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.
Excellent analysis, Mark. Many thanks all for your insightful articles.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Thanks for reading Whitehotspurs. I’ve seen a few negative tweets and posts around today, were you pleased with how we played?
Lovely analysis of the succession of play that led to our first goal.
Tom Carroll had pressed up high in the passage of play before we conceded, leaving Dier the only man in the middle. His decision to try to intercept the ball was rash and reminded me of Vertonghen. It left us wide open, but I feel it’s important Carroll and Dier are more cautious against Palace. A better side could have had a few goals against us on Thursday.
Good to see pressing from Aldeweireld and Kane lead directly to goals, and Son was giving the keeper nightmares all night with his high press. Kane was looking up even as he won the ball in the build-up to our third goal, and it was great to see the speed with which he unlocked the Qarabag defence. Generally, I was impressed with the tempo of our play throughout.
Any thoughts on why Rose and Trippier had such stinkers defensively? Rose gave the ball away three times.
I expected Alli to do well, but not to have quite such an impact so soon. With N’Jie, Trippier and Wimmer debuting, and Townsend getting an assist, this was a lovely tune-up match before a run of three crucial domestic fixtures.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Good post Anotherwisemonkey. I was in two minds with Rose. On the one hand he looked like someone with something to prove. Davies has been getting starts when he has supposedly not been fit and maybe he is feeling some pressure. On the other hand he was a bit nonchalant at times, the chest back pass especially, so maybe he underestimated the opposition.
As for Trippier I thought he did alright defensively after the penalty. Maybe it was just early game nerves as he’s had to wait for his chance, but I thought he did well after that moment.
I agree on most points, as well! How I saw one of those situations, Wimmer was ball-watching, so Rose had to storm in. He chose to chest the ball to the ground, which was a bad idea. It was better however, than letting the opponent get a free shot off. Trippier also improved. I think things will settle down. It seems to me that Pochettino wants to make everyone in the squad equal, and more positional, so that anyone player can fit in when someone are having a bad day or are injured. I hope I am right, since this will mean more competition for the first team, and better cameraderie. Also, it was so good to see all the “fringe” players in action! I loved watching this match, classic spurs!
EDIT: What I meant was, as Wimmer, Carroll, all the “new” guys adjusted to eachothers style and positioning, we saw less congestion(where our players run into eachother), better passing and communication and in the end we ended it comfortably. A great edgy training match :)
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
There was planty of effort and energy which was good. We also created many chances which was another positive. We do need to take more of these though, especially against the better teams, as they will punish the defensive lapses which are still part of our play.
Very interesting analysis and you pointed out several things I didn’t see on first watching – I don’t agree with all conclusions but you clearly took the time and have the knowledge to properly analyze a game, which is too rare these days. COYS
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Thanks Maqarabag, how did you feel about our performance overall?
john williams says
Once again a fine summary of what went right and wrong. The key for me was the increased tempo with which we played all over the pitch. This contributed greatly to the more exciting nature of the game and maybe to our errors. Rose almost gifted them several goals and Carrol while doing a lot of really good work misdirected way too many passes to the opposition. And Lamela. As you say very much a mixed bag. Terrible control and distribution at times followed by sublime skills. Then there were those tackles where he throws himself at his opponent and often misses ball and player altogether (a la the Kaboul tackle on the weekend and the one where Alderweireld looked like he was bawling him out on the edge of our goal area). It appears he needs some serious counselling as well as coaching in the art. That aside I was very happy about the intensity of our play and thought Wimmer and Trippier made pretty good debuts save for the penalty. And that Son and Alli were top notch. It was also good to see Toby taking charge in a way that Verts seems incapable of. We need this badly in my opinion. Hopefully Son and Alli will be retained for the weekend to help nullify Palaces pace advantage
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Good points John, the tempo was pleasing with a lot of youthful energy in the side. Lamela does need more consistency, there were many good points but also bad ones to his match. The relief when he scored the goal was there for all to see. The fist pump and audible ‘yes’ as he jogged back to the halfway line was a sign that he had been feeling the pressure but at least now he’s talking and working in English.
I agree a very well presented and thoughtful article. I thought the team after a slow start got better after Son scored. For me Lamela is an enigma. When you compare him to Ali in terms of passing, shooting, composure, class, commitment effectiveness Ali is way ahead of Lamela and Ali is only 19. The turn by Ali to create the goal for Son was sheer class and worth the entrance fee alone. A player with real class always makes time for himself on the pitch. The turn and ability to pick out Son shows me Ali is a top class player. Ali for me has had the most exciting start to his career since Ledley King. When Ledley started you could see very quickly he was top class. I can’t wait to see Ali, Eriksen and Son playing together behind Kane.
Lamela wants too much time on the ball, is far too easily dispossessed and makes too many poor decisions. What I liked is that maybe following Ali’s lead he got into the box far more than usual. I didn’t like it when he took the shot instead of Ali and hit the post. Ali made the opportunity and should have been allowed to shoot.
When you see the emerging great partnership between Ali and Son, Eriksen will soon return and Mason’s game has dramatically improved I don’t see Lamela getting many league games. Even in a Europa League match he still ran into defenders and dwelt too long on the ball. I think he needs to learn from Townsend keep it simple. He should provide a lot more one or two touch movements. However, with the greater movement up front from Ali and Son if Lamela can get his head up he could be an effective a sub when the game opens up a bit and he can play the quality key passes.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Great post Scorpio, Alli does look the business. We just have to manage his development now and not burn him out like we did with Mason and Bentaleb last season.
I’m excited about seeing Eriksen and Son play together, I think there could be a real partnership between these two. As for Lamela, I can see him playing a lot of Europa League games. I think his style is more suited to the tempo the opposition often plays at in these matches. He shouldn’t have taken the shot off Alli’s foot, but he should’ve gained some confidence from his performance.