A momentous comeback saw a narrow opponent opened up three times in the dying minutes as it finished Swansea 1-3 Spurs at the Liberty Stadium.
In the blink of an eye, frustration turned to jubilation. Once more the team never gave up to come through a tricky test. Struggling to break down a narrow and compact opponent, we attacked their weak centre back pairing. Opening them up to turn a one-goal deficit in to a two-goal lead, as it finished Swansea 1-3 Spurs at the Liberty Stadium.
Narrow and compact Swansea
Swansea have been revitalised under Paul Clement. He has installed a lot of structure, but here he was ultra defensive. Fighting a relegation battle, maybe it was out of necessity or maybe it was just out of respect for the opponent.
Clement had his team line up in a very compact and narrow 4-3-3 shape. Jack Cork, Tom Carroll and Leroy Fer made up a central trio with Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Routledge tucking in from the wide positions.
Swansea were determined to do two things. Firstly to congest the central areas that our 4-2-3-1 formation looks to overload. Secondly, to keep their midfield and defence close together to protect their weak centre back pairing.
In the Swansea vs Spurs match preview, we’d looked at how centre backs Alfie Mawson and Federico Fernandez had received little protection in recent matches. Swansea’s previous opponents have got at the pair too easily, opened them up and scored goals.
Clement was determined for that not to happen here. He persisted with his team’s ultra narrow shape and defensive low block position right throughout the match due to Swansea gaining an early lead.
Swansea set up to counter attack
The goal came from a Swansea corner that turned in to a counter attack. The set piece was cleared and they were forced back to their goalkeeper.
Spurs were employing a very high line throughout the game. Swansea’s deep-lying approach meant we were constantly drawn up the pitch. However, with a back four, we were not respecting the Swans counter attack speed. A long, straight clearance from Lukas Fabianski sent the ball over our high line for Jordan Ayew to run on to.
Ben Davies was no match as he scampered back to try and check Ayew’s progress. The Ghanaian’s fleet feet circled the ball before he jinked back towards the by-line to centre for Routledge to jab home. Davies had been scared to get drawn in by the quicker Ayew. Toby Alderweireld was too soft when trying to stop Routledge getting across him.
Tinker man Pochettino
Tottenham huffed and puffed through much of the first half, but could not blow through the narrow Swansea block. The space was often in the wide areas. Although we used it, we didn’t have a target to aim for in the centre with Son Heung-Min and Dele Alli frequently floating around outside the box.
Mauricio Pochettino has become a tinker man recently. In Burnley 0-2 Spurs he shifted formations several times due to injuries and the state of the game. At the Liberty Stadium he rotated formations and the player positions within them.
In the second half, Pochettino went tinker-ballistic as he searched for a formation that would find a goal.
He immediately reverted from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-2-1. Eric Dier dropped in to the back line and Moussa Sissoko moved in to central midfield. Pochettino then brought on Vincent Janssen for the ineffective Sissoko and went 3-4-1-2. Desperate for a goal, Pochettino then reverted back to 4-2-3-1 with Jan Vertonghen at left back and Eric Dier as left-sided centre back. Finally, after the introduction of Georges-Kevin Nkoudou we had what only could be described as a 4-2-4 shape. Ahead of the back four Christian Eriksen partnered Mousa Dembele in the pivot. Ahead of them, Nkoudou joined Son Heung-Min, Dele Alli and Vincent Janssen up top as we chased the game.
Attacking the inside left channel
Throughout the game, Spurs successful attacks had often come through the inside left channel. The space between Kyle Naughton and Federico Fernandez was our most lucrative corridor.
Dele Alli had floated in through here to receive Eric Dier’s chipped pass to spectacularly volley over from an overhead kick. Son Heung Min had also jetted down this lane to receive a ball from Christian Eriksen to go close. After Vincent Janssen came on, he rumbled through the inside left channel after Dele’s lobbed pass, only to clatter in to Lukas Fabianski, leaving the goalkeeper floored.
The substitution of Kyle Naughton opened up this channel for us. Leroy Fer was moved to right back and his lack of positional awareness was exposed.
Firstly, Christian Eriksen floated a ball over for Dele Alli to run off the back of Fer, only to see his header brilliantly tipped away by Fabianski.
Leroy Fer got away with that one, but he would not do so again. Swansea maintained their compact and narrow shape as Christian Eriksen received the ball. The space, as it had been all evening, was out wide.
The ball was shifted out to Kyle Walker who delivered a cross. Alfie Mawson cleared, but straight to Christian Eriksen. The Dane fired the ball back across goal via a deflection.
Leroy Fer had been marking Dele Alli in the build up, but as Mawson headed the ball, he switched off thinking that it had been cleared. Dele Alli sneaked in-behind the pondering Fer to prod Eriksen’s shot home.
Spurs had the lifeline that we needed. Swansea were visibly rocked at coming so close to holding on.
Spurs attack the centre backs
The equaliser had come from Dele Alli running off Leroy Fer in to the inside left channel. Spurs then went to work on attacking the Swansea centre backs.
The Swans shape had been strong and compact to keep us out for most of the evening. The equaliser saw old habits return. Space started appearing between the lines and the centre backs were exposed to through balls.
Vincent Janssen had come on and given us the hold up play and target man we lacked in the first half. He would be instrumental in adding two more goals.
Moments after getting on level terms, the go-ahead goal followed. Swansea were once more trying to play narrowly, but their discipline had gone.
Gylfi Sigurdsson jumped up too high when Christian Eriksen had the ball to stop him passing out to the wing. Sigurdsson should’ve been denying the ball going inside through the middle. Tom Carroll also got drawn out too far. Expecting the ball to go to Kyle Walker on the flank, Carroll was over-compensating.
As a result, a lane opened up and Christian Eriksen immediately saw it. Eriksen fired in a pass to Vincent Janssen who had pinned centre back Alfie Mawson. Getting the ball straight on the centre backs exposed the space around them. Son Heung-Min darted down the empty channel that had been left by Carroll and Sigurdsson to calmly slot home and send the away end delirious.
Watch the video below to see a number of things. Firstly, Swansea’s compact and narrow shape. Secondly, the mistake of Gylfi Sigurdsson, as he over runs to try and stop Eriksen passing out wide. Thirdly, Tom Carroll over-compensating to mark out wide, allowing the ball inside of him straight to Janssen. Finally, Vincent Janssen pinning the centre back to flick through for Son’s run down the channel. A more beautifully worked move to pick on the exposed centre back you will not see.
A goal up, Spurs didn’t try and hang on to the slenderest of leads. A third goal came from a counter attack as we exposed the Swansea centre backs, who by now, were all over the place.
The goal came from a Swansea throw that was cleared up field by Georges-Kevin Nkoudou. The Frenchman then impressively raced forward, out-sprinting everyone to act as a decoy.
Nkoudou’s forward dart was powerful, but so to was Vincent Janssen’s hold-up play. The striker’s strength to hold off Alfie Mawson was exceptional, as was his perfect layoff. Dele Alli was the recipient as he drifted forward.
Swansea’s centre backs were now all over the place. Nkoudou’s lung-bursting sprint had taken Federico Fernandez out of the middle. Janssen’s hold up play had drawn Alfie Mawson towards him. The constantly moving eagle-eyed Christian Eriksen spotted that the middle of the pitch was now wide open and raced forward.
Dele found the Dane with a pinpoint pass. Eriksen remained calm and composed to jink and slot the ball in to the corner of the net, Swansea 1-3 Spurs.
Three goals in five minutes and the away end, that was still bouncing from the two before, went crazy. The score was suddenly Swansea 1-3 Spurs. Eriksen had his customary goal in this fixture that his performance deserved.
The third goal was vital. In Spurs 3-2 Everton we’d almost thrown away a winning position at the end of the game. A two-goal cushion guarded against that. However, had Kyle Walker’s miscued clearance gone the other side of the post, we may have had another uncomfortable couple of minutes until the final whistle.
Swansea 1-3 Spurs overall
Two tough road victories have shown the resilience of this team and our resolute manager. In previous seasons, Mauricio Pochettino has been accused of lacking a plan B. However, once more this term, we’ve seen options C and D up his sleeve. Pochettino’s in-game formation tinkering, along with the player’s spirit, has seen us ascend to another level this campaign.
Vincent Janssen was pivotal after his introduction. Two good outings for the Dutchman in a week will do his confidence the world of good. He is just lacking the goal that his efforts deserve.
Christian Eriksen was the heartbeat of our attack once more. Everything good that we do starts at his feet. Traditionally Eriksen has looked burnt out by this stage of the campaign, but he is still buzzing around the pitch as fresh as a daisy.
Spurs have gained the most points from losing positions in the Premier League this season. Determination and resolve like this show why.
Final score: Swansea 1-3 Spurs.
MOTM: Christian Eriksen.