Our last game of this Premier League season saw us off to a quick start, as we raced in to a lead and never looked back, with it finishing Tottenham 3 Aston Villa 0.
The key was playing an extremely narrow formation that opened up to expose Aston Villa through the centre.
The game got off to a quick start and there were two parts to this.
Firstly, we were looking to move the ball from back to front very quickly. This saw us look long for both Emmanuel Adebayor and Harry Kane by hitting the ball to them directly or running in-behind.
The second factor was Aston Villa playing a back four. We’d looked in the Tottenham tactics at how Paul Lambert had moved to three centre backs recently. This was because they had been vulnerable to balls straight through the middle that split their back four wide open.
We were able to take advantage of this and with just 1 minute on the clock, as we tried to feed Adebayor with a through ball. Brad Guzan slid out just before the Togolese forward could get to the pass, but the intention to open Villa up through the centre was there.
Not long after, Michael Dawson was sending some of his trademark long diagonals forward towards Adebayor and the quick tempo continued. These longer passes, not just from Dawson, not only found their targets, but also saw us get caught offside.
With us not having scored in the first 15 minutes of a match this season, our opener arrived from a ball sent from back to front. Hugo Lloris kicked a long ball downfield that was partially cleared, allowing our overloading of central areas to go to work.
Formation flow for Paulinho
Without Aaron Lennon, Andros Townsend and an absence of any wingers on the bench, Tim Sherwood went with a very narrow formation. The set up seemed to be to get the most out of Paulinho to attack through Villa’s soft centre.
Tim Sherwood played a loose 4-4-2 that moved to a 4-3-3 in the attacking phase. Sandro worked as a holding midfielder, which gave Paulinho licence to go forward. Gylfi Sigurdsson and Christian Eriksen drifted in from the wide positions to overload in central areas and play through balls. Up top, Emmanuel Adebayor and Harry Kane were splitting and pulling out wide to create a lane for Paulinho to run through and make a front three. The formation worked something like this.
Everyone’s movement came together on the first goal, coupled with our tactic to move the ball quickly from back to front.
Hugo Lloris sent the ball forward and after it was partially cleared, it ended up with Gylfi Sigurdsson in the centre who gave it to Christian Eriksen.
The Dane fed it forward to Paulinho who had moved in to the central channel between Adebayor and Kane who had separated out.
Paulinho was visibly calling for the ball as if this was a designed piece of play and Eriksen fed it forward to him. The Brazilian then laid it off to Gylfi Sigurdsson and spun in towards goal looking for a return. Sigurdsson tried to find him and the ball ricocheted off Harry Kane in to his path.
Brad Guzan saved his first effort, but was helpless to stop Paulinho knocking in the rebound to make it 1-0.
Moments later and Paulinho could have made it 2-0. Again Adebayor and Kane had dragged the centre backs out, allowing the Brazilian to race in to the space created through the middle. Unfortunately he could only shank his shot badly wide with just Guzan to beat.
Luckily for Paulinho though, we doubled our advantage not long after. The goal came after a rare ball in to the box. With our lack of width we only attempted 12 crosses from open play in the match, about half of what we usually average. The front three that was being created by Adebayor and Kane splitting wide to allow Paulinho to charge through in to the space created, was in evidence again, as Eriksen sent the first ball in.
With Eriksen wide, Danny Rose had moved in to the centre to take up the Dane’s role of overloading here and hoovered up the partial clearance. His short chipped cross back in then flicked up on to Nathan Baker and deflected in to the Villa net to make it 2-0.
Villa’s soft centre
Aston Villa’s soft centre was being exposed by our forwards dragging them apart for Paulinho to charge through in to the space. By overloading the middle of the park with Sigurdsson and Eriksen drifting in to central midfield, they we’re now also becoming more susceptible to through balls.
A perfectly weighted ball sprang Harry Kane from Eriksen, but his lack of pace allowed Fabian Delph to recover.
From the resulting corner, Eriksen found a wide-open Sandro. His shot was blocked by Gabriel Agbonlahor’s arm and Emmanuel Adebayor rattled home the resulting penalty.
Second half switches
With the game out of reach, the second half really meandered towards its inevitable conclusion.
Paul Lambert made a switch at half time to remove one of his forwards and introduce Karim El Ahmadi. The Moroccan gave Villa an extra body in midfield and helped to nullify the presence of Eriksen drifting inside in what was the only tactical change.
On our side, Tim Sherwood gave a number of our young charges a run out.
Milos Veljkovic came on for Sandro who looked to have blown out of steam due to his lack of match fitness. Then Paulinho was withdrawn for Nabil Bentaleb. Setting the formation up to get the best out of the Brazilian was replaced by Tim’s favourite tactic of looking to hit Emmanuel Adebayor at every opportunity. Alex Pritchard making his Premier League debut completed the changes.
Tottenham 3 Aston Villa 0 overall
Tim Sherwood got it spot on here. Had Aston Villa continued with their three centre back system, then he would have run in to trouble. With them reverting to a back four, the space through the middle was once again there and we exploited it through our use of Paulinho. The Brazilian making a front three as Adebayor and Kane split apart made him difficult to pick up and he was a constant threat throughout the first half.
Aston Villa didn’t have much of a response and Europa League football was assured by the interval.
Final score: Tottenham 3 Aston Villa 0.