Red cards can change matches and that was the case at the Hawthorns. West Brom had given us plenty to think about in the first half, but Goran Popov seeing red changed the game completely, as it finished West Brom 0 Spurs 1.
West Brom tactics
Steve Clarke really sprung a couple of surprises in this one, maybe having noted what Leeds did to us in the FA Cup.
Firstly, having previously alternated Romelu Lukaku and Shane Long due to form and injury, the Baggies boss named both in the starting line-up. This was only the third time this season that he went with two front men, as West Brom lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Without the ball, the Baggies used the two strikers to press our central defenders in possession, whilst condensing the space between their own midfield and defensive lines.
With the ball, the pair were looking to bring one player short, whilst the other raced in behind. The Baggies were making a concerted effort to play balls over and through our high back line, just as Leeds had done last weekend.
The tactic paid dividends from the off. After just three minutes, Shane Long raced on to a long ball flicked in behind by Romelu Lukaku. A heavy first touch saw it disappear out for a goal kick as Long tried to round Hugo Lloris, but the warning signs were there.
Minutes later, the same player also found himself in again; but could only fire in to the arms of Lloris at the near post.
It wasn’t just about Lukaku to Long, the big Belgian also was able to spring the offside trap on a couple of occassions. The frst time he fired straight at Lloris, the next was rifled wildly over with his less-trusty left foot.
Successful passes or not, the Baggies found joy down the corridor in behind Michael Dawson and Kyle Walker, as the full back was caught trying to push up the right flank.
The second surprise from Steve Clarke was his own choice of full backs.
As I looked at in the Tottenham tactics for West Brom vs Spurs, the Baggies make full use of their overlapping full backs to maraud forward. Usually they go with Billy Jones and Liam Ridgewell, but here opted for Goran Popov and Steven Reid. Prior to the sending off, both of them barely made it across the halfway line.
West Brom were looking to soak up pressure and then spring on the counter attack.
Andre Villas-Boas kept faith with the same eleven that had earned a draw at Norwich, although Gareth Bale lined up behind Jermain Defoe from the off.
Playing Bale in the centre seemed to stem from the attention he has been getting out on the left recently. Man Utd, Leeds and Norwich have all deployed additional cover to double up on him. He came more and more central as the match wore on against the Canaries, so with Lewis Holtby on the bench, AVB started with him behind Defoe here.
Unfortunately for Jermain Defoe though, he had to exit the game after 40 minutes and Bale switched back to his more usual left-side role. He was still allowed to drift though, frequently changing places with Holtby and Lennon.
Prior to the red card, with West Brom sitting and condensing the space between the lines, he was forced to receive the ball midway in their half and drive at the defence. He was able to create a couple of chances this way. One run ended in pulling an excellent cross back from the by-line; another with a shot from distance that Ben Foster tipped over.
After the dismissal, he could get further up the pitch in order to drive towards goal and this is how we scored.
Red card changes the pattern
Spurs had been enjoying 60% possession before the dismissal of Goran Popov, but were always liable to West Brom getting in behind. Popov receiving his marching orders meant that one of their strikers had to be sacrificed and with that went much of West Brom’s threat.
At 11v11, Spurs were trying to probe the Baggies defence, but being forced outside, were really reliant on the driving runs of Gareth Bale to get any penetration. With the Baggies down to 10, it allowed Spurs to probe further up the pitch and consequently Bale’s drives were closer to goal.
Spurs only attempted 52 passes and completed 73% in the final third prior to the sending off and were kept at a distance from the Baggies’ penalty area. After the dismissal, we attempted 128 passes, completing 90% and circled the area.
Spurs circle to score
With the extra man, having control of the possession and also completing passes, our goal arrived from a combination of what we were doing well. Shifting the ball with a series of passes to wear West Brom down and one of Gareth Bale’s driving runs.
Bale-Lennon-Holtby-Bale all combined in a neat triangle before the Welshman then fed it out to Kyle Walker. The right back slipped it back in to Bale who drove across the defence, getting a step on James Morrison and firing in to the top corner.
It was a goal created by patience, movement of players and the ball, then finished with a surging run against at tiring defence.
Following the goal, Andre Villas-Boas removed Kyle Walker who had been the subject of intense booing after the sending off. It was a smart move to take some of the heat out of the frustration of the home fans and also stop any possible reaction by Walker, who had remained remarkably calm throughout everything. The move also afforded William Gallas some playing time as he comes back from a lengthy layoff.
West Brom pressed up the pitch for the last ten minutes, but rarely troubled other than a free kick at the death. Hugo Lloris, who had another solid game, confidently came to claim.
West Brom 0 Spurs 1 conclusions
Steve Clarke really altered his line-up and playing style here, possibly by seeing how Leeds had success with balls in behind our defence last weekend. AVB lost his job at Chelsea after defeat to West Brom last season; the Baggies deployed a similar balls-in-behind tactic under then manager Roy Hodgson.
The Baggies undoubtedly had success with it here, creating numerous chances whilst it was 11v11. By playing deep without the ball as well, they were also able to limit the space in behind their defence and forced us further out. Gareth Bale’s surging runs ending with a shot or cross were the only things that troubled their goal at even strength.
After the sending off, we were able to push our play further up the pitch, closer to the West Brom area. The game was won through the two things we were doing well. Ball retention and a driving run by Gareth Bale.
Andre Villas-Boas was delighted at the result.
“When we started to express our football on the ground, things improved for us. In the end, the first half was competitive, the second half we were all over them and it was a good win for us.”
Final Score: West Brom 0 Spurs 1