Tromso 0 Spurs 2: Norwegians undone by deep runs

A tough match in freezing arctic Norway saw us clinch Europa League Group K, with it finishing Tromso 0 Spurs 2.

The Norwegian side were much more accustomed to the conditions, but after keeping us at bay, were undone by several runs from deeper midfield positions.

Tromso quick out the gate

The first 15 minutes were really dictated by Tromso. The Norwegian side were far more at home on the synthetic surface. In possession they were looking to do two things.

Firstly, they were attacking down the left through full back Ruben Kristiansen. He was combining nicely with left-winger Thomas Drage in order to supply crosses for tall striker Zdenek Ondrasek.

Secondly, they were looking to play through balls. These were coming from the inside channels and we were served a warning in the first minute.

Vlad Chiriches was playing higher than Michael Dawson who got caught looking at the ball and in two minds of whether to play offside or not. With his back turned on Ondrasek, the Polish striker snuck in, also being played onside by Kyle Naughton.


Ondrasek gets wrong side of Dawson.

Fortunately, Ondrasek scuffed his shot wide. Another goal conceded in the opening moments here may have knocked our confidence in what was supposed to be an exercise to get the City game out of our system.

Playing with two men up top, Tromso had unsettled us and it was clear that this was a ploy given the nature of the surface and the conditions. The Norwegians were looking to strike an early blow to see if we’d wobble, so they pressed hard from the front in the opening exchanges.

Both of Tromso’s strikers were trying to harass our centre backs, while the two central midfielders squeezed in behind. The press was forcing our centre backs to split wide with Etienne Capoue dropping deep to help out.

After 15 minutes and relatively little success, Tromso suddenly dropped the pressure and sunk back in to a very defensive shape in their own half. Their best chances then came from set plays where they looked to use Ondrasek’s towering height.

Spurs’ fluidity lacks slickness

Andre Villas-Boas went 4-3-3 but the most interesting part of the formation was the fluidity of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Andros Townsend and Nacer Chadli. Throughout the first half, the three players were switching positions so that each of them popped up in the middle and out wide.

With Tromso attacking down the left through full back Ruben Kristiansen, the space was naturally down his side when he had gone forward.

Our first decent chance was created in his zone. Andros Townsend drove inside and reversed the ball to Sigurdsson who had moved across the pitch from his starting position on the left. The Icelander fired his shot wide of the far post, but the move was born from the three players switching roles.


Sigurdsson, Chadli and Townsend formed a fluid three.

Sigurdsson and Chadli also combined on our best chance of the half. The Icelander and Belgian had switched positions once again and Gylfi’s through ball with the outside of his foot sent Nacer in towards goal. Chadli’s miss-hit effort over the bar echoed of a player who was rusty from being out for some time.

Apart from these moments where we moved the ball quickly and with purpose, we really lacked any slickness or cutting edge to our play.

Roberto Soldado was a frustrated figure up front, but he wasn’t helped by the Tromso defence pinching in to play very narrow. The Spaniard often found himself up against two centre backs and this was the main problem. Spurs needed a runner from deeper in order to take advantage of the attention Soldado was receiving.

Dembele runs from deep

With Tromso sat deep and playing narrow, we opened the scoring from a rather fortunate own goal off a free kick. Sigurdsson was out on the left this time and was lucky to win a rather soft foul. His free kick was played with force along the floor and was turned in by the unfortunate Adnan Causevic.

After taking the lead, our confidence was on the rise and Moussa Dembele became the most dangerous factor with his runs from deeper. With Roberto Soldado having the attentions of Tromso’s centre backs, this left Dembele free to burst through.

Our second goal arrived from the Belgian as he shot up in to the box to create an overload in the centre.

Lewis Holtby played an incisive vertical pass in to Gylfi Sigurdsson who had moved in to the middle from the left once again. Soldado had the attentions of the two central defenders. Sigurdsson then played a cute through ball that was slightly deflected to Dembele who was left unmarked to place his shot in the corner.


Dembele arrives to overload the centre.

2-0 almost became 3-0 as Dembele broke through once more with another run from deep.

A turnover in the middle of the park gave the ball to the Belgian. He then moved the ball to Soldado who had both centre backs tracking him once again. This allowed Dembele to burst through for the return and be in on the goalkeeper.


Dembele on the burst once more.

His shot came back off the post, but the move highlighted what was needed against a Tromso defence that feared Soldado and was guarding him closely.

Tromso 0 Spurs 2 conclusions

Andre Villas-Boas’ verdict was very upbeat after the game, focussing on the fact that we had won the group. This means that with 10 games in 32 days coming up, the match with Anzhi will be a dead rubber.

After the initial Tromso burst in the first 15 minutes, the game was relatively comfortable in trying conditions on an unnatural surface.

Moussa Dembele was really the key performer here. With Roberto Soldado being closely shepherded, his runs from deep created the overloads that were necessary to unlock the Tromso defence.

It also raised the question why we don’t see this type of play from Moussa Dembele more often?

Final score: Tromso 0 Spurs 2.

If you enjoyed this post, please share:

, , ,

4 Responses to Tromso 0 Spurs 2: Norwegians undone by deep runs

  1. Boon 29th November 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    Hey Mark,

    What do you think about Michael Cox’s piece on Spurs?

    I know this was about the match versus Tromso, but everyone’s seemed to be thinking Spurs are in a bit of a mess right now.

    Cox thinks that Spurs are confused in their stylistic approach. At Porto, in his biography Special Too, AVB wants to build a team that is possession focused, often citing Barcelona’s Guardiola. But the best performances by Porto were often those where they attack directly with excellent cohesion, overpowering the opposition with pace and power. This had led many to believe that AVB’s preferred style is a very direct one. The Old Trafford victory last season was one of the best examples. But it was obvious to me that AVB wants to build a more possession based game in the opponent’s half this season. Many of the current Spurs players spoke the same. So IMO, it was Cox who was confused about AVB’s intended approach.

    I do agree with Cox though that the team currently lacks cohesion on the field. To be honest, I’m also a bit worried about the current style they are aiming for, even early on into the season – possession, possession, possession. It’s slow, boring, and IMO not exactly suited to the current players because Spurs just aren’t Barcelona.

    Worth noticing was also that at Porto, AVB was extremely consistent with his starting 11. Whereas at Spurs, everybody was very excited about what this squad can achieve with its amazing depth, but it seemed everyone underestimated the challenges that comes with it – the difficulty of breeding cohesion and understanding between players because of all the changes resulting from very few players being obviously better than the rest in their positions. It might yet turned out to be a good thing in the long run, but currently the squad depth has unbelievably turned out to be Spurs’ Achilles heel.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 29th November 2013 at 2:48 pm #

      Good post Boon and an interesting read from Michael Cox.

      In a way i agree with Michael Cox about the rotation and the hierarchy of players we have in midfield – i think AVB wanted two players for each of the three positions in midfield so that he could rotate each pair so as to avoid fixture fatigue. Therefore ideally he has Sandro/Capoue, Dembele/Paulinho and Holtby/Eriksen to interchange with each other.

      But i don’t think they are confused in their approach like he suggests, just unable to execute it at the minute. For me this is due to (A) taking time to gel – a number of players came in late in the window (Paulinho and Soldado were late to join training after confederations cup rest), plus we’ve had two international breaks which have taken away valuable training time as a full group. We’ve also had Capoue, Chadli and now Eriksen out long term with injuries that has stopped them training with their new team mates. Then (B) the way opponents are playing so deep against us that we really need players who can create something in a very small congested area – even Man City last weekend were prepared to hang players back after Negredo and Aguero pressed in order to pick up the long ball clearances and hit quickly on a counter. Somehow we have to lull teams out a bit as everyone knows that playing deep against us is the way to beat us right now.

      I agree with you about the squad depth being a problem and that is the challenge in developing cohesion. AVB has to decide on his best XI and play it consistently.

  2. Vimjonk 30th November 2013 at 5:55 pm #

    I agree with the comments here. AVB doesn’t know his best eleven at the moment and has not been able to pick certain players due to injuries.

    Hopefully, Dembele will have gained confidence from his deep runs and goal and start believing in himself more. He is certainly a good player, but we haven’t seen enough from him. The times i have shouted at the TV for him to get a shot away, it unbelievable! He does the hard work and then either loses it, plays a poor pass or has to turn back. He needs more runs from Soldado et al., to pick out. Perhaps now he will start to move further forward and make runs himself?

    Will AVB drop Paulinho for him though will be interesting. We certainly need cohesion and starting the game at the weekend with a similar starting eleven will be a good start.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 30th November 2013 at 6:49 pm #

      Dembele can be a frustrating player. He drives forward with the ball, but then passes sideways. I think this frustrates Soldado from the way he was gesturing with his hands. As instead of looking for him, the ball goes to the wide players which can kill the momentum. It’ll be interesting to see if he continues with these bursts from deep in future matches.