Spurs 3 Dinamo Tbilisi 0: Tottenham hit the runners in-behind, again

Professional was the best way to describe our performance as we eased in to the Europa League group stages, with it finishing Spurs 3 Dinamo Tbilisi 0.

Andre Villas-Boas rang the changes, with only Kyle Walker, Jan Vertonghen and Andros Townsend remaining from our weekend victory over Swansea.

Tbilisi didn’t offer much over the 90 minutes, but Tottenham’s ability to find runners in-behind the Georgian’s defence with through balls undid them once again.

Spurs set up and tactics

Despite all the changes Andre Villas-Boas retained his 4-3-3 formation, which started with Andros Townsend on the right and Gylfi Sigurdsson on the left. Andros was retaining his width and cutting inside on to his favoured left foot, whilst Gylfi was moving in to central areas in order to create overloads with Jermain Defoe.

Behind the front three, the midfield combined the power of Sandro with two playmakers or “organisers” as Andre Villas-Boas refers to them. These came in the form of Tom Carroll and Lewis Holtby, with both players being influential in controlling the rhythm of the game.

What was interesting in here were the levels at which they were playing. Sandro often swept up in front of the defence with Carroll 10 yards in front of him and then Lewis Holtby just in advance of the England U21 international. However, Sandro would often burst forward, resulting in both Carroll and Holtby rotating around to keep the midfield triangle in tact.

When in possession, we were looking to slide in passes for runners on the other side of the Dinamo Tbilisi defence. When the ball was lost, we were pressing high up in order to create turnovers, which pinned the Georgians inside their own half. Both Jan Vertonghen and Younes Kaboul spent much of the evening at the halfway line with play almost exclusively in front of them.

Dinamo Tbilisi set up and tactics

Dinamo Tbilisi lined up in what looked like a 4-3-1-2 formation. However, their defensive shape of two banks of four, with the two forwards pressing the ball, was more prevalent given Spurs’ domination of the play.

The two banks of four were sat deep, leaving a gap to the two forwards who were trying to press Vertonghen, Kaboul and the deepest lying midfielder. This was most often Sandro, but Tom Carroll also dropped in to take the ball from the centre backs due to the midfield trio rotating.

As the match wore on, Tbilisi increasingly left Vouho up front on his own as the midfield bank of four became a five.

When they had possession, they were looking for the runs of Elguja Grigalashvili on the right or Giorgi Merebashvili in the hole. On the odd occasions they were able to break on the counter, these two were attempting to spring Vouho through the centre. A lofted pass over the top that the forward hit in to the side netting was the only real opportunity that they managed to fashion.

Tottenham hit the runners in-behind

As in the first leg and as we’ve seen often this season, we’ve been attempting to hit a runner in-behind with a through ball.

Through the centre this allows a direct shot on goal. In wide areas, it shortens the crossing distance, allowing the ball to be either cut back or squared on the floor. It also allows a shorter, chipped cross to be played, like we saw on Townsend’s neat lob to Paulinho in the first leg.

Here, Jermain Defoe opened the scoring when Lewis Holtby laid the ball in to his path as he cut across the defence from right to left. This out-to-in movement to go behind the centre backs took three players out of the game. Holtby delivered the through ball and Defoe fired a beautiful shot in to the corner with his left foot.


Holtby hits Defoe running in-behind to make it 1-0.

The second came from a runner moving in-behind in a wide area this time, as Gylfi Sigurdsson cut through to receive a pass from Kyle Walker.


Walker finds Sigurdsson moving through the defence.

This then puts the runner inside the penalty area, where he has a shorter distance to deliver his cross or cut back to the intended target, meaning a higher chance of completion and thus scoring.

Sigurdsson squared a perfect pass to Defoe who couldn’t miss from inside the six-yard box.


Sigurdsson’s cut back gives Defoe a tap-in.

The third arrived from Defoe moving in to the space behind the full back this time in order to receive the ball. He then fed it in with a short square pass to Tom Carroll who had moved inside the area.


Defoe gets in-behind the right back.

In a move reminiscent of Danny Rose’s strike in the first leg, Carroll laid the ball back in to the path of Lewis Holtby who thundered a shot in off the underside of the cross bar.


A short lay off from Carrol is struck home by Holtby.

The passage of play may have ended with a strike from outside the box, but began with Defoe’s willingness to run in-behind the full back. While Holtby and Carroll were the stars of the show, Defoe’s effort and work rate outside the box, something he’s not usually known for, was also impressive on the night.

Spurs 3 Dinamo Tbilisi 0 conclusions

With such a heavy rotation, the players that came in were impressive in the way that they executed the same game plan as we’ve seen for much of this season. That is one of hitting runners in-behind the defence with through balls to either create a direct shot at goal, or when in wide areas, shorter crossing distances.

Andre Villas-Boas was impressed with the team’s “professionalism and responsibility” whilst not showing any kind of “complacency.”

The match also highlighted not only our strength in depth this season, but also the ability of everyone in the squad to be able to come in and execute the game plan. This highlights a lot of work on the training pitch where everyone knows and understands what their role is.

Final score: Spurs 3 Dinamo Tbilisi 0

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