Spurs failed to capitalise on their advantage in wide areas to just edge past a spirited opponent as it ended Tottenham 1-0 Cardiff at Wembley Stadium.
Tottenham did just enough to earn three vital Premier League points at Wembley Stadium. A gritty and determined Cardiff team made it difficult, but Spurs failed to press home their advantage in the wide areas to make the score line more comfortable. The match ended Tottenham 1-0 Cardiff as an Eric Dier set piece goal separated the teams.
Battle on the flank
Cardiff’s setup dictated much of the flow of the match. The Bluebirds played an extremely narrow and compact 4-1-4-1 formation. Neil Warnock’s team used their wide midfielders, Josh Murphy and Junior Hoilett, to track the Tottenham full backs. As a result, Warnock could pinch his back four in narrow and take away the centre of the pitch.
The formation for large parts of the match achieved its aims. Murphy and Hoilett were able to track Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose. The Cardiff defence was therefore able to remain compact. What’s more Harry Kane was nullified in the central traffic as Mauricio Pochettino was playing him as a number ten behind Lucas Moura.
Spurs wide area advantage
The Cardiff wide midfielders did well in large parts to stifle the game through their defensive actions. However, Cardiff also had their own objectives and these broke their own defensive structure.
The Bluebirds were looking to press on occasions to stop Spurs playing out from the back. These were based on triggers such as a Spurs centre back facing his own goal or split wide of the penalty area without Eric Dier or Harry Winks dropping in.
Neil Warnock had obviously seen the struggles we’ve had against opponents like Inter Milan and wanted to affect this part of the game as well. The flip side was that in sending Hoilett and Murphy to help Callum Paterson press was that they were out of position should Spurs break through it. Consequently, our best opportunities were created from wide areas.
Good chances came and went as a result of these Cardiff breakdowns. Lucas Moura headed Kieran Trippier’s cross wide when free in front of goal. Moura also saw his shot cleared off the line after Danny Rose broke free into space down the left.
Son Heung-Min was also involved in getting in behind in these vacant areas against Cardiff’s narrow back four. Son’s pull back was flashed past the post by Lucas Moura in the first half. In the second, Son was in again to pull the ball back, but Harry Kane scuffed his shot on the swivel past the post.
Cardiff’s issue wasn’t limited to Murphy and Hoilett being caught forward and the back four thus left narrow. Hoilett and Murphy often were caught marking inside and blowing their own assignments. Trippier’s space to cross here was a prime example.
Spurs set piece scores
Linked to the wide area battle between Cardiff’s wide midfielders and our full backs was a number of set pieces. Spurs had two corners early on before taking the lead from a third inside of ten minutes.
The corner was won after excellent work by Harry Winks to move the ball out early to Danny Rose in space before Josh Murphy could recover to mark him.
Prior to this set piece being won, Tottenham had a spate of corners. Spurs ran a number of interesting moves that contributed to the goal. Danny Rose took the first Tottenham corner of the game that seemed to be run for Eric Dier, but he massively over hit the delivery. The second saw Kieran Trippier under hit one where we’d tried to screen and free up Toby Alderweireld.
The third corner made the goal and was run for Davinson Sanchez this time. The routine saw Trippier go short to Lucas Moura before receiving the ball back. Whilst this was happening there was a back door move to free up Davinson Sanchez in space in the middle. The ploy worked perfectly and Sanchez won the header as Spurs cleared out a neat pocket for him.
However, Sanchez’s header was blocked. Fortunately it fell to Eric Dier who shrugged off his marker before slamming the ball in to the net. Tottenham 1-0 Cardiff and Dier’s first Premier League goal since April 2017.
The goal seemed as if it would open the floodgates. However, it didn’t and Cardiff remained gritty and determined to fight back.
Cardiff vertical passing
Cardiff had a tight defensive structure, but it broke down when they either asked Hoilett and Murphy to press or help attack on the break. This left space behind them, but equally gave Cardiff and attacking threat. Where the pair had success was through vertical passes, which allowed them to run on to the second balls.
Josh Murphy’s speed was a particular problem and it twice allowed him to get beyond our back line. Callum Paterson was proving an effective hold up player, but it was his aerial flick-ons that afforded Murphy two great chances.
Toby Alderweireld cleared Murphy’s first chance off the line before Junior Hoilett could arrive from the other flank and slam the ball in to the empty net. Hugo Lloris darted out and smothered the second as Murphy ran on to a flick on once again.
Ralls red card
The big talking point was the red card for Joe Ralls. Junior Hoilett had been working hard on the wing to allow the rest of his team to pinch in narrow. However, with Cardiff attacking and Hoilett forward, Ralls was left exposed by a quick transition. Kieran Trippier stripped Hoilett of the ball and suddenly Lucas Moura was scampering past Ralls.
Ralls callously scythed Moura down, nowhere near the ball and thoroughly deserving of a red card. Neil Warnock complained, but if this type of cynical challenge is not going to get the punishment it deserves then it is going to become an unacceptable part of the game.
Cardiff, to be fair, responded well after going down to ten men. They continued to try and get Hoilett and Murphy out on the break in support of the central striker. The trio caused issues, which even saw Toby Alderweireld have to take a yellow card for stopping Murphy breaking free.
Cardiff also had the game’s best chance in this period. Sean Morrison latching on to Victor Camarasa’s free kick. His header forced a sprawling save from Hugo Lloris, who pushed the ball on to the post. Toby Alderweireld swooped in to clear from under his cross bar once again.
Cardiff continued to press for an equaliser and finished the match with a back three and sent Sol Bamba up front. This prompted a move from Mauricio Pochettino to bring on Victor Wanyama. Pochettino wanted to have our centre backs screened by two aerially strong players in Dier and Wanyama. The move saw us ease through to full time and a final score of Tottenham 1-0 Cardiff in a game that was closer than it should’ve been.
Tottenham 1-0 Cardiff overall
Cardiff set up well against us. Their use of sporadic pressing, along with their wide midfielders tracking our full backs to allow their back four to play narrow, was effective. However, we did have chances when the Cardiff wide midfielders were caught out of position and should have made more of them.
Once more we saw a decision around Lucas Moura backfire. The move to play Harry Kane deeper and Lucas Moura ahead of the striker created chances for Moura, but starved them from Kane. The 4-4-2 diamond and now this setup seems to be a continuing Pochettino trend that he wants to get Moura on the ball in high central areas. However, so far it is having a negative effect on our most efficient and effective goal getter.
In spite of injuries, fatigue and formations, we have equalled our best start to a Premier League season with 18 points after 8 matches. If we do settle down and play the type of football we have become renowned for, then the rest of the Premier League should watch out!
Final score: Tottenham 1-0 Cardiff.
MOTM: Toby Alderweireld.