West Ham 0 Spurs 1: vertical passing beats the box

A sensational finish sees us take all three Premier League points, as it finishes West Ham 0 Spurs 1 at the Boleyn Ground.

Eric Dier has a habit of making dramatic debuts. On his first start for Sporting Lisbon, he set up the only goal in a 1-0 win against Braga. On Saturday, in his first Premier League match, he went one better to score the winner.

They keys to the game were first of all how each team set up, then the two red cards which allowed our vertical passing to reap dividends.

Central congestion

In the Tottenham tactics for West Ham vs Spurs I talked about how the Hammers try to get four players in to central areas. This has always been an Sam Allardyce ploy and gave us trouble in the matches last season.

The problem for Big Sam was that AVB and interim Tim didn’t counter this. However, Mauricio Pochettino also likes to have a fourth player drifting in to central midfield areas. Thus this zone of the pitch became congested, until the first red card.

Allardyce was using his midfield trio of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyaté, and Kevin Nolan with Carlton Cole dropping in. He also pinched his wide players, Stewart Downing and Ricardo Vaz Te, in narrow.

This went up against us having Etienne Capoue and Nabil Bentaleb along with advanced midfielder Erik Lamela. Christian Eriksen was drifting in from the right or Emmanuel Adebayor was coming short to make a fourth player.

As we can see here, the fours from each side congested the centre of midfield, which stifled chance creation.


4v4 in central midfield

The space was naturally out wide and Stewart Downing was Big Sam’s outlet, putting in several dangerous crosses, which were finding Ricardo Vaz Te.

The winger on the opposite side put a header in to the ground straight at Hugo Lloris. Somehow miss-hit a volley across goal when free at the back post and then rifled one across the face.

We were struggling to get anything going and Downing’s crosses to Vaz Te were looking dangerous.


West Ham 0 Spurs 1: Hammers’ chances created.

The flow of the match very much changed with the first sending off.

Corner counter

West Ham were managing to create from the space in wide areas, but were also slowly running up the corners.

We’d looked in the Tottenham tactics at how well they spread the six-yard box to control rebounds and loose balls at set pieces. The biggest moment of the first half, and the match, arrived when a loose ball was captured by Kevin Nolan.

West Ham had bunched, split and then got to their points to cover the six yard box with a man on the keeper.


West Ham spread the box with Nolan (1) on the keeper.

That man was Kevin Nolan. He spun and fired a shot, but Kyle Naughton’s arms blocked it.

The penalty was obvious, the red card harsh.

Mark Noble scuffing the kick wide was the biggest surprise of all from one of the most prolific men from 12-yards in the Premier League.

The game changed. We had to move to a 4-4-1 and our attempts at vertical passing, which were being stifled by West Ham’s four players in central areas, was now non-existent.

Second red opens vertical passing lanes

We weren’t being overrun, but weren’t creating anything either. All that changed with James Collins’ dismissal for a second yellow.

I’d talked in the Tottenham tactics about how West Ham’s back line was slow and needed to be turned. It was interesting to see that Collins received two yellows for pulling and blocking players running forward at speed.

A tug on Erik Lamela, who had gone by him, was followed by a body check on Emmanuel Adebayor, who was also surging past with pace.

Adebayor was doing what Mauricio Pochettino asks of his centre forward, but wasn’t able to execute it due to West Ham’s four central players.

He was coming short in to midfield to receive the ball, but wasn’t able to hit passes to the runners going past him. This was due to West Ham’s dense coverage in here, but also the runners were to slow to go past him. As a result, much of Adebayor’s passing was sideways or non-penetrative.


Emmanuel Adebayor passes received and player, West Ham 0 Spurs 1.

The two red cards meant that both team’s holding players, Etienne Capoue and Cheikhou Kouyaté, went back in to central defence. Neither side then had their ball winner in midfield and suddenly space between the lines opened up.

Mauricio Pochettino had just introduced Lewis Holtby who went in to this space, but also Andros Townsend. Our vertical passing, which was being stifled, was now able to pick out targets with one less player in the central zone for each side.

Here, both Townsend and Holtby got free between the lines, as Andros rifled a shot that was pushed over by Adrian.


Holtby and Townsend get between the lines.

Nabil Bentaleb later saw a drive saved as he got between the lines, but it was the introduction of Harry Kane that swung the match.

Kane, fresh off signing a new contract, was able to pass the ball vertically from coming deep in a way that Emmanuel Adebayor could not due to the congestion.

Kane only completed one of his four attempted through balls, but he was able to get free between the lines and this was key to the winning goal.


Harry Kane passes played, West Ham 0 Spurs 1.

West Ham were opened up with two vertical passes, which are key to Mauricio Pochettino’s philosophy.

The first was from Nabil Bentaleb. He hit it directly to Harry Kane who had come short between the lines, where there was space due to no defensive midfielder.


Nabil Bentaleb plays a vertical pass to Harry Kane.

This is something Mauricio Pochettino coaches his centre forward to do. This player then has to be able to make passes to those running beyond him.

Eric Dier supplied the run and Kane a second vertical pass.


Kane plays a vertical pass to Eric Dier on the run.

Dier’s composure to take the ball and round the goalkeeper was nothing short of impressive. His finish to wrap up the three points was coolness personified.

West Ham 0 Spurs 1 conclusions

A great result in the Hammers’ Cup Final and Mauricio Pochettino’s first Premier League win over Sam Allardyce in three attempts.

We were being stifled at 11v11 and after the red card to Kyle Naughton. Our vertical passing wasn’t really penetrating through West Ham congesting the midfield.

The problem was one of numbers from both teams in this central area. There was also a disconnect between Nabil Bentaleb and Etienne Capoue at the base and our three advanced midfielders. Bentaleb was supposed to be playing the box-to-box role and never really got forward enough to link the two parts of the team.

That all changed with the second red card and suddenly the Hammers’ box of four players was gone. Space between the lines opened up and Pochettino’s trademark vertical passing style found open men.

Mauricio Pochettino still has work to do, but without a number of our World Cup players, this was an excellent way to start.

Final score: West Ham 0 Spurs 1.

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7 Responses to West Ham 0 Spurs 1: vertical passing beats the box

  1. YouShubes 18th August 2014 at 9:55 pm #

    Getting runners running effectively beyond the forward has affected many a Spurs boss. What do you think Pochetinno will do differently

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th August 2014 at 11:58 am #

      We haven’t had many bosses that preach it as much in their philosophy as Pochettino. He has got the players doing it and as i highlight in the system article about the forwards, Soldado and Kane have been doing it well in pre-season. Ade came back late and only played a few mins against Celtic and 45′ against Schalke. He still looked quite Rusty against West Ham and understandably so. Combine that with the extra man they had in central midfield and we were down to 10 after just 30 mins and i wouldn’t be too concerned overall. It’ll come in time.

  2. Soulchan 19th August 2014 at 3:40 am #

    Been waiting for your article lol

    All I could think while watching the game was name of Schneiderlin. Bentaleb can’t link the ball to forward. I still don’t get why Pochettino pick Bentaleb ahead of Holtby.

    We need box-to-box player defenitely. And I don’t think Dembele or Paulinho is really good at this role really…

    • Frank 19th August 2014 at 11:03 am #

      I agree, Holtby looked the far better option, had a good preseason and did considerably better than Bentaleb when he came on.

      Nabil is a sideways and backwards merchant.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th August 2014 at 12:03 pm #

      Haha, the problem with time zone differences ;)

      I’m not 100% sure why he went with Bentaleb in there, but the only reason i can think of is for a bigger player with more physical presence. Holtby is small and scraps for the ball, whereas as Bentaleb is bigger, stronger and has more power – both aerially and on the ground. This is helpful for corners, set pieces and to deal with crosses, all of which the Hammers are strong at. I certainly don’t expect the Capoue/Bentaleb combination to continue.

  3. Bretto 19th August 2014 at 9:07 am #

    Great article. I was thinking and seeing the same things but the depth and the way you articulate it was much clearer and better than I could hope. I agree with above about Holtby and Bentelab. I thought Bentelab was very pedestrian. He did what he did well but that was because he did not at any stage take any risks with his passing. I also noticed how much running that Holtby did versus Bentelab. At no stage did Bentelab make a run past the centre forward. I counted at least 3 by Holtby.

    I was also disappointed with how little effective pressing there was. I could only reliably pick out 3 of the 12-16 triggers. I thought Holtby and Townsend were very good at pressing when they come on. Granted the other players were tired from 30 minutes of 10 v 11.

    I thought Kane was a lot better than I usually give him credit for. I thought Adebayor tended to linger in the midfield too long versus Kane but my vision is limited by the telecast. Would love to have vision of what the coaches see in their post analysis.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th August 2014 at 12:15 pm #

      Nice post Bretto. Yes I don’t think Bentaleb is a massive risk taker either. On the one hand this is good as he is not going to cost us the game with an error, but on the other it also slows the team down in the attacking phase and doesn’t provide much forward drive.

      Whilst watching the game, I likened the Capoue/Bentaleb axis at the weekend to the Sandro/Livermore one we had in AVB’s first game in charge. Again, this was through not having players available and just didn’t work.

      I’m not overly concerned as its only one game and we have plenty of other midfielders to bring in to the mix once they are up to speed.