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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.