A horrendous display at the Britannia sees our Premier League clash finish Stoke 3-0 Spurs as our stand-in full backs are exposed.
Was Mauricio Pochettino expecting Stoke circa 2010 to show up for a physical tussle and an aerial bombardment?
It seemed like it as our head coach went with four central defenders across our back line. With stand-in full backs, Mark Hughes had his side move the ball directly at them and scored three times from crosses. He had his front trio split them and run the channels in-between to make the final score Stoke 3-0 Spurs.
Four centre backs
Only Mauricio Pochettino will know why he went for four central defenders across the back line here. Danny Rose was supposed to be nursing a groin injury but was on the bench. Alongside him was a healthy, but presumably not ready for the cauldron that is the Britannia, DeAndre Yedlin.
Both Jan Vertonghen and Eric Dier have experience of playing at the full back positions and that can be the only reason why our head coach went with them here. The other only plausible explanation is that our head coach was expecting an aerial and crossing bombardment and wanted the extra height to deal with the balls in to the box.
The problem of both Dier and Vertonghen is that we can maybe get away with one of them as a full back, but not both in tandem. Both look and move like centre backs when out wide and are susceptible to speed and dribbling. A knock-on effect from this was that Vlad Chiriches, who has always looked an undersized and over-dribbling liability when in the back line, was opted for in the centre.
The full backs are the key position for Mauricio Pochettino’s system to operate, both in attacking and defensive situations. Without two natural ones, we were both stifled in our attacking play, but also a liability in defence.
Stoke swift ball movement
With our patched up back line, Mark Hughes had his side go directly at the weakness in the full back areas. The former Barcelona man has his side very much set up like the team that Hughes played in at the Nou Camp. He deploys three forwards with more of a natural winger on the left and an additional or auxiliary centre forward cutting in to the box from the right.
Those two players here were Marko Arnautovic and Jonathan Walters. Arnautovic was being fed the ball as often as possible. He had the beating of Eric Dier in any foot race and was a constant threat down the left to either create chances or unleash a shot.
Over on the right, Jonathan Walters was drifting inside to get in the box and get on the end of crosses. He often switched positions with central striker Mame Biram Diouf and this lead to all sorts of confusion in our back line, especially on Stoke’s first goal.
Hughes had his side move the ball quickly out to the wide areas in order to expose both Vertonghen and Dier’s lack of mobility and quickness. From there Stoke crossed and scored three times.
Stoke score from crosses
Stoke had only 45% possession and this despite playing most of the second a man up after Vlad Chiriches’ red card. The reason for this was that when they had the ball, they were swiftly trying to move it out in to the wide positions.
Stoke earned themselves a flurry of early corners by doing just this and they also took the lead as they exposed the communication and movement in our back line.
Their first goal saw the ball sent long downfield by goalkeeper Jack Butland, looking to put it out to Jonathan Walters in the wide area where Jan Vertonghen was. It was flicked on by Nabil Bentaleb, which saw it run free for Mame Biram Diouf to pick up.
Diouf had peeled off out of the centre and was tracked by Vlad Chiriches. Jan Vertonghen, who had been detailed to mark Jonathan Walters, followed his run inside. This immediately led to a crossing of positions. Our full back had become our centre back and vice versa. We’ve seen a fluid attacking trio this season, so i guess why not a fluid back four of centre backs?
This shouldn’t have been a problem as all four are technically centre backs. However, with Chiriches now defending in the wide area on his unnatural side, he was easily beaten to the by-line.
Whilst this was happening, over in the centre, Charlie Adam, who was breaking forward from a number ten position, joined Walters. Both players were looking to split our defenders and fill the lanes in-between them. As Diouf gets set to cross we can see how they drifted into the spaces between Fazio, Vertonghen and Dier. This would be a feature in all three goals.
The cross came in and Vertonghen, who had let Walters drift off of him, unwittingly flicked it on. The ball looped and dropped between Fazio and Dier, an area that Charlie Adam had filled by splitting our defenders. He nodded home to put them one up.
One became two as a lot of the factors repeated themselves. Stoke got the ball quickly out on the break to Marko Arnautovic in a wide area. He dribbled the ball and laid it off to Charlie Adam. With Vertonghen pulled out trying to stop him, the rest of our back line was left 3v3 against Stoke’s attackers, all of which had filled the lanes between our defensive line.
N’Zonzi, Walters and Diouf had split our remaining back three and Adam looked to curl a cross in-behind for one of them to latch on to. The ball was over hit and as Hugo Lloris came for it, Eric Dier also tried to deal with it. The lack of communication, which is usually very audible from Hugo, was lacking between the two. Dier connected with the ball, bouncing it off of Lloris and straight back to the wide-open Steven N’Zonzi. He had no problem in passing it in to the corner of the net.
Two goals from getting the ball in to wide crossing positions to take advantage of our full backs became three in the second half. Again Stoke filled the lanes between our defenders with Marko Arnautovic torching Eric Dier for pace down the sideline.
The ball was moved straight up to Arnautovic from the back so that he could go at Dier in space before cover could arrive. Arnautovic had given Dier a torrid afternoon with his speed and dribbling and wasted no time in going at the stand-in full back once again.
His cross in to the middle should’ve been dealt with, but wasn’t. Diouf arrived, again between our two central defenders, to turn the ball home from an impossible angle to make it Stoke 3-0 Spurs.
Vlad sees red
If playing two out of position centre backs at full back wasn’t enough, then playing our best two centre backs out in the wide positions was suicide. This left our weakest central defenders in the middle and Vlad Chiriches became the latest player to get a red card in this heated fixture.
The two yellows he received were avoidable, but summed up where Vlad’s weakness have been in his time at Spurs and why he’s looked out of his depth at this level.
The first highlighted his clumsiness as he got his positioning incorrect, caught wrong side and took Arnautovic down from behind.
The second came from his over-dribbling and trying to trick his way out of a situation where if he loses the ball then we are in real danger. When it comes off, he looks like a genius and gets the ole from the crowd. More often than not though, he gets it wrong and we are immediately in trouble. Diouf robbed him and Vlad made a mess of trying to retrieve the situation.
After Vlad got his marching orders we continued to see more curious back line changes by Mauricio Pochettino. Nabil Bentaleb became the latest to have a go at left back. He then brought on Roberto Soldado as he went 4-3-1-1. The switches had little influence on the game. Erik Lamela was moved inside in to the central three and had some nice passages of play. He was replaced by Mousa Dembele who also added some steel and resolve in here.
On the other side, Mark Hughes changed his auxiliary wide forward for another, as Peter Odemwingie replaced Jonathan Walters. He also switched his number ten as Charlie Adam was replaced by Stephen Ireland, but kept attacking our full backs in the same way.
Stoke 3-0 Spurs overall
“I think we were poor from the beginning,” said a downbeat Mauricio Pochettino and he wasn’t wrong. Our initial selection put us on the back foot by having our best central defenders at full back.
Danny Rose may have been unable to play a full 90, but given that full back is the key position in Pochettino’s system, DeAndre Yedlin should’ve been an option on the right. Pochettino probably doesn’t trust him yet, but playing the American would’ve removed the liability that is Vlad Chiriches from the centre, where he can do most damage.
Stoke did a good job of moving the ball out to attack our full backs in the wide areas and then filled the lanes between our back four in order to convert crosses.
Mauricio Pochettino at least finished off on a positive “we need to be braver in the next game,” so we’ll see if this rings true.
Final score: Stoke 3-0 Spurs.