The Lions’ narrow formation was stretched in two ways as our FA Cup Quarter-Final tie finished Spurs 6-0 Millwall at White Hart Lane.
Millwall came to make the game tight and compact, whilst Spurs endeavoured to pull their narrow formation all over the place. The score finished Spurs 6-0 Millwall with all six goals from stretching the Lions in two ways.
Millwall compact and narrow shape
Our Spurs vs Millwall match preview scrutinised the Lions’ compact and narrow shape. Away from home, it was no surprise to see them once more adopt their usual setup. Millwall were determined to block out the centre of the pitch with a mass of bodies in two banks of four.
Content to concede space in the wide areas, Millwall would often leave defending our wingbacks to the wide midfielder on that side. The issue for the Lions was that this player was often slow to get out and mark, creating space for crosses.
We said Spurs needed to attack these spaces to win the game. We did and five goals were the result of getting the ball wide early.
Harry Kane leaves the game
The injury to Harry Kane is devastating on our season. The long-term affect is unknown, but they are huge boots to fill. In the context of this game alone, it actually served to improve how we combated the Millwall shape.
Mauricio Pochettino had selected Dele Alli and Son Heung-Min behind Harry Kane. In leaving Christian Eriksen on the bench, we had three players that like to run forward and no one to pick the passes through to them. Essentially we were running right in to the heart of Millwall’s mass of centrally located bodies.
The unfortunate injury to Harry Kane meant that Christian Eriksen was introduced much earlier than anticipated. Pochettino switched from a 3-4-2-1 to a 3-4-1-2 with Eriksen sitting behind Alli and Son. This got the creative player we were going to need in to the game. It also pushed two players up the pitch that were going to run in-behind and now occupy both Millwall centre backs.
Given only 10 minutes were on the clock, it was a quick and smart move from Mauricio Pochettino. Especially so given the criticism he has received for the use of his substitutes bench. It would have been easy to put on Vincent Janssen in a like-for-like change, but Pochettino addressed an early tactical issue.
Creating space for Christian Eriksen
Now in the game, Christian Eriksen started to buzz between the lines. Stretching Millwall both vertically up the pitch and horizontally across it created the space for him.
Dele Alli and Son Heung-Min pushing on to the two centre backs stretched Millwall vertically with their runs in-behind. The Lions were also being pulled across the pitch by our use of wingbacks. Millwall were trying to mark them with their wide midfielder to keep their back four together and compact. Racing into the wide areas before they could react, Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies stretched Millwall across the pitch.
The different movements created space for Eriksen to play in the pockets of space created and wreak havoc.
Spurs get two goals from wide
Pulling Millwall in two different directions created the space Christian Eriksen needed to get the vital first goal. Son and Dele were occupying the centre backs. Davies and Trippier had flooded the space in the wide areas. It created a huge pocket for Eriksen to drop in to and receive the ball to get our attack moving.
Play moved quickly from Eriksen in acres between the lines out to a wide-open Kieran Trippier on the other flank. This pulled Millwall from one side of the pitch to the other.
Trippier delivered a high cross from the right, which was cleared straight up in the air. Millwall’s two centre backs had been shifted by our quick switch of the ball and were now occupying the same space. This afforded another nice pocket for Eriksen to drift in to and sensationally fire home whilst on the spin, 1-0.
Making good use of both runs in-behind and the space out wide, we added a second. Eric Dier won the ball back in defence and launched a quick counter attack. Son had drifted in to the vacant space out on the right. Dele Alli was powerfully running in-behind.
To the annoyance of Dele Alli, who had raced in to space at the far post, Son’s first touch was horrible. However, what Son’s poor control did was draw out centre back Jake Cooper. Millwall’s game plan didn’t even want their full backs to be drawn out, let alone their centre backs. However, Cooper had no choice, Millwall had been stretched. He had to try and stop Son’s run.
The South Korean is much more fleet of foot than the gigantic centre back. Stepping over the ball and then darting inside, Son’s feet were just too quick. He unleashed an unstoppable curling shot in to the far corner, 2-0.
Spurs go in-behind
Two goals up from getting the ball in to the wide spaces before a narrow Millwall team could react, Spurs then stretched them vertically by going in-behind.
We’d looked at the Lions conceding chances to teams running in-behind with no pressure on the passer in the Spurs vs Millwall match preview. Playing three centre backs, Spurs could navigate Millwall’s two strikers and would thus have the time and space to attempt this.
The signs were there early. On fourteen minutes, no pressure on Kieran Trippier saw him spray a 40-yard pass for a classic Dele Alli out-to-in run. Dele got his head to the ball to send it past goalkeeper Tom King, but couldn’t beat the recovering defender behind.
A minute in to the second half and Eric Dier had the time and space to pick out the same run. This time Dele cushioned the ball perfectly, but then attempted a weird flick with the outside of his right boot on the turn as his momentum took him away.
The third try was the charm. No pressure on Kieran Trippier allowed him to attempt to find Son Heung-Min’s run in-behind. The South Korean’s blistering pace got him beyond the Millwall defence. His poise and guided finish was simply sublime.
Back to attacking the flanks
Two goals from stretching Millwall horizontally across the pitch and one from vertically going over the top, we went back to utilising the space on the flanks.
Dele Alli added a fourth after Harry Winks quickly got the ball out wide to Kieran Trippier in acres of space. The pass, combined with Trippier’s movement, stretched Millwall to create another pocket for Christian Eriksen to work in.
Trippier laid the ball off for Eriksen to drive a low cross for Dele Alli to tap in at the back post, 4-0.
With the tie put to bed, Vincent Janssen entered the game and broke his duck from open play. The left flank was the focus this time as Millwall were caught trying to press us up the pitch. Eric Dier just managed to slide in and send the ball back to Michel Vorm, but our goalkeeper’s excellent pass set us on our way. The ball went from Eriksen to Davies to a wide-open Son out on the flank in seconds.
Son had once more isolated a centre back retreating towards his own goal for fear of the South Korean’s quick feet. This created separation and space for Vincent Janssen to drift in to and neatly guide the ball in to the near post. A great finish for a player out of form and seemingly out of contention.
Mobbed by his team mates and with White Hart Lane on its feet, the jubilant celebration was heart-warming to see. It’s clear that Janssen remains popular amongst the squad and his own relief was palpable. Could this kick start his Spurs career at a time when we need him to come through?
Five up and with Janssen getting on the score sheet, Moussa Sissoko also gave us a glimpse of his promise. Introduced in the pivot, Sissoko burst forward on a powerful run not seen since Euro 2016.
Whilst Sissoko was on his way, Christian Eriksen had drifted in to the space beyond right back Shaun Cummings. Sissoko found Eriksen, who had time to pick out Son Heung-Min’s run to the back post.
Son connected well on the volley, but Tom King will not want to see the replay back as he spilled the shot between his legs and in to the net. A miserable end for the keeper, but a deserved first Tottenham hat trick for Son. The goal made it Spurs 6-0 Millwall and completed the rout.
Spurs 6-0 Millwall overall
Spurs are through to the FA Cup Semi-Finals, but at what cost?
Harry Kane’s injury has the potential to derail our season. Kane going off did make way for Christian Eriksen to enter and open up the game up. Son and Dele Alli could stretch the Millwall centre backs vertically, Trippier and Davies horizontally. The dual movement opened up space for Eriksen to work in the pockets created by pulling a narrow Millwall team in two different directions.
Final score: Spurs 6-0 Millwall.
MOTM: Christian Eriksen.