Frustrated at the Hawthorns, we attacked down the left, but failed to convert chances, as it ended West Brom 1-1 Spurs in our Premier League clash.
Spurs huffed and puffed, but ran in to a goalkeeper in top form. The Baggies were resolute, but when breached had Ben Foster to thank for keeping them in the game. The left side was key to many Tottenham attacks. Overloads and one-twos off Vincent Janssen saw chances created, and thwarted, as it finished West Brom 1-1 Spurs.
West Brom’s stifling set up
Tony Pulis doesn’t like to make it easy for opposing teams. It was no different here. The West Brom boss went back to a set up we saw him use in Spurs 1-1 West Brom at White Hart Lane last season.
His side were content to drop to halfway, engage the first pass in to our midfield and make themselves narrow and compact. The back four were arguably the most interesting part. Pulis, as he did at the Lane last season, had them play tight together, using his wingers – Matt Phillips and James McClean – to defend the wide areas.
This gave them 1v1 coverage on the outside, but a whole load of bodies in the middle. They had numbers to deal with any crosses, cutbacks or pullbacks. Twenty shots were generated, but due to weight of defensive bodies, an amazingly high 9, almost half, were blocked.
It made for an opening 45 minutes played almost entirely in the West Brom half. Spurs had 72% possession, mainly trying to penetrate through the left side.
Vincent Janssen hold-up play
West Brom was playing extremely deep. So much so, that Tony Pulis could often be seen on the touchline beckoning his side to push up as they sunk back in to their penalty area. He wanted them to be in the zone between the edge of their box and halfway.
The game wasn’t made for us to be able to run in-behind as there just wasn’t space. Vincent Janssen was an ideal selection. With West Brom having three centre halves in their back line – McAuley, Evans and Dawson – Janssen’s size and strength to hold the ball up and bring others in to play was key.
The Dutchman was frequently coming short and looking for the ball in to feet. He could then either shrug off his marker and find a pass or play an instant one-two. It led to many of the game’s key chances, as he was able to bring others in to the action.
It started early as he received the ball, held off both West Brom centre backs and tried to free Moussa Sissoko. Allan Nyom tore back and cleared in a foot race with the Frenchman as Janssen signalled his intentions.
Later and better hold-up play from the Dutchman gained Christian Eriksen a good shooting opportunity inside the box that was deflected wide. He was then involved in the two best chances of the half. Excellently holding the ball up and timing a neat pass round the corner to release Dele Alli for a 1v1 chance that Ben Foster expertly denied.
It was a rare occasion that we actually got in-behind the West Brom defence. The Baggies were caught up-field and out of position after a turnover in possession.
Minutes later and more good work from Janssen found Dele once again. Alli then laid the ball back for the arriving Christian Eriksen who saw his low drive towards the corner tipped around the post.
Spurs left side raids
Both were really good chances and each had come after good work down the left. Spurs favour this side to attack. We saw last season just how many goals we create through the inside left channel.
Here it was no different. In fact, we were probably too over-reliant on attacking this channel, to the point of neglecting the right side.
Many of our chances came through here. Alli’s 1v1 opportunity. Several of Eriksen’s shots, including his low drive that was tipped around the post. Ben Davies’ marauding run and fizzing shot that was pushed past the post. Erik Lamela’s twist and turn before firing across goal that was half a shot, half a cross and ended up being somewhere in-between.
The chances were being created, but not taken. It would prove a key area after we went behind though.
West Brom set pieces
West Brom were being pushed back, but defending resolutely. They created little until Salomon Rondon almost forced home James McClean’s shot that was spilt by Hugo Lloris in first half stoppage time.
After the interval and they played noticeably higher. It allowed them to get up the field and force several corners. We looked at the Baggies strength from set pieces this season in the West Brom vs Spurs match preview. They’ve notched four times from set plays this season and they took the lead from one here.
We didn’t heed the warning signs. On several occasions the Baggies tried to create a near post flick-on to gain an opportunity from the second ball. The most dangerous and biggest threat came as Craig Dawson nodded on straight to Gareth McAuley. The big centre half couldn’t sort his feet out in time and the ball squirmed just wide.
Minutes later and West Brom would have their reward. Another near post ball in saw McAuley make the run to flick-on this time. West Brom tried to screen his marker, Jan Vertonghen, from tracking his run.
Vertonghen did well to slip the screen and rose with McAuley, but in doing so, flicked the ball on anyway.
We’ve seen how Mauricio Pochettino likes to play a three-man zone across the six-yard box. Teams that can get players amongst and off this zone have had success against us for several seasons now. James McClean was matched up on Moussa Dembele at the back of this zone. He pulled away, creating enough separation as Dembele was slow to track him. McClean had the space to unleash a fizzing shot. Hugo Lloris got down well to somehow keep it out with a miraculous save. However, the ball dropped straight to Nacer Chadli to hoover up. Somehow it was 1-0 to West Brom.
Left side attack gets us back in to the game
The ultimate smash and grab was on. West Brom had rarely troubled our goal, but now had something to defend.
The left side was proving to be our way through their defence and it provided the avenue to get back in the game. And then almost win it.
Son Heung-Min had come on for Erik Lamela. It was his energetic runs down the left that gave the Baggies problems. On the equaliser, he raced forward to collect Eric Dier’s pass. He twisted and turned against Craig Dawson, before playing the ball in to Christian Eriksen. Whilst this was unfolding, Dele Alli was stealthily drifting away from the attentions of the centre backs and in to space. It was a neat piece of movement. Everyone was gravitating towards the ball while Alli was moving away from it.
Eriksen saw his shot blocked, but was first to react as he prodded the ball to Alli. Dele had seen several of his efforts thwarted, but this time found the corner. As he punched the air, his relief was palpable, as was the joy of the travelling fans.
Suddenly, it was West Brom 1-1 Spurs and then we almost grabbed a winner. It combined the best points of our performance. Vincent Janssen’s hold-up and layoff play. Dele Alli working off Janssen found a perfect through ball for Son’s energetic running in-behind.
Son was then beyond right back Craig Dawson, which dragged Jonny Evans out from his centre back position. As Son jinked past him, Evans had no choice but to cynically foul him.
Christian Eriksen then took the resulting free kick. He opted to try and catch Ben Foster off his line and almost did it. Foster scrambled back to claw the ball away from underneath his crossbar. An apt end to a game where he had been in superb form to thwart us once again.
West Brom 1-1 Spurs overall
On the balance of play it was a disappointing result. We created far more chances and deserved to take all three points. From going a goal behind, the spirit and resolve to keep fighting was admirable and this is a great quality that Mauricio Pochettino has instilled in this side. They never know when they are beaten.
The left side was once again the preferred avenue of attack. It seems harsh to criticise a team that remains unbeaten, but we do need more balance in our offensive play. Hopefully this will come as Moussa Sissoko gets up to speed. He still looks like he is a fraction slow in learning the rhythm and moves of Mauricio Pochettino’s offence.
The biggest concern is the injury to Toby Alderweireld. If he is out any length of time then we are in trouble. The recruiting of Victor Wanyama could be an even more effective move than we anticipated, allowing Eric Dier to fill in for the Belgian.
If Alderweireld is out long term than Cameron Carter-Vickers could also see some playing time. It’s difficult to see Mauricio Pochettino playing a totally left-footed combination of Kevin Wimmer alongside Jan Vertonghen. Especially given how much Pochettino values the ball play between our centre backs and their ability to make long raking passes to switch the side of possession. With six games across three competitions in the next twenty days this injury couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Final score: West Brom 1-1 Spurs.
MOTM: Dele Alli.