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.
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 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.
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.
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.