Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli ruthlessly opened up the space between the lines as it finished Spurs 4-0 WBA in our Premier League clash.
A one-sided affair saw us breeze past the Baggies at a canter. Tony Pulis set his side up to defend against what we were trying to do. However, they were outsmarted by the movement of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli. It ended Spurs 4-0 WBA with the best two players on the park having a hand in all four goals.
WBA set up centrally
It’s an old Tony Pulis tactic, but one that he has had great success with against Mauricio Pochettino. Pulis sets up two tight defensive lines to restrict space in the centre to a minimum. He has his back four playing tight and compact all in the middle. In front of them he sets up a midfield trio to condense the space even further. This then leaves his two wide midfielders to play down the outside against the other team’s wide players. He is content to give up the wide areas to not get beaten in the centre. Crosses they can deal with, it’s the through balls that they do not want to concede.
Tony Pulis set up that way once again and it looked to have the desired effect as we were pushed in to the wide areas. The problem for Pulis was that our wingbacks were giving his wide midfielders fits.
Danny Rose blew by Nacer Chadli to create the game’s first chance. Unfortunately, Harry Kane guided the cross just wide. On the other side, Kyle Walker was taking on Matt Philips and also created a first time shot for Kane.
Eriksen between the lines
With West Brom stacked centrally, it looked as if the breakthrough was going to come from our good play out wide. We were quickly switching the play and it was isolating our faster full backs 1v1 against their wide midfielders.
Mauricio Pochettino has been searching for a formation this season that allows his two favourite things. Firstly, that the full backs can get forward and be highly attacking entities. Secondly, to overload the middle of the pitch by getting at least five players in here at all times.
The 4-2-3-1 shape of last season did this, but became predictable and sometimes too narrow. The 3-4-2-1 allows him to play the full backs much higher to retain the width he craves, whilst still keeping the five central players. Wanyama, Dembele, Dele, Eriksen and Kane can overload the centre knowing they have support already in advanced positions from the wingbacks out wide.
Having the wingbacks high up stretches the opposition horizontally. It was the spaces created from this that Christian Eriksen exploited to get us in to a two-goal lead.
The opener came after good work by Eriksen to force a throw in. He then drifted inside and used a communication breakdown to get free. Darren Fletcher was concerned about Danny Rose. His switch with Matt Phillips allowed Eriksen to find space between the lines.
This drew Gareth McAuley out from the back line, affording Harry Kane space. Eriksen found Kane with a deft through ball to rifle home, 1-0.
The two things that Tony Pulis was guarding against had been foiled. The central midfield trio set up to guard the back four had been stretched out and punctured. This then had allowed a through ball.
Soon after and we added a second as we swept through the pitch, again getting the ball out wide and back in to the man between the lines.
It started with an excellent gather and an equally good throw out by Hugo Lloris. Our goalkeeper’s distribution is often criticised, but here it was top notch.
Lloris’ throw out went straight to Danny Rose and he bounded forward. Christian Eriksen was once more lurking between the lines and took over. West Brom’s central block had this time been penetrated by the swiftness of our counter attack.
Once more, passing the ball wide stretched West Brom out to allow the spaces in the centre that Pochettino craves. Eriksen passed to Kyle Walker who combined with Rose to find the Dane between the lines once more, this time on the edge of the penalty area. Eriksen’s shot took two deflections before finding the back of the net, 2-0.
It was a great team goal that showcased Eriksen’s deft movements to get free in the spaces between the lines created by our wingbacks.
We almost added a third as once more Eriksen popped up to put a sumptuous pass on to Dele Alli’s toes. Alli’s out-to-in run has been one of his trademarks and he just mistimed it and was given offside.
Up to that point Dele Alli had been rather quiet, but the passage of play seemed to spark him in to life. Alli then started to exploit the spaces between the lines that were being caused by us stretching the Baggies across the pitch.
Dele Alli between the lines
If Christian Eriksen ran the first half then Dele Alli was the star of the second. These twin number ten positions in Pochettino’s 3-4-2-1 suits him and Eriksen perfectly. The opposition often doesn’t have enough bodies to mark two players moving in opposite ways from here and it affords space. Dele Alli showcased that on goals three and four.
West Brom came out of their shell after the interval and it created both more of a contest, but also their undoing. Having a front three that was closing down our three centre backs made it more difficult for us to play out and slowed us down. However, when we did get through it, the pitch became much more spacious to play in and West Brom were stretched.
This was precisely what happened for our third to put the game away. The Baggies press was neatly navigated. Dele Alli dropped in to the space between the West Brom lines and released a pass in-behind for Kyle Walker to chase after.
Gareth McAuley was first to the ball. A tired first touch saw Kyle Walker nick it off him and fire in a pinpoint cross for Harry Kane, 3-0.
Spurs 4-0 WBA
Alli’s play to come short between the lines was thoughtful on our third goal. His intelligence to sit down in the space between the lines and then flick an audacious pass over the top for Kane was brilliant on our fourth.
Kane, who was on the end of everything, gave the pass the finish it merited to make it Spurs 4-0 WBA and complete the rout.
Spurs 4-0 WBA overall
So often Tony Pulis has frustrated us and left with a 1-1 draw by blocking off the centre of the pitch and playing narrow. Here the wingbacks in our 3-4-2-1 stretched West Brom out. It created spaces between the lines for Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli to ruthlessly exploit.
Final score: Spurs 4-0 WBA
MOTM: Dele and Eriksen.