Stoke 1 Spurs 2: vertical passing pays off

A magnificent display at the Britannia saw us come from behind to score a late winner once again, as it finished Stoke 1 Spurs 2 in our Premier League clash.

The first half was a battle of styles, the second much more tactical after Charlie Adam was sent off. Most importantly, patience was key, but also an injection of vertical passing as we kept our Champions League hopes alive.

Stoke set up and tactics

Stoke lined up in their usual 4-4-1-1 formation, but the only slight surprise was the return of Matthew Etherington to the left flank. He’s been in and out of the Potters’ line-up this season, but with a history of good performances against us, along with his decent crossing ability, Tony Pulis brought him back here.

With Charlie Adam on the other side, that gave Stoke two good wide men from which to provide their usual barrage of crosses. Moving Jonathan Walters back in to the centre to play off Peter Crouch also meant that they had two targets to aim for that are good in the air.

That really summed the Stoke tactics up in the first half. The ball was sent long to Peter Crouch; when he won possession, he would knock it down for Jonathan Walters and then play would be moved to Charlie Adam on the right to cross it back in.

Without the ball, the Potters were pressing us early in possession and this is how their opening goal arrived. Jonathan Walters harried Steven Caulker and his pass went straight to Dean Whitehead. The ball was then swiftly moved to Charlie Adam, next to Ryan Shotton who was fouled out on the touchline.

Charlie Adam curled in the resulting free-kick for a wide-open Steven N’Zonzi to head home. It was a typical Stoke goal from a set piece – nothing usual about that – but what wasn’t normal was Spurs’ decision to mark zonally. This soon disappeared after the disastrous covering when several players stood still, but the only reason for it could have been Stoke’s physicality on set pieces.

As looked at in the Tottenham tactics for Stoke vs Spurs, Andre Villas-Boas likes to use Jan Vertonghen at left back when facing big, powerful, aerial teams. In that way he can get additional height in to the line-up by effectively having three centre backs. Here he must have feared the usual blocking, screening and shirt pulling that goes on at Stoke’s set pieces, so opted to mark zones rather than go man-to-man. Either way the system failed and was soon dispensed with.

Spurs lack verticality

With Stoke pressing through Crouch and Walters, then playing with two banks of four, everything was kept in front of them and we lacked vertical passing to open them up.

Clint Dempsey was cutting inside from his position on the left, whilst Aaron Lennon was playing wide on the right. As a result the ball was often move wide to Lennon in the first 45, but nothing was played in-behind to stretch their defence. Consequently, eight of our ten shots in the first half were from outside the box, as Stoke kept us at arm’s length.


Stoke 1 Spurs 2: Tottenham final third passing and shots, 1st half.

That was until Scott Parker’s speculative pass on Clint Dempsey’s equalising goal. Although the American’s finish was from outside the box, the run by Lennon and pass by Parker had shown the way to unlocking the door.

I looked in the Tottenham tactics for Stoke vs Spurs  at how they were susceptible to balls played in behind their central defenders that turn them. Scott Parker’s long pass towards Aaron Lennon did just this.


Spurs turn Stoke’s defenders with a vertical ball down the middle.

Asmir Begovic came racing off his line, but didn’t communicate with Marc Wilson who slid in to partially clear. The ball ended up going straight to Clint Dempsey who finished superbly with a lofted left-foot return.

It seemed like a moment of opportunistic fortune, but the vertical play to turn the defence would be repeated in the second half to win the game.

Charlie Adam’s red card changes the game

It was one of the more obvious red cards this season for two blatant fouls, but somehow Tony Pulis was unhappy with Charlie Adam’s sending off.

“I don’t think Charlie has touched (Jan) Vertonghen on the first one and on the second one he’s made a mistake by sliding in but again I don’t think he touches him,”

What the Stoke boss was correct about was that it changed the game and allowed us to dictate the tempo.

“Good teams will frustrate the life out of you and what you mustn’t do is get dragged into it and lose your shape and your discipline.”

Stoke didn’t lose their discipline, but were pulled around by our patience on the ball. Play was moved from side-to-side regularly through Huddlestone and Parker recycling possession, but the Potters’ two banks of four kept much in front of them.

Gareth Bale was providing some drive, but it wasn’t until the introduction of Moussa Dembele that we got some real vertical shifts of the ball through the centre of their lumbering defence. As a result of these penetrating passes, shots were now coming from inside the box rather than from outside it, like in the first half.


Stoke 1 Spurs 2: Tottenham final third passing and shots, 2nd half.

Spurs vertical passing wins the game

Andre Villas-Boas has made a number of game-changing substitutions this season. The introductions of Moussa Dembele, then Jermain Defoe, were two more that altered the outcome once again.

With AVB recognising the way to open up Stoke was to go through the middle, he brought on Moussa Dembele to provide his usual surging dribble-drives in central areas. He then took off width in Aaron Lennon and replaced him with a central ‘on the shoulder’ attacker in Jermain Defoe.

Now looking to go more down the middle, we created several good chances through the centre. The best of which saw Moussa Dembele find Gareth Bale loose in front of goal, but the Welshman’s shot on the spin just missed the target.

Despite scoring the winner, Emmanuel Adebayor had been dropping off left and right to link the play, but wasn’t actually getting in the box centrally where we needed him to be. Ironically, on the only real occasion he looked to get in behind the Stoke defence, he scored.


Stoke 1 Spurs 2 : Emmanuel Adebayor passes received.

Gareth Bale cut inside from a position out on the right and his pass cannoned in to the path of Clint Dempsey off Moussa Dembele. The pass wasn’t meant for Dempsey, but like Parker’s ball forward on our first goal, the purpose to move the ball vertically in-behind was there, which opened Stoke up.


Gareth Bale plays a vertical pass throug the centre of the Stoke defence.

Once he received the ball, Dempsey was coolness personified as he picked out Emmanuel Adebayor, but the vertical passing intent of Gareth Bale created it.

Stoke 1 Spurs 2 conclusions

After going behind to an early Stoke strike, this was a very composed performance to first of all get back in the game; then to remain calm when going in search of a winner.

There wasn’t any sign of panic, just a team that knew if it kept plugging away and probing the Stoke defence that an opportunity would come.

Spurs did lack incisive vertical passing to open a resolute Stoke side up when it was 11v11. However, as the game wore on and the Potters wore down, the gaps started to appear and we were able to take advantage.

Final score: Stoke 1 Spurs 2.

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