A high tempo encounter sees both right backs the focus for attacks, as our Premier League clash finishes Sunderland 2 Spurs 2 at the Stadium of Light.
Utterly dominating the game, we had 63% possession and heavily out shot Sunderland, yet they scored twice despite only having a single attempt on target.
The key to the game was not taking our chances, but the flow of it centred on three factors.
The first was Sunderland’s set up to sit back and play on the counter. The second was the Black Cats stifling the centre of the pitch, which lead to the third whereby both teams went after the other’s right back.
Sunderland stifles the centre
After conceding goals through the middle since taking over last season, Gus Poyet has tried a number of tactics to address this.
He experimented with three centre backs last term and this campaign he has his side defending extremely narrow. Lee Cattermole screens his back four, whilst fellow midfielders Jack Rodwell and Sebastian Larsson tuck in, as do the full backs. This has the effect, as we looked at in the Tottenham tactics for Sunderland vs Spurs, of really stifling the centre of the pitch.
This narrow set up could be seen from the off and had an effect on Emmanuel Adebayor coming short to receive the ball. In the opening moments we can see how Sunderland had six players in this central zone as Moussa Dembele tries to get the ball in to the striker’s feet.
This continued for much of the game as Cattermole, Larsson and Rodwell tried to block off this area, restricting our chances from straight out.
This didn’t stop us creating through here though, we just went over the top of it. Christian Eriksen sent a beautifully chipped lob pass over the crowd that Emmanuel Adebayor was unlucky not to score from.
Later, Moussa Dembele sent a thunderous drive off the post. The shot was from distance and went right over a number of central Sunderland bodies. Later Erik Lamela also struck the woodwork. He too had to wrestle for the ball with Larsson before curling it over several Sunderland players who were trying to block the route to goal.
Sunderland were so scared of Lamela getting in to this central zone and dribbling at them, that he was the target, once again, for numerous fouls.
Spurs go after the right back
Sunderland’s set up was attempting to stifle, but our aggressive press was winning the ball back, often in their half of the field. Although we did create some opportunities through the middle, right back Santiago Vergini was the focus for much of our attacks.
This was apparent in the opening seconds, as Danny Rose was found on the overlap. He jetted in to receive the ball from Christian Eriksen as Sunderland were caught tucking their full backs in and wing forward Ricky Alvarez had switched off.
Rose’s shot was palmed away by Vito Mannone in the Sunderland goal, but this avenue was the focus moments later as we took the lead.
The Black Cats were caught forward after trying to hit on the counter, as the excellent Moussa Dembele won the ball back. It was quickly worked forward to Emmanuel Adebayor in the centre. He was faced once more by Sunderland’s defence playing narrow.
Adebayor took a speculative shot, and as he did, Nacer Chadli was on the move behind right back Santiago Vergini who was caught watching the ball.
Mannone could only parry the effort, straight to Chadli who was in space and guided the ball in to the corner to make it 1-0.
Sunderland attack our right back
“You are always at your most vulnerable after scoring a goal” is the old saying and nowhere has this rung more true.
Straight from the kick off, Sunderland went up the field and equalised by going after our right back, Eric Dier. The Englishman has turned out to be a very good buy and looks even more mature than his age would suggest.
At centre back he has looked calm and composed. Since being switched to right back, he looks, as Jan Vertonghen does when at left back, slightly out of place. He is a solid defender, but doesn’t have the pace, neither does Vertonghen, to deal with tricky wingers.
Before this game, Sunderland were deploying Adam Johnson form the right. It was instantly noticeable here how he played on the left, obviously by design. The Black Cats were trying to get the ball to him all game so that he could dribble against Dier.
Right from the restart Sunderland tried to send the ball forward, but as it broke loose, it was quickly moved to Johnson who was isolated 1v1 against Dier. The right back had become massively separated from the rest of his back four with Younes Kaboul slow to get across to help.
This gave Johnson the opportunity he needed to dribble at an isolated Dier, switching and jinking past him to fire a shot that was deflected past Hugo Lloris.
Spurs go back at Vergini
After two goals in the opening three minutes, the game continued at an extremely high tempo. Sunderland were dropping deep and playing on the counter. We were pressing high up in order to pen them in. This was a consistent theme for much of the game, the other constant was the attacking of right back Santiago Vergini.
Nacer Chadli was drifting in field and Danny Rose was running in to the space. This was open due to Santiago Vergini trying to play narrow and tuck in tight to his centre backs to congest the middle.
Here Christian Eriksen finds Rose as Sunderland were again trying to restrict us going through the centre. Rose’s cross was almost turned home by Emmanuel Adebayor.
Sunderland trying to stop us going through the centre, but getting caught out in their right back zone was a theme for the whole of the first half. We then took the lead once again as we exposed this zone once more at the start of the second.
A fast break allowed Emmanuel Adebayor to come short and get on the ball. He then turned and when faced by a number of Sunderland defenders, which included Santiago Vergini tucking in, found Nacer Chadli in acres.
The Belgian was wide open and drove in to the space behind the Black Cats right back. He squared the ball across the face and Christian Eriksen turned in the rebound as the ball pinged off two Sunderland players.
Despite being caught out twice by having their full backs pinching in, Gus Poyet did very little to alter his set up. First of all he moved Adam Johnson to that side to try and give more cover. Then he moved Johnson back to Eric Dier’s side and withdrew Ricky Alvarez for Will Buckley, but this really didn’t have any greater effect.
Sunderland go back at Dier
With us pressing and creating chances, Sunderland found a way back in to the game by once more going at our right back.
Predictably it involved Adam Johnson once more out on Dier’s flank. He received the ball from Jordi Gomez who darted in behind Dier, as Johnson flicked the ball over our right back’s head.
This forced Etienne Capoue to come across and Gomez went down on feeling contact with the Frenchman to earn a free kick.
We’d looked in the Tottenham tactics at Sunderland’s set piece routines and here they opted for the two men at the near post, two in the middle and two at the far approach.
Although it didn’t pay off with a Sunderland player from one of the three zones putting it in, the ball unfortunately bounced off Harry Kane. With the amount of speed and whip on the cross there wasn’t much he could’ve done.
With the game remarkably at 2-2, Sunderland now had the opportunity to win it. Again, their chance came through attacking Eric Dier’s right back zone, as Patrick van Aanholt was sprung in-behind.
The Dutchman got in to the box and to the by line, pulling a short ball back for Will Buckley. Fortunately the substitute could only fire over with the goal gaping.
Sunderland 2 Spurs 2 conclusions
Very rarely have we dominated a game by so much away from home and not come away with the three points.
The performance was impressive and in parts some scintillating football was being played. This was not just with the ball, but also the force and swiftness to win it back.
The ability to kill off the opposition when in a dominant position was lacking though and this was the most concerning part.
Some on Twitter after the game were naturally pointing fingers at the striker, but the responsibility doesn’t fall solely at Adebayor’s door. Pochettino’s offence is built around creating chances for not just for the centre forward, but also for his trio of advanced midfielders, so any blame should be shared around.
Final score: Sunderland 2 Spurs 2.