Pulling the centre backs all over the place opened the floodgates as it finished Spurs 4-0 Stoke in our Premier League clash.
Mauricio Pochettino must love playing the Potters. Previously struggling against Mark Hughes’ men, our manager oversaw a third successive score line of Spurs 4-0 Stoke on Sunday. Once again the key lay in dragging their centre backs around.
Unlocking the centre backs
Whenever we face Stoke, Mark Hughes has his centre backs track our centre forward. This singles out Harry Kane for special attention. Kane’s movement is so good though that it drags his marker around and pulls them out of place. As we looked at in the Spurs vs Stoke match preview, Kane has done this expertly in our last two 4-0 wins against the Potters. He was at it again on Sunday, as he notched a hat trick for the second successive weekend.
Mauricio Pochettino was also well aware of Stoke continuing with this tactic. The manager returned to a 3-4-2-1 to get Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli higher up the pitch and closer to Kane. Having the pair just off the striker not only gives Kane closer support, but also allowed them to burst in to the gaps created by his movement.
Dele and Eriksen operating just behind Harry Kane created problems for Stoke all afternoon. We often had three men in central areas against their two centre backs. Early in the game we can see how our movement opened Stoke’s man-marking defence. Dele came short, drawing Ryan Shawcross out, which left Harry Kane to run in to the space created off his marker, Bruno Martins Indi.
Dele’s movement short, which should’ve been left by Shawcross, creates a huge hole for Kane to dart down for the pass by Jan Vertonghen.
This movement by Harry Kane and also the player, Dele or Eriksen, being marked by the other centre back unhinged Stoke’s back line. It was a major part of the opening goal as Shawcross and Martins Indi got dragged around and separated.
Kane moves Shawcross to open the scoring
Seeking to bounce back from Thursday night’s disappointment, we needed a fast start. We got it as the team flew out of the traps.
The build-up saw Harry Kane drag Ryan Shawcross away from his starting position in the middle. With Stoke’s centre backs detailed to pick up and then man mark Kane, he took Shawcross out to the right.
Kane dropped the ball off and Shawcross followed him to the lefthand edge of the box, removing himself from being a factor in the centre. A huge gap had now been created between Shawcross and his fellow centre back, Bruno Martins Indi. This created a massive lane for Christian Eriksen to dart back down.
Dele Alli tried to get the ball to Eriksen, but as he did, it rebounded back in to the path of Harry Kane. Without a moment’s hesitation, Kane sweetly fired the loose ball home in to the corner far of the net.
Kane had very effectively removed Ryan Shawcross from his defensive position in the centre and he would continue to do so throughout the first half.
Goals from set pieces have plummeted this season, a year on from being the top tallying team in the Premier League. However, there were signs of recovery in our set pieces against Stoke.
One factor with us having three centre backs on the field is that it brings us more height at set pieces. The energetic Toby Alderweireld with a typical near post run flicking on for Jan Vertonghen to crack a shot off the bar highlighted just that.
Vertonghen’s shot with his unfavoured right foot really deserved more. Harry Kane’s shot with his unnatural left did register minutes later.
Ryan Shawcross had been paying Harry Kane close attention. He’d been dragged around on the opening goal, but was strangely absent as we lined up for a corner.
Kane was given acres of space as Stoke adopted a four-man zone across the six-yard box. Not only was Kane loose on the edge of the area, but we also had Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier 2v1 on the penalty spot. Everything was in our favour as Kane signalled for the ball.
Christian Eriksen swung the corner out towards Kane. As the ball dropped, Ryan Shawcross tried his best to get out to challenge. However, he could only look on as the ball flew past him, through the legs of Victor Wanyama and nestled in the bottom corner, 2-0. A sweeter weaker foot shot you will not see.
Free kick hat trick
Having only scored two goals from set pieces all season prior to this match, two came along within six minutes as we added a free kick to the corner.
The key was once again overloading the centre backs with Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen.
Bruno Martins Indi was tracking Harry Kane and Ryan Shawcross with Christian Eriksen, which left Dele Alli free. As Dele came short in to the space created, Charlie Adam was forced to clumsily step in and foul to stop him turning and getting away.
There was a touch of fortune about Harry Kane’s shot. Like his previous two, it was well hit, coming right our of the sweet spot. However, a deflection off the unfortunate Peter Crouch saw the ball go back behind the diving Lee Grant. Spurs 3-0 Stoke with only 36 minutes on the clock!
Back to attacking the centre backs
Dele Alli was inspired in this match, making up for some of his misdemeanours on Thursday night. He added a well-deserved fourth goal as we dragged the Stoke centre backs around once more, taking advantage of their man marking assignments.
Christian Eriksen went short to receive a lofted ball after a throw in. Eriksen’s movement off the front had seen him tracked by Ryan Shawcross, pulling the burly centre back out of position in the middle. The Dane got to the ball first, taking Shawcross out of the game. He flicked it on towards Harry Kane who had drawn Bruno Martins Indi out to the touchline. This left Dele Alli 1v1 in the middle against right back Phil Bardsley.
Kane’s touch to sweep the ball around Martins Indi was sublime. Both centre backs were now taken out of the game, leaving Kane bearing down on goal with Dele for company. Phil Bardsley was left 1v2 and in no man’s land. He was too far over to stop Kane and not deep enough to track Dele’s run to the far post.
Kane swept a pinpoint pass across the box for Dele to slide in at the back post and make it Spurs 4-0 Stoke on the stroke of half time.
Second half slowdown
Obliterating Stoke in the first half, the second became a procession. Understandably four goals up and having played for 50 minutes on Thursday night with ten men, the zip and pop in our play dropped.
There were moments. Dele Alli’s out-to-in run got him in-behind from Eric Dier’s Alderweireld-esque long pass. Dele couldn’t convert an extravagant attempt at a bicycle kick.
Eric Dier almost got on the score sheet himself as we almost added a third set piece goal for the afternoon. Dier mistimed his run and was flagged offside before seeing Lee Grant make an outstanding save. Three set piece goals in an afternoon after two all season would’ve been a lot to ask.
The second half actually threw up more questions than answers. Both Jan Vertonghen, and more alarmingly Toby Alderweireld, went off, leaving us wondering if and how long they will be out for? In front of the media Mauricio Pochettino didn’t seem to think they were serious. However, we know he has a hstory of playing these things down in public. Seeing Toby sat down nursing his thigh is not a sight we want at this stage of the season.
Spurs 4-0 Stoke overall
After bemoaning our lack of shooting accuracy, it was good to see us finding the corners of the net. Harry Kane was on fire, Dele Alli was menacing and Christian Eriksen was back to his artful best.
Our ability to move Stoke’s centre backs around once again proved a pivotal factor. Why Mark Hughes continues to assign them on tracking jobs against our forwards after three tonkings in a row only he will know. Harry Kane’s movement is far too smart for them. Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen benefited by popping up in the spaces created by the centre backs being dragged around.
Final score: Spurs 4-0 Stoke.
MOTM: Harry Kane.