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