An amazing comeback with three goals in thirteen minutes saw us advance to the Europa League last sixteen, as it finished Spurs 3 Dnipro 1 at the Lane.
The turning point may have been the red card to Roman Zozulya, but the key to the game, and all three goals, was our exploitation of the left flank.
Space was appearing here all match and we did nothing about it as we were stifled in the first half, running in to the Dnipro traps. But did Tim Sherwood instruct a tactical change after the interval?
Prior to the game, in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Dnipro, I speculated on how much pressure, if any, Juande Ramos’ side would bring. They started the first leg with an initial 20-minute burst of heavy pressing, before dropping back. Here they retreated from the off, content to sit deep and defend from the halfway line, then looking to strike quickly on the counter.
What Dnipro tried to do in the defensive phase was create a box of four players in the centre and trap anything here. This would combine the two players in the pivot (Jaba Kankava and Ruslan Rotan) along with their number ten (Giuliano), and Roman Zozulya who was dropping deep from his centre forward position.
The idea of this was to not get outnumbered in the centre and to trap any Tottenham play in this area. They were content to leave our centre backs, but would slide over as a group and along with the wide player on that side, pressure the ball when it went to our full backs. This often got five Dnipro players hawking the ball, especially on Andros Townsend’s side as he tried to retain width.
This really meant that we were unable to get much going in the first half and our best chance came from a long ball over the top, missing out this area of the pitch. Naughton found Adebayor with a long diagonal and his knockdown saw Christian Eriksen’s shot deflected over.
This box was a very similar tactic to the one Sam Allardyce had used in Spurs 0 West Ham 3 at the Lane earlier this season. This was arguably our worst home performance of the campaign; had this really inspired Ramos?
Maybe it had. Tim Sherwood went with two wide players who like to come inside and this was playing in to Dnipro’s hands with the four central players they had set up.
Andros Townsend was dribbling inside with the ball at his feet, but Christian Eriksen was moving off the ball. His inside movement did mean that there was space appearing on the left as he was taking his marker with him, something we didn’t exploit until the second half.
Dnipro set pieces
Playing on the counter saw Dnipro look to break at speed, but they actually didn’t create too many clear-cut chances due to the number of times they were ‘fouled.’
A number of these were soft fouls and Matheus was once again going to ground trying to win free kicks, but all the same, they earned a number in our half.
These set piece situations gave Ruslan Rotan the opportunity to deliver quality crosses or Yevheniy Konoplyanka could shoot, leading to their goal and best chances.
Rotan guided a dangerous ball on to the head of Zozulya for the opener, but moments later; he squared one for Konoplyanka to curl an effort against the post. At the death, Konoplyanka forced a diving save from Hugo Lloris, as he fired a free kick towards the bottom corner.
Spurs exploit the space on the left
Christian Eriksen’s inside movement was getting him in to central positions where he could affect the play, but it was opening up a pocket of space down the left.
The Dane was doing some excellent work in the middle, most notably his through ball to Soldado that saw the Spaniard given offside despite scoring. However, what his movement was doing was allowing space to become available.
In the first half we didn’t exploit this and were stifled by Dnipro’s set up, as Adebayor remained central trying to link the play and the area often became congested.
Tim Sherwood may or may not have instructed this at half time, but after the interval, Adebayor drifted much more out to the space on the left when Eriksen came inside.
This got Adebayor on the ball more to influence the game and dragged the Dnipro defensive box around.
The Togolese front man was out on the left wing when he was fouled to set up our equaliser. His movement brought a rash challenge and Christian Eriksen curled the resulting free kick in to the bottom corner to make it 1-1.
Then, Roman Zozulya received his marching orders for a head butt on Jan Vertonghen and Dnipro were down to ten. They went to the standard two banks of four, but without Zozulya, their box of four players shifted to a triangle of three and they became disorganised.
Moments later and Christian Eriksen turned creator this time from the left. Adebayor had been out on the flank, but his movement inside took the full back with him. This left Christian Eriksen in space as Moussa Dembele drove in to the remaining central triangle.
Adebayor continued his movement in to the centre and Eriksen picked him out with an excellent cross to make it 2-1.
Juande Ramos tried to get his team back together, but four minutes later, two became three as we created the goal from the left once more.
Ramos had returned his side to trying to control the centre with the box of four players. This left them short in other areas though and they were unable to put any pressure on our back four.
Just as Kyle Naughton had done in the first half, Zeki Fryers went over the top of the box with a long diagonal pass to pick out Emmanuel Adebayor.
The striker used his height and strength to take the pass on his chest whilst holding off the centre back and flick it past the helpless keeper and the tie was all but over.
Spurs 3 Dnipro 1 conclusions
Tim Sherwood’s verdict after the match was that: “We needed to show spirit and character and we certainly did that in the second half, especially after going behind.” I’ve been quite critical of some of his tactics and often said he’s been out-coached, but does he deserve more credit here?
This was really a game of two halves, where we were stifled in the first before breaking free in the second. The red card did play a huge part, but the players were ruthless in taking advantage so quickly and striking before Dnipro could get organised once again.
The Ukrainians had set up well to play on the counter, but with Christian Eriksen’s inside movement, there was space to be exploited down our left. In the first half we didn’t do anything about it, but credit must be given to Tim Sherwood if he did indeed notice this and instruct Ade to drift out there in the second period.
This criss-cross movement with Adebayor and Eriksen really dragged the Dnipro defence around and was even more telling after the sending off.
Final score: Spurs 3 Dnipro 1.