Sunderland 0-1 Spurs: clinical clues

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.


X=Tackle, O=Cleared,- =Block, Diamond=Intercept, Triangle=Foul, ^=Air duel.

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.


Dier caught up-field allows Sunderland’s through ball game.

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.

Pochettino switches

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.


Kane, Mason and Lamela in-sync.

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.


Spurs go horizontal then vertical.

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.


Kane sneaks in as Sunderland pack the middle.

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.

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15 Responses to Sunderland 0-1 Spurs: clinical clues

  1. Gidarmy 14th September 2015 at 5:02 pm #

    Superb analysis. Thanks it made for excellent reading.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th September 2015 at 9:07 pm #

      Cheers Gidarmy, thanks for reading.

    • Zaph 15th September 2015 at 6:09 am #

      Yes, spot on this.

  2. Paul Black 14th September 2015 at 5:28 pm #

    Your right we play with no width and no pace if the full backs don’t get forward we become predictable because we have five players within 25yards of each other in the middle..Townsend was a breath of fresh air kept beating his full back on the outside and it opened things up for us.
    Poch needs to continue with the width and pace I hope he has got the message we have been dire since he took over in fact as bad as AVB

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th September 2015 at 9:11 pm #

      The full backs are key in any Pochettino side and it was a surprise to not see Rose at least come in for part of the match, even if he wasn’t fit enough to play the whole game. Pochettino needs to work on this much more in training as we look toothless when the full backs aren’t looking to be aggressive in getting forwards. If they don’t do this then we do need to play with proper wingers.

      • Zaph 15th September 2015 at 6:10 am #

        I’m worried about Davies – I watched him for Wales also and he is consistent in frequent passing errors which lead to major chances for the opponents – in this game – yet again – a woeful cross led to a big chance.

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th September 2015 at 2:52 pm #

          I’m worried about him too Zaph. Against Leicester As well he turned possession over with a number of errant sideways passes, some of which lead to good chances. It’s a concern as he offers very little as well. He is quite cautious to go forward, which would be ok if he was solid defensively, but he is not. He is an ok backup for Rose but shouldn’t pay if Danny is fit.

  3. Dr JAB 15th September 2015 at 10:34 am #

    Hi Mark

    I watched the game with a mixture of anxiety with their breakaways and soporific discontent while we tried to play football.

    Poch continues to talk about “our philosophy”, but I dont see what it is. Perhaps it is a word he has simply learnt to pronounce in English. At the beginning of last season we played with a high line and a pressing game based or 2 or 3 fitness sessions. We were superfit. We harried and closed people down. Now we dont do that and simply play with a high line susptible to breakaways in all our games this season.

    Our “philosophy also incorporates continuing to pay narrow leading us to be choked off when we approach the opposition goal. We did this most of last season too. We dont seem to learn – except for Townsend (of all people) to give us some width when he came on.

    We also start games with this pedantic series of backwards & sideways passing until we give the ball away and find ourselves reeling under the first attack. We seem to give everyone a touch and see what is happening. Why dont we get stuck in from the first and stamp our authority and aggression on the opposition?

    Having been a critic of Rose all last season I was surprised & disappointed (!) not to see him start. As you correctly point out the 4231 formation like the 433 depends on fullbacks bombing forward to provide width. Also how long must we persist with Walker when Trippier has a great record both in defence and attack.

    A final word about Lamela. As you know I hope he comes right becuase he has the ability to see an oblique pass that can open up a defence like he did on sunday.

    Once again thanks for a great read.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th September 2015 at 3:11 pm #

      Hi John. Pochettino’s philosphy of how to play is quite extensive. It is complex and those of us outside the team will never know it all. What we can decipher are things that we see on a consistent basis. One of these things is to have the centre forward drop off to pull the opposition centre backs around, then to have a runner going past our striker that the team looks to pass to. This is a small part of his ‘philopsopy’ and that is what i think he meant by his comments after the match. ie we planned to do this piece of play and we executed it well. Kane came short to drag Kaboul with him, laid the ball off to Lamela who hit Mason running in to the space Kane had created to score.

      The backwards and sideways passing is very un-Pochettino-esque. His Southampton side was very progressive and always looked to pass forwards. The conclusion that I am at for now is that it is done to draw teams out. At Southampton he wouldn’t face many sides that would drop off and counter attack. Now at Spurs he is facing sides that will regularly drop deep, close off the centre – because that is where we have men drifting in to – and look to counter attack on us. The sideways and backwards passing is purely baiting. It wears the other team down as they have to adjust and shuffle across the pitch – Sunderland were out on their feet by the end – but it is also done to lure the oppoenent on. Then, just as we did on Sunday, you then see a quick strike approach of rapid ball and player movement once the opposition has been lured towards the ball.

      I hope Lamela comes good aswell as i think he’ll either go back to Italy or off to Spain and be a big success.

  4. SomeDude 16th September 2015 at 3:40 am #

    Hey dude, been reading your stuff for a while now and thought I’d thank you for it :) Sadly I haven’t been able to catch too many games so I’m partialy reliant on your excellent jornalism. Also I wonder who you think should take the number 10 now that masons injured. I assume Chadlington based on my reading here as he can get in and score or go for overloads.

    While I’m here I thought I’d return to my favourite topic of the Europe league. Bein that finishing in the top four looks particularly challenging this year and with camps league on offer I was hoping to get your endorsement in going all out. Pocj in the past has kind of thanked us for loosing (perhaps sour grapes) and I’ve seen him play a very weak SH when he didn’t have much to gain in the league. But as I say winning breeds winning and taking on unknown opposition and coming out on top must surely breed a fluid and intelligent team. Is it time to take it seriously?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 16th September 2015 at 1:52 pm #

      Thanks for reading SomeDude, glad to keep you updated.

      I really think who will play number ten depends on the opposition and how we expect them to play against us. If Eriksen is back then he will play there, but i think Pochettino may flit between Dele Alli and Lamela. Alli if he wants to get someone up in the box with Kane for more focus on scoring goals. Lamela if we believe there will be more space in the game and we are looking for more of a runner in those spaces from deeper that can commit defenders and then pass the ball.

      I firmly sit in the camp of using the squad for Europa League games, especially at the group stage. We have a number of players eg Trippier, Wimmer, Pritchard, N’Jie that are either knocking on the door of the first team, needing game time or just being given a chance to show what they can do. The opposition isn’t always that great and with the travelling involved, it is both mentally and physically tiring. The place in the Champions League that is on offer is a very small incentive for me. The number of games to reach the final is ridiculous and until they stop the Champions League sides coming in, its just not worth it, especially if you lose in the final. Until UEFA stops the Champions League teams coming in and removes more of the minnow sides with more qualifying rounds to make less teams in the group stage and then fewer subsequent rounds then i don’t think we should take it seriously.

  5. SomeDude 16th September 2015 at 7:57 am #

    On the SHOW comment he was playing Sunderland in the league.

  6. SomeDude 16th September 2015 at 7:58 am #


  7. Ilikespurs 16th September 2015 at 1:56 pm #

    Hey Mark, great read as usual. I would have preferred Mason in the number 10 role as he had been so effective the previous week vs Everton, and had Alli in the deeper role next to Dier. I continue to be baffled why Davis starts ahead of Rose and why Trippier hasn’t had a chance with Walker so darn ineffective going forward. Sure he has pace, but his end product is worse then Lennons, if that’s possible. Trippiers crossing stats last year were so impressive in the EPL that surely he has to play eventually on a regular basis. I presume he’ll get a run out in the Europa league, and then earn his way onto the first team in the EPL.
    Regarding the Europa League, I totally disagree that we should ” go for it”. It’s a gamble with astronomical odds that we would ever win it, and it drains the whole team and compromises us dramatically in the EPL. When we had our great run under Harry in his last year ( before he phoned it in during the 2nd half hoping for the England job), it was when he played only kids in Europa & we got knocked out early and could concentrate on the league. And it’s no coincidence to me that we played our best football of the year by far last year during the late November-January period when the Europa play was on break. We need to play the kids, see how it goes, and if we advance to the final 16 then start taking it more seriously. But any effort prior to that is just too taxing on a VERY thin roster w extremely limited and inexperienced depth.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 16th September 2015 at 3:04 pm #

      Hi Ilikespurs, I think Pochettino wanted a more physical presence at the number ten position with Alli and that is why he used him here despite Mason’s good game vs Everton.

      Rose was only fit enough for the bench apparently, but not sure if there is any more to this story or if it was just a case that he wouldn’t have been able to play for that long and so too risky to start and then have to burn a sub.

      Trippier should get a run out in the Europa and with some good performances will get his chance in the Premier League. I agree with you about the Europa League ompetition for the reasons that i said to SomeDude in the comment above.