Monday, 12 December 2011
Thompson Talks Tactics: Stoke 2 - 1 Spurs (11/12/11)
By Sam Thompson
Two teams competing in the Europa League. One with Woodgate, Palacios, Etherington and Crouch, the other who used to have Woodgate, Palacios, Etherington and Crouch. In the end Stoke were victorious and won 2-1, but here are some of my observations on this Sunday's game...
Jonathan Woodgate at Right Back
Playing against his old team, it was interesting to see Woodgate take his place at right back. Given his lack of pace when up against his direct opponent Gareth Bale, it may just be that having Robert Huth at centre back to deal with the aerial threat of Adebayor led to the decision to play Woodgate at right back.
Tottenham’s attacking six
Tottenham played their best possible midfield and attack today; Parker, Modric, Lennon, Van der Vaart, Bale and Adebayor. There can be no excuses for failing to cut open Stoke’s defence more consistently, despite how well the home side defended.
Stoke’s defensive line
Even within the first ten minutes Stoke played a very deep back line. As soon as possession was given away the Stoke defence immediately dropped to 25-30 yards from their own goal line and sat back. Stoke’s pressing early on was effective, but unusual. With the back four dropping off, the other six players were allowed to attack as high up the pitch as possible. it worked wonders by forcing the Tottenham back four to pump long balls to an isolated Emmanuel Adebayor.
What Tottenham should have been doing was realising the huge gap left for their midfielders. With a deep Stoke back line and the other six players closing high up the pitch, Tottenham’s midfielders had plenty of space to exploit in the middle third of the pitch but were continually ignored.
Modric as playmaker
Just as he did against Rubin Kazan a few months ago in the Europa League, Modric performed his deep role from Midfield. The Croation allowed Van der Vaart to play higher up the pitch and instead operated alongside Parker, creating a typical ‘passer and destroyer’ midfield partnership. Parker is deployed to win the ball back and then play the ball to the creative Modric who is given the role to create attacks and dictate the tempo of Tottenham’s play.
Stoke flood Tottenham’s attackers
As already mentioned, Stoke sitting deep and keeping narrow contributed greatly towards their excellent defensive performance. They stayed compact and deep, resorting Tottenham to getting crowded outside Stoke’s 18 yard box and meaning that Spurs could not counter attack as they would have preferred by playing through balls in behind the Stoke defence. Tottenham’s wingers, and Van der Vaart, played exceptionally high, particularly in the first half (see the diagram below).
They often found themselves 4v4 but were unable to capitalise not only because there was no space behind Stoke’s back four, but because Whitehead and Whelan sat so near to their centre backs that they effectively formed a back six. Despite this there were very few occasions when Parker or Modric made an attacking run from deep into the box, instead both sat around 40 yards out from goal with a good 10-15 yards of space and stayed there for the majority of Spurs attacks.
Tottenham needed to stretch the play
The simple way around the problem of being flooded in central areas was to stretch the play from one side to the other quickly. Instead though, Tottenham were too cautious in getting their full backs in advanced positions to really try and stretch the Stoke backline by attacking out wide in numbers and getting in crosses. Admittedly, Tottenham’s reluctance to attack wide and get balls into the box was because of the height and presence of a team like Stoke, but they needed this type of attacking variation. Instead Stoke were able to sit deep, stay narrow and either intercept loose passes centrally in front of their own 18 yard box or by making blocks when Tottenham resoted to shooting from long range.
Harry goes for 3-5-2
At half-time Harry needed to make changes, and opted for a Napoli-esqu 3-5-2. Bassong, Gallas and Kaboul operated as the back three. Walker and Bale played as extremely attacking wing-backs to the point where they were almost wingers - on at least one occasion Spurs were caught out by this as Walker was left out of position and Stoke attacked in a 4v3 situation in their favour. Modric and Parker operated in their familiar central midfield partnership, with Van der Vaart in a free role behind Adebayor and Defoe. This meant that more often than not when Tottenham attacked it was 3v4, but in addition they had their two wing backs arriving late from deep, which at times caused Stoke all kinds of problems, and meant that for the first time in the game the Stoke defence became stretched.
The match opens up
With the score at 2-1 and an attacking 3-5-2 formation the goal considerably opened up the game and this favoured Tottenham. Stoke, having relied on getting men behind the ball and staying compact found themselves getting caught open too much at the back. Furthermore, with the game being played at a quick tempo Stoke had to feed the ball to Crouch or Walters to run at the Tottenham defence, not something they do naturally. Tottenham were more successful during this period of the match because despite still remaining 4v6 when in attack, the wing backs were able to run from deep creating a 5v6/6v6 situation and were able to find gaps and get onto cleverly placed through balls from the likes of Modric inside the Stoke full backs.
Kaboul the Fool
In the end, Tottenham’s hopes of getting an equaliser were quashed as Younes Kaboul got himself ridiculously sent off. The first booking was for needlessly abusing the referee and his second yellow card came about after Kaboul gave away a needless foul by his own goal line when he needed only to shield his opponent away from goal and hold him up until Tottenham could get more men back. Overall Stoke deserved their win due to their defensive solidarity and Tottenham should rue their wastefulness on possession and going the whole of the first 45 minutes without getting in behind a well organised Stoke back line.