Spurs 4 Anzhi 1: narrow Dagestanis hit by runners in behind

A scintillating performance at the Lane saw our Europa League clash finish Spurs 4 Anzhi 1 as we overpowered our visitors from Dagestan.

Spurs approach and tactics

Andre Villas-Boas went back to a 4-3-3 as he instilled two naturally left footed players in the wide forward positions.

In the first half, Andros Townsend held his width to hug the touchline on the left, whilst Erik Lamela cut inside down the right. These two were responsible for the passages of play that resulted in us taking a 2-0 lead and were the focal points for our attack.

In midfield, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lewis Holtby and Moussa Dembele squeezed up in order to hem Anzhi in when they got the ball. Behind them Ezekiel Fryers and Etienne Capoue were also playing extremely high up.

After looking at the compactness of our team unit yesterday in “Spurs lying deeper in wait?” this was a return to the Tottenham at the start of the season. The high line, pressing and short distance between back and front was once again evident.

Although this resulted in us winning play back often inside the Anzhi half, it did also allow the visitors several chances from through balls. The first chance of the match fell to Anzhi, as Burmistrov put Sederov in to the clear, but Friedel denied him. Later, a sliding Etienne Capoue stopped Maximov as Anzhi once again looked to play passes in to the space behind our centre backs.


Sederov gets in after just 3 minutes.

Spurs get runners in-behind narrow Anzhi

The first half saw us really attack heavily down our left through Danny Rose and Andros Townsend. Rose showed good energy for someone coming back from a lengthy lay off. However, it was Townsend’s pace and dribbling that was giving Anzhi right back Kamil Agalarov fits.

The problem for Anzhi was that they were extremely narrow with their full backs tucked in trying to deny us space through the centre. This has been part of the book on frustrating Spurs this season, along with sitting deep and denying space in-behind. This set up is fine against inverted wingers, but both Townsend and Erik Lamela were holding their width. The Englishman was staying wide looking to cross; the Argentinean was starting out on the touchline then moving inside in the final third.

Our opening goal came from a free kick, but it was won after Townsend had received a pass to get him in-behind the full back. Agalarov was playing narrow and could only foul Townsend as he took the pass and drove for the by line. Gylfi Sigurdsson whipped in the free kick from a short angle and Roberto Soldado glanced in the header, 1-0.

One soon became two, as Erik Lamela this time provided the through ball to Roberto Soldado running in-behind this time.

Anzhi were once again extremely narrow as Moussa Dembele fed the ball out wide to the Argentinean.


Anzhi tucked the full backs in.

Whereas Townsend was staying wide on his natural side, Lamela cut inside and delivered a perfect through ball to Roberto Soldado.

The Spaniard’s early runs have been a feature of his play this season, but we’ve been slow in finding him. This time the pass was delivered early so he could swivel and score before the goalkeeper could get out to cut down the angle, 2-0.


Lamela finds Roberto Soldado running in-behind.

The pass to get a runner in-behind the defence was proving effective. Nowhere more so than when Andros Townsend raced on to a Moussa Dembele through ball.

The England international could only chip the ball past the post though after his first touch took him too close to the keeper.

Wide men switch, as does the point of attack

After an exhilarating first half, Andros Townsend and Erik Lamela switched sides for the second.

Whether this was a ploy to give both men a go on the left or to have Townsend attack full back Gia Grigalava who was on a yellow card was debateable. The fact that the point of attack switched predominantly over to the right for the second period probably points to the latter.

With play now focussed more often than not down the right, Andros Townsend combined with the excellent Ryan Fredericks to get in-behind the Anzhi defence.

Our third was not long in arriving and started with some excellent work by Moussa Dembele in the right back position. His strength and then an extremely well-executed forward pass got the attack moving. The momentum was kept up through Holtby and Sigurdsson then moving the ball up to Andros Townsend.

After laying the ball off, Holtby continued his run as he surged through the middle of the Anzhi defence. Andros Townsend cut inside and delivered a beautiful through ball to hit him on the run in-behind.


Townsend hits Holtby running in-behind.

The Anzhi defence was caught all over the place by the quick counter attack. They were once again extremely narrow, yet wide open through the centre, as they got drawn to the ball and Townsend’s movement to cut inside.


Anzhi got caught narrow and attracted to the ball.

The right side was once again the focus for our fourth, as Anzhi were caught out by Ryan Fredericks bursting in-behind them.

This time it was from a driving run, rather than a pass to hit a player running through, but the intent to get behind the Anzhi defence was there once more.


Ryan Fredricks bursts in-behind.

Jucilei could only clip him as he drove in to the box looking to cut the ball back and Roberto Soldado put home the penalty to complete his hat trick.

Spurs 4 Anzhi 1 conclusions

This was a great performance by Spurs to not only get in-behind the Anzhi defence with regularity, but also to get Roberto Soldado hitting the back of the net. The Spaniard was excellent with his finishing, but his link-up play was top-notch as well, something Andre Villas-Boas was quick to praise.

Anzhi were surprisingly narrow and this did play in to our hands with Andros Townsend hugging the touchline in the first half. He looks a much more dangerous player on the left.

The match may have been a dead rubber, but this performance was another solid one to build the team’s confidence ahead of a tricky game with Liverpool.

Final score: Spurs 4 Anzhi 1.

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6 Responses to Spurs 4 Anzhi 1: narrow Dagestanis hit by runners in behind

  1. Commentor 13th December 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    The high line works great for Spurs against certain teams, but the Manchester City game showed that there are some teams who have too much quality in their midfield and attacking players and Spurs against who Spurs need to adjust.

    If we do play a very high line against Liverpool, we may not want to rely upon Suarez being off sides and have someone man-mark him at all times, possibly Sandro.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th December 2013 at 4:05 pm #

      I think we’ll see a loosening of the pressure game and high line, such as we’ve seen against Man Utd, Fulham and Sunderland. AVB might just be keeping it for weaker opposition. An interesting tactic some teams have adopted against Suarez is to have one central defender constantly mark him while the other covers. Might be worth a go.

  2. Boon 13th December 2013 at 2:45 pm #

    That goal from Holtby, was also because Sigurdsson pulled them wide by going right to link play with Townsend. Holtby had a clean break through their defense. Townsend running in purposely draws their attention to him, while he chips it through. Good combination there.

    When Townsend and Rose were on the left, Spurs’ quick attacks down the left was a menace that was difficult for Anzhi to contain. All Spurs needed to do was build up play normally on the right, when Anzhi has fully shifted across to this side, Spurs recycle the ball to the back, Capoue making long diagonal switches to either Townsend or Rose. Now they have a lot of space to attack forward into the final 3rd. That’s using their strengths there to cause damage.

    This can also be flipped around to create the same effect on the right, albeit that was less done in this match.Lamela coming in from the touchline to provide the through pass assists, he had a lot of space to do so, because Dembele’s forward dribble and quick sideway pass gave him that space.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th December 2013 at 4:16 pm #

      Good post Boon. Yes the quick switch to the left was on and the quicker tempo in our play made it possible.

      Dembele was excellent last night and his passing and driving dribbles have been more purposeful in the last few games now that they are being executed higher up the pitch. Both his pass to Lamela, then to put Townsend in 1v1 with the keeper, were indicators of how destructive he can be further forward.

      • Boon 13th December 2013 at 9:26 pm #

        Had a look at the counter attack that put Townsend 1v1 vs keeper – it was Sigurdsson who laid that final pass for Townsend.

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th December 2013 at 3:58 pm #

          Rewatched it and yes it was. The point about Dembele getting forward is still one i’m excited about – both here and against Sunderland – he’s one of our most destructive forces and we don’t look the same without him in the game.