Dele Alli scores a goal during Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid.

Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid: destroying the centre backs

The centre backs were destroyed by clever use of space between the lines as our Champions League clash ended Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid at Wembley.

Tottenham were ruthless, swift and clinical on one of our club’s greatest ever European nights. Zinedine Zidane deployed both two and three centre back systems as he tried to contain a rampant Tottenham team. However, both structures were annihilated by Mauricio Pochettino’s use of a diamond midfield. The game ended Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid on a glorious Champions League night.

Spurs midfield superiority

Facing Real Madrid’s 4-3-3 system, Mauricio Pochettino went with a diamond midfield. Four Tottenham players had a numerical advantage over their Madrid counterparts.

Mauricio Pochetino's diamond midfield during Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid.

Mauricio Pochetino’s diamond midfield.

The diamond setup allowed Tottenham to do a number of things to counteract the Real Madrid possession game.

Firstly, they could control the middle of the pitch. Real Madrid were thus often forced wide or to look for the ball over our high line. Secondly, once the ball was recovered, we had men in good central positions from which to launch counter attacks.

Mauricio Pochettino had started with a similar setup in the Bernabeu. Our manager tweaked the system for this match. In Madrid, Fernando Llorente had played just off Harry Kane as a hold-up and target man. At Wembley, Dele Alli returned as a number ten. Dele’s runs from deeper found the spaces between the lines that Madrid allowed from being outnumbered in central midfield.

Toby Alderweireld’s injury blessing and curse

To start the match, the diamond formation had issues with the personnel. The inclusion of Eric Dier at the base shifted Harry Winks to the left. The positioning of the two players made Winks’ usual game as the hub passer less effective.

Harry Winks on the left of the diamond midfield during Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid.

Harry Winks on the left of the diamond midfield.

The injury to Toby Alderweireld changed our formation for the better in this match, but at a cost to our season. Moussa Sissoko replaced Alderweireld, which saw Eric Dier moved to anchor our back three.

Harry Winks was therefore restored at the base of the diamond and could pull the strings. His control on the game increased remarkably. Spurs suddenly had a sense of balance and Winks would play a big role in two of our three goals.

Trippier first time crosses

Spurs created a number of chances from the right, including our goal, in Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs at the Bernabeu. Mauricio Pochettino interestingly went with Kieran Trippier over Serge Aurier in this match, presumably for his better delivery.

Trippier was a major chance creation force throughout the game. Our overload in central midfield got runners between the lines, which sucked in Real Madrid’s centre backs and often their full backs, allowing lanes inbetween them. Trippier was therefore afforded space out wide to get crosses in for players arriving in those lanes.

Our first big moment of the match came from Trippier’s ability to get forward and cross first time. Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen were in the large spaces between the lines, drawing in Real Madrid’s centre backs and full back Marcelo.

Dele and Eriksen between the lines afford Trippier space during Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid.

Dele and Eriksen between the lines afford Trippier space.

Harry Kane’s sweeping ball out towards Trippier saw the full back punch it back across the six-yard box without hesitation. Dele Alli was flying in but failed to get on the end of the dangerous ball.

Ten minutes later and Trippier was at it again. Harry Winks was now restored to his usual position at the base of midfield.

Winks plays in Trippier to setup Dele Alli's goal during Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid.

Winks plays in Trippier to setup Dele Alli’s goal.

Winks’ lofted pass found Trippier’s run perfectly. Without taking a touch, Trippier squared it across the six-yard box for the arriving Dele Alli to prod home. Wembley erupted as Tottenham took the lead against the mighty Madrid.

The goal summed up many of the good things that Tottenham did in the match. Harry Kane’s hussle forced a panicked clearance by Nacho in the build-up. Spurs had men between the lines to occupy and draw the centre backs. Sergio Ramos and centre back partner Nacho were on different wavelengths. Dele Alli therefore had a head start on the pairing to be first to Trippier’s cross. Trippier was offside, but good play can often earn good fortune.

Trippier continues to torment

Kieran Trippier’s delivery continued to be a factor throughout the match. Nacho’s outstretched leg was the only thing that could stop a sumptuous curling ball from finding Harry Kane’s run into the acres of space beyond the centre backs.

Trippier then danced through two Madrid defenders before squaring for Moussa Sissoko. The Frenchman had a glorious opportunity, but whiffed on connecting with the ball. Instead of another classic clumsy Sissoko moment, it turned out to be a good pass. Harry Kane arrived and although his shot beat goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, Sergio Ramos blocked it.

Setting up Dele Alli for his first, Trippier’s dangerous delivery should’ve allowed him to complete his hat trick. However, Dele somehow failed to get much of a connection on an uncontested header with the goal gaping. Real Madrid’s centre backs were once more affording large gaps between themselves due to Tottenham’s extra numbers in midfield and the late runs of Dele Alli.

Back three creates more space

At half time, Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane switched to a back three. There appeared to be two reasons behind the move. Firstly, to force our wingbacks to retreat through using them himself. Secondly, to make use of the wide areas that Real were being given by Spurs’ narrow diamond formation.

The formation change had good intentions. However, removing Casemiro from defensive midfield to anchor the back three just created more space between the lines for Tottenham’s diamond midfield to operate in. The Real Madrid centre backs were thus more exposed with less protection in front of them.

The space manifested itself twice in ten minutes as Tottenham destroyed the makeshift three centre backs and took the game away from Real Madrid.

Eric Dier took Kiko Casilla’s clearance down easily. With time and space, Dier could pick his pass. Ahead of him, Dele Ali and Christian Eriksen were in the spaces between the lines afforded by the now overstretched Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Behind them, the back three was already in an awful position.

Dele and Eriksen in space to receive Dier's pass during Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid.

Dele and Eriksen in space to receive Dier’s pass.

Eriksen let the ball run for Dele Alli; putting him immediately on the makeshift three centre backs. Casemiro was drawn out and he sold himself with an ill-advised lunge. Sergio Ramos was now exposed with both Dele and Eriksen running at him. Ramos had virtually given up and turned his back as Dele went to shoot. As a result, the ball cannoned off him and past the helpless keeper. Spurs 2-0 Real Madrid and Wembley exploded.

Ten minutes later and Spurs had numbers between the lines to attack the shaky centre backs once more.

Pivotal on our opening goal, the passing of Harry Winks was again key to the move being a success. Winks’ quick and incisive ball sprung Dele Alli in to space to rampage forward. Again, we were instantly on their back line, which had no protection. Sergio Ramos raced in to halt Dele’s progress, but was left in his wake. Casemiro then dived in again, leaving just Nacho against both Kane and Eriksen.

Madrid's centre backs caught in a row as Spurs use space during Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid.

Madrid’s centre backs caught in a row as Spurs use space.

Kane put the ball on a plate for Eriksen to sweep in and roll home. Spurs 3-0 Real Madrid and an ecstatic Wembley went in to orbit.

Madrid vs narrow Spurs

Tottenham’s diamond midfield had seen Real Madrid reduced to either crossing or balls over our high line. There were, however, several goal line scrambles in the match. Madrid had been unfortunate not to profit from one of them. Eric Dier’s calm play had seen one of their opportunities thwarted. Sergio Ramos thumping the ball in to Cristiano Ronaldo just yards out had stopped another.

Madrid combined their crossing against a narrow Spurs team with a bit of a goal line scramble to grab a consolation.

Ben Davies was worried about the positioning of Ronaldo, which saw the dangerous Achraf Hakimi fill the space being given out wide.

Narrow defence gives space to wingbacks on Ronaldo's goal during Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid.

Narrow defence gives space to wingbacks on Ronaldo’s goal.

Eric Dier flicked Hakimi’s cross on. However, Marcelo, now at wingback, was able to keep it in. Marcelo’s miss hit return bounced in to the floor and up over Kieran Trippier. Luka Modric leaped in, but his attempted header pinged off Eric Dier towards Borja Mayoral. His loose touch then took the ball backwards towards Cristiano Ronaldo, who thumped the ball in to the net off the unfortunate Eric Dier. A scrappy and disappointing consolation with the score line now Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid.

The goal setup a brief nervy period that was laid to rest by Mousa Dembele playing the rather uncharacteristic role of hatchet man.

Dembele got in to several scuffles, which included a yellow card for an ungainly, but welcome felling of Sergio Ramos through some uncoordinated kicks.  The flow of the game was therefore interrupted and the score remained Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid to the delight of the 83,782 crowd on hand.

Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid overall

A performance for the ages and a statement game that showed how far we’ve come under Mauricio Pochettino.

The use of a diamond midfield to overrun and exploit the spaces around Madrid’s three central midfielders was inspired. The Real centre back pairing, and subsequent back three, was then left exposed to the runs of Dele Alli and Harry Kane.

A glory, glory night. The Wembley hoodoo was firmly laid to rest. Spurs were more than a match for the European Champions across two games. Silverware is all we are lacking. Dare we dream that this Tottenham team could win the greatest prize in club football?

Final score: Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid.
MOTM: Dele Alli.

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19 Responses to Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid: destroying the centre backs

  1. YouShubes 2nd November 2017 at 7:28 pm #

    Mousa’s kick got as big a cheer as any of the goals. I was wondering why our ole moments went on for so long in the second half. Jokes aside he did not look fully sharp and I hope he will be ready to play Palace.

    Clearly Ronaldo was never going to go back and help Luka and Kroos.

    Hopefully Toby and Hugo won’t be out too long. Glad the intl break has come along. I am secretly hoping Poch does an SAF and lot of our players suddenly develop hamstring issues!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd November 2017 at 11:13 pm #

      Toby is going to be a big miss and the international break has come at a welcome time to give him those extra weeks. Hopefully he’s back for the Arsenal game. Picking up a few of these hamstring and muscle injuries. Kind of shows the softness of the Wembley turf, which is harder on the muscles.

  2. Zaph Mann 2nd November 2017 at 8:11 pm #

    It was fascinating to watch Winks – what guts the lad has – just before the 3rd goal he made two errors in two minutes – first clipping the ball back in front of our penalty box to present RM with a chance, then overhitting a pass out to Davies that went out. Pochetino spotted it and readied Dembele, then minutes later Winks gets a ball under pressure on the edge of Spurs’ box – doesn’t panic, finds space and passes wonderfully to Dele Ali to start that 3rd goal.

    Thanks for the analysis – mostly agree but don’t think we were clinical – maybe 6 times a better pass would have allowed a one-on-one

    6-2 would have reflected the game better

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd November 2017 at 11:18 pm #

      Three goals from 37% possession and six efforts on target against the best club side in Europe over the last two seasons is clinical enough for me ;)

  3. Matt 2nd November 2017 at 9:36 pm #

    Great analysis of a great game. He wisdom of rejection 50m+ advances for Dier is being shown. With Wanyama and Toby our Diers flexibility is invaluable. With the justified excitement about Winks progression, our new signings and Kane’s continuing brilliance, people forget what Dier adds to our squad and team.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd November 2017 at 11:22 pm #

      Spot on. Great player and such an important part of the team. The doubters will only realise how good he is after he’s gone. We’re going to need him for sure without Toby, but what a versatile option to have.

      • ashley collie 3rd November 2017 at 3:45 am #

        And, Mark, our Eric is also showing more leadership on the pitch, yapping at other players to keep alert, maybe to himself, too. What a grand, grand match of beautiful football. Thing is, CL teams are quality and will come to play us, while we’re back to PL where teams will come not to play, and it’s a completely different proposition trying to break down 10-men back in their own half. I do like our increasing flexibility in tactics, and now that we’ve gotten accustomed to Wembley, it’s more about finding ways to break down the teams that park their team bus on the Wembley pitch. So proud to be a Spurs fan. We had several LA Spurs at the game. COYMFS!

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 3rd November 2017 at 12:09 pm #

          A very valid point. I think this new formation from Poch is a way of inviting teams forward as we seem to be less aggressive in our pressing and closing down. The team seems much more content to play without the ball and do more when we have it. That has been the case against in the PL games against Liverpool and Man Utd. Whether it works for a team that will sit back like Palace this weekend is another story.

          Great that some of the LA Spurs could get to the game. An epic night to be there. One that will live long in the memory!

  4. Grum 3rd November 2017 at 1:28 pm #

    And everybody seems to forget Sanchez. What a player, what a buy. 21 years old and people don’t notice him because he does everything so easily and without any fuss. Great pace, good passing and outstanding athleticism.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 3rd November 2017 at 4:47 pm #

      Love Sanchez. He’s going to be an absolute beast of a defender.

  5. Chu2ks 3rd November 2017 at 3:22 pm #

    I for one love Eric Dier, and still see his final position as a defender, but by learning midfield positioning and distribution, what a defender he will become eventually. I actually compared Weigl of Dortmund to him, but he’s now far ahead in his progression, in my opinion.
    Trippier is a standout to me, and I’ve had numerous discussions about him with my fellow Spurs faithful, as I think he’s actually our starter, and Aurier his deputy. Lol. What Walker and Aurier have in terms of their strength and athleticism, can be worked on, I seriously believe that, and Trips is putting in the work, whereas the aforementioned gents, were somewhat more naturally blessed with, in my opinion. However, his one touch passes, instinctive through balls and pinpoint crosses, are not as easy to master, and therein lies his advantage.

    I want to know of your thoughts on Lamela in this 3-4-2-1/5-3-2 formations Poche has us playing now. I think he’s the perfect sub for Eriksen or Dele, but he’s not a starter, unless Eriksen drops in deeper.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 3rd November 2017 at 7:26 pm #

      Trippier has been very good. His distribution and delivery is top class and we really benefit from that. I’m big on Aurier as well. His delivery isn’t as good as Trippier’s, but he does have speed which will bail us out against fast wingers. There is no real starter and backup for me as it’s needs must as to who is selected. Same with Davies and Rose as Ben has seriously improved given a proper run in the team.

      I’m in two minds on Lamela in this system. The diamond I’m not sure will work for him as it requires players that are comfortable with their back to goal and Lamela likes to receive the ball moving forwards. However, the 3-4-2-1 variant where we have Dele and Eriksen as twin number tens roaming off Harry Kane I can see suiting him much more. It would favour his style better, allow him to run more and use the disguise through passes he likes to play. It should get the best out of him. The big question mark is will he return anywhere near to 100% or will this hip problem continue to haunt him?

  6. anotherwisemonkey 3rd November 2017 at 6:44 pm #

    Is Pochettino developing increased tactical skills, or do you think that the 3+ years embedding our playing style means that the team are now more able to adapt to different formations seamlessly? It was only 2015/16 when many felt that over-reliance on 4-2-3-1 cost us the title.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 3rd November 2017 at 7:30 pm #

      I think he’s developing and improving with experience. We were very reliant on the 4-2-3-1 back then and I can imagine that Poch hadn’t really factored in playing a back three at that time. I think he’s seen different systems and thought that he could do something with the back three and has moulded it to his philosophy. It’s what good coaches do. Adapt and move with the times.

      • anotherwisemonkey 3rd November 2017 at 7:39 pm #

        Agreed. He played a back 3 at Watford away in December 2015- when we beat them with a Son flick in the 90th minute. So it was an option even then, but rarely returned to until last season.

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 3rd November 2017 at 9:33 pm #

          Yes we’ve seen him use a few setups, some of which have been tweaked, others eg the 4-1-4-1 that made several appearances, have been dispensed with as they didn’t work. That’s the good thing about Poch. As he has been with us longer and longer, he is growing and evolving as a manager. He adapts and uses what does work and dispenses with what doesn’t. That’s what makes him the best in the premier league.

    • YouShubes 6th November 2017 at 7:12 pm #

      not sure how comfortable Dele is back to goal either…I am guess this is how players so long as they are coachable develop….The way we are play Eriksen almost incessantly we can benefit from playing Lamela as a #10.

      Think Llorente will do well with Lamela and Sonny other side of him in a 433/343. I know Poch is not all too hot on the cups but with Jan and Feb being busy for FA Cup games would be useful to see how they work as an attacking trident

  7. Matt 3rd November 2017 at 10:56 pm #

    If we’re playing 3 at the back without Toby, I’d prefer to see Sanchez in the middle as a more natural CB. Dier on RHS. Why do you think Poch prefers Dier in the centre, when he plays Sanchez centre with Toby?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 3rd November 2017 at 11:48 pm #

      Good question, Matt. Dier is his best aerial defender so he uses him in the middle to match up with the opposition striker, especially if he is a physical presence eg Lukaku, Andy Carroll. It also affords Dier some protection by having two more natural, and better, ground defenders around him.
      In the three with Toby, Jan and Sanchez, Poch seems to like his best distributors on the outsides and that’s why Sanchez is in the middle. Although Sanchez has pretty decent distribution himself.