Both managers chopped and changed formations to gain the upper hand as it ended Swansea 0-2 Tottenham at the Liberty Stadium.
Mauricio Pochettino and Carlos Carvalhal both sought to use speed in the driving rain on a heavy pitch. The difficult conditions made time to control the ball a factor and both managers sought to minimise it, changing their formations accordingly. The game finished Swansea 0-2 Tottenham as Pochettino won the battle of formation chess.
Nullifying Swansea speed
Carlos Carvalhal lined his team up in a 3-5-2 formation to start the game. His twin strike force of Jordan Ayew and Nathan Dyer were specifically deployed to use their speed to run the channels after any out balls. The diminutive pair lacked hold-up presence, but they did offer a threat to run in-behind.
Starting Fernando Llorente up top, Mauricio Pochettino surrounded him with quicker players. Dele Alli, Erik Lamela and Son Heung-Min were unleashed behind him to make up for the big man’s ambling style.
The trio behind Llorente opened the match in frenetic fashion to close down Swansea’s back three. They were successful at this, often with Erik Lamela leading the charge.
As a result, the Swansea wingbacks were forced to retreat to help. The back three became a back five and they struggled to move the ball out with their lack of hold-up presence up front. Long balls just came straight back. When Swansea tried to play through the lines, they were picked off by a wave of Tottenham pressers.
Tottenham deploy Eriksen deeper
Everything ran through Eriksen, which saw both positives and negatives. The good saw Spurs get the four attacking players ahead of Eriksen frequently between the Swansea lines of defence and midfield.
Swansea was setup to pinch in narrow though, as you can see in the image above. The Swans compact shape meant the space was out wide on the flanks. However, we all too often got caught with Lamela and Son drifting inside, creating far too much congestion in the centre.
Free kick threat
With Fernando Llorente as a striker, you would have thought that Spurs would have favoured a crossing based approach. However, balls in to the box for the towering centre forward were infrequent from open play given the space offered on the flanks.
It would be from set pieces that Llorente would make his mark. The centre forward nodded home after Son Heung-Min won a free kick when the ball was worked out wide to him on the touchline.
Eriksen’s delivery was superb, whipping in a deadly ball from the left, minutes after doing the same from the right flank. Swansea had not heeded the initial warning. Llorente was offside, but the flag was not forthcoming and the goal stood to make the score Swansea 0-1 Tottenham.
Llorente almost added a second. Five minutes before the interval, Dele Alli was fouled as we attacked down the left again. Eriksen’s delivery was once more on the mark, Llorente’s volley just off. The striker fired just over with the goal gaping.
These passages of play highlighted two factors that Tottenham didn’t exploit enough in the match. Firstly, Llorente’s threat on crosses. The big man is not mobile, but is a strong and powerful aerial threat. Secondly, the space around 35 year-old Angel Rangel. The ageing Spaniard always looked liable to being attacked and was withdrawn on 53 minutes after the heavy pitch seemed to have taken its toll on his fitness.
Swansea switch to 4-3-3
The substitution of Angel Rangel introduced speed in Luciano Narsingh. The Dutchman’s was installed as a wide forward as Carlos Carvalhal moved to a 4-3-3 formation.
The move to a 4-3-3 setup gave Swansea a new dynamic. Suddenly they were a much better threat to press and close the ball down. The Swans front three matched up equally on our centre backs and Eric Dier dropping in. Suddenly, we found it much harder to bring the ball out from the back. More turnovers were created and therefore moved the Swansea team up the field.
Swansea’s ability to now create turnovers higher up manifested itself in the biggest moment of the match. On a yellow card, Davinson Sanchez chopped down Martin Olsson as he stripped the centre back of the ball. Sanchez escaped with just a talking too. However, the incident made Pochettino withdraw Sanchez moments later fearing another red card situation for him like in Watford 1-1 Tottenham.
What’s more, the new Swansea formation wasn’t limited to just closing down. The attacking trio also offered more options to run the channels. Passes beyond and through our back line had more chance of finding a target and therefore carried an increased attacking threat. Narsingh bursting in down the right side to sting the palms of Hugo Lloris being one example. Jordan Ayew’s dart in to and across the penalty area, where he had two chances to go down and win a penalty, being another.
Right back Mike van der Hoorn
Carlos Carvalhal’s switch to a 4-3-3 formation gave Swansea the threat they needed up top to both close down and spring attacks. However, the change also moved Mike van der Hoorn to right back. The Dutchman is a centre back by trade and his positioning at right back was rife for being exposed.
Son Heung-Min drifted away from him to volley a cross by Kieran Trippier just inches past the post. Dele Alli then ran off van der Hoorn to receive Eric Dier’s long pass forward.
The out-to-in run to receive the ball over the back line is a feature of Pochettino’s Spurs. Van der Hoorn could only shove Dele Alli in the back to stop it again supplying a goal.
The stand-in right back was then caught hopelessly out of position, as Son Heung-Min should’ve been awarded a penalty. Son was attacking the spaces that van der Hoorn was leaving and had come more in to the game as a result. The South Korean had received the ball in the space that van der Hoorn should’ve been in. Federico Fernandez then upended Son as Van der Hoorn being caught forward left him exposed one-against-one.
Spurs switch to 4-3-3
Seeing the success Swansea were having running the channels, but also the space on the left flank, Mauricio Pochettino moved to a 4-3-3 formation himself. Moussa Sissoko was introduced to partner Dele Alli and Victor Wanyama in central midfield. Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-Min were moved to flank Harry Kane in a front three.
Pochettino combined the substitution by instructing Harry Kane to pull out to the left with Son as the pair tried to overload this flank. Within ten minutes of the change we had the second insurance goal that we’d been craving, as Pochettino’s plan was ruthlessly executed.
Mike van der Hoorn was caught forward delivering a cross. He was thus hopelessly out of position should the ball be turned over. It was, as Eric Dier’s header ran to the now deeper lying Dele Alli on the edge of our box. Dele took a touch and found Harry Kane out in the space that van der Hoorn had left.
Kane’s movement had drawn centre back Federico Fernandez out from the centre. Swansea was now light in the middle, allowing Dele Alli to burst through almost untracked. As Kane lifted his head, he plucked out the pass of the evening to find Dele’s run.
Dele’s control was exquisite to take the ball in such treacherous conditions. His first shot was saved, but falling to the ground, he somehow struck the rebound in to the roof of the net right in front of the joyous travelling support. An incredible gymnastic feat showcasing his superb reactions and nimbleness to scoop the ball in to the roof of the net. It was now Swansea 0-2 Tottenham. The points were safe and headed back to north London.
Swansea 0-2 Tottenham overall
A difficult game in testing circumstances. Both managers switched their formations from their opening setups in order to use speed to close down or attack and expose the other’s weakness.
We didn’t make the most of the advantages that we had, notably from Llorente’s size and power on crosses. However, Pochettino’s swift thinking to remove Davinson Sanchez and then to alter the formation to expose Mike van der Hoorn at right back is testament to how good a manager he has become.
Pochettino’s next test is the short turnaround to West Ham on Thursday. The saturated Liberty Stadium pitch will have sapped a lot more energy than normal. Just how our players recover and who is rotated out for fresh legs will be the puzzle that Pochettino will have to solve.
Final score: Swansea 0-2 Tottenham.
MOTM: Eric Dier.