Harry Kane scores to make it Spurs 4-0 Stoke in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Spurs 4-0 Stoke: unlocking the centre backs

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 draws Shawcross to open the channel for Kane during Spurs 4-0 Stoke in the Premier League.

Dele draws Shawcross to open the channel for Kane.

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 draws the tracking Shawcross out of the centre during Spurs 4-0 Stoke in the Premier League.

Kane draws the tracking Shawcross out of the centre.

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.

Kane's movement separates the centre backs to create a lane for Eriksen during Spurs 4-0 Stoke in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Kane’s movement separates the CBs to create a lane.

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.

Corner counter

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.

Kane signals for the ball free against the zone marking to score his second goal during Spurs 4-0 Stoke in the Premier League.

Kane signals for the ball free against the zone marking.

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.

Kane and Eriksen tracked by the centre backs leaves Dele free during Spurs 4-0 Stoke in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Kane and Eriksen tracked by the centre backs leaves Dele free.

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.

CBs Martins Indi and Shawcross drawn out by Kane and Eriksen during Spurs 4-0 Stoke in the Premier League.

CBs Martins Indi and Shawcross drawn out by Kane and Eriksen.

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.

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11 Responses to Spurs 4-0 Stoke: unlocking the centre backs

  1. Prem Kiran 27th February 2017 at 10:08 pm #

    A nice well written analysis.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 27th February 2017 at 10:34 pm #

      Cheers Prem Kiran

  2. Matt 27th February 2017 at 11:44 pm #

    Thanks Mark nice analysis as ever: Good to see Dele put in a great performance as well as of course Harry. His movement energy and unpredictability make a big difference even though he has his faults. Anyone would want him in their team. We can’t afford to lose TA or JV right now though/

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 28th February 2017 at 11:17 am #

      Yes losing either of Toby or Jan for any amount of time would be a disaster.

  3. ashley collie 28th February 2017 at 1:21 am #

    Eriksen ran the show in midfield, and now has 1G + 5A in the last three games, and I can’t imagine any other PL midfielder is having that sort of impact. Thanks for analysis as always, Mark. I think Poch wanted the same 11 to prove themselves and they did, harrying and moving and pressing. And being more clinical — we’re often creating chances, putting them away is key. With Rose out, we’re relying on only 13 outfield players, but not having midweek games will allow Poch to push them. We’ve got maybe 12 (PL) + 3 (FAC) games left, let’s focus and achieve both goals — top-4 and hopefully a FAC parade on Seven Sisters!!! COYMFS!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 28th February 2017 at 11:21 am #

      I would love us to win the FA Cup. A piece of silverware would be great and get some of the media off our backs. First they were saying we need to compete for top four. Now we’re doing that they’re calling us out for not winning silverware. Guess it shows how far we’ve come…

  4. Toby4eva 28th February 2017 at 8:55 am #

    Perfect pre-game read again.

    This conclusively shows that these has beens (Hughes/Allardyce et al) are ridiculously overpaid clowns who are totally devoid of creative thinking and proactive adaption. And they are being paid millions.

    You are a humble observer of the game who reads it far better than they do.

    That’s not blowing smoke northwards in the close proximity to your south facing rear orifice, it’s pretty straightforward fact!

    Our forwards simply had a picnic – as you basically predicted.

    I think we are in a great place now.

    That was a perfectly delivered victory.

    After the Toffees we have eight straight games against teams placed 11th to 18th on the table. These teams are basically all struggling to average one goal a game and we concede 0.66 per outing. So none of these teams should be putting more than one goal past us – so they are all very winnable.

    76 points will get back into the CL – so a win against Everton means that if we can accumulate 20 points from these 8 games we will be qualified even before the Gooners and Utd arrive.

    So the next nine PL games are crucial – and winnable.

    Europa out of the way and only two FAC games to negotiate in this two month period.

    Glass half full.


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 28th February 2017 at 11:30 am #

      Some good points Toby4eva. We do have a very favourable run to finish the season and hopefully we have enough left in the tank to challenge for the cup and be snapping at Chelsea’s heels should they slip up. Personally I’m happy we’re out of the Europa. It’s an energy sapping brute of a competition and for me the hardest trophy to win due to the competition format, travel, recovery times, the state of pitches, and standard of officials. Until UEFA look at this competition, I’d rather not be in it.

      Everton will not be easy. They are the form team this year and highly dangerous. A win here and we’ll be in a good position to go on a sustained run and who knows what might happen.

  5. Daudi 28th February 2017 at 8:40 pm #

    Hi Mark, great article, bringing into perspective what we all miss during the flow of the game, the split second passages that set up the goals. Keep up the good work.

    On our title challange; given the position in the table we find ourselves the past two seasons and vying for the title at that, is a great feeling to be a spurs fan, unfamiliar territory I might add. Given the usual suspects would strengthen its nice to see us still in the mix, as long as we finish in the top four regularly for starters not bad at all, and also the cups and titles are around the corner…

    On the game, it was nice to see us get back to our lbest after the Europa disappointment was great. in my opinion its harder to navigate than the champions league. One thing we’ll have to do next season is to learn to play at Wembley, whether its the size or atmosphere or a combination of both, well have to adapt fast. What do you think we need for the Wembley pitch Mark? in term of tactics and all…

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st March 2017 at 10:44 pm #

      We are taking steps forward even though others have strengthened. To think of the money Man Utd have spent or how much City have outlayed, we’ve done incredibly well to stay ahead of them both in the table.

      For Wembley I think we need to try and use the surface to our advantage. Some players have complained the pitch is slow and due to its size, I think we need to play a more counter attacking game. We are a decent at counter attacks when we try them. For this we’d need to add some speed though. I’m not saying we should park the bus or play an extremely low block, but we should try dropping to the middle third and trapping in midfield.

      I think the players will get more used to Wembley. You only have to look across town and see how the spammers have fared in their new home. It’s taken them a while, with a load of teething troubles, but they seem to have become accustomed to it. I think Wembley will take time and we’ll be lucky to make top four.

  6. Toby4eva 28th February 2017 at 11:17 pm #

    Agree re Everton Mark. I have a lot of time for Koeman as a manager and he has put them back firmly on the fringes of CL territory. They are clearly the “best of the rest” and will keep bridging the gap with some good buying if he stays at the helm.

    His media mind games with Ross Barkley earlier in the season seem to have done that player no harm.

    But we may have got them at precisely the right time and place. The Gaffer will be up for it personally of course to win the battle of the “Southampton Managerial Academy”. And the Stoke performance will have reignited belief amongst the players that they can go on the run that I have detailed.

    Kane’s comments a about “fortress WHL” in the run home were evidence of that.

    It will be an excellent game to watch and I think we can eke out a win. Keeping Lukaku quiet will obviously be an important tactical plank.

    Enter our Belgians stage left…

    So really looking forward to your pre game thoughts!