A fast start combined with heavy pressing sees us win our Europa League qualifying tie, as it finishes Spurs 3 Limassol 0 at the Lane.
Like Tbilisi last season, Limassol were brushed aside with ease as we made it in to the hat for the main Europa League draw.
This was tactically quite a simple game due to the visitors approach and our start. However, there were a number of key things going on which dictated the final outcome to make it Spurs 3 Limassol 0 and 5-1 on aggregate overall.
With the tie slightly in the balance at 2-1 on aggregate to start the night, it was clear that Mauricio Pochettino wanted to get an early goal to settle any nerves.
The pace was quick from the off and within six minutes we had a penalty.
The passage of play that lead to it was one we are used to seeing under Mauricio Pochettino, whereby one player vacates a space for another to run in to.
Andros Townsend came short from his starting position on the right, allowing Kyle Naughton to jet in to the green acres behind him.
A swift vertical pass forward, another Pochettino trademark, set Naughton in the clear. This forced the Limassol keeper to make an ill-advised challenge as he came hurtling from his goal, badly injuring himself in the process.
Six minutes of treatment passed, no doubt unnerving Harry Kane in the process, as his weak spot kick straight down the middle was saved.
After the rapid start, the injury seemed to affect both sides as the tempo was less aggressive and the game struggled to flow with Limassol stifling.
With the injury slowing proceedings, the game was further affected by Limassol’s approach to it.
Down in the tie and requiring two goals, you’d have expected Limassol to have a bit of a go early to see if they could get something to work on. However, they were extremely negative in their set-up and played as if this was an opening away leg and were looking to escape home without too much damage.
Without the ball, Limassol were content to drop off in to their own half. They would only look to engage the ball once it crossed halfway. What’s more, they tried to get extra numbers in to central areas to force us wide. They would often have extra players in central midfield just to try and stifle us through here, which is why Naughton got free in the opening exchanges.
The problem for Limassol was that sitting so deep meant that when they regained the ball, they were in their own half and susceptible to our heavy pressing. This was in evidence on all three of our goals.
Press brings success
After Harry Kane missed from the penalty spot, chances were few and far between, but all of our goals came from our excellent closing down. Limassol’s sloppy play and also sitting so deep in their own half didn’t help their cause.
It took until half time to open the scoring, but Kane’s neat finish came after closing Limassol down to force an error.
Harry Kane had quickly closed down Valentinos Sielis, making him pass it to Marios Nikolaou. Aaron Lennon was on his way to pressure him, but the Cypriot’s miss-hit pass allowed Paulinho to steal in.
With Kane already forward, Paulinho had an easy pass to put him in to open the scoring.
After the interval one became two and again Paulinho was heavily involved.
The most interesting part of the move was the positioning of Vlad Chiriches. On Saturday in Spurs 4 QPR 0 we’d seen many of our players regularly switching positions and here this was only in evidence in fits and spurts.
However, both our centre backs, Kaboul and Chiriches, both popped up on the right wing in a brief period of time. Kaboul delivered a cross that Harry Kane got on to and saw his shot saved. Chiriches attempted a boaty back heel and then recovered the ball to tee up Paulinho’s goal.
The numbers we had forward were impressive, with five players looking to squeeze Limassol in to their final third.
Diallio Guidileye dawdling on the ball aided Chiriches to recover in a passage of play that saw us press and regain possession on two separate occasions.
Chiriches has a habit of making tackles in which he is also able to guide the ball to a team mate. The way in which in one motion he slid to challenge and flicked the ball in to the path of Paulinho was another one of those moments.
The Brazilian dropped his shoulder to fake like he was going inside and then burst past the Limassol defender to drive his effort in to the corner of the net. An impressive and powerful move.
Goal number three arrived via the penalty spot, but it was once more our aggressive pressing that started it with Kyle Naughton.
The right back played a large amount of time in the Limassol half looking to get involved in the attack, as well as closing down when we lost the ball.
Here he got right up on their left back and jammed him as he received the ball, which bounced loose to Moussa Dembele. Once more we had numbers forward pressing the Limassol back line.
Paulinho, Naughton and Dembele were all in advance of striker Harry Kane, with defensive midfielder Sandro also pinching in high up.
Dembele gave the ball back to Naughton who had run straight for the penalty area. The full back’s short chipped pass hit the arm of Edmar to earn a penalty.
Andros Townsend made no mistake with the spot kick to stamp an emphatic 5-1 aggregate score on the tie.
For us, two grafting Brazilians stood out. The opposition may have been limited in quality, but Sandro was an absolute beast at winning the ball back. His closing speed and hard challenges that we’ve not seen for a while really controlled midfield.
Further forward, Paulinho was extremely effective as a second striker in the number ten position. Mauricio Pochettino often went with a forward in here when at Southampton against weaker teams that may sit back. There he went for Dani Osvaldo in the advanced three midfielders of his 4-2-3-1 behind Rickie Lambert. Here, he used Paulinho for that role behind Harry Kane.
There was less altering of positions between our three advanced midfielders as a result, but Paulinho was a menace through the middle. He was recovering the ball and getting in to the penalty area to provide a second striking option.
This role is not new for Paulinho, as last season we saw AVB use him here behind the striker. However, he struggled when the Portuguese coach played him here, as did our creativity. Roberto Soldado didn’t come short as often as Harry Kane does, allowing Paulinho to run past him. Also, AVB had more combative midfielders in with him who were slower to move the ball.
Whilst it worked here, with the greatest of respect to Limassol, they aren’t the same calibre of opposition as we get in the Premier League. It’ll be interesting to see how Paulinho fares if he gets the nod in here again this season.
Spurs 3 Limassol 0 conclusions
This match was a comfortable qualification for the group stages of the Europa League.
With nine changes from Saturday’s victory over QPR, it was good that others got a run out to see how the can cope in Mauricio Pochettino’s system. It was also good to see the coach try something different with a second striker as a number ten rather than the interchangeable trio of Eriksen, Lamela, and Chadli. This will be a tactic used against teams that come to the Lane and sit deep and so a chance for Pochettino to assess his options.
Overall, the match was decided by Limassol’s approach to the game and our pressing, which was responsible for all three of our goals.
Final score: Spurs 3 Limassol 0.