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Spurs 4-3 Leicester: out of control battle of the flanks

A pulsating Premier League clash at White Hart Lane finishes Spurs 4-3 Leicester with the opening up of the Foxes’ right side key to our victory.

Out of control could be one way to sum up our scraping past the Foxes, as it finished Spurs 4-3 Leicester at the Lane.

The match was played at a fast pace with Spurs never looking comfortable or ever in control of the contest. Last weekend at Old Trafford, we were given a lesson in how to take a lead and then in-game management to be kept at arms length during the second half. Here, we raced in to a two-goal lead, but rather than close the game down, we became involved in a shootout as our attack fired in fits and spurts, whilst our defence capitulated.

The vital battleground in much of this game was played out down the flanks, an area we looked at in the keys to Spurs vs Leicester and how we took a 2-0 lead.

Stretching the centre backs

Leicester, as they have done recently, continued with their three centre back system. It started out in the defensive phase as a 5-4-1 unit, but then switched to 3-4-3 when they got the ball.

The key, as we looked at in the match preview was to stretch their three centre backs by getting down the sides of them, but particularly their right side, our left. The space beyond their right wing back had seen rich pickings for recent teams playing Leicester and that’s how we opened the scoring.

The passage of play began with Danny Rose playing an attacking pass vertically up the line to Harry Kane. This took him beyond right wingback Ritchie De Laet, pulling out not one, but two of their centre backs in Robert Huth and Wes Morgan. This left an ocean of space inside them that should’ve been exploited, but Kane saw his cross put out for a corner

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Kane pulls Huth and Morgan out from the centre.

The corner routine was a typical one under Pochettino, but well executed. We’ve seen on a number of occasions how he leaves the zone around the corner of the six-yard box vacant. This is for a runner, usually a centre back, to charge in to and flick the ball on or goalwards. Dier had done this and scored from this routine against QPR at the start of the season. Here, his flick-on was sent towards the back post and Harry Kane had the simplest of tasks to tap home, setting us on our way.

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Vacant corner of 6-yard box for runner to hit.

It had taken just six minutes to expose Leicester’s right side, but with just thirteen minutes on the clock, we added a second from attacking the other flank.

The goal arrived from once more getting in-beyond the wingback, as we swiftly moved the ball forward once more to pull the centre backs out. Andros Townsend intercepted Esteban Cambiasso’s back header. As wingback Schlupp went to ground to challenge Townsend, he fed Kyle Walker in-behind up the line.

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Walker in-behind the LB this time.

This pulled Matthew Upson out from the middle. On seeing the veteran defender, Walker knocked the ball past him and turned on the after burners to jet past. As Walker reached the by-line, we had got men forward in to the box in support against the two remaining centre backs. A stretching Robert Huth deflected Walker’s cutback, straight in to the path of Harry Kane. His punched shot then bounced in to the ground, up off Huth and in to the opposite corner of the net, 2-0.

With us having raced in to the lead, we could’ve iced the game as Christian Eriksen hit the post. Once more the passage of play started by attacking Leicester down the flank, as we went back at the right side this time.

Danny Rose, who had been knocked around by David Nugent in the opening exchanges, nicked the ball away from the Foxes wide man. His pass up the line was deflected and Eriksen picked up the rebound. This had got the Dane beyond right wingback Ritchie de Laet, which pulled both Huth and then Upson out towards him. Both are much slower than the Dane, who glided across the area. As he reached space, Eriksen saw his shot across Kasper Schmeichel ping back off the post and Nacer Chadli blaze over the rebound. Once more we had got down the sides and moved their centre backs around.

Chadli would miss an equally glorious chance in the second half. This time Eric Dier would get in beyond de Laet to stretch their three centre backs out as one was pulled towards the ball. Dier put in a peach of a cross, but Chadli arriving unmarked at the back post again blazed over.

The game was littered with these situations where we got in-behind the full backs, particularly the Foxes’ right side to pull the Leicester centre backs around; we just didn’t take our chances.

Out of control defending

Whilst our attack was having a field day in the first 30 minutes and could’ve put the game away, our defence looked extremely vulnerable and often calamitous at times.

We were getting in by attacking Leicester in the wide areas, but their three forwards were having joy doing the same. The Foxes are a crossing team and we’d looked at how you have to stop them in the wide areas as our fourth key in the Spurs vs Leicester match preview. We did not heed the warnings and were duly punished as they got back in to the game.

What was interesting was how Nigel Pearson set up David Nugent and Jamie Vardy. His original plan was to have them playing deeper and then to spring forward when Leicester had the ball. After going two down, he instructed them to push much higher up and often Leicester would leave all of their front three forward to create the potential for a quick counter attack with numbers.

What didn’t change throughout was how physical Nugent and Vardy were against Danny Rose and Kyle Walker. Nugent dumped Rose on the ground after just a few seconds as if to signal his intent. After ten minutes he did the same and was finally booked for knocking Rose to turf at the start of the second half. All this before conceding the penalty to the same player.

On the other side, Vardy was giving Walker a serious test with not only how physical he was being, but also by his pace and that was how the Foxes got back to 2-1.

Our defence had looked vulnerable, but the Foxes took advantage of Danny Rose being caught forward and Nacer Chadli drifting inside. As they took the ball out of defence, both players were up and out of the play.

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Chadli, Rose (and Eriksen) caught out of the play.

The ball was moved in to Leonardo Ulloa, which brought Jan Vertonghen flying out from the back line. I’ve talked about the Vertonghen’s impetuosity before and here it meant that his forward movement left space to be attacked behind.

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Vertonghen engages Ulloa, leaving space behind.

Without Rose or Chadli, it was left for Christian Eriksen to try and track Nugent’s run beyond Ulloa, but the Dane was too slow to react and make the distance.

Behind them Nabil Bentaleb was supposed to be the safety valve that covers the left when all else fails. He was unable to get across in time or quickly enough to stop Nugent delivering the ball in to the centre.

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Nugent run, Bentaleb can’t cover.

As if to add to the domino effect of errors, Kyle Walker was deeper than the rest of his back line. Usually this is a recipe for disaster as it plays everyone onside. However, this time, Walker had actually given himself a decent starting position by his errant positioning. Nugent had already been played in onside and thus Walker was goal side of Vardy who was the now the danger man for the squared pass.

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Vardy gets beyond Walker.

Walker though, decided to jump up and play offside, allowing Vardy to go beyond him and have the simplest job of slotting the ball home to halve the deficit.

Leicester were now back in to the game and they were back on level terms shortly after half time. They equalised from a corner, but the passage of play that lead to it was also littered with defensive errors.

Kyle Walker’s defensive positioning was once more called in to question, as he allowed Jeffrey Schlupp to get the run on him in-behind. The ball was then worked across our box as our defence was at sixes and sevens. As the ball was pulled back towards Nugent in the six-yard box, he looked certain to score, but Walker recovered to somehow deflect his shot up over the bar.

After conceding from a corner last week against Man Utd, we again failed to mark properly once more. This was compounded by us again not having at least a man on one post, if not both. This has been a continued pattern for us under Mauricio Pochettino. A man on the back stick would’ve cleared Michael Carrick’s header last weekend and should’ve had a decent shot at stopping Wes Morgan’s this.

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Morgan untracked, plus no men on the posts.

As it was, I’m still not 100% sure who was detailed to mark Morgan as no one picked him up. Jan Vertonghen was pinned inside by one centre back, as Morgan ran off him unopposed. Nabil Bentaleb rotated over but was far too late, allowing the Leicester man a completely free run at the ball.

With no men on the posts or the line, Michel Vorm had no chance to react to the powerful downward header.

Back to attacking their right

With the game tied at 2-2, we went back in front by attacking the right back zone one more. The passage of play that saw Danny Rose fouled was a textbook way of how to go at the Leicester defence.

Ryan Mason came short to get between the lines. With Leicester’s back three, this space was there all afternoon and it gave their defenders a decision to make about whether to come out and track or hold their position.

Mason’s move pulled Ritchie de Laet out from his right wing back position, which allowed Danny Rose to jet forward on the overlap. This meant that David Nugent had to track him and they had a forward player in a defensive position.

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Mason draws de Laet out and looks for Rose in-behind.

With De Laet rushing out, Mason put the pass in-behind him for Rose to run on to. Mason’s pass was under hit, which allowed Nugent to intercept it. However, with his back turned and a heavy touch, he didn’t see Rose coming. This allowed Danny to nip in and knick the ball away as Nugent tried to clear. The Leicester man’s boot clipped Rose, sending him over for a clear-cut penalty.

Harry Kane made no mistake with spot kick, sending Kasper Schmeichel the wrong way, completing his first Premier League hat trick.

With our noses once again in front, we had several chances to extend the lead, all coming from getting in to the Leicester right back zone, pulling their centre backs around.

First Nacer Chadli got in to the space behind Ritchie de Laet, pulling Wes Morgan out from the centre. Harry Kane beautifully volleyed Chadli’s cross, but unfortunately just over.

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Chadli gets in-behind and pics out Kane.

Next Eric Dier got in-behind the Leicester right back in order to whip in delicious cross that saw Nacer Chadli blaze over.

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Dier gets in-behind to pick out Chadli.

Eventually the fourth arrived after Nigel Pearson took off Robert Huth to get a more attacking payer on in Riyad Mahrez. Pearson then switched to a back four as he opened his defence up slightly. This allowed Nacer Chadli to receive the ball out on the right, pin the full back and hit Paulinho’s burst forward in to the space behind.

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Paulinho gets in-behind the RB.

Christian Eriksen went with him and the Brazilian played the Dane in perfectly. Eriksen’s first touch was heavy, but fortunately his prodded shot rebounded back off the keeper and then off the unfortunate Jeffrey Schlupp and in to the net.

Route one Foxes

The game should’ve been put to bed at 4-2, but we’ve usually needed a two goal cushion recently, as we’ve been giving away sloppy goals. That was no different here as Leicester got back in to the game to set up a tense finish.

Christian Eriksen pressed Kasper Schmeichel, which forced him in to a long kick downfield. This was flicked on by Jamie Vardy, taking Kyle Walker out of the game, as the right back once more got his positioning wrong. Jan Vertonghen was then slow to react and put in a soft challenge to let Nugent in on goal.  The striker made no mistake as he rifled the ball in to the corner of the net to make it Spurs 4-3 Leicester.

With stoppage time still to play and just a goal in it, once more we were made to sweat in a situation that was completely our own doing. Fortunately we held on for the three minutes and made off with a vital three points.

Spurs 4-3 Leicester overall

You could see why Leicester and us have conceded the most ‘big chances’ in the Premier League this season. These are situations where an opponent is deemed very likely to score and with each team giving up 5 apiece in this match according to OPTA, it’s not surprising we had an eight-goal thriller.

The defence was once more a cause for concern and we continue to be vulnerable right across the back line. This has to be addressed during the international break. We are open down the left due to our system; the right due to positioning errors and through the centre due to a combination of inexperience and impetuosity. This will be a busy two weeks for Mauricio Pochettino and the coaching staff.

Final score: Spurs 4-3 Leicester.



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2 Responses to Spurs 4-3 Leicester: out of control battle of the flanks

  1. Mike 24th March 2015 at 6:44 pm #

    I would love to see us try a 3-4-3 formation like Liverpool have been more successful with after they had similar problems in defense.

    Dier – Fazio – JV
    Walker – Bentaleb – Mason – Rose
    Lamela – Kane – Eriksen

    I would love to see that starting eleven in a match. Maybe Townsend or Chadli instead of Lamela on the right wing but the rest is perfect.

    In this formation we wouldn’t be so open when Rose or Walker gets caught upfield or when the wings dont track back.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 25th March 2015 at 4:43 pm #

      Like it Mike, a 3-4-3 formation may also get the best out of a player like Fazio, affording him more protection against pace.