Tottenham used the wide areas excellently to open up space in the centre, as it finished Stoke 0-4 Spurs at the Bet365 Stadium.
The score line was comfortable, but it didn’t start off plain sailing. Pushed on to the back foot early, it took us a while to figure this game out. Once we did, the goals began to flow and by the end it could have been anything. Our use of the wide areas proved to be the hosts undoing. It opened up space between the lines in the centre and the score was run up to Stoke 0-4 Spurs by the final whistle.
Stoke’s strong start
Stoke started the game well. They continued in their 4-3-3 shape, which gave us trouble defensively. In previous matches, Stoke have force their opponents towards the sideline when pressing them. Here, they remained narrow and compact to stifle the centre, pressing with a man-to-man system. Their front three of Marko Arnautovic, Wilfried Bony and Jonathan Walters playing directly on Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier and Jan Vertonghen.
It gave us trouble as we attempted to play out. Stoke often won the ball back in our half as we tried to play in to the middle third of the pitch. When they had won it back, they were looking to hit their front three running the channels between our back four.
They were trying to overload our back line and force quick decisions as to who would pick up each runner. However, we guarded and played this well for much of the match. Stoke’s only real pressure came from the set pieces that were won when their shots or crosses were deflected out for corners.
Stoke set pieces
Stoke’s most dangerous passages of play, especially in the opening 20 minutes, came from these set pieces. A partially cleared corner saw a thunderous drive from Glenn Whelan that was fantastically flicked over by Ben Davies. Ryan Shawcross then saw his header down from the resulting corner cleared away. Later in the match and Shawcross would fire an instinctive effort just past the post and he then saw Kyle Walker clear another of his headers off the line.
Spurs go long to Son
Stoke were pressing well and hindering us from moving the ball out through the centre. The only threat that we posed was long early out balls over the top of this congestion to Son Heung-Min. The South Korean retained his width well on the left and found space beyond Stoke right back Geoff Cameron.
Christian Eriksen played Son in with a long pass that saw the South Korean dribble in to the box and then go down rather clumsily as Cameron challenged. Then Son received a similar long sweeping pass from Toby Alderweireld.
He dribbled inside and then saw his pass deflected in the opposite direction. It went straight through the Stoke back line to a waiting Dele Alli. With the goal gaping and just a sliding Shay Given to beat, Dele swivelled, but skewed his shot past the post.
Spurs see the light
That moment really served as the changing in momentum and highlighted what Spurs needed to do. Get the ball quickly wide to beat the central congestion. Then pick out the runners between the lines.
Son Heung-Min and Christian Eriksen began to find space in the wide positions. Dele Alli was getting free between the lines.
This was aided by the play of Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier. The pair started to get a handle on Joe Allen and Giannelli Imbula who were giving us problems in the middle of the park. Once Dier and Wanyama started to gain the upper hand and win more of the individual battles, we were able to control the central zone.
All of these factors came together and we never looked back. As we saw in the Stoke vs Spurs preview, the Potters have been punished for giving up too much space between their lines of midfield and defence this season. Spurs got in here time and again to create and score chances.
Stoke 0-1 Spurs
We took the lead just before half time with a wonderfully created and well-taken goal. It started with Victor Wanyama recovering the ball in central midfield. He swiftly moved it forward to the waiting Dele Alli, who had got himself between the Stoke lines.
With Stoke caught narrow once again, Dele sprayed the play out wide to the sprinting Christian Eriksen. The Dane was already signalling for the ball, pointing to where he wanted it played as Dele got on it.
Dele was not the only player between the lines at this point. Son Heung-Min had also drifted in here from his staring position on the left. It was quite amazing that nobody tracked him at all. Stoke’s full backs were concerned with staying tight to their centre backs. The centre backs were more concerned with the movement of Harry Kane. This left Christian Eriksen to jink past midfielder Joe Allen out in the left full back zone. He then fired in a beautiful low cross that a wide-open Son expertly guided in to the corner of the goal, 1-0.
It was a beautifully crafted goal. We had won the ball back in central midfield, quickly got it wide and then back inside to a man drifting between the lines.
Spurs were gaining the upper hand and conceding first visibly knocked Stoke back. With Mark Hughes sent to the stands and cards being issued for diving, the crowd felt a real sense of injustice.
A pivotal moment came just after the interval. Already on a yellow card, Victor Wanyama found himself in the way of a driving Giannelli Imbula run. Wanyama didn’t block or move towards the Stoke man who ran in to him. Imbula and the crowd bayed for a red, knowing Wanyama was already on a yellow card. However, no card was rightly forthcoming, but it forced Mauricio Pochettino’s hand. Wanyama needed to be withdrawn, as another foul of any kind would’ve seen him sent off.
Pochettino could’ve gone for Moussa Sissoko. Seeing how the momentum was in our favour, he pressed forward by bringing on Erik Lamela. Dele Alli was dropped in to the pivot alongside Eric Dier. This move made Dele’s runs between the lines more dangerous. Stoke just couldn’t pick them up from their newer execution from much deeper. Moments after the switch, Dele arrived unmarked to latch on to Ben Davies’ pull back just before we added a second goal.
Stoke 0-2 Spurs
We’d looked in the Stoke vs Spurs match preview at how Harry Kane has pulled the Stoke centre backs around to create space for others to run through in the past. We also looked at how teams have exposed Ryan Shawcross’ impetuosity to get dragged out from the back line. Both came to fruition on our second goal, as we got the ball out to the wide player in space once again.
Now controlling the congested central midfield zone, Eric Dier twice won headers in here. His second one was a flick-on that sprung Christian Eriksen. The Dane, now at the number ten position, was the player free between the lines this time.
Harry Kane’s movement then dragged centre back Bruno Martins Indi out from the middle. Ryan Shawcross was sucked in towards Eriksen who nicked the ball past him and in to the clear with both centre backs out of the game.
Racing in to the space, Eriksen had Son Heung-Min overlapping out wide once more in to the empty zone behind right back Geoff Cameron. Eriksen once again found him with a deadweight pass, Son once more supplying an exquisite finish, 2-0.
Stoke 0-3 Spurs
Stoke were now rocking and three minutes later we added a third. The goal was reminiscent of our third last season in Stoke 0-4 Spurs, a rapid break that saw Harry Kane sweep home.
Just as on that goal, we got numbers rapidly forward on the break, far too many for Stoke to handle. This time, with the space continuing to be out wide, the ball was rapidly transitioned to and forward by Erik Lamela.
Kyle Walker’s lung-bursting sprint and exceptional straight-line speed saw him motor past Lamela to gather the neatly weighted pass. It was perfectly executed, like a relay baton change. Walker sprinted on, leaving players in his wake, before neatly picking out Dele Alli.
Dele had initially led the break, but checked his run to get between the Stoke lines and in space on the edge of the box. I’ve often criticised Walker’s delivery when attempted on the run, but here it was perfect. Alli didn’t have to take a touch and could strike it first time, 3-0.
Stoke 0-4 Spurs
Two of our three goals had come from getting the ball quickly wide and in to the space down the right to then find a man arriving in the centre. A third goal was added as Christian Eriksen once more got in to this space beyond the Stoke full back.
The passage of play once more saw Dele Alli moving between the lines.
The pass was deflected in to the path of Christian Eriksen when Kyle Walker tried to find Dele’s run. Eriksen was free once more to deliver another low-driven cross. The Stoke centre backs were again closely tracking Harry Kane. He had just stole a yard and had them on his back shoulder, but whiffed on the ball as it came in.
Fortunately, Son-Heung Min was retaining his width out the other side and gathered the loose ball. As he drove in, Shawcross was sucked across, as was Martins Indi by the run of Eric Dier, leaving Kane free at the back stick.
Son, who did have trouble with his final pass all game, this time picked out Kane with a wired ball across the six-yard box. Kane just had to hold his nerve to control and tap in, brining up Premier League goal number 50 in the process.
It was now Stoke 0-4 Spurs and the game was well and truly over.
Stoke 0-4 Spurs overall
Our form over the previous three Premier League matches has indicated that we were going to run up the score against someone and Stoke were the victims once again.
Once we had got to grips with the central midfield battle and figured out that the space was in the wide areas through quick passes to beat this central congestion, we never looked back. Our early ball movement out to the flanks opened up space centrally between the lines. We exploited it through Dele Alli’s well-timed runs and Christian Eriksen’s intelligent pullbacks. Son, whose final pass often let him down, saw no such trouble when shooting first time.
Final score: Stoke 0-4 Spurs.
MOTM: Christian Eriksen.
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