Early signs that Tottenham are becoming more clinical as our Premier League clash finishes Sunderland 0-1 Spurs.
It took us 75 minutes to register a shot on target as we struggled against Sunderland’s setup. However, Mauricio Pochettino’s changes, along with Ryan Mason finally scoring a 1v1 against a keeper, saw us take the points, with it ending Sunderland 0-1 Spurs.
Our head coach happily purred afterwards that in this moment “we showed a bit of our philosophy” and it was great to see this passage of play pay off. After looking many times this season at Harry Kane and the vertical passing game, it was a moment for all to savour. Our striker coming short to drag a defender with him and then a runner bursting beyond him looking for a through ball has been a common theme this term. Being clinical when the moment has arrived has been our downfall, but this time Ryan Mason was decisive and deadly.
Spurs don’t see the clues
Before the winning moment arrived, Sunderland were causing us all types of problems through their setup. The Black Cats dropped off deep and were waiting until our first pass in to midfield to engage. This would then see their central trio swoop and look to create turnovers. We played right in to their hands, as our narrow setup saw us drifting in to the middle.
Nacer Chadli played his usual role of floating in from the left. Son Heung-Min looked composed and intelligent on the ball, but he too was sucked in to the middle from his starting position on the right.
Dele Alli was our number ten and he tried to push up alongside Harry Kane much too early in the attack. He was trying to get up and run off the striker, which is what we want him to do. However, in starting too high and being too eager, he was actually just causing congestion and not contributing to the effect of pulling around Sunderland’s centre backs. Exposing John O’Shea and Younes Kaboul to being pulled short and then a third man run in-behind is what we wanted to achieve and was evident on our goal, but Alli and Kane weren’t in-sync to do this.
As a result we were dominating possession, but proving pretty toothless in attack. With Sunderland blocking off a lot through the centre, our main opportunities came from getting in to the full back zones. Kyle Walker had a stonewall penalty turned down after he jetted forwards and was hip-checked inside the box by Patrick van Aanholt. Dele Alli then got in-behind the left back with an audaciously skilled turn, but could only pick out Costel Pantilimon when in an excellent position to play a pull back. Son Heung-Min then whiffed on a shot as Nacer Chadli got in-behind right back Billy Jones and crossed for Kyle Walker who was beyond the other full back to tee up the South Korean. Harry Kane also struck thin air, as he too had an air-shot following Ryan Mason’s cross from the right.
The clues were there for us, but we all too often got sucked in to the centre where Sunderland’s narrow central trio were waiting.
Sunderland counter vs Eric Dier
What Sunderland’s setup allowed them to do was draw us up the field and then look to hit the speed of Jermain Defoe and Jeremain Lens on the counter. As we looked at in the Sunderland vs Spurs preview, the Black Cats like to play through balls for the pace of these two to gallop after.
That was how the Mackems main chances arrived. It also coincided with when they were able to take Eric Dier out of the game. Dier was an awesomely destructive force, winning the ball back at every opportunity, shielding his centre backs and covering the full backs when they went forward.
It was noticeable that the game’s first big chance arrived when Dier was caught up-field at our corner and not able to recover his position. Sunderland cleared to Jeremain Lens on the counter attack and his exquisite pass dissected four of our players for Defoe to run on to. It was a surprise that he could run away from Toby Alderweireld so easily. Defoe got himself in to perfect position, but could only scuff his shot across Hugo Lloris and off the foot of the post.
The Black Cats next dangerous counter saw Defoe end up with it once more. The former Spurs man shook off the attentions of Toby Alderweireld who held on to his arm for way too long, potentially giving away a penalty should Defoe have obliged and gone down. The passage of play again started with Sunderland clearing their lines and breaking quickly, neatly being able to navigate Eric Dier by one long ball from back to front.
In the second 45 Sunderland had another excellent counter attack situation. We had the ball deep in their half, which had drawn all our players forward. However, a turnover and swift movement of the ball up to Jeremain Lens had again taken Dier out of the game. Lens found himself dribbling clear with just Jan Vertonghen to beat. Vertonghen, who had a very mixed afternoon, played him perfectly to not only slow down and force Lens wide, but to then strip the ball away from the Dutchman.
With us controlling possession, but being stifled through the centre, Mauricio Pochettino made good use of his changes.
Son Heung-Min looked tired and so was replaced by Andros Townsend. Usually when he comes on, Townsend cuts in from the right to shoot, but here he was instructed to stay wide and get down the outside of Patrick van Aanholt. The Dutch left back had been suffering with cramp and Pochettino obviously wanted to target him. Townsend did and skinned him on several occasions before trying to cross.
Pochettino’s second switch was to then take off Dele Alli and replace him Erik Lamela. Seeing the space that Townsend was opening up and starting to stretch Sunderland across the pitch, Lamela was brought in to run in the room it created.
Whilst Dele Alli had been playing higher up and too eager to get alongside and beyond Kane, the introduction of Lamela deeper allowed others more freedom. The Argentinean was obviously instructed to start from further back and this let both Townsend and Nacer Chadli become more of an influence against a tiring Sunderland team. Chadli had been anonymous for most of the game, but suddenly started popping up with chances after the substitutions.
Slow, slow, quick, quick, goal!
Pochettino’s changes, along with our play to drag Sunderland’s centre backs around manifested itself as we took the lead.
We’ve often seen this season, especially against Man Utd, Stoke and Everton, how we’ve used Harry Kane as a pull effect. The striker comes short to receive the ball, allowing a runner to go beyond him. This allows Kane to either lay the ball off to someone else to pass to the runner or for the centre forward himself to turn and play the ball. This drags around the opposition centre backs, as they are forced to make a decision of whether to track Kane or not, allowing space for others to run in to.
The main recipient of this movement so far this season has been Ryan Mason. He had a glorious chance against Stoke that would’ve seen us go further in front in that match. He then missed two 1v1s against Tim Howard in our 0-0 draw with Everton at the Lane.
Here the build-up was typical Tottenham under Pochettino. The ball was put back in to play from a throw-in and a succession of passes navigating across the field followed, as we sought to bypass Sunderland closing down at the halfway line.
After this slow build-up, pace through quick vertical ball movement was suddenly injected in to the passage of play. Ryan Mason exchanged passes with Erik Lamela and fired the ball up to Harry Kane who had come short, dragging Younes Kaboul with him.
Mason didn’t hang around and ran off his marker Yann M’Vila, who then tried to track him but collided with his teammate. This created separation and space for Mason to get free as he set off to burst past Kane, knowing exactly what was about to happen.
Kane then laid the ball back to Erik Lamela who was on the same wavelength as Kane and Mason, forming a neat little triangle. Kane’s deft touch, despite being clattered from behind, fell to the Argentinean’s feet. Lamela looked for Mason’s run beyond the striker and found him.
After missing several of these opportunities in recent matches, Ryan Mason made no mistake this time. Despite a heavy touch and being injured in the process, he chipped the sliding Pantilimon to put us in to the lead, Sunderland 0-1 Spurs.
Scares and chances
Failing to hold on to a lead has been a recurring theme this season and we knew it would be a bumpy ride. Sunderland didn’t disappoint as Jack Rodwell struck the bar following Younes Kaboul’s pull back.
Rather than shut up shop, we continued to attack. Erik Lamela missed a glorious chance to cap a decent cameo by darting across the box to head Andros Townsend’s cross wide with the goal gaping.
Townsend then continued to lead the Sunderland defence a merry dance, as he fed Harry Kane in. The Black Cats were caught congesting the centre once more as Kane’s stealthy movement saw him slip free with just the goalkeeper to beat.
He couldn’t and instead of his usual pinpoint placement in the corners, he tried to blast the ball through the keeper, which saw it easily saved.
Nacer Chadli also had two great chances with spaces now appearing. However, he snatched at both efforts to send them high and wide when more composure and being clinical were needed.
Sunderland 0-1 Spurs overall
The main take away from this game was that Mauricio Pochettino spotted the errors and made changes that not only corrected them, but also opened up and won the match. He had a plan B here, something for which he has often been criticised for not possessing.
For 75 minutes we had bossed possession, but were too predictable, slow and toothless. The changes opened up, stretched and subjected a tiring Sunderland side to pace and movement.
The goal was a culmination of what Pochettino has been trying to do this season. That is to not be as reliant on Harry Kane to carry the goal-scoring load. Kane still needs to weigh in with strikes, he had chances in this one, but this style of play intends to see the goals spread around.
The chances created by movement off and beyond Kane have been there for us in all of our games so far. We just haven’t been clinical enough in despatching them. Here we finally took one, but we have to finish these on a increasingly consistent basis if we are to put games away earlier and make results more convincing.
Final score: Sunderland 0-1 Spurs.