Opening up the inside channels led to a dramatic turnaround as our FA Cup tie finished Spurs 4-3 Wycombe at White Hart Lane.
The magic of the FA Cup was alive and well at White Hart Lane. All of the old cup clichés were in effect: “The great leveller,” “throw out the form guide,” “a great day out for the underdog” and “it’s a one off where anything can happen.” It made for a pulsating fourth round cup tie that finished Spurs 4-3 Wycombe with the last kick of the game.
We dug ourselves in to a real hole, as Wycombe’s tactics caused us trouble. We then opened up the inside channels to flip yet another game on its head, as we again came back from two goals down.
Wycombe Wanderers’ 4-3-3
Wycombe lined up in a 4-3-3 formation and their tactics dictated much of the opening exchanges.
In possession of the ball they were incredibly direct. Their aim was to get the ball to their wide forwards within two passes. This saw them play directly to Paul Hayes and Scott Kashket or look to work the ball out to them off striker Adebayo Akinfenwa.
Without the ball, Akinfenwa’s lack of mobility and stamina dictated their defensive scheme. They were perfectly prepared to let our centre backs have possession so Akinfenwa didn’t have to run. Wycombe would then press the first ball in to our midfield.
It made life difficult for us to play out as their trio of central midfielders, combined with the wide forwards dropping deep, congested the midfield zone. It often meant that we had success from playing the ball longer, through two lines of their defence, rather than trying to build through the pitch like we normally do.
Wycombe’s aim with the ball was to create crossing situations from getting it directly to their wide forwards. They would then look to cross for Akinfenwa and the wide forward cutting in from the opposite side.
They had a great deal of success at it, starting after just 45 seconds. Wycombe created a turnover through pressing our first pass in to midfield. They then raced forwards and swung in a cross. Akinfenwa pulled off to the back post and nodded the ball back for Hayes to plant his header off the bar when he really should’ve scored.
Not heeding the warning, the chances from their direct play to the wide forwards that led to crosses continued. Sam Wood blasted high from one. Then Paul Hayes got on the end of another to drive a left foot volley just over. Hayes shot turned out to be a sighter for what was to come.
Another long ball up to Akinfenwa led to a shot from that earned a corner. The resulting set play was swung in towards the near post. Cameron Carter-Vickers was marking Akinfenwa, but seeing him being overhauled by the big man, Kevin Wimmer also got sucked in to his vortex. Hayes was suddenly left free and he volleyed Josh Onomah’s partial clearance back in to the top corner from the same spot he had blasted over just minutes before. Wycombe had the shock goal they’d be hoping for.
Akinfenwa causes more problems
One up, Wycombe added a second from the penalty spot.
Again they pressed our first pass in to midfield, which created panic as the ball ran loose. It was then predictably worked quickly towards Akinfenwa. The pass should’ve been dealt with, but apprehensive tackles from Eric Dier and Kevin Wimmer saw the ball still fall to the feet of the striker. Sam Wood then burst past him to take possession and draw Cameron Carter-Vickers in to a needless challenge. Carter-Vickers got nothing of the ball and enough of Wood as he shielded it to earn a penalty.
Hayes converted to make it Spurs 0-2 Wycombe and just as at Man City last weekend, we were in another hole of our own making.
Son in the inside right channel
Wycombe were making it difficult for us through their play both with and without the ball. Where we were having joy was through the darting runs of Son Heung-Min down the inside right channel.
In the first half, much of our good play came down the right. On this flank, 33-year old Paul Hayes and 30-year old Joe Jacobson were no match for the speed and power of the younger Moussa Sissoko and Kieran Trippier. Inside Hayes and Jacobson, the relatively inexperienced 23-year old centre back Aaron Pierre was being exposed by Son Heung-Min’s runs.
The South Korean was looking to run the channel between Jacobson and Pierre, having success. Our play down this flank led to a number of darting runs by Son being found. This led to shots at goal or corners.
Pochettino’s half time change
At half time, down two goals, Mauricio Pochettino made a change. Son’s ability to run the channels was good. However when we were working crossing situations that saw a number of good balls in from Kieran Trippier, we had no one in the box. Vincent Janssen was thus brought on to get some firepower in the 18-yard area.
Surprisingly, Janssen only got on the end of one such cross. That was a header, which was agonisingly tipped over by Jamal Blackman as he recovered back across his goal in the dying seconds.
What the move to bring on Janssen did do was open up Son to work the inside left channel from his more favoured side of the pitch.
Son in the inside left channel
Operating as a striker Son had worked the inside right channel, but didn’t offer that box presence that we needed on crosses. Switching to his more favoured left side, he looked much more at home. He only needed to work the inside left channel and he did it expertly.
We got back in the game from a corner, one of eleven we earned in the match. The kick was taken by Son Heung-Min, who then worked his way back in to the inside left channel to receive Cameron Carter-Vickers’ flick-on. Son was in acres of space and his driven shot was deflected in at the near post, game on.
Janssen in the inside right channel
Replacing Son as the striker, Vincent Janssen then did what the South Korean was doing in the first half. Janssen targeted the inside right channel to expose Aaron Pierre and Joe Jacobson. Janssen doesn’t have the pace of Son, but he does have more presence and power, which unsettled them.
The build-up saw another of our longer passes break the Wycombe lines. Their pressing of our first ball in to midfield had caused us problems. Kieran Trippier’s pinpoint pass to circumnavigate this put Janssen in to a great position behind them with the Wycombe defence turned.
The inexperienced Aaron Pierre rashly blocked Janssen off as he cut back inside the area. Referee Roger East had no choice but to award a penalty. Some good fortune saw Janssen’s spot kick slip under the outstretched hand of Jamal Blackman, making it Spurs 2-2 Wycombe.
Spurs go to a back three
The match was beginning to swing our way, but the FA Cup predictably always has a twist in the tale. At Spurs 1-2 Wycombe, Mauricio Pochettino had rolled the dice by using all three of his substitutions. Getting back on level terms rewarded him, but then Wycombe’s physical play took its toll.
The Chairboys had played a very physical game all afternoon. Whether this was Akinfenwa knocking our defence about, the 5 yellow cards or the 23 fouls that were called and the umpteen holds and grabs that weren’t. It culminated in Kieran Trippier taking an unnecessary knee to the rib cage as he challenged for a header. Trippier couldn’t continue and having used all our substitutes, we were down to ten.
In response to this, Mauricio Pochettino went to a back three of Eric Dier, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Ben Davies. Moussa Sissoko and Son Heung-Min were installed as the wingbacks and neither seemed too concerned with defensive duties.
It was this complacency that saw Wycombe edge in front once more. Moussa Sissoko lost the ball to Joe Jacobson. One direct pass saw it sent straight to substitute wide forward Myles Weston in the now vacant right back zone.
His cross saw Garry Thompson tower over the smaller Ben Davies to expertly head home. It was suddenly Spurs 2-3 Wycombe as the visitors sensed a giant killing.
Jamal Blackman was having a mixed afternoon. The goalkeeper had made some good saves, but always looked to have an error in him.
In the first half, Blackman had completely fluffed a punched clearance, which fell at the feet of Son Heung-Min. With just a man on the line, Son saw his shot from the angle fizz just wide of the post.
Blackman then spilled a shot, which landed at the feet of Moussa Sissoko. Paul Hayes saved the keeper’s blushes by clearing Sissoko’s prodded shot off the line.
His third error proved fatal. A poor miss hit kick from his hands was headed straight back by Mousa Dembele with interest as it set Dele Alli in for a clear-cut chance. The keeper then compounded his error by showing way too much of his near post. Dele stayed composed to just pass the ball in to the net to make it Spurs 3-3 Wycombe.
Son in the inside left channel
Son Heung-Min had caused problems and gained chances in the first half through the inside right channel. After the interval he had been switched to the left and then proceeded to cause problems and equalise through the inside left channel.
The South Korean would then win the tie through this channel as he combined beautifully with Vincent Janssen.
A long, hopeful ball forward was well brought down by Janssen before being worked out to Son through Harry Winks and Ben Davies. Son then played a neat one-two with Janssen as he raced through the inside left channel to finish and send White Hart Lane delirious with joy. From an improbable position, the ten men had suddenly made it Spurs 4-3 Wycombe with the final kick of the match.
Spurs 4-3 Wycombe overall
Whatever you think of the FA Cup nowadays, this was a classic that evoked many of the twists and turns that have become synonymous with the competition.
Wycombe’s tactics were effective. Their direct play to get the ball quickly to their wide forwards was efficient. Their resulting crosses caused us problems and created two of their three goals.
The play of Adebayo Akinfenwa unsettled and scared the living daylights out of Kevin Wimmer and Cameron Carter-Vickers. He did the same to Liverpool for AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup two years ago and so the play of the man-mountain shouldn’t have been a surprise.
After the game Mauricio Pochettino defended his wholesale changes by saying that: “If you cannot play in this type of game, we have a problem.”
He is right in that he is hoping to create a plug and play system. The team has a set way of playing and everyone is learning it on the training pitch. When a new player comes in he should know his role and perform in it.
Where this can fall down is creating the chemistry and fluidity from regularly playing together in these roles. Spurs lacked this throughout from too many changes. It could be argued that the players train together so should have created a bond and an understanding. However, how much this eleven has worked together on the training pitch as a unit is unknown. The only bright spots before the substitutes came on were Son Heung-Min and Eric Dier, both starting XI regulars.
The positive from this tie was another exhibition of our fighting spirit. Two goals down for the second successive match saw us keep going to the end as our tenacity paid off once more. The belief that is being created in the squad that we can gain a result whilst there is still time to play is a real intangible factor.
The game was ultimately won through the inside channels. Son scored twice and Janssen earned a penalty from running them.
Final score: Spurs 4-3 Wycombe.
MOTM: Son Heung-Min.