Spurs 5 Sunderland 1: attack the wingbacks

What started out with another shocking defensive error turned in to a rout, as it finished Spurs 5 Sunderland 1 in our Premier League clash at White Hart Lane.

There was a lot going on in this game, but the keys were our use of the wide areas to establish a lead. This then pulled Sunderland out and opened up space between the lines, which was exposed by us hitting early passes to Emmanuel Adebayor. There was also a rather interesting selection in our central midfield.

Tottenham trouble

Had this game been closer then much of the focus would have been on yet another horrible error in defence. These have been par for the course recently and they are happening far too often.

There was so much going wrong in this passage of play that fingers could be pointed everywhere. A centre back was taking a throw in, which was bad enough. He then threw it to the keeper who in turn returned it to him under pressure. The third mistake was to pass it square across the defence whilst being closed down and when Sunderland had numbers in our half behind our midfield line.


Another defensive howler gifts Cattermole a goal.

The only surprise was that it was Lee Cattermole was the one to put the ball in to our net. The defensive midfielder hasn’t scored a Premier League goal for Sunderland since arriving in 2009, but was given licence to get forward by coach Gus Poyet here.

Spurs central midfield

Cattermole’s advanced positioning was an unsuspected and interesting part of the game, but Tim Sherwood’s selection in central midfield was also intriguing.

Interim Tim usually goes with box-to-box midfielders in here with his penchant for players that ‘can do a bit of both’ attacking and defending.

As looked at in a previous post, we’ve seen him play Nacer Chadli as a central winger, but with two box-to-box midfield players behind him. Here though, with Paulinho alongside and Harry Kane in front, his role was different.

With Sunderland naming their now usual three at the back, the space was naturally going to be in wide areas behind the wingbacks.

When the team sheets came out, it seemed as if Chadli would once again fill this role to exploit this space in wide areas. It sees him drift from flank to flank from a central starting position, so that he is harder to track and can create overloads on each wing to carve out crossing opportunities.

However, with Paulinho alongside him, both he and the Brazilian pressed up looking to win the ball back quickly. Paulinho is very good at this, but Chadli’s graft in the defensive phase was a pleasant surprise.

When possession was regained, both he and Paulinho either surged forward with the ball at their feet or moved it out quickly to Danny Rose and Christian Eriksen.


Nacer Chadli passes played, Spurs 5 Sunderland 1.

Paulinho got through an immense amount of work in not only getting back, but also to join the attack. Chadli was often the deepest of the pair, which was surprising, but he did drift out wide as he has done in his central winger role. However, this time he didn’t attempt a single cross as he facilitated for others, especially on our second and third goals.

These two played extremely well and the only flaw was that they left a great deal of space between themselves and the defence. This space appearing between the lines has been one of the consistent tactical errors of Tim Sherwood with his preference for box-to-box midfielders.


Space between the lines.

Here it didn’t matter though as Sunderland rarely had the ball or the guile to exploit it. Adam Johnson seemed an excellent candidate, but wasn’t a major threat. Lee Cattermole was in this space for their goal as you can see from the first image, but that was about it.

Spurs attack out wide

As looked at in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Sunderland before the game, the Black Cats new system is rife for attacking behind the wingbacks. This has been especially true from the area on Phil Bardsley’s side.

After going behind, our first two goals arrived from this zone as we got back in the game and then went ahead. Curiously we didn’t get behind Bardsley, but took advantage of him not being tight enough to Christian Eriksen.

The Dane delivered a wicked cross under no pressure for Adebayor to equalise.


Eriksen has time to cross for Adebayor.

After the interval he created for Harry Kane, as again Bardsley wasn’t tight enough. The full back was covering Eriksen, but he was partially drawn by the run of Nacer Chadli down the line. This was enough time for Eriksen to deliver another vicious cross as Kane got in-between the centre backs.


Chadli’s movement freezes Bardsley.

Christian Eriksen’s role was again one where he drifted in from the left, but here he was much more decisive with his movement to stay wide. Whether this was under the instruction of the management team or if it was just his reading of the game was hard to tell. The Dane was staying on the left often and when he did come inside, rather than drift in to the centre, he moved out to the right flank.


Christian Eriksen passes received, Spurs 5 Sunderland 1.

This meant that he was able to cross from both full back zones. This is where theoretically the space should be behind the wingbacks, whilst also getting him away from the congestion of three centre backs and two holding players in the centre.


Christian Eriksen passes played, Spurs 5 Sunderland 1.

Eriksen created the first two goals with crosses, but he scored the third from Tim’s other tactic, moving the ball straight to Emmanuel Adebayor.

Hit and work off Adebayor

Whilst Eriksen drifting from the left has been one of Tim Sherwood’s main tactics, another has been to hit Emmanuel Adebayor early and work off him. Our third and fourth goals arrived this way.

As Sunderland cleared, Kyle Naughton headed the ball quickly forward to the Togolese striker who had come short to get away from the defence. Spurs now had three players between the lines after this quick turnover.


Adebayor hits an open Chadli who finds an even more open Eriksen.

Adebayor found Chadli, who squared for the even more open Christian Eriksen. The Dane then rifled a shot with the help of a deflection in to the corner of the net.

The fourth came from another ball forward searching for Adebayor, as Danny Rose sent a long pass towards for the striker.


Rose goes long for Adebayor.

This was partially cleared, but was scooped up by Harry Kane. He skipped past a challenge and saw his shot parried by Vito Mannone, but Adebayor was first to the loose ball for a simple tap in.

Corner counter

After looking at Sunderland’s dangerous set pieces in the tactics preview, we added a fifth in stoppage time with one of our own. The Black Cats get bodies in the six-yard box to gain ball and rebound control and that is what we did to score off a rare set piece.

When the ball came in, we had five bodies in the six-yard box, well spread with two at the near post, one in the middle and two at the far.


Spurs spread the six-yard box.

Adebayor and then Kaboul did an excellent job of controlling the cross and the subsequent knock down in order to keep play inside the Sunderland box. Gylfi Sigurdsson then got an easy chance to smash the ball home.

Spurs 5 Sunderland 1 overall

Tim Sherwood commented that this was a ‘fantastic performance’ and we were very good here. Sunderland were also equally as bad though, so it was difficult to gauge just how impressive a performance this was.

Christian Eriksen was once again exceptional and involved in pretty much everything good that we did. Harry Kane also did well on his first Premier League start. He grew in to this game and could’ve had more than the goal that his performance merited if he had been more clinical inside the box.

Paulinho’s energy and work rate were immense and Nacer Chadli was strangely decent in a more central role.

Despite his error on their goal, Vlad Chiriches’ surging runs out of defence with the ball were a sign of what he was brought in to do. He does have that element of defensive risk to his play, but he also provides a surprise attacking thrust from the back that can catch opponents off guard.

After the bad start though, we got back in to the game through attacking in the wide areas, especially down the left to get at Phil Bardsley. We then went further ahead as Sunderland were drawn out and we were able to hit Emmanuel Adebayor early in our build up play.

Final score: Spurs 5 Sunderland 1.

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6 Responses to Spurs 5 Sunderland 1: attack the wingbacks

  1. Zack 9th April 2014 at 5:38 pm #

    Great piece Mark as always. One thing I’m especially happy about is the positive role Paulinho was able to play in this game. He’s been getting loads of abuse from fans and I’m just really glad he was able to put in a decent shift. Do you think he has a place in the squad next year, with the glut of midfielders we have right now? I always enjoy watching his box to box energetic performances.Also what do you think about us setting up a 4-3-3 for next season with Eriksen playing a Luka Modric, dictating tempo both in our half and in the attacking third? I read a piece that stated how our ideal formation could be Real Madrid esque 433 with Eriksen and Lamela our key features. I feel that with Eriksen and Lamela at their best we could one day have an attack as deadly as Liverpool’s.


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 9th April 2014 at 6:18 pm #

      Great comment Zack. I think Paulinho will be an excellent player in the right system – that is a 4-3-3. I’d be more concerned about him leaving than if he hung around as he looks like quite a player, so should really be playing.

      He, like the other players we bought were intended for a 4-3-3 set up and that is why we’ve been linked with coaches who prefer this style – LVG, De Boer. Pochettino is a 4-2-3-1 man, but also plays a lot of 4-3-3 so could work with the players that we have.

      Lamela could be a great player and I hope he stays, but all these mystery injuries meaning long term absences are not a good sign. They only fuel the rumours that we’ve already agreed to sell him and he’s avoiding playing and getting injured.

  2. chu2ks 10th April 2014 at 10:00 am #

    Hi, Mark. Always makes my Tottenham day to read your insights and observations, which are usually spot on. I agree with Zack that it was good to see Paulinho doing very well in midfield, even though I don’t subscribe to the way he’s being deployed by Tim Sherwood.

    I haven’t been on here for a while now, because the total direction of the club depressed me, and Sherwood just drove me to fits of anger I didn’t even know I was capable of. Then I realised that the club is just evolving, and that Chelsea, Man U and Liverpool all went through this.

    This season has shown that football is about tactics and the individuals that can come together as a team to implement these tactics. With all due respect, Liverpool do not have a better or deeper squad than us, neither do Everton, but what they do possess are two managers who are tactically astute. We don’t. And it shows. And has blown our season apart.

    Say what you will about AVB(and we all have), he had his game plan, for better or worse, but Sherwood clearly doesn’t with his chopping and changing. Doesn’t believe in a defensive midfield player shielding his back four…come on, in 2014.

    It is incredulous how he can’t seem to see that Eriksen would profit handsomely as would the team if he played centrally. That Lennon, and Townsend should be coached, that’s right coached, into how to play as part of a front three and stop for goodness sake hugging the touchline and being so predictable.

    To play 433, you need a passer in midfield that plays centrally, a defensive minded midfield player, and a midfield runner who can ghost into the box. You don’t need wingers that just run ‘with’ the ball, but rather make runs ‘without’ the ball. Case in point, Reading away under AVB, Defoe scored a goal where Lennon made a run without the ball, Sigurdsson found him with a pass and he laid it off for Defoe to finish. Simple. Who did we have in midfield, Dembele(energetic runner and holder of the ball), Sandro(defensive minded player) and Sigurdsson( creative passer).

    Forget all the hype about the signings failing, we actually upgraded in those areas. Eriksen is better than Sigurdsson, Capoue better than Sandro(in my opinion), and Paulinho(ahead of Dembele and Holtby-who was pretty good but ustilised woefully). All we needed was players coached properly as to their roles in a 433, and a decent striker, which we had in Adebayor( all he needed was motiviation). Lamela and Chadli would have needed time, but in team where the ball did the running, and the made runs off it as in a traditional 433, it could have worked.

    I’m hoping for Van Gaal to take over with no interference(there’s a wonderful video about the Dutch 433 as demonstrated by Heerenveen on YouTube that excites me), but I would also like Pochettino as he has Premiership experience, unlike all the other managers being touted for the position, and that counts for a lot, just look at how Liverpool have gained from Rodgers.

    All in all, Mark, we’re evolving and the sooner we Spurs fans realise this and have some patience, and the same goes for our Chief Executive, we’ll do fine and move from good to great.


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 10th April 2014 at 12:42 pm #

      Great video Chu2ks, thanks for sharing. You hit the nail on the head when you talk about the quality of ours and rivals squads and that it is an astute tactical manager that makes the difference.

      A case in point about tactically aware managers, love him or hate him, is Jose Mourinho. Often in matches if he is chasing a goal and his team is on top, he’ll take off a full back and introduce an extra striker and the formation switches to 3-4-3. This is a bit more astute than ‘just lob another striker on’ as the formation and tactics change in the new formation. He’ll often get his goal, then he’ll take off the other striker who has been on from the start and re-introduce a full back to return to 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. Its that kind of in-game decision making we are missing and his players are well coached to know how to switch and what their roles change to in 3-4-3.

      Sherwood doesn’t have this kind of tactical acumen, he also doesn’t have a philosophy of how his team should play. Any manager with coaching badges should have an identifiable style. The two managers you mention, Martinez and Rodgers, have both created sides that are highly different and almost unrecognisable from their predecessors in the roles (Moyes and Dalglish).

      I agree it has been somewhat of a depressing season, especially after last year and the excitement generated from splashing around money in the summer. Hopefully Levy has learned from this balls up and will get it right this time. I’m not sure he can ever be hands off though and that will always be a worry.

  3. SomeDude 10th April 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    Great read dude. Personally I think that although Tim hasn’t done a stellar job he is trying to add what he calls character or “guts” to the squad. A lot of that makes him sound amateurish but when he arrived and started his riskier style he was rightly given plaudits for the results. Although he has been repeatedly tactically outwitted and often seems hopeless it seems that he may make some mark on the squad (as I think AVB did) for the better. I think that Levy has followed the benitez model by hiring a coach who is essentially to be sacrificed. If so then I think he has got it right because we have a really deep and talented squad who have been drilled in organisation (AVB) and will probably play the rest of this season with the freedom to experiment a little and with some game time
    for the younger players. I was really impressed with the young players and fring players this season who all appear to be improving. Did you catch the youth cb’s movement in the box for siggy’s goal. He kept the defender pinned for Ade to roll the ball on for the set up. If we have talent on the bench like that we have to develop it. Look at liverpool with flanagan and sterling or southhampton or man u or barca. Am I the only person who thinks that a shot at European footballs 2nd trophy is a realistic and desirable trophy?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 10th April 2014 at 2:34 pm #

      He has tried to add character but its kind of gone too far and there are only so many times you can hold an inquest after a game.

      Interesting point about him being a sacrificial coach. I’ve heard of players being sacrificed by a new coach coming in so as to put their mark on the squad. This can be a big name to put the fear in everyone that the new boss doesn’t mess around.

      The younger players have done well, Veljkovic the other night being a good example, as well as Kane. Bentaleb has been used too much and although he looks like he will become a decent player needs to develop via some loans rather than being thrown in the deep end.

      I would like us to give the Europa League a good go if we are in it and both Sherwood and AVB have done that this season. A year out of it may benefit us too. It would give a new coach more time during the week to work with the team and get his ideas across. It would also give our scouts more time to prepare for opponents. It also means less travel to far flung places. Liverpool are the obvious example of how they have benefitted this season – fresher players, more time to prepare for games etc – but it also means that when you go back in to Europe you are not having to get used to a new manager. You are already aware of what he wants and how he plays, especially if you have different roles depending on which formation he selects for a particular game. Eg Rodgers’ players know how to play when starts with 4-3-3 and can instantly switch to his 4-4-2 diamond set up as they all know their roles in each system.