Dele Alli scores in West Brom vs Spurs 1-1 draw in the Premier League.

West Brom 1-1 Spurs: playing through disruptive tactics

On a blustery day we got sucked in to some disjointed and scrappy football as our Premier League clash finished West Brom 1-1 Spurs at the Hawthorns.

The unbeaten streak may not be over, but we got drawn in to a chippy and stop-start game that threw us off our normal free-flowing football. The result was plenty of possession, but not much penetration, as we ran in to the heart of Tony Pulis’ plan.

Counter vs long ball

Opening up the game it seemed as if this could be a long afternoon of having to be patient against a team sat deep and playing on the counter. West Brom showed a lot of respect as they were content to concede possession and dropped off quickly to get in to a solid defensive shape.

At the heart of it was Jonny Evans. The Republic of Ireland international was stationed as a defensive midfielder as Tony Pulis pulled a surprise. Evans sat in front of the back four and was breaking up and disrupting play. This allowed both Darren Fletcher and James Morrison to buzz around him in the defensive phase to make a solid trio to block off the centre. With us having Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela drifting in to the middle, we often ran in to this central wall and the ball was lost, turned over or forced back to our defenders to start again.

West Brom’s set-up pushed us in to two choices. We could’ve attacked down the flanks, but with Eriksen and Lamela moving inside, it meant that this wasn’t explored. Kyle Walker and Danny Rose struggled to get forward as they were both 1v2 in the wide areas.

The second option was to go quickly from back to front to navigate over the West Brom central trio and this is what we did. Eric Dier looked early on for one such ball, but the wind caused it to be over hit. Later on and Jan Vertonghen marginally missed Erik Lamela as the blustery breeze was once more a factor.

Toby Alderweireld has made the accurate long pass a feature of our games this season and he showed how it should be done. The ball was moved around between Dier, Vertonghen and Alderweireld as they formed a back three in order to create space to bring the ball up. With only Salomon Rondon challenging to close down, he was easily taken out of the equation and Alderweireld had time and space to pick out the run of Dele Alli.

West-Brom-1-1-spurs-dele-alli-goal

Alderweireld’s pass over the WBA midfield trio picks out Alli.

The long pass took the midfield trio of Evans, Fletcher and Morrison out of the game and also bisected Gareth McAuley and Craig Dawson to land perfectly on the outstretched boot of Dele Alli, 1-0.

Going against the elements

The goal was a bit of a false friend as we had been going against the elements and it encouraged to continue doing so. The ball was spending a lot of time in the air where it is not as controllable in the blustery unpredictable gusts as it is on the turf.

The combination of West Brom blocking off the centre, us trying to go through this zone, plus the ball not spending a great deal of time of the surface, meant that we created very few good quality chances.

What also happened was that our goal broke the mould of what looked to be shaping up as a classic game of the possession based attacking side vs the counter attacking defender.

West Brom came to life after the goal and were closing us down heavily in the full back areas. This caused a number of turnovers or long clearances where an accurate aerial pass of the ball was pretty uncontrollable due to the blustery conditions. Jan Vertonghen whacking one such ball out that was skewed up in to the wind only to blow back and come down on the head of James McClean for an effort at Hugo Lloris was one example.

West Brom crosses

West Brom’s change in their stance to come out and close down more aggressively without the ball caused turnovers in higher areas of the pitch. It allowed them to get their crossing game working. Stephane Sessegnon was proving pesky down the right and James McClean a nuisance over on the left. The two players were heavily involved in the move that led to West Brom’s equaliser.

With Jonny Evans playing as a defensive midfielder this allowed both Darren Fletcher and James Morrison to get forward and join the attack. Fletcher got the ball out on the right and some one-touch passing took the play back inside to James Morrison then instantly out to Craig Dawson. This push-pull movement sucked our defence in and out, particularly Christian Eriksen. The Dane was matched up with Fletcher, but then let him go as he went out to challenge Dawson who had the ball.

This momentary lapse in tracking meant that Fletcher drifted off and in to space with Eric Dier having to pick up his run. Dier was just a step slow, allowing Fletcher to run down the inside right channel and receive the pass round the corner from Sessegnon.

West-Brom-1-1-spurs-mcclean-goal

Eriksen gets dragged leaving Fletcher to run off Dier.

Fletcher hit the byline and chipped a deft ball back across the goal. Kyle Walker, who was marking James McClean, got caught watching what was developing. This allowed the Irishman to run from behind, get across him and be first to meet the cross as it came in, West Brom 1-1 Spurs.

The Baggies had equalised from a cross and their other good moments also arrived from balls in to the box. Salomon Rondon almost got on the end of one that saw our defence hesitate to judge the flight of it before the bouncing ball was cleared by Kyle Walker. The Venezuelan then almost got to James McClean’s knee high effort across the six yard area.

Crosses from free kicks were also a problem. Tony Pulis sides have always been well-coached at set pieces, something we looked at in the West Brom vs Spurs preview.

We conceded a number of fouls on the edge of our box that allowed Chris Brunt to whip in deliveries with his left foot. These were generally dealt with as West Brom tried to overload the back post. Jonas Olsson’s flicked effort that was sensationally pushed over the bar by Hugo Lloris was the only real one that caught us with a lack of numbers to defend the amount of attackers.

West-Brom-1-1-spurs-olsson-shot-fk

WBA overload the back post.

Little change in tactics

There were three factors that were running in to.

Firstly, West Brom were blocking off the centre with Jonny Evans martialing the area in front of his back four. This led to very few chances for us through here. Dele Alli’s chip pass over the top for Harry Kane to try and smuggle the ball home was one rare example, Mousa Dembele’s tame drive from distance the other.

West-Brom-1-1-spurs-kane-shot

Dele Alli gets down the side of the MF trio to set up Kane.

The second factor was the wind. This was a problem as the ball was spending a lot of time in the air. We tried to go long from back to front. We also had to often clear long as West Brom increased their pressing after we went ahead.

The third factor was the number of chippy and sometimes blatant fouls. It’s not often we’ve been out-fouled by the opposition this season as our high pressing game has had the side effect of mistimed challenges. Here we saw a return to the type of stuff Tony Pulis used at Stoke to disrupt the flow of games and make them stop-start and extremely chippy. James McClean’s high lunge on Mousa Dembele was the worse of the lot and it, like other fouls, contributed to halting any type of flow to our play.

Mauricio Pochettino has been much better at influencing games this season, but here he did little to alter the match by way of his changes.

Son Heung-Min came on for Erik Lamela but essentially did the same thing to drift in to the centre, albeit from the left. This substitution moved Christian Eriksen more centrally, but he was just increasingly limited by the congestion that West Brom were causing in here.

The first switch moved Dele Alli out to the right, so to address this imbalance, Mauricio Pochettino brought on Clinton N’Jie. He looked to run in-behind much more from a wider area, which was better.

His burst off the shoulder of Chris Brunt that Mousa Dembele picked out was the ideal of what we were looking for in this game to counteract West Brom’s tactics. A ball on the floor to a player that is either out wide or looking to run from an outside position, but most importantly, in-behind a full back. Dembele’s pass to N’Jie delivered this, but the Cameroon international was flagged offside when clean through on goal.

The chance was a one off and should’ve signalled the way to unlock the West Brom defence, but we were unable to recreate this type of situation again.

West Brom 1-1 Spurs overall

A point away to West Brom still sees us unbeaten since opening day, which is no mean feat.

The main takeaway from this game will be a learning exercise of how to play against teams that are going to try and alter the flow of matches. This can be from the opposition being intent on making them scrappy and stop-start from fouling or just generally chippy in play. It can also be from the opposition making the elements a factor by forcing us to play against the conditions. We needed to be smarter here and play more on the deck away from the wind and move the ball in to wider positions to stretch the opposition out.

Experience is the best teacher and learning from games where the opposition is going to disrupt the flow will stand both Pochettino and our young squad in a much better position next time.

Final score: West Brom 1-1 Spurs.



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19 Responses to West Brom 1-1 Spurs: playing through disruptive tactics

  1. boingy 6th December 2015 at 11:46 am #

    Great performance from the Baggies, once more stopping the opposition from playing. Possession is an old hat way of playing now, lost count of how many games we have secured either 3 or 1 points from a match with around 38% possession…Chelsea 3-0 Arsenal 2-1 even Man u away twice in a row till this year…38%…Its not how much of the ball you have its how much you are allowed to do with it. We dropped 2 points though yesterday…as the commentators said West Brom were first to every ball and had Spurs rattled.

    • YouShubes 6th December 2015 at 1:44 pm #

      Considering Moss allowed a woeful tackle by McClean who went on to get the equaliser, I think West Brom were given licence to more than rattle. Dembele has had a fair few kick in the last few games.

      Given the West Ham bookings were for the old rutting stags routine, have we become less aggressive?

  2. Dave N 6th December 2015 at 2:59 pm #

    Unusually for Spurs this season, I thought our tackling was a bit ‘half hearted’ yesterday. In the build up to the WBA equaliser there was a whole five min period where we less than fully committed.
    That said, I think a draw was a fair result. Other than the Lloris wonder save, he did not have an awful lot to do. Neither did Myhill.
    I also agree with those who say that it’s the type of game that past Spurs teams would have just laid down and allowed to be beaten.
    In your preview piece, you spoke about getting the ball wide and attacking the full backs. I don’t remember Lamela trying that once!
    A shame we weren’t playing against ten men for the last ten minutes though… Shocking challenge by McLean.

    • SpurredoninDublin 7th December 2015 at 1:47 pm #

      You mention the “Loris wonder save”, which is becoming a regular feature of our game.

      I recently posted on here that I thought we can win the league this season. I think I said at the the time, that my views were not based on the fact that we have a great team, but because nobody is playing that much better than us. This was the first time since game five that the gap between us and the leader has increased, though we are still making inroads into City’s lead which was nine points at game five.

      As you will gather from my last sentence, I like to look at the stats to see what info can be gleaned from underlying trends, and one stat that has me very worried, is that though we have scored 25 goals in 15 games, 13 of those were scored in just three games making an average of exactly 1 goal per game in the other twelve games. Boy do we need those wonder saves?

      At last for the first time in many years we have the defence sorted, but the problem that needs sorting is up front, because I don’t think anybody has ever one-nilled their way to the league title.

      Just one other stat that I notice: We are all sitting here expecting that sooner or later, Leciester will blow up,but after 15 fames, they are top. If you bear in mind that Leicester’s current run of form actually started last season with their last 14 games of the season, suddenly, you start to think that if they were going to blow up, surely they would have done so by now after a great run in the last 29 matches? They are beginning to look like a very attractive bet at 28/1 for the league.

      But I digress. It appears that what is keeping us in contention is not Kane’s goals but Lloris’s saves. I thought we might have solved this problem with Son who made a blistering start, only to be hit by injury, and most recently, with the EL and International breaks, is probably our most jet-lagged player (and it shows).

      Just my opinion, but I think we are a 15 goals a season striker away from making that next step, but if you know your history about transfer windows, you will also know that these are rare commodities, especially in a winter window. One thing I am fairly certain of, is that WBA chair Peace must be considering having “Berk” tatooed on his forehead. During the meantime, I know he will be cup-tied for the EL, but I’d love to hear that Embolo is arriving Jan 1st.

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 7th December 2015 at 4:30 pm #

        I think its right to say we have a chance of winning the league SpurredoninDublin, as for the reason that you say that an opportunity has opened up due to all the top teams sputtering. We do continue to pick up points and that will give us a chance. The only concern is that our squad is not used to the pressure of having to win and that will count against us in pressurised games in April and May if we are still in or near the top four.

        The goal stats you point out are really interesting and it shows among other things that when Kane isn’t scoring, neither are we. We need to find some goals from other sources and that may have to wait until the summer as we all know the issues around player availability and inflated prices in January. Jan 1st or in the summer, Michy Batshuayi would be the choice for me ;)

        As for Leicester i think they are a force to be reckoned with, but, they do have an extremely tough run coming up now so it’ll be interesting to see how they navigate it and where they are come the other side.

        • SpurredoninDublin 8th December 2015 at 12:17 am #

          Yes it’s good that we have a whole boat load of winnable games coming up just when Leicester are up against it. We’ve got them on Jan 13th and exactly a month later, we play Mancs with 13 games to go during which time we play all the top teams in terms of the money league.

          I am delighted that MoPo is taking the EL seriously this year and don’t mind if he rests a few as long as we get a draw minimum for seeding purposes. I have seen nothing from Njie that makes me think he should even be in the PL, and Son has tapered off from his good start though if you look at his recent schedule, I suspect that he might have been struck with jet-lag following his injury lay off. Be interesting to see if he rests HK, if playing these two together might cause fireworks.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 7th December 2015 at 4:08 pm #

      Agree that both goalkeepers weren’t worked that much Dave N, but Lloris was exceptional when he needed to be and most importantly didn’t lose focus despite being out of the game for long periods. I’m not 100% convinced by those that say its the type of game we would’ve lost in the past though.I do agree that this team does have a new-found strength and resolve that we haven’t seen for a while and that is important as they grow as a unit together.

  3. Mike 7th December 2015 at 8:20 am #

    Basically the baggies harassed and harried the Spurs players on the ball, in the way that Spurs have often done – relentlessly and in packs.
    I’m disappointed that our players (Spurs) often spent too long on the ball (given the speed that the opposition closed down and attempted a tackle) trying to pick out a pass – and even attempted too many dribbles when surrounded by 3 or 4 opposition players.

    Also…. whereas I am a far greater fan of Poch’s attacking intent than AVB’s more short pass possession oriented football – in this case a first 60 minutes spent zipping the ball around and wearing the Baggies out (as they attempted to turnover possession) might have been more profitable than trying to push through their packed midfield.

    Poch has done so well in so many ways, but he still seems liable to not change tactics appropriately (based on what’s happening),

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 7th December 2015 at 4:16 pm #

      You make a good point about Pochettino’s inflexibility when it comes to tactics. This season he has seemed a bit more open to changing things, but here it was like Poch of the last campaign.

  4. SpurredoninDublin 8th December 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    Just been looking at the record of Batshuayi, who to be honest, has not been on my radar to date. He looks as if he might do the job. I think he will get the nickname “Guano” if he plays in the PL, and no doubt that as we speak, there is some sub-editor dying to splash “Bat out of hell” on some story involving him.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 9th December 2015 at 6:48 am #

      He’s a very strong and powerful player, but his release clause is rumoured to be around €25 million euros, which could be a stumbling block. At that price he is competition to, rather than backup for, Kane.

  5. SpurredoninDublin 9th December 2015 at 9:54 am #

    I have no problems with competition for Kane. You just know that he is the sort of character that will rise to the challenge and it will only make him a better player.Or did you mean that we are seeing the end of the era where teams play with twin strikers?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 9th December 2015 at 10:36 am #

      That’s a different but interesting question. We are in an era where to start a game with twin strikers is not done very often. If we were to play with two strikers, and for the record i don’t think we should except in rare cases, then they would have to compliment each other with different skill sets, which means the club would need to identify someone greatly different to Kane that would compliment him.

      What i actually meant was that a great number of fans that i’ve talked to on here and on twitter see us signing someone as a backup for Kane ie a rotation option. For me, the top teams now have more than one good striker and competition for places, which is what we should be aiming for. That is what the transfer committee need to be clear on, are we signing someone as a backup or as genuine competition for Kane?

      Personally, I’d like to see us sign someone that has a good attitude to compete for the starting spot and that would push Kane on even more, Batshuayi would do that even though he would cost more than going down the signing a backup option route.

  6. SpurredoninDublin 9th December 2015 at 5:36 pm #

    That’s why I keep coming back to Embolo. I think he could play alongside Kane, but I also think that he could lead the line in the absence of Kane. That’s the great unknown for us. How will we function without Kane. Incidentally, I saw in today’s headlines that MoPo wasn’t expecting to do much biz in the transfer window. Make of that what you will, but I suppose that once a club announces that it is in the market, the prices tend to rise anyway.

    To be honest though, there are rarely any marquee signings made in Jan, but that wont stop the “experts” posting who should go. How much they will fetch, and who we should bring in to replace them. I recall in the last window, someone saying that Lamela should go and that we would get £23 mill for him. I raised the question, “If he’s really worth £23 mill, why would we want to sell him.

    I strongly suspect that Peace at WBA will be a lot more chastened if someone comes in for Berahino this time around, though I don’t want him. But for all the people who castigated Levy for failing to get Berahino, I think the WBA fans who applauded him are not so smug now.

    I find it interesting that in spite of the tendency to rely on single strikers nowadays, it hasn’t had that much of an effect in reducing the average of goals score per game. This season so far, the PL average is 2.68 per game. Twenty years ago, it was 2.60. I remember back in the 60’s when Hull were in the old Div 3, they had five players who scored 100 league goals between one season. Now, we think that a team with three players in double figures is doing well.

  7. anotherwisemonkey 11th December 2015 at 5:35 pm #

    This is one of your best pieces of analysis, Mark. I think a lot of fans get frustrated because they focus on our opposition’s ranking in the league table, not the conditions present in the match. Given the challenges we faced, not least the wind, I think this was in the end a good point, and the sort of match we would have lost in the past. I suspected reading your preview last week that we would struggle, as we do tend to go through the middle under Poch.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th December 2015 at 10:35 am #

      Thanks for the kind words Anotherwisemonkey. This is the time of year where factors such as weather are going to affect some of our games and its how we deal with the conditions, as well as or better than the opposition do, that will decide a few matches.

  8. James Bailey 18th December 2015 at 11:35 pm #

    Mark, we need a preview for Southampton. The lads couldn’t get it done without one for Newcastle. I suspect they’re relying on you to break down the opposing club. Cheers!

  9. Darren 26th December 2015 at 1:52 pm #

    Love following your blog, Mark. Are you planning on posting again in the near future?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 27th December 2015 at 11:20 am #

      Thanks for the kind words Darren, will do something on the Watford game if I see it.