Ruthlessly quick transitions were used to attack three vulnerable centre backs as our FA Cup Quarter-Final finished Swansea 0-3 Tottenham.
Swansea sat back in order to deny Tottenham space to attack, but Mauricio Pochettino had other ideas. The Tottenham manager pushed quick transitions after ball recoveries to create opportunities. Gaps appeared in the Swansea midfield, leaving their three centre backs exposed and vulnerable as it ended Swansea 0-3 Tottenham in our FA Cup Quarter-Final clash.
Swansea’s exposed centre backs
Carlos Carvalhal opted for an ultra defensive 5-4-1 formation. The Swansea manager instructed his team to sit deep and deny Tottenham any space in-behind. The issue for Carvalhal was that his trio of central midfielders, Tom Carroll, Sam Clucas and Ki Sung-Yueng, frequently became separated from the three centre backs behind them. As a result, Spurs could work in these areas and attack them.
The space, as you can see in this average position diagram from WhoScored.com, was far too great between the Swansea back three and their central midfielders.
Eriksen seeks the space
Tottenham wasted no time in running bodies in to this space. Christian Eriksen was the key player.
The Dane had a free role to roam and seek room, which was even greater than usual. Eriksen would often pop up much deeper between Moussa Sissoko and Eric Dier in defensive midfield to make a 4-3-3 formation.
Swansea were offering very little attacking threat, so Eriksen could pull the strings from central locations much more than usual.
Tottenham attack the centre backs.
Wary of Swansea’s defensive set up, Mauricio Pochettino’s game plan was to attack the centre backs quickly from any kind of transition. As soon as the ball was recovered it was rapidly sent forward to get at the Swansea three centre backs as soon as possible.
The runs of Son Heung-Min were a feature of this attacking style in the early stages. Jan Vertonghen recovered the ball and immediately looked for his run in-behind.
The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) then had to be called in to action as Christian Eriksen instantly looked for his run off the centre backs. Son had the ball in the net, but was given offside.
The early pass looking for Son’s run was one means of a fast transition after a turnover. The other was through Erik Lamela, Lucas Moura and Christian Eriksen running quickly with the ball in to the spaces that had opened up. After recovering possession, the Swansea midfield was frequently out of position. As a result, there was space to run at the exposed centre backs.
We opened the scoring from doing just this. Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura ganged up to relieve Martin Olsson of the ball. Tom Carroll and Sam Clucas had already run past Olsson and taken themselves out of the equation. Ki Sung-Yueng was therefore left to defend a vast midfield space. As Lamela, Moura and Eriksen exchanged passes they bore down on him. A neat layoff by Lamela sidestepped the helpless Ki and left Eriksen running at the exposed back three.
None of the three central defenders dared to step out and challenge Eriksen. Backing off just compounded their misery as the Dane picked his spot. He deliciously curled the ball in to the corner of the net past Kristoffer Nordfeldt’s outstretched arm. 1-0 Spurs!
A second goal was then added in the extra time played for the lengthy VAR decision earlier in the half.
Once more Tottenham relieved a Swansea player of the ball and quickly transitioned in to the space behind the Swansea midfield. Christian Eriksen harried and won the ball back from Kyle Naughton. As soon as Eriksen recovered the ball it was sent to Sissoko and then Lamela in the open space to run at the exposed centre backs.
Lamela’s calm right-footed finish in to the corner of the net caught Kristoffer Nordfeldt off balance and on the wrong foot. The Swansea keeper was left standing and completely flummoxed by what had just happened in front of him.
Carvalhal changes shape
Two down at half time, Carlos Carvalhal changed shape. Luciano Narsingh was introduced and the Swans went to a 4-3-3 formation.
The initial signs were good and Narsingh’s presence was felt almost immediately. As part of a front three they could press our back line more effectively. Narsingh forced Ben Davies in to a corner and a throw-in. Straight from the inbound, Michel Vorm produced a spectacular double save, denying first Martin Olsson and then Tammy Abraham.
Narsingh’s introduction was causing problems and three minutes later he was at it again. Taking on Ben Davies he stood a ball up towards Tammy Abraham at the back post. However, in the nick of time, Davinson Sanchez intervened to deny an easy finish. The warning signs had started to grow.
Attacking Mike van der Hoorn
Carlos Carvalhal had rolled the dice. Narsingh’s introduction had been positive, but moving Mike van der Hoorn to right back was the gamble to accommodate this. Van der Hoorn is a centre back by trade and with Narsingh up field attacking; the stand-in right back was left exposed.
Lucas Moura became the key figure for Tottenham as he frequently had room to attack van der Hoorn. The Dutch defender was getting little help from Narsingh nor his centre backs. Spaces therefore opened up both outside of him and down the inside channel.
Swansea were becoming more of a threat, but ultimately paid for not taking their chances. Spurs, as they had been throughout the match, pressed, recovered the ball and quickly transitioned it forward to attack the space around van der Hoorn and seal the match.
Tom Carroll was stripped of the ball, which was then swiftly moved out to Lucas Moura. He had space to dribble at van der Hoorn and slide Eric Dier through the inside channel.
Dier pulled the ball back and eventually it came to the arriving Christian Eriksen to thunder past goalkeeper Kristoffer Nordfeldt. The away end burst in to celebration. It was now Swansea 0-3 Tottenham and progression had been sealed to the FA Cup Semi-Finals.
Swansea 0-3 Tottenham overall
A powerful performance of how to expose and open up a deep defending team by knowing their weakness. Swansea conceded far too much space in front of their three centre backs by their naïve midfield play. Tottenham’s quick transitions could therefore get at the back three easily and a healthy lead was established.
An early goal did wonders to loosen a Swansea team that has been resolute of late. Manchester United in the Semi-finals will require a similar start to thwart Mourinho’s low block and counter attack approach.
Final score: Swansea 0-3 Tottenham.
MOTM: Christian Eriksen.
Why leave so much space between the lines against us? 451 made more sense for the swans…
That said without the Ayews they looked toothless and it was as if they would have conceded the game at 1 nil…
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Clucas and Carroll were very indisciplined, especially when Swansea had the ball. As soon as we won it back, they were often hopelessly out of position. I was surprised at how a team whose shape has been tightened up since Carvalhal arrived was playing so lapse here.
Great work by Pochettino in switching Moura to the other wing when Van Der Hoorn was moved to right back, Mark, but did you notice in the early part of the first half, it was like Moura was in Coventry.
Trippier, who I thought was the only player not to excel, seemed to ignore him completely.
It was as though he thought Lucas was in his territory. Most likely not, but that was what crossed my mind more than once.
I’m also wondering if you think switching Lucas and Sonny might work better. Sonny, again, was less potent up front.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
I thought Son did alright. He was quite lively and then faded out of the game.
Lucas and him will switch sides depending on matchups for sure. Both players can do it and will be expected to. At the minute I quite like Lucas on the right and Son on the left, but the pair haven’t had a proper run out together in the league yet, only the cup.
I was thinking of the situation whilst Kane is out, switching Moura to striker and Son to the wing.
There was talk before Lucas arrived that he could play as a striker. I just feel Son is so much better out wide and it’s where he has played all his best games.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
I prefer Son out wide as well, but i’ve not seen Moura play as a central striker – I haven’t watched that many PSG games other than Champions League – to know if and how well he can do it?
Any team would miss Harry. But again our attack looked fluid and unpredictable. Without an orthodox no 9 we play differently. I wish we had Harry for the bridge but I am confident we’ll cause Chelsea plenty of problems up front.