Harry Kane grapples with Christian Kabasele during Watford 2-1 Tottenham in the Premier League match.

Watford 2-1 Tottenham: beaten by the block

Forced in to the wide areas, Spurs could not break down the central block as it finished Watford 2-1 Tottenham in our Premier League clash.

A frustrating match at Vicarage road saw us slump to defeat against a dogged Hornets team as it ended Watford 2-1 Tottenham. Javi Gracia’s men congested the middle of the pitch and forced us to become a crossing side. Playing in to their hands, the match tempo and chances slowed down, allowing Watford to convert two set pieces.

Tottenham long ball

The opening of the match saw Spurs go to the long ball. Immediately from the kick off, Jan Vertonghen sent a raking pass forward in search of Lucas Moura. Straight away setting the tone, both Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld continued to look for raking passes that put the ball in-behind the Watford back line.

The tactic looked like a Pochettino plan, as it was anything but the controlled build-ups that we usually see. The ploy was so blatant and straight from the kick off that it had to have been something that was worked on in training.

Toby Alderweireld's long pass picks out Dele Alli's run during Watford 2-1 Tottenham.

Toby Alderweireld’s long pass picks out Dele Alli’s run.

The tactic brought the best chance of the first half. On eleven minutes, Alderweireld sent a long searching ball from the back for the run of Dele Alli. Dele got to the ball first and his arcing header looped over onrushing goalkeeper Ben Foster, but just over the bar.

The long ball appeared to be working. The ploy was getting Tottenham over a congested midfield in one pass. The tactic was then allowing Lucas Moura and Harry Kane to get either on or behind the Watford back line, away from the central congestion.

The tactic was functioning well, but curiously we went away from it. Twenty minutes of long passes hadn’t paid off with a goal. We were then suckered in to what Watford wanted us to do. Cross the ball from the wide.

Watford force Spurs to cross

As the first half wore on, Watford drew us in to the game plan they wanted to execute. Set up in their 4-2-2-2 formation the Hornets wanted to congest the middle of the pitch and force us wide. Their centre backs could then deal with the resulting crosses and make the game one of aerial strength.

Narrow Hornets defence leaves space for the Spurs wingbacks during Watford 2-1 Tottenham.

Narrow Hornets defence leaves space for the Spurs wingbacks.

Spurs were setup in the correct formation to play this way. Three centre backs could keep the two Watford strikers quiet by having a numerical three versus two advantage. Wingbacks then allowed the team to get in to the space left in the wide areas and stretch the narrow defence.

Davies and Trippier constantly had space out wide due to the congested centre during Watford 2-1 Tottenham.

Davies and Trippier constantly had space out wide due to the congested centre.

Tottenham did this, but rather than get in to the box and attempt to play cut backs and pull backs along the turf and keep the ball low, Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier slung in high crosses. A Watford defence that had packed the middle could easily deal with these crosses.

Spurs long ball takes the lead

The game had been slowed by Watford’s tactics, hindering Spurs from playing with the zip and verve that has become the feature of our play.

At the start of the second half, Tottenham went back to the long ball and it paid off with the opening goal.

Alderweireld looks long for the runs of Moura and Kane during Watford 2-1 Tottenham.

Alderweireld looks long for the runs of Moura and Kane.

Toby Alderweireld sent a long ball over the Watford defence, which moved possession from back to front quickly. Christian Eriksen and then Dele Alli did a good job of keeping play alive and the ball in the danger zone. It ended with Abdoulaye Doucoure crazily chesting in to his own net from Lucas Moura’s pull back. A scrappy goal in a messy game.

Watford crossing

Strong and resilient in defence, when Watford did break forward they used a crossing based attack. Troy Deeney headed over in the first half with the Hornets best chance of the opening period. Deeney then got in to a crossing position himself as shrugged off Davinson Sanchez. Toby Alderweireld then flicked Deeney’s cross on to his own bar and fortunately away to safety.

The warning wasn’t heeded. The Hornets were growing in to the game. Watford then won the match with two crosses from set pieces.

Watford wins on set pieces

The Hornets won the match with two set pieces that punished soft Spurs marking. Deeney got them back on level terms after Craig Cathcart kept the ball in-play. The centre back smashed through two soft challenges from Ben Davies and Dele Alli to keep the ball alive. Mousa Dembele then needlessly fouled Will Hughes.

The free kick saw Spurs make two mistakes. Firstly, the defensive line was too high. As the line frantically dropped, Troy Deeney could hold his position and take advantage of everyone having dropped deeper.

Troy Deeney holds his position as Spurs drop too deep during Watford 2-1 Tottenham.

Troy Deeney holds his position as Spurs drop too deep.

Secondly, neither Jan Vertonghen nor Harry Kane picked Deeney up. Deeney looked to be Kane’s assignment, but he let him get away and baulked at any kind of challenge.

The goal brought the stadium to life and the Hornets became a real force. Cathcart then made the score Watford 2-1 Tottenham following another set piece.

The build-up saw Spurs once more fail to deal properly with two more crosses, the focus of the Watford attack. Ben Davies partially cleared the first from Daryl Janmaat. Jose Holebas retrieved and slung in another that Toby Alderweireld put out for a corner.

The resulting corner once more saw more lapse marking and soft challenges. Craig Cathcart admitted afterwards he was supposed to be blocking for Christian Kabasele, but he ended up heading home. Cathcart easily got away from Mousa Dembele and overpowered Jan Vertonghen to head in and make it Watford 2-1 Tottenham.

Cathcart beats Dembele and Vertonghen to score a goal to make it Watford 2-1 Tottenham.

Cathcart beats Dembele and Vertonghen to score.

Mauricio makes changes

Mauricio Pochettino responded by making changes. Fernando Llorente was introduced. The big man was an apt move given Watford enticing us in to crossing and should we seek to play long balls up front. However, the removal of the supplier of the long balls forward, Toby Alderweireld was a curious decision.

The next change to introduce Harry Winks moved the ball quicker through midfield. Winks was heavily involved in the chance that could’ve seen us level.

Against a narrow Watford defence once again, Winks found Trippier in space out wide. However, Trippier’s cross was headed just over by Harry Kane.

Harry Winks finds Kieran Trippier in space to cross during Watford 2-1 Tottenham.

Harry Winks finds Kieran Trippier in space to cross.

Time ran out and the match ended Watford 2-1 Tottenham for our first loss of the new season.

Watford 2-1 Tottenham overall

A frustrating game given that Spurs were set up well to deal with a pesky Hornets team. The initial long ball tactics were causing a compact opponent trouble. Moving away from this lured us in to the way Watford wanted us to play.

The system was right, but the personnel were not. Mousa Dembele cannot play as the sole holding defensive midfielder and needs an Eric Dier or Victor Wanyama alongside him now.

We also needed some speed and the ability to beat a man at the full back positions. Kieran Trippier is the best crosser of the ball we have, but the quicker Danny Rose and Serge Aurier may well have been the better choices here.

The skill to get past the Watford full backs and force others to have to help is what unlocks this Hornets defence. You only have to see what Wilfred Zaha did to them and the goal that he scored in Palace’s recent match at Vicarage Road. Watford’s reaction to kick him out of the game showed that they knew this and wanted to cut off the source.

A maddening game that saw us throw away points from a position of control and now have the international break to stew on it!

Final score: Watford 2-1 Tottenham.
MOTM: Craig Cathcart.

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26 Responses to Watford 2-1 Tottenham: beaten by the block

  1. Mathi JRN 3rd September 2018 at 2:24 pm #

    Again its Pochettino silly late substituition made it more comfortable for Watfords.Dele &Ben Davies were poor should have Danny coming in earlier&replace GNK forward.Ben was also focussing always on Lucas.The game plan never changed when you know its not working! Manager has the baf habits waiting for the last10mins to make changes but the reserves are no speed/goal machine.Spurs deserve to lose!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 3rd September 2018 at 3:37 pm #

      After some games of making good changes this was a return to the times when Pochettino would wait too long. Surprised we went without Dier as Watford are such a big and physical team that he would’ve helped out more than Dembele at set pieces.

  2. Chas 3rd September 2018 at 6:57 pm #

    Like you, Mark, amazed at the withdrawal of Toby and why Dembele wasn’t pulled before halftime is also mystifying.
    But four goals conceded so far and all from set pieces! It’s an ongoing problem and strange that it seemingly can’t be fixed.
    Add to that sub-standard performances from Dembele, Eriksen, Kane and Davies and the loss is well on the cards.
    The only good thing to come from the game for me was the display from Harry Winks in the absurdly short time given him by Poch.

    • Carrigbawn 3rd September 2018 at 11:22 pm #

      The fact that all 4 goals we have conceded this season are from set pieces worries me to, Chas. Surely it’s up to the Manager and coaches to work on that during training? After all Spurs are not overall a “short” team and we had 3 tall centre halves playing in this game. Spurs wont win anything this season until that problem is sorted.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 3rd September 2018 at 11:32 pm #

      Conceding at set pieces has become a problem. Poch has changed the defensive structure slightly this season. We used to position three zonal players along the line of the six yard box and this season we have gone with just two. Not sure what the reasoning is behind it, but we are giving up more opportunities in that zone around the edge of the six yard box.

      Too many sub par performances. Would love to know if this is a World Cup hangover or not? A lot of the lads have had very little rest and recovery and it may be making for erratic performances.

  3. Andy B 3rd September 2018 at 10:44 pm #

    Interesting analysis.

    Throughout the game, it seemed like Spurs were outnumbered in midfield and attack. In the second half the Watford players had more energy and seemed to be more up for it than the Spurs players.

    Watford deserved to win this game.

    Dembele was not playing in his best position. He was restricted to defending and so wasn’t able to perform his trademark dribbling, to set up the attack. Dembele and Eriksen were overrun in midfield. It is a mystery why Dier wasn’t playing and didn’t even come on.

    This match was crying out for Son to come on and make a difference. In fact it was crying out for anyone to come on and make a difference. Unfortunately Son and Lamela weren’t available and the bench had no real game changers.

    A big congratulations to Son for his Gold medal and this team needs him back as soon as possible.

    Did any Spurs fans get really excited when our saviour Llorente came on to the pitch? Did anyone really believe he was the one who could put the ball in the net? Why is he still here? Aargh

    The Spurs bench clearly demonstrated the squad’s lack of quality in depth.

    • Chas 4th September 2018 at 4:02 am #

      Totally disagree with your assessement of the squad. Bearing in mind that Lamela and Son were not available, that Dembele was played where Dier or Wanyama should have been and with Winks on for too few minutes and Rose available… that’s 6 internationals that didn’t feature. Not all that shabby.
      The problem lay with the two goals from set pieces and Poch’s reluctance to change anything, not the squad. Goalkeeper aside, it’s virtually the same squad that beat ManU.
      Who was saying the squad was inadequate last week?
      Mark got it right… we changed our plan, whether by design or circumstance, and it cost us 3 pts.

      • Andy B 4th September 2018 at 12:47 pm #

        There was more to Spurs loss than the goals. Watford were better than Spurs in the second half. They outplayed Spurs in midfield and their defence was too good for Spurs attack.

        The depth of Spurs squad is not good enough to win the premier league.

        We do not have adequate cover for Harry Kane.

        We do not have cover for Eriksen.

        We still have Sissoko, who needs to be replaced with a better player.

        We still have Aurier, who needs to be replaced with a better player. Is Rose going to return to form and be good enough cover for Davies? I think that the left and right back positions need to be improved.

        If Spurs want to challenge for both the Premier League and Champions League, they need to buy some players in January.

        • Chad 4th September 2018 at 7:02 pm #

          Andy, it’s far too simplistic to say players should be replaced with other players. Before that happens, they need to be sold, not necessarily easy to do. I agree that there are players who should be upgraded but Spurs have to sell to make room for new ones.
          Yes, Spurs were outplayed by Watford but it had nothing to do with the strength of the squad. All to do with below par performances, wrong selections and some pathetic defence of set pieces.

          • Andy B 4th September 2018 at 9:32 pm #

            Maybe you didn’t read what I have already said, that Watford had more energy than Spurs and outplayed them in the second half. I also said that Dembele was also not playing in his best position. These were the contributing factors to why I think Spurs lost the match.

            I do believe that new players should have come in to freshen the squad and make it stronger.

            The point is that we had no game changers on the bench who we could bring on to swing the game in our favour. This highlighted the lack of squad depth.

            I agre that recruiting and selling players is not easy, but other clubs managed to do it in the summer, so it is not a fantasy. It is what generally happens in well run football recruitment departments.

            • Chas 4th September 2018 at 11:32 pm #

              Yes, of course I read your comment. It’s why I said “Yes, Spurs were outplayed”.
              Your no game changers on the bench problem was due to Dembele already being on the field playing out of position while Dier sat watching, Son being unavailable and Lamela injured (yet again).
              I agree with you that backups for Kane and Eriksen would be welcomed. But in the real world, how many players have that quality and are happy to warm the bench for weeks at a time?

              • Andy B 5th September 2018 at 9:37 am #

                If Spurs squad had quality in depth, it would be able to cope with injuries, unfit and absent players. That is why it was obvious that the squad does not have enough strength in depth.

                There should be two players competing for every position. Why should Kane and Eriksen be the only ones not to have competition for their places?

                Even Alderweireld who is our best player has competition from Sanchez.

                There have been plenty of games where Kane and Eriksen have been out of form. This is why we need cover, so we can take them off and bring on a substitute in their place.

                All top squads need to be able to rotate their players, especially when there are cup games.

                • Chas 6th September 2018 at 2:18 am #

                  You’re preaching to the converted there, Andy, and I already said the problem of backups for Eriksen and Kane was finding them and having them happy to play second fiddle. Otherwise we have your two for every position pretty well covered.
                  My point was that Spurs squad is OK. Yours was that it wasn’t. Now that you’ve established we have two for 9 positions, your nearly agreeing with me!

                  • Andy B 6th September 2018 at 9:44 am #

                    It is fine margins in football. I just think that the squad is not yet good enough to win the premier league, or the champions league.

                    I never said it was a bad squad, it is just not enough.

                    Only having one quality striker and one quality creative midfielder is ridiculous.

                    The left and right back positions need improving.

                    I also think that we need to bring in cover for Dembele, because he may not be available for all the games. A replacement for Sissoko, to be the extra all action midfielder would be a bonus.

                    If Spurs had those extra 5 or 6 players, then we would have a great chance to win both the premier league and champions league.

                    Ideally to bring in no more than 3 or 4 players in the same transfer window, because more than that, is too much of an immediate change. And also to bring them in early, so that they have time to adapt to everything.

                    It was a massive mistake not to do any business in the transfer window, especially with all the tired players coming back from the world cup.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th September 2018 at 12:16 pm #

      I too was surprised that Dembele got the nod over Dier, Andy B. This was especially when he was the sole defensive midfielder. Poch must have had reasons for this, but it wasn’t too apparent from watching the game what they were. Maybe he felt that if Watford played deep he wouldn’t need a defensive player there if he had three centre backs?

      Son becoming exempt from military service is huge. With Moura, Lamela and him we now have some speedy options to play either 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. I wasn’t excited by Llorente, but it was the right move given the match circumstances. Alderweireld should’ve stayed on as he could’ve hit him with long balls. However, this position is the hardest to fill as no striker of quality in his prime will want to be Kane’s backup or a bit-part player. The choices are either to bring a youth teamer through, an untried or prospect player that you think can go on to big things or go with a veteran. We’ve tried the likes of Janssen as a prospect player and now we are on the veteran. Its a very difficult position to solve as it becomes critical in certain circumstances, but generally this player often isn’t needed.

      • Andy B 4th September 2018 at 12:51 pm #

        I think a prospect player would be the best way forward. It may not have worked out with Janssen, but that shouldn’t rule out bringing someone else in.

        I personally think that although Janssen didn’t work out, he was still more effective than Llorente has been for us.

        • SomeDude 15th September 2018 at 2:24 am #

          Like who? (Just asking) maybe danny inngs? Solanke would have been good imo. Charlie austin?

  4. Brian 4th September 2018 at 12:37 am #

    Hi Marrk
    Once again a very Through peice of anylsis.Like many others on here,Im begging to get worried,that from every set peicethat we re likely to concede.Also when using the short ball agwm,our passing was very slow and deliberate,and a lot more urgency was required.. high energy late in the gameTo give credit too watford,their enthuisias;m,and continued energy,was all ways going to be a contibuting factor.Especially when we seemed to become quite lhoe hum,about things. or perhaps it was just arrogance.

    Regards Brian

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th September 2018 at 12:20 pm #

      Hi Brian, the set piece issue was a worry, which is why I was surprised Dier wasn’t in for Dembele. Dier is a better defensive midfielder if we’re going to play one player there and he provides better aerial support at free kicks and corners. Dier on the bench was a strange decision for me.

      Watford did grow in to the game. They are the kind of team that feeds off the crowd and when they got in to the game it propelled Watford forward. I think they also benefited from having less players at the World Cup. Match sharpness and lack of rest are still factors at this point of the season. Fair play to Watford though, they are going to be a pesky team for many an opponent at Vicarage Road this season.

  5. Toby4eva 4th September 2018 at 1:34 pm #

    Thanks Mark

    Watford have been a hard team to beat at Vicarage for some time and their home support was impressive – they will have a good season if their big tough guys stay fit.

    Deeney kicking sand in Davinson’s face was as bad as Pogba beating up on Moose in the FA Cup semi.

    Should not happen.

    Poch was a tough cove at the back in his playing days and would have been aghast when Deeney shrugged of the Colombian.

    And we didn’t like the close quarters stuff on the edge of the six yard box.

    Fair play to the Hornets – too good.

    I watched Liverpool at Leicester and wasn’t actually crawling under the Persian rug in fright.

    Let’s hope our lads get through this silly competition unscathed and can get up for the Scouse.

    We need a statement.

    By the way – has anybody read the qualifying conditions of this pre Euro tournament?

    If you have not – do not go there under any circumstances.

    It won’t do your intellectual self-esteem any good.


    • Andy B 4th September 2018 at 3:13 pm #

      I agree Toby, that the UEFA Nations League is a silly competition.

      It would be better for the England players to go on holiday and have a rest, after only getting 3 weeks off before the start of the season.

      I thought Kane looked knackered against Watford. Does he really need any more games?

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 5th September 2018 at 12:34 am #

        I don’t think any player needs more games right now! Absolute nonsense competition from UEFA at a time when its biggest asset – the players – need rest after playing in all these other tournaments!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 5th September 2018 at 12:43 am #

      Great post, Toby. I don’t think any team has lit the blue touch paper just yet. Definitely no one has sent me diving for the Persian rug!
      This international break comes at a bad time for everyone. I thought that this international weekend was supposed to be dropped from the calendar? However, it seems like Uefa are trying to jam more and more meaningless games in to the schedule.

  6. Erik Zen 4th September 2018 at 3:31 pm #

    I am sure this is the long awaited WC hangover. Maybe MP rested Dier because of his role for England (though he didn’t actually play that much). He played pretty much every game for us last year and had a busy summer, now he has an England callup. He might be trying to rotate so they don’t burn out. Eriksen also has been overused and I think he could use a holiday!

    Thanks Mark for explaining how MP has changed our set piece defence. It’s weird. We have phenomenal defenders and we’re good at scoring them, so you’d think we could handle them better. Could that in itself be a knock-on effect from the WC, where most goals were set pieces? Perhaps it gave PL managers new ideas for routines.

    Much preferred Moussa as a last-30-minute man.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 5th September 2018 at 9:54 am #

      I saw a piece on tv the other day where a couple of ex pros said that they were ok coming off a World Cup with 2 weeks holiday as they said they still had their fitness, but it was in October that it really hit them. I also remember Gary Neville saying something similar the other weekend. After a couple of shocking games at the start of the season, Fergie forced him to take a holiday 6 games in to the new campaign. I think this is going to be a real problem for a number of teams, especially us given how many players we had in the semi finals. I don’t understand why the premier league had to start a week earlier than Europe, which was insane given there was a World Cup. It’s only going to make for a poorer product and players dropping out of internationals with convenient injuries. I’m also not sure why players like Eriksen went on the USA tour. Seemed crazy to rush him back, probably for tour promo and marketing reasons, but we are now possibly paying the price of that.

      The set pieces points are interesting as it was such a feature of the World Cup. In that tournament players were more hands off for fear of giving away a penalty. The premier league had that problem of a penalty claim at almost every set piece when the grabbing rules were introduced, but referees seemed to have calmed down on it now and are only giving blatant grabbing. It is a factor though. Teams like Watford have a lot of height so it’s no surprise they gave us problems. However, that makes the picking of Mousa more surprising as Dier would’ve been the better choice so we would have had effectively four centre backs on the field at set pieces. Given Watford would likely play a sit deep and counter attack game and rely on set pieces, I’m not sure why this would not seem to be the better option?

  7. SomeDude 15th September 2018 at 2:32 am #

    Although i agree that the timming is poor, the nations league is much more preferable than regular freindlies. Why the FA is doing both is beyond me. Also my team (scotland) won one so there we go ;p