The movement of Harry Kane is used to pull the centre backs out of position as our Premier League clash ends Stoke 0-4 Spurs at the Britannia.
A blue tidal wave washed through the Britannia Monday night, sweeping away everything in its path. At its heart was Harry Kane. The centre forward was being man-marked by Stoke’s centre backs, tracking him everywhere he went. Undeterred by their attentions, Kane’s movement sucked them in and allowed others to burst past him and into the open field. It was rapid, powerful, precise and most importantly, unstoppable. Wave after wave pounded the Potter’s goal, leaving the final score Stoke 0-4 Spurs and keeping us on the Foxes’ tails.
Before we could gather momentum, we had to deal with the Stoke setup.
The Potters were intent on forcing us in to the middle of the pitch. They set up with a front three of Marko Arnautovic, Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri. The outside two were looking to start wide and move in to force our ball-playing centre backs to have to look down the middle for their passes.
After the ball went in to the middle, they would use Afellay, Whelan and Imbula to congest the central areas and regain it.
Giannelli Imbula was impressive as he was the only player that could compete with the strength of Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele. Our pair of central enforcers usually overpower and outmuscle the opposition, but Imbula is one of the few players I have seen that could go toe-to-toe with them. Unfortunately for him, he was having to cover so much ground, as he was pulled all over the park, that he was fatigued midway through the second half.
The Stoke narrowing tactic was partially effective, but often blown out of the water by the speed of our ball and player movement. The spaces were naturally in the wide areas and this saw both Danny Rose and Kyle Walker as key players. Both our full backs surged forward to get in to the open space to fashion good crossing opportunities. These were numerous and the best was arguably Danny Rose flying down the line and in to the penalty area. Unfortunately, he slipped trying to round the keeper as he created a 1v1 early in the second half.
The Kane pull effect
In Spurs 2-2 Stoke at White Hart Lane earlier this season, we saw how the Potters used their central defenders to man-mark Harry Kane. Both centre backs would take turns to track him wherever he went. This would see them pulled out towards the sidelines and it allowed runners to jet in-behind. Stoke slumped to a 2-0 deficit in that game before Kane went off. The threat was then gone and Stoke got back in to the match to make it 2-2. Given how unsuccessful it was in that game though, it was strange they did the same thing here.
With just nine minutes on the clock, we got our first glimpse of Kane really stretching their centre backs out as we took the lead. Philipp Wollscheid was tracking our striker and he was pulled out to the sideline as a long ball was sent towards the corner flag.
Kane picked up the ball up and with Wollscheid on his back fed it inside to Mousa Dembele.
Seeing a centre back out this far was strange, especially given that full back Geoff Cameron and wide midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri should’ve been able to deal with this. Mousa Dembele was now suddenly free to gather Kane’s pass and drive in to the huge hole towards the now unbalanced Stoke back line.
Kane didn’t admire his pass and then set off towards the penalty area. Dembele touched the ball back off to Kane and he curled an improbable shot that somehow got through a crowd and nestled in the corner. Wollscheid had followed Kane, but couldn’t get close enough to stop the striker’s early shot, 1-0.
An early goal put the nerves at ease and it should’ve been two just before the interval. The move was exquisite and was a glimpse of just what we were trying to do.
The neat pass in from Erik Lamela navigated the central trio congesting the middle. The movement of Kane dragged the man-marking Philipp Wollscheid away from the centre. This was compounded by Dele Alli coming short to attract Ryan Shawcross with him, leaving Christian Eriksen to burst beyond in to the huge hole created.
It was a big moment. The game was at 1-0, but Eriksen looked nervous as he jetted through. He never really got the ball under his spell and ended up forcing a shot that pinged back off the bar.
The signs were there though and it looked as though if we could keep Harry Kane pulling the Stoke centre backs around that more chances would come.
Stoke half time switch
Throughout the first half, Mark Hughes had seen his side forced backwards and this saw front man Bojan Krkic drop deeper and deeper to pick the ball up. Stoke then struggled to get out or create much going forward.
At the start of the second half, he sent on Joselu to offer a bigger focal point and had his team press much higher up. This was effective, but also suicidal over the longer term of the 90 minutes. If your team is not used to pressing and isn’t conditioned to do so, especially in the second half after having expended energy in the first, then they will hit a wall.
It did start off promising for them and they hounded our back four, forcing corners. However, a second goal was soon forthcoming. It came from Stoke over-committing and the centre backs being pulled around once more, allowing a run in-behind them.
With Hugo Lloris on the ball, Stoke had pushed four men up to stop us playing out from the back. However, already tiring, this left a huge space between these players and their defence who hadn’t squeezed up to condense the playing area.
Spurs like to make the playing area as big as possible to commit the opponents to have to run. It worked perfectly here. Hugo Lloris struck the ball in to this gap towards Kyle Walker and his header came down at the feet of Erik Lamela. The Argentinean’s high positioning had sucked out Phillip Wollscheid from the back line, but Harry Kane’s movement towards Lamela also drew Ryan Shawcross. This allowed Dele Alli to see the huge gap that had been created and run for it.
Erik Lamela tried to flick the ball, but it pinged back off Wollscheid towards Christian Eriksen. The Dane, having already seen Alli’s run, then pinged an exquisite first time pass over the top and in to his path.
Alli was in the clear and made no mistake as he used the natural bounce on the ball to chip it over the onrushing Shay Given, 2-0.
More pull effect
Moments after making it 2-0 and Dele Alli was in once more, but this time made the mistake of doing all the hard work, but not concentrating on the finish.
The move started with us playing the ball out of defence and then in to Harry Kane who had come very deep inside our half. This drew Ryan Shawcross up with him this time, with the centre back drawn ridiculously far up field.
Kane laid the ball off to Rose and then took the return in space. With Shawcross out of the game and Stoke left 2v2 as Lamela and Alli surged forward in to acres, Kane wired an inch-perfect pass in to Alli’s run.
Alli did the hard work to round Shay Given, but then inexplicably hit the post with goal gaping.
You would’ve been forgiven to think that this was the sign for things to go Spursy. They had at 2-0 up at the Lane earlier this season and getting the third goal to put teams away has been a problem at times. However, the miss seemed to focus the side, showing the newfound resolve and mental toughness that Mauricio Pochettino has instilled.
Moments later and two did become three in a sweeping wave of blue that flooded forward to overrun the Stoke defence. There was no need to pull the centre backs around this time, as they were out of the game anyway with Stoke having a corner. What was impressive was the man to win the header to clear the corner was the goalscorer. Also that the number of players we got out to swarm Imbula as he gathered the clearance on the edge of the box.
Christian Eriksen, as he so often does, nicked the ball away and the counter was on. The ball moved rapidly to Alli and with several options he picked the correct one to feed Erik Lamela’s run in-behind. The Argentinean patiently waited and unselfishly picked out the easy square ball to Kane for a tap in, rewarding the striker’s box-to-box run.
The game was up for Stoke and their shape went with it. Three soon became four and once more Harry Kane was moving the centre backs out of the middle for others to run through. His initial movement to move towards the touchline caught Philipp Wollscheid once more tracking his run way too far. As Kane progressed across the field, Ryan Shawcross also looked to cover it.
The ball went to Kane, but this left space for Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli to move forward and flood the vacant area that had been left. Eriksen’s surge through the inside left channel saw Shawcross reacting late to get back from marking Kane and unable to recover to stop the Dane’s short chipped cross.
Dele Alli, seeing Eriksen’s movement headed off towards the centre. Philipp Wollscheid, who had initially tracked Kane’s run, had partially recovered. However, he didn’t get near Alli as Eriksen tempted him in. After hitting the post, Alli showed great composure and technique to beautifully guide the ball into the corner of the net, making it Stoke 0-4 Spurs and the rout was complete.
Stoke 0-4 Spurs overall
With the pressure on to close the gap with Leicester, this performance was the perfect response. The team performed full of courage and purpose. The play was scintillating, often mesmerising and frequently sensational as we swept through the park.
Moving the Stoke centre backs around created it all. They wanted to man-mark Harry Kane and he gave them the run-around. Tracking him across the field saw them pulled out of position, allowing others to expose the space that this created and four could’ve been more.
This was a statement game that any slip-ups will be ruthlessly punished. Spurs are now 9/5 for the title. Leicester beware, we’re coming FOUR you.
Final score: Stoke 0-4 Spurs.