Son Heung-Min and Jose Fonte in action during West Ham 1-0 Spurs in the Premier League at the London Stadium.

West Ham 1-0 Spurs: failure to break the back three

The compact and aggressive nature of the Hammers’ formation gave no end of problems as it finished West Ham 1-0 Spurs at the London Stadium.

Slow, sloppy and stagnant Spurs ran out of ideas against a resolute West Ham side. Slaven Bilic made his team difficult to play through, but also tenacious in their closing down, as it finished West Ham 1-0 Spurs in our Premier League clash.

West Ham’s 5-4-1

Slaven Bilic set his team up to be immensely difficult to play through. There were a number of keys to his side’s defensive system.

Firstly they kept an extremely compact distance from back to front. Often defending from the halfway line, the back three squeezed up to the midfield, making the team difficult to play through.

Secondly, the four midfielders played very close and tight together. Operating in this fashion, they could gang tackle and swarm around the ball if play pondered in the centre.

Thirdly, The three centre backs and four midfielders moved around in tight-knit groups. Depending on the location of the ball, they shifted to that side. The two wingbacks were thus left free to focus on our full backs.

In the image below, Eric Dier has the ball and is encountered by the four midfielders tight together and the three centre backs close behind. The Wingbacks, Aaron Cresswell and Sam Byram, don’t even have their body positions towards the ball. The pair was firmly focussed on waiting for Kyle Walker and Ben Davies, ready to move should the ball go their way.

Crowding the centre with Cresswell and Byram focussed on our FBs during West Ham 1-0 Spurs in the Premier League at the London Stadium.

Crowding centre with Cresswell and Byram focussed on our FBs.

The strategy made West Ham tremendously difficult to play through. The Hammers would set up and defend from halfway, but would also press in moments if our centre backs played a loose pass or were caught facing backwards.

West Ham was also clearly targeting the kicking of Hugo Lloris. Any time the Hammers could rush or close down Hugo with the ball at his feet, they would take the opportunity to test him.

Spurs chance creation

Chances were kept to a minimum by West Ham’s tactics. When opportunities did arise, they came from two methods.

Firstly, longer passes to get the ball quickly on to the West Ham back line. West Ham’s four central midfielders were proving a real hurdle to overcome until we went straight over them.

A long ball from Toby Alderweireld looked for the run of Son Heung-Min in-behind. Son’s cushioned header saw shots for Harry Kane, Dele Alli and then Kane once more. Adrian hung out a leg and managed to deflect the ball over the bar.

Our second, and more prevalent method of chance creation method, was the ball down the sides of the back three. We’d looked in the West Ham vs Spurs match preview at how opponents have had success doing this and Spurs were no different.

A trio of good opportunities presented themselves from hitting the channels between the outside centre back and wingback. Son Heung-Min was the first in to this space as he received a pass from Kyle Walker.

Walker finds Son down the side of the back three during West Ham 1-0 Spurs in the Premier League at the London Stadium.

Walker finds Son down the side of the back three.

Son cut the ball back to Christian Eriksen, but he uncharacteristically snatched at the shot, sensing less time than he really had.

Next it was Son once more. Christian Eriksen returned the favour to put him down the outside of the centre backs.

Son scampers free down the side of the 3 centre backs during West Ham 1-0 Spurs in the Premier League at the London Stadium.

Son scampers free down the side of the 3 centre backs.

Son’s cross shot forced a good save from Adrian, but Kyle Walker on the overlap seemed a better option.

Later in the match and Spurs tried the other flank. Sam Byram hauled Son down and received a yellow card to stop the South Korean’s next foray through the inside channels. Dele Alli then exchanged passes with Vincent Janssen to get himself down the outside of the three centre backs.

Dele Alli gets down the edge of the three centre backs during West Ham 1-0 Spurs in the Premier League at the London Stadium.

Dele Alli gets down the edge of the three centre backs.

Alli’s ball back across the box agonisingly missed Harry Kane who couldn’t escape the attentions of the other two centre backs. It was the story of much of the game as West Ham always seemed to have an extra defender.

West Ham attacking our full backs

The Hammers had been very passive-aggressive with our full backs. In the defensive phase they were only looking to track them once they got the ball for fear of getting caught in sprint races. When in possession, the Hammers looked to attack the spaces that Kyle Walker and Ben Davies had vacated.

West Ham operated a quick strike mentality. As soon as the ball was turned over, they looked to hit the spaces our full backs had left. The ploy saw a number of chances. Jonathan Calleri was twice given offside before Manuel Lanzini showed how it should be done.

Lanzini was found by Andre Ayew, but fired wide when it looked easier to cut the ball back for Calleri to tap in.

Ayew finds Lanzini's run through the vacant full back zone during West Ham 1-0 Spurs in the Premier League at the London Stadium.

Ayew finds Lanzini’s run through the vacant full back zone.

The diminutive Argentinean was then found by Mark Noble’s through pass, but was thwarted by Hugo Lloris rapidly racing from his line.

Noble plays Lanzini in through the vacant full back zone during West Ham 1-0 Spurs in the Premier League at the London Stadium.

Noble plays Lanzini in through the vacant full back zone.

West Ham takes the lead

West Ham then took the lead from this tactic of quickly hitting the spaces left by our full backs. We did not help ourselves by making a catalogue of defensive errors.

West Ham won the ball back in midfield and immediately looked to get it wide to Manuel Lanzini. The Argentinean had space on the left and was joined by Aaron Cresswell to create a 2v1 against Kyle Walker. Whilst this was going on, West Ham had two key players, Calleri and Ayew, in offside positions, but not interfering with play. However, they would benefit later in the move.

Lanzini in space with Ayew and Calleri beyond our back line during West Ham 1-0 Spurs in the Premier League at the London Stadium.

Lanzini in space with Ayew and Calleri beyond our back line.

Lanzini played in Cresswell on the overlap to cross and this is where the errors started. Toby Alderweireld was drawn out to challenge Cresswell, leaving a huge hole in the centre. Son Heung-Min, who was with Lanzini, didn’t track him.

Alderweireld gets drawn out as Son lets Lanzini go during West Ham 1-0 Spurs in the Premier League at the London Stadium.

Alderweireld gets drawn out as Son lets Lanzini go.

The pair then did defensive opposites. Son stood still. Alderweireld, instead of moving in to pick up Lanzini in the six-yard box, went back on to the goal line.

Alderweireld retreats to the goal line while Son stands still during West Ham 1-0 Spurs in the Premier League at the London Stadium.

Alderweireld retreats to the goal line while Son stands still.

The cross came back in from Creswell and the earlier offside Ayew and Calleri both became active. Calleri kept the ball in, potentially via a hand that Eric Dier got caught appealing for, and thus losing his man. Ayew was now in a position to be first to the second ball. Ayew’s shot struck Vertonghen and fell perfectly for Lanzini who had the freedom of the six-yard box.

Toby Alderweireld was powerless to stop Lanzini lashing the loose ball home to make it West Ham 1-0 Spurs and put us firmly in a hole.

Spurs subs

Tinker happy in previous matches, Mauricio Pochettino strangely didn’t tamper with our setup until forced to.

No space to work in meant the Dier-Wanyama partnership in the pivot was not working. However, Mousa Dembele wasn’t brought on until after West Ham had taken the lead.

Pochettino then introduced Vincent Janssen as we went two up top in a desperate search for a goal. Our formation shifted to a 4-4-2 with Christian Eriksen in central midfield alongside Mousa Dembele. Caution was thrown to the wind and gaps were left that almost saw West Ham add a second rather than us score an equaliser.

We ended up firing long balls that played right in to West Ham’s hands. Jose Fonte Winston Reid and James Collins are tough, hands on defenders that enjoy a physical tussle. Pumping long balls towards Kane and Janssen just saw the three centre backs hoover them up.

Kieran Trippier was introduced to provide some service for Kane and Janssen. The right back swung in a couple of decent crosses, but by this time we were running out of ideas and the Hammers back three were first to them.

Time ran out as West Ham almost broke away and scored with our team caught all over the place chasing an equaliser. The frustration of not being able to break down their ultra compact defensive setup had vested itself in the desperation of our play.

West Ham 1-0 Spurs overall

Credit to West Ham for having a game plan. Slaven Bilic set his side up to swarm the centre of the pitch and counter attack in to the areas our full backs vacated. It worked perfectly.

Mauricio Pochettino has been quick to change formations and personnel recently, but he was slow to do that here. The lack of swifter decision-making ended up costing us dearly, as we were a goal down before any alterations.

The word bottle was thrown around a lot following this game. Always likely to finish in second place in this season’s Premier League, Spurs pushed Chelsea longer than any other team. There was no loss of nerve nor throwing the title away from a leading position, just a failure to win a tenth successive game to make Chelsea wait another week.

This style of game was always going to happen. Spurs need a plan to counter negative set ups rather than always steaming ahead with trying to overpower them. Adopting a counter attack approach to draw them out is one option. Playing a 4-4-2 diamond is another. Plenty of food for thought going forward.

Final score: West Ham 1-0 Spurs.



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16 Responses to West Ham 1-0 Spurs: failure to break the back three

  1. West Ham fanatic 8th May 2017 at 7:06 pm #

    This article appeared in the West Ham Newsnow page which is how/why I read it. I must give you credit for a very good analysis of the game and the tactics. It was very clear, everything explained well and it was a very enjoyable read.

    It was also nice to read a fan article that didn’t revert to juvenile tags like spammers, pikeys, spuds & yiddos. They don’t bother me – its just so juvenile.

    Well done Mark.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 8th May 2017 at 11:10 pm #

      Cheers and thanks for reading.

  2. Toby4ev 9th May 2017 at 12:15 am #

    Thanks Mark, very well said – again.

    And the response from the West Ham man speaks volumes.

    Nice touch.

    Fact is that the Hammers have set up very well against us under Bilic in recent games.

    Last season only two teams made us look ordinary in my book.

    Dortmund in the Europa first leg – and West Ham at Upton.

    They destroyed us in the first half of that game and Payet ran riot.

    But that said, there have been some green shoots in our away form this year.

    We have shown that we can be patient and keep coming – albeit mostly against lesser opposition (think Swansea game).

    In the Gaffers defence here, there was only one result we could play for.

    But as you say- another learning opportunity.

    And it’s very true that last year and this we were never really going to win the title.

    Leicester just kept grounding out 1-0 wins when in it mattered last year from the front.

    And although we have been fantastic in applying pressure in winning nine of our last 10 – Chelsea has never looked like imploding and throwing away a 10 point lead.

    Which is difficult for everyone with THFC in their blood – but auto qualifying for CL again was something that every one of us would have taken last October.

    Let’s say good bye to the Lane in style – we have United at precisely the right time after their massive game on Thursday night.

    They have to win that.

    COYS !!!!!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 9th May 2017 at 12:46 pm #

      Well said Toby4eva. There was only one result to play for and once we were behind we ended up losing our shape in trying to go for the win.

      It’s good Man Utd have a big Europa game Thursday and now Jose will be targetting that as a route to get in to Champions League. I’m still concerned we will see very negative tactics once more in an away game from them and we may face a similar ultra defensive set up.

  3. Erik Zen 9th May 2017 at 8:49 am #

    Great analysis as always, though the substance is painful. Still it never looked like we were going to win the league so this had to happen sooner or later. As Toby said, it’s been an incredible season and we’re set to lock in 2nd place, an improvement even on last year.

    What do you reckon the thinking was behind leaving out Mousa? I would’ve thought he’d have been ideal for working through a compact midfield.

    How obnoxious were Conte’s comments that Spurs had been PL favourites because Poch has been there three years? He conveniently forgets their wage bill and years of massive investment. And the power to snap up the best player of last year’s title winning team, while keeping Costa and Hazard on the books. And the lack of European football. But still, those plucky Chelsea underdogs have done it again!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 9th May 2017 at 12:54 pm #

      I’m not sure why Mousa was left out. He may still be suffering from his recent injuries or perhaps it was because Dier and Wanyama did so well against Arsenal? After about 2 minutes it was very apparent we would need someone to break through their midfield four who could dribble with the ball, so i’m not sure why Poch didn’t at least change it at half time.

      Conte has siad a few random things like that. I’m not sure if its just a very poor attempt at mind games or if he really hasn’t paid much attention to his new club’s history and financial clout? Whatever the reason he just comes across as ignorant and increasingly unlikeable. I can’t wait to hear what excuses he comes up with next season when his team is playing in Europe and struggling to to cope with his demanding energy.

  4. Antonyj7 9th May 2017 at 9:07 am #

    Many thanks for your work Mark.

    Time to think about improvements for next season.

    I look forward to reading your analysis of any new additions we make to the squad in due course.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 9th May 2017 at 12:56 pm #

      Thanks Antonyj7. I’m planning on doing some pieces over the summer as well as analysis on new recruits.

  5. Mos 9th May 2017 at 11:27 am #

    Thanks Mark, great analysis although painful to read – Nice to see other fans appreciate your writing as well.

    I agree we where never likely to claw back a 10 point lead but relentlessly chasing was quite enjoyable – such a shame it couldn’t continue – still dreaming of going into the last game of the season with a chance of winning the league (stranger things have happened)

    I was quite surprised to see Dembele on the bench but also feel we missed Rose badly, definitely need an attacking LB to be his understudy. Squad depth is key for next year, we need some match winners off the bench for sure. I can’t comment on mentality but really like the raw talent of Adama Traore even though he seems to get dispossessed after every lung busting run, something Poch would have to work on (might take a while).

    Little worried about next year, It’s going to be a tough season and lets face it, the media will be circling after every bad game. Which brings me to my next point – keeping players.
    This year, like last, I had no worry of any key spurs players wanting to leave aside from possibly Lamela – now it seems like Walker might be on that list but I am comfortable with that. He may be arguably the best RB in the league but that is down to Poch. Pundits seem to regularly comment on our wage structure of late, and whilst I know it doesn’t compare to the 5 teams around us, lets face it, its one of the reasons why we can constantly negotiate new contracts as well as show players the door – for that reason we need to be extremely careful. I’d rather see bi-annual contract re-negotiations or performance based bonuses, as opposed to suddenly doubling our salary cap.

    Looking forward to the final game at WHL, an unbeaten season would be a great way to sign off.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 9th May 2017 at 1:20 pm #

      Great comment Mos. Yes it was always going to be difficult chasing as there is no room for slip ups. The amazing winning run we went on is testament to how good our team can be. It also serves notice for next season when all the other challengers will be in Europe. Hopefully we’ll be competing against rivals that are also playing twice a week.

      I think an understudy for Rose is key this summer and i’ve spoken about getting Ryan Sessegnon or Ben Chilwell regularly on here before. Either one of those two would be a nice addition. Davies has done extremely well and improved with a run in the team, but we do miss Rose’s attacking thrusts, which he simply can’t replicate.

      All the rumours surrounding our players I think is a compliment to just how much we’ve improved. I think the media are just trying to unsettle a number of them and a lot of the stories are fabricated. I’m yet to see any direct quotes and most of it appears to be hearsay.

      We’ll see what happens, but the one thing that constantly comes up is what we are building. Whenever i see or hear one of our players interviewed they always speak about what we are “building” at Spurs and how much they want to be a part of it. How exciting the project is and how they couldn’t say no to it. Wanyama was the latest and he said he didn’t have to think twice once he knew we were interested. Poch, of course, is central to that, but all the squad seem to be excited about what we are doing both on and off the pitch. I think we are a very enticing place to be right now and that would be very appealing and might give us leverage over bigger paying clubs when going in for players this summer.

      I think Levy will need to revisit the wage structure but i believe that will be after the stadium is completed and we start to see additional revenue.

  6. YouShubes 9th May 2017 at 11:34 am #

    Like Anthony I would be interested in seeing who you would to see us bring in the vein of someone like player X that fits in with what we have but can give us a different dimension.

    I felt we did not move the ball around quickly enough bit that it would have mattered as soon as we had the ball West Ham had their low block perfectly set up.

    As Chelsea showed against Barca a well organised line defending a lead can be hard to breach if set up well.

    This has been a brilliant season and if we achieve 80 plus points this is a total that has made champions in the past.

    We gave learned to cope without Harry, Toby, Danny, Lamela and most importantly Dembele…this has cost us points but will serve us well for next season.

    We have blooded another youngster into the squad and possibly into the side.

    We have many reasons to be happy

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 9th May 2017 at 1:26 pm #

      Yes this has been a fantastic season. Who would’ve thought that even three years ago we’d been talking about Spurs in the title race during the run in two seasons in a row? We do need to restock over the summer as others won’t stand still. Man City and Man United are going to spend big with plenty of incomings and outgoings and they are going to be the two most dangerous teams in the market.

      • Mos 9th May 2017 at 2:59 pm #

        In my opinion retaining players is more important then spending.

        Lets face it, the quality of the league has slowly dropped, Eden Hazard is the most likely to move to one of the European Giants and his League Goals/Assists are less than Sanchez (who Barca no longer needed) and Alli who is still developing.

        Man City will probably be the most dangerous in how much they can improve – they are unlikely to lose key players and Sane/KDB/Jesus have so much more to give. Buying in a few fullbacks and a GK will virtually complete their squad on paper.

        Man United will likely spend the most but if they need to replace an aging Zlatan as well as Carrick (wouldn’t mind having him back at Spurs for experience alone) + defenders they have a lot of work to do. Hopefully the rumours around Bale aren’t true.

        Liverpool I expect will have a good budget, with Champs League they will probably pull in a few good players, but they have issues in a number of positions GK/RB/CF

        Arsenal will probably lose Ozil and Sanchez, replacing the pair whilst trying to find a striker that they have been craving will be virtually impossible.

        Chelsea is very dependent on Hazard leaving, if he does go I don’t know who they will replace him with. But Costa looks like hes already packed, I don’t see Lukaku as his natural replacement, and a tweak in style will be needed to make the most of him should they get him – don’t get me wrong I think Conte will adjust accordingly.

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 10th May 2017 at 1:05 am #

          Some good points Mos. We do have to retain players, as we have some vital pieces of the jigsaw already in place and these must be kept. History also shows us that if you stand still in this league then you slip backwards. The others in top six certainly will be re-tooling. Levy won’t go crazy with the stadium to fund, but we will need to make additions to the squad. As you highlight the other teams are going to strengthen and we must do that too. It’s about finding a balance between the number of players brought in and keeping a harmonious, focussed and together squad for me.

  7. Daudi 9th May 2017 at 6:41 pm #

    A combination of soggy weather and an expired subscription at the pub I frequent meant I couldn’t watch the game, but the hurt I felt was as any other Spur out there. It was going to be a tough game this one. I don’t know which I dislike most, that Matic goal ( sorry guys for going back there) or this Westham game…

    Next season should be the next step, meaning any trophy,( Wembley allowing) hope its not too big an ask, but am starting to crave for something, but I can just about wait for a bit longer…

    Keep it up Mark

    And COYS!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 10th May 2017 at 12:59 am #

      Next season is a huge one as we do have to win something. It’ll get the media off our backs of being this beautiful team to watch, but not backing it up with silverware. It’ll also satisfy the desire of the players to win something and may stop any feelings of doubt creeping in that could result in some leaving. It’ll be made much tougher to achieve by being at Wembley though and that could scupper much of our momentum!