tête-à-tête with Alli that saw them both booked.
Erik Lamela had an extremely mixed bag of a game. Sometimes his touch and passing was exquisite, at other points it was downright dreadful.
What he was doing well was running in-behind the Qarabag defence and he should have really netted a hat trick.
He had a great opportunity near the end of the first half. Andros Townsend got in the inside right channel and chipped over a brilliant ball that saw Lamela in the clear. However, his touch let him down as he tried to caress the ball down rather than kill it on his instep.
After the interval, he both started and finished the move that saw him hit the post. Lamela picked up the ball in midfield and made a neat passing triangle with both Alli and Eric Dier as the trio surged forwards.
Qarabag’s tiring midfield was stretched by the speed of our transitions and what was once a decent regimented shape now saw our players getting in-between their lines once more.
The ball was quickly moved from Lamela to Alli and then on to Dier who returned it back to Alli before Lamela whipped it off his foot and pinged his shot off the post. Alli had to be seething that the Argentinean didn’t score.
After a moment like this you would expect Lamela’s confidence to have taken a knock, but to his credit, he continued to make these runs in-behind. Toby Alderweireld almost found him with a through ball that was slightly over hit.
Then Lamela did have the ball in the back of the net as he rounded the keeper after racing through the ever-increasing space in the inside right channel, but was just offside.
Finally, on 86 minutes, he was rewarded for his effort. The tireless work of Dele Alli saw him surge forwards, but a lunging tackle from Sadiqov saw him recover the ball. Sadiqov tried to get up, but then went down with cramp. Harry Kane picked up the loose ball and seeing Lamela wide open in the now extremely vacant inside right channel left by Sadiqov’s absence, fed the ball in to him.
Erik Lamela made no mistake to make it Spurs 3-1 Qarabag, showing a calm and composed finish that was impressive given the opportunities that he had spurned before.
The goal put any nerves at ease, wrapping up the game and securing top spot in Europa League Group J after the first round of matches.
Spurs 3-1 Qarabag overall
The game was a comfortable performance after a shaky start. We always looked in control, but Qarabag did carry a slight threat on the counter attack. This made the 2-1 score line for a large part of the game a bit of a concern. Again being clinical in front of goal was a factor as we wasted countless opportunities to put Qarabag away before Erik Lamela finally did on 86 minutes.
The inside right channel between Sadiqov and Agolli was really key, everything we did that caused Qarabag trouble came through here. This zone should be exploited when we face them in the return match in Azerbaijan.
Final score: Spurs 3-1 Qarabag.