Some thoughts on the Champions League Final

This proved to be a rather cathartic experience for me as this was the first time I’ve watched the game since that fateful evening. Even at the time, the emotion and the setting made it very hard to objectively analyse the game so I thought, ahead of the Super Cup game which sees Liverpool take on Chelsea, I’d look into just why it isn’t us playing tonight.

Spurs failed to adapt to the occasion and in the opening seconds, they let the emotion of the night get the better of them. After Matip’s long ball forward, many Spurs players failed to take control of the ball, instead favoring to keep clearing the ball forward. Sissoko had an opportunity to let the ball run through to Alderweireld but instead hoofed it forward and Kane failed to protect the ball against Van Dijk allowing the defender to head the ball down for Gini just to provide a couple examples.

This had the obvious consequence of stretching our defensive shape and in response, players like Sissoko (highlighted in white) were slow to support the rest of midfield in key situations (such as the 2v1 against Winks, highlighted in red).

Poor Sissoko positioning opening minute

Against one of the very best teams in the offensive transition, Tottenham really couldn’t afford to play on Liverpool’s chaotic tempo and they indeed suffered for it. From this 2v1, Henderson was able to receive the ball in space and play the ball forward for Mane to run onto. Again serving only to unbalance our recovering defense, Liverpool easily made it into the final third and from the confusion, Sissoko made a horrendous error.

what is he pointing at

What was he pointing at? I just don’t know but perhaps indicates the anxieties some of the players were feeling only 20 seconds into the game.

Inherently however, there is little wrong with this picture. Whilst Liverpool have easily made it into our final third, our back four and midfield have recovered at speed and slowed the attack with no easy option open for Mane to play to. It was just a mix of stupidity and luck that Mane’s resulting cross happened to hit Sissoko’s outstretched arm for the resulting penalty.

Spurs could even consider themselves unfortunate for even conceding the eventual penalty. Lloris had been in outstanding form throughout the season for saving penalties, having made saves against Jamie Vardy, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sergio Aguero in intense situations. Lloris and our staff have clearly done an amazing job of preparing our keepers for the penalties they may face and, on this occasion, Lloris even dived the right way again!

penalty save

The only issue was just how hard Salah was able to hit his shot whilst keeping it within the frames of the goal. Whilst Salah eventually hit his shot at a reasonably easy height for the goalkeeper, in Lloris’ efforts to beat the ball to the corner, the ball past the Frenchmen at such speed, he just couldn’t adjust his hands in time before the ball had past him into the net.

This combination of mistakes were all easily avoidable yet you just can’t account for them in the buildup to the game. At 1 minute and 47 seconds, Spurs were 0-1 down in the final and predominantly because not enough effort was made to take the sting out of Liverpool’s early frenzy. In the most demanding of situations, Liverpool had already succeeded in demonstrating the edge they had over this wounded and inexperienced Spurs side.

It’s a real shame as well, as almost instantly after the goal, Spurs begun to show their composure and the structure with which they would use to play around the Liverpool press.

buildup to escape pool pressure

Recognizing how Liverpool often use Salah and Mane to press the opposition’s CBs from the line of the FBs, Trippier and Rose were used to stretch the buildup as wide and early as possible. This would give Jan, Toby and Lloris more space to play around Mane and Salah as well as provide potential outlets which would be vital.

In situations such as this, Eriksen and Winks showed just how pivotal they would be to any result Spurs may get out of this game, both willing to receive the ball in the deepest of areas. This would serve to help Spurs play around Liverpool’s press and open up potential opportunities to attack an unbalance Liverpool defense.

buildup to escape pool pressure 2

Eriksen (highlighted in white) exploits the space behind the first line of Liverpool pressure and allows the ball to be transferred back into the centre of the pitch where he has the room to turn on the ball and potentially launch an attack. This kind of support provided by our midfield conditioned many of Liverpool’s offense to press even higher and risk stretching their defensive shape (as highlighted in red by how many ‘Pool players are now behind the ball).

buildup to escape pool pressure 3

From the resulting play, this opened up the opportunity for Spurs to progress up the pitch with Danny Rose offering the outlet on the far side of the field for Alderweireld. Had the ball been played in front of Rose, Spurs could’ve launched a dangerous attack down the left side against the young Alexander-Arnold with Son also stretching the play on this side of the field as well as Alli (highlighted in white) already shifting over in anticipation of the attack (and consequently getting space away from Fabinho). As it wasn’t, Henderson was afforded the time to recover and track Rose, thus slowing the attack and forcing it backwards however it did provide some early encouragement for the Spurs players that they were prepared to play through the Liverpool press.

This composed buildup against Liverpool’s high press even opened up some chances of real quality for Spurs. Van Dijk and Kane stuck to each other like glue in many of these instances and on the occasion when Kane was able to hold off the giant Dutchmen, this opened up large gaps for Son and Alli to run into behind the ‘Pool defense.

benefits of spurs' buildup

Like a lot of Spurs’ play on the night however, the final ball always lacked ruthlessness and cutting edge and the major difference between the two teams was the ability to truly punish the other for their mistakes.

Considering Liverpool’s strength at defending the centre of the pitch, Spurs had a key game plan to target Liverpool’s right-hand side in offense. Despite Son’s pre-match positioning as a ST alongside Kane at the top of a diamond, Poch used Son to keep the play stretched on the left-hand side. Son was used to occupy the younger Trent Alexander-Arnold whilst Rose and Alli frequently positioned themselves to make runs off balls played into Son, often from Alderweireld.

Left side focus

Often once Spurs had played around the Liverpool pressure and reached the hallway line, Alderweireld would attempt several long balls over to the left wing. This was done to play over Liverpool’s staunch midfield defense as well as target a potential weak spot in Klopp’s side, where Salah’s high positioning and Trent’s frailties could perhaps be exploited.

Left side focus heatmap

Spurs’ heatmap from the game also highlights Spur’s plan to target Liverpool’s right-hand side.

Left side focus 2

Spurs never set up to play through midfield past the halfway line as they knew Liverpool were just too strong in this area, especially for the likes of Winks and Sissoko to play in. For this reason, Son kept the play stretched on the left with Rose to potentially create an overload on this side but also to open up spaces amongst the Liverpool back four which any one of Kane, Alli or Eriksen could exploit themselves.

Liverpool likewise had little desire to play through the midfield third, preferring to skip the midfield entirely in favor of long balls over the top of our defense. From their goal kicks, Alisson, Van Dijk, Matip and Fabinho preferred to circulate the ball between each other until reaching a point higher up the pitch where they could launch a ball over for Mane or Salah to latch onto. The positioning of ‘Pool’s CMs was often high and far away from the CBs in anticipation of the incoming long ball where they would be in an appropriate position to support the attack and counter-press when necessary.

Pool buildup

It proved to be an easy way for Liverpool to gain yardage up the field and limit Spurs’ control over the game due to the proficiency of their counter-press. The positioning of Liverpool’s high CMs left our frontline uncomfortable with pressing the ball in these scenarios although it would’ve perhaps served Spurs better had they committed to a more fearsome Liverpool-esque press.

Liverpool also used their corners to limit Spurs’ counter-attacking opportunities. By flooding our six yard box with players, not only did Liverpool try to bully Lloris into fluffing his clearances but it also drew so many Spurs players into the deepest of positions where they were never likely to be able to counter from.

liverpools corner control

Spurs’ only hope of crafting a counter-attacking opportunity from a clearance is these two highlighted players.

Likewise, Spurs didn’t help themselves with their corner setup and it’s something that has always bugged me about Pochettino and his side. Pochettino adopts a hybrid zonal and man-marking system from corners with the majority of the team man-marking whilst a selection of the smaller players alongside Kane are placed zonally along the six-yard area. A common feature for Poch has always been to place Kane in the centre, adjacent to Lloris and then to place the smaller players at the near post.

poor corner setup

In the above example (the corner that setup Origi for the 2nd goal of the game) it’s Trippier and Son who find themselves guarding the front post. What’s wrong with this is that the priority when defending any set piece is to first and foremost clear the first ball in. This is made infinitely harder when the players positioned at the near post (and thus most likely to encounter the first ball in) are the smaller, less aerially capable players. In the above scenario, Trippier and Son both indeed missed the opportunity to clear the first ball as the ball whistled just over their heads and from the ensuing skirmish, Origi was able to receive the ball and score to kill off the game.

When placing players zonally, it’s always recommended to position your best headers of the ball towards the near post to give your team the best chance of clearing the first ball in. It also serves to best block the view any players at the far post may have of the ball coming in as well as offer a good guideline for the goalkeeper that since the ball was served in so high as to miss these players at the near post, that it’s a good time to step off the goal line and attempt to claim the ball as they’ll have the advantage here.

Aside from that, it’s extremely difficult to criticize this Spurs side and their performance in the final. Firstly, because for all intents and purposes, this overworked and diminished side should never have made it to the final in the first place. Miracle results against Manchester City and Ajax gave us the chance to dream however and Pochettino’s side (as well as Klopp’s) played like winners. Both sides put immense pressure on the opposition and played with plenty of attackers frequently positioned between the opposition’s midfield and defense and there wasn’t a lot either side could do to stop the other from frequently breaking into the final third.

It’s also hard to criticize a side that ultimately outshot the eventual champions as well as, for one reason or another, failing to convert the following opportunities into goals or even efforts on goal.

 

It was a simple case of this final game proving to be just a step too far for this plucky side and despite the result, a lot of Spurs fans can still look back on last year’s campaign and performances with great pride.

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Some thoughts on the Champions League Final

Some thoughts on Spurs 3-1 Aston Villa

Not too much needs to be addressed in this game, besides Ndombele, Spurs started the game with an XI that would struggle in many circumstances. Without the movement of Son and Alli in attack and the creative prowess of Eriksen and Lo Celso in midfield, Spurs struggled to find a cutting edge in the final third.

Inherently, however, nothing was wrong with the setup. Pochettino continued in the 4-3-1-2 (or diamond) formation that served us admirably for the majority of last season and it served to apply pressure on a Villa side that had little intention of taking any initiative (especially after some sloppy defending handed them a 0-1 lead to hold onto).

deep villa

Villa sat DEEP. A compact 4-5-1 shape positioned within and on the edge of their penalty area handed Spurs consistent access into dangerous areas. In the above example, Spurs find themselves in a potentially profitable situation. Any long-range shooter such as Eriksen or Son would have the space to unleash an effort on goal however it’s KWP with the ball. Spurs could’ve made even more of this opportunity had Sissoko taken up a wider position in order to subsequently stretch the Villa back four and open up spaces between the CBs however Poch would adjust this later on.

Rose and KWP seemed to be playing more conservatively than necessary, perhaps under instruction from Poch because, in the 2nd half, Spurs switched to a conventional 4-4-2.

4-4-2

This change didn’t achieve much. Sissoko and Lamela are rather uninspiring wide men and for the most part, their positioning wasn’t wide enough to truly stretch the Villa defense nor narrow enough to allow for the overlap of the FBs. This also took Lamela and Sissoko out of the central areas which weakened our counter-press and left the centre occupied by Moura, who appeared off the pace.

Eriksen’s introduction was always going to prove pivotal toward the final result of the game as Spurs switched to Poch’s traditional 4-2-3-1. No matter what anyone says, the evidence has always been there that Eriksen is one of our most mobile attackers and his movement off the ball added fluidity to our possession and real tempo back into our counter-press. The 4-2-3-1 also opened up the option for the likes of Lamela and Moura to drift central and wide when necessary which allowed Rose and KWP to advance forward more regularly and pin Villa into a back 6.

villa back 6

Pinning Villa in this fashion created more dangerous opportunities for Spurs to play in behind as well as afford the likes of Eriksen more space in front of the defensive shape to start turning the screws. From this pressure, Spurs were able to win a number of corners and free-kicks which led to the creation of more shooting opportunities as well as our equaliser.

4-2-3-1

With Villa pinned into this back 6, this also left them much slower to counter-attack which allowed Lamela to win the ball from Grealish on the edge of his area which led to the creation for Kane’s first to make it 2-1.

From there it was elementary, with Villa now opening themselves up with their motivation to protect a lead gone, Spurs were able to break on a number of occasions in the final 5 minutes. Sissoko managing to do so on one particular opportunity before feeding the ball to Kane to stroke home for his 2nd and our 3rd of the game.

A solid win for Spurs which highlighted just how important Eriksen has been to this side over the last 5 seasons. The hope is for now, however, that once Ndombele and Lo Celso start firing in a side that also includes Son and Alli, Eriksen’s influence needn’t be so big. It would also mean we see less of Sissoko from the start of games, whose ball-carrying ability would be much more impactful coming off the bench against a side we’re already 2 or 3-0 up on.

I still believe we need to do all we can to pin Eriksen down to a new contract but after our summer transfers, his departure no longer carries the same devastating potential it once did. I also have no fears concerning the odd Vertonghen situation from the weekend, though again, I’d like to start seeing some more contract extensions handed out.

Some thoughts on Spurs 3-1 Aston Villa

A Filthy Casual’s WrestleMania 35 Review

This is the opinion of a filthy casual. I always keep up to date with WWE’s product, mostly for sentimental reasons as I haven’t actively enjoyed the product for nearly 10 years now and Wrestlemania season always gets my creative juices flowing as it should be the culmination of a year’s worth of storylines. Thus, this year I decided to write up a “little” review of the event so I could share my opinion on a number of things I’m perhaps ignorant to these days and ultimately, enhance my own Wrestlemania experience.

The night opened with the Cruiserweight Championship match between Buddy Murphy and Tony Nese. As a filthy casual I know very little about the stars in WWE’s Cruiserweight division and without knowing the story between these two or who even was the “face” or “heel” I was excited to see what they’d portray in the ring. It was an entertaining enough match however it always hurts me a little to see someone kick out after being hit with a 450 splash as it appears this “high-risk” maneuver doesn’t earn much reward these days. Tony Nese who I believed to be the face went over and WWE crowned their first new champion of the night. I would’ve perhaps liked to see more of an exhibitionist match at ‘Mania for their Cruiserweights but perhaps that offence doesn’t necessarily match the persona of these characters. It’s just that, with every other main carder busting out 450’s and now 630’s, it waters down the appeal of the cruiserweights for me so I’d have liked to have seen something that compels me to follow up on these guys. Perhaps the cruiserweight division just doesn’t have a place anymore on the modern card.

The second match on the pre-show was the Women’s Battle Royal which was a real shame as there were several women involved in this match who deserved to be on the main card, most notably, Asuka. It was also a real shame that there was nothing on the line in this match except a random trophy. It could’ve at least meant something like a title opportunity down the line considering Asuka never got her rematch against Charlotte for the Smackdown title. The match itself started brightly with a cool introduction for Nikki Cross’ manic character and Ember Moon was on fire early busting out a few variants for her awesome finisher, the “Eclipse”. Kairi Sane also got a chance to show off her awesome elbow drop and for the opening period, the Riott Squad were looking awesome, eliminating several competitors with ease. Just as you were beginning to buy into the match, it was Dana Brooke of all people who single-handedly eliminated two thirds of the Riott Squad, just to botch her own elimination moments later. From here the match just disappointed in my opinion as this match really should’ve been a given for Asuka to win. This is the Empress of Tomorrow who went on a Goldberg-esque run at the start of her WWE career, who won the first Woman’s Royal Rumble and who just lost the Smackdown Women’s title and she had no high spots within the match and wasn’t even the last eliminated. After a promising start to the match with several women making the most of their spotlight, the match ended under questionable booking with no one women looking to really have come off looking better. Sarah Logan didn’t look better for eliminating Asuka as she came off looking like an afterthought and Carmella didn’t look better after winning the match due to the sneaky way she won it, as a “face”. No women came out of this looking credible for a title challenge or a spot in the main event.

Next up was the Raw Tag Team Title match between the Revival and the reunited Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder. This was an enjoyable match and I was glad it was on the pre-show as it gave these teams the chance to tell a good story. The Revival and the commentary really played off Hawkins’ losing streak and it had you rooting for the former Edgeheads throughout the match. The Revival did a great job of isolating Ryder and with the story that was being told in the ring, the match didn’t need any high spots. It just needed that “hot tag” and the payoff at the end with Curt managing to roll up Dawson out of nowhere and end his losing streak whilst simultaneously capturing tag team gold for him an Ryder for the first time in over a decade and have his “Wrestlemania moment”. I don’t think the Revival came off looking bad but this would only be the case if they don’t end up recapturing the gold within the next month.

For the final bout of the pre-show, 28 men and two random Saturday Night Live hosts crowded the ring for the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. I’m also glad this match was on the pre-show as it certainly wasn’t worth paying for. The questionable mentality of the other 29 superstars to not gang up on Strowman straight away meant he could pick them off one by one until he was left with the two cowering SNL hosts who he eliminated with ease after we had to sit through the unfunny therapist sketch. As a casual viewer, I’m again scratching my head as to what the idea is with Braun Stowman. Why is this monster wasting time on the pre-show when he’s credible enough to take out anyone on the main roster? Why do other superstars ignore him at the start of the battle royal? Is he not the biggest threat by a country mile? I guess not.

And so began the main card after an introduction from our host, Alexa Bliss, who gave us our yearly dose of Hulkamania which was worthwhile only to see Paul Heyman storm down to the ring to the tune of, “I am a real American”. The advocate condemned his client not being handed the main event and so inserted himself and his client into the opening match of the show which was a great piece of storytelling and really fit into these two characters. Brock proceeded to destroy Seth Rollins before even allowing him into the ring, tossing him around like a rag doll and not allowing him to get any offence in. As the match started, Rollins found the opportunity early on to hit the Beast with a low blow and seize control of the match before dispatching the champion with three consecutive curb stomps to steal the title. It was a pleasing result no doubt, to finally see Brock relieved of the title however I wasn’t entirely sold by the execution. The time these guys were given didn’t really give Rollins the chance to sell the F-5 on the outside and Lesnar’s pre-match attack told the story of a champion who feared his challenger which was again something I didn’t buy due to the buildup to the match. There was also the issue of the finish as even though Rollins had hit Brock with three consecutive curb stomps, I still wasn’t expecting the 1, 2, 3. At previous ‘Mania’s, we’ve seen Brock get up after several Tombstones, a Jackhammer and approximately 100 collective spears between Reigns and Goldberg. After succumbing to three curb stomps within 5 minutes I wasn’t sure as to see Rollins as a “Beast-slayer” or just change my perception on guys like Goldberg and Reigns and thus see them as weaker challengers. I would’ve much preferred to see the Architect use his speed and tact to use Lesnar’s hotheadedness against him but I suppose that would’ve required more time than they were given.

Next up was Randy Orton vs AJ Styles in an entertaining affair with another good story being told throughout the match. AJ having to change flight plans mid-maneuverer several times to avoid the devastating RKO which he’d previously failed to kick out from. During the match, Randy managed to land his finisher however this time, AJ managed to kick out and through Orton’s attempt to hit the move from the top turnbuckle, AJ was able to take back control of the match and hit the Phenomenal Forearm for the finish and the win, arguably setting the two up for a #1 contenders match for the WWE championship further down the line.

What followed was the Smackdown Tag Team Title Fatal Four Way Match which was another entertaining affair from the blue brand. The match was worthy of a place on the main card for the spot alone featuring the Cesaro Swing to the tune of roughly forty beats of the Bodhran from Sheamus. The chemistry between Cesaro and Sheamus is undeniable and I can’t stress enough just how much we should enjoy “the Bar” for as long as they’re a team and I’d love to see them and the Uso’s take the tag titles to new heights. With the added flair of the new team of Ricochet and Alastair Black, you’d hope to see these teams given the chance to play out this contest in more gimmick settings. Perhaps even a ladder match down the line harkening back to the original triangle ladder matches between the Dudleys, Hardyz and Edge and Christian 20 years ago. The fatal-four way tag match was good to see again and it was played off well as we saw everyone receive their own kick to the skull in order to clear the ring for the finish which saw the Uso’s retain.

After the interlude recapping the preceding night’s Hall of Fame ceremony, the Miz and Shane McMahon brought an end to the string of entertaining affairs. This thrown together “personal” rivalry didn’t portray the animosity we were supposed to believe existed between the pair. First off, with such hatred shared between the two superstars, why are they both letting the other superstar have their own entrance? Why are they both waiting to get their hands on each other? If I’m supposed to believe the Miz is ready to tear Shane apart for assaulting his father, why is the Miz sitting in the back whilst Shane brags about being “the Best in the World” and ultimately having THREE entrances so to speak. The “Best in the World” gimmick for Shane is also rather lame as if this was the case, he’d be challenging for the World Title but instead he’s wasting time with someone who hasn’t held the World Title for 8 years. The match itself was rather forgettable as Miz was inexplicably trying to pin Shane multiple times as opposed to beating the living daylights out of him. As with any Shane O’Mac match we were just waiting for them to climb to a high point before throwing themselves off some scaffolding onto a clearly padded platform and whilst it was a relief to not see the near 50 year old father throw himself onto a harder platform, could we perhaps have seen some sparks or something upon impact? Just anything to hide the obvious padding they fell onto? Perhaps not with where the crowd was located but ultimately the finish just didn’t pay off the way you hoped it would, especially with Shane picking up the cheap win via landing on top of the Miz on account of the maneuver the Miz used to throw Shane off the scaffolding. For me, it’s a lame rivalry to get Shane his ‘Mania match and I’m concerned the Miz didn’t come out with the clean win as now he doesn’t even look suitable to challenge for the US title.

Finally past the half way point of the show… (I know right) … it was time for the first ever ‘Mania match featuring the newly created Women’s Tag Team Titles. Another acceptable enough match although soured a little for some timing issues between the performers but the team of Natalya and the returning Beth Phoenix looked good paying tribute to the Hart Foundation. The match also ended with the rightful winners in my opinion as the Iiconics stole the victory from the aforementioned team to capture the tag titles. The Iiconics now can nail down their spot as the biggest heel team within the company which they’ve always had the potential to do so it will be interesting to see how they’re booked following this big win.

The next match had perhaps the most questionable placement on the card of any other as with still over six matches to be featured, now came the defense of the WWE Championship and the culmination of Kofi Kingston’s journey to Wrestlemaina. This meant the WWE Championship had a lower ranking on the card than the US and the Intercontinental match. Now whilst I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that a title’s importance is reflected in it’s placing on the card (as seen with the Universal title opening the show) you can’t sandwich this match in amongst all the others surely? Why is Kofi’s big moment and the company’s most historic title being treated as a mid-card affair? I get that this is perhaps one of the only matches on the card you want to guarantee a hot crowd for and you don’t want to risk leaving it too late on before feeding it to a burnt-out crowd but come on! Looking at the matches that would follow this bout and considering the story being told, surely you trust the performers in this match to elicit the reaction from the crowd late on in the night? Or perhaps it was a case of knowing that this match would achieve one of the biggest reactions of the night and thus didn’t want to place it too close to the main event for fear of it affecting the response that match received. Either way, I don’t think they are justifiable reasons for sandwiching this match and this angle halfway into the night. This placement also rankles because of the previous disrespect shown to the WWE Title in my opinion as every other champion seemingly has their own design for the belt and thus tosses the original in the trash.

The match itself was a fitting reflection of the of the character and heart that Kofi had showed in order to create the match in the first place and ultimately convinced me that Kofi deserved his spot at the top of the tree. I was previously concerned that Kofi just didn’t have the credibility or the move-set to cement his place as the champion however the image of Kofi continuously getting back up after all those vindictive kicks from Daniel Bryan really had me rooting for the Ghanaian-American. The crowd really bought into the match like they had the whole angle leading up to the bout and after Xavier Woods and Big E had dispatched Erik Rowan on the outside, all that was left was for Kofi to hit Bryan with Trouble in Paradise to capture the gold. As the title now effectively belongs to the New Day, this opens some interesting angles for the stable and the belt and could potentially be the beginning of the end for the trio.

To give the chance for the crowd to simmer down after Kofi’s big win, Samoa Joe would defend his US title against Rey Mysterio who we knew had picked up an injury in the week building up to the match. With so many matches on the card and knowing about Rey’s injury, there was very little surprise to see this contest last barely a minute as Joe choked out the luchador shortly after being caught by the 619 to retain his title.

To kick off the final quarter, Roman Reigns was out to settle his feud with the fearsome Drew McIntyre in another match that didn’t really portray any real animosity between the two as they both tried to score cheap pins throughout the contest as well as allow the other an uninterrupted entrance. The contest itself was forgettable as Roman made the comeback late on in the match and scored the clean pin on McIntyre which again derailed his push so Roman could have his “feel-good” moment. This was disappointing as really, you could’ve given Roman his comeback moment as well as maintain McIntyre’s push by ending the match with a double count out or double DQ as both competitors beat the hell out of each other. This would’ve kept McIntyre looking like a strong heel and you could’ve had Roman spear him off the stage or table after the match for his comeback moment which also could’ve also furthered their feud.

Then came Elias’ live musical performance which was interrupted by the returning John Cena in his old Doctor of Thuganomics persona for an entertaining angle. The only disheartening feature of the encounter was that for the second ‘Mania in a row, Cena ended up kicking Elias’ ass in another non-match and you’d hope that by this time next year, WWE would’ve worked out a better use for the Elias character. It also confirmed that Cena wasn’t going to turn out to be Angle’s last opponent in his farewell match.

It was now time to play the Game. Batista’s return to enable another match for Triple H at Wrestlemania gave everyone involved what they wanted… except for the fans. Triple H again stole the spotlight with his Mad Max inspired entrance and by having the longest match of the night clocking in at 24 minutes and 45 seconds. Everyone watching knew that Triple H wasn’t going to lose and I doubt many cared even if he did lose. At this point, there must be many people getting tired of Triple H’s over gratuitous Mania matches and so any near falls in the match are hardly met with any genuine disbelief or response. The match didn’t justify it’s lengthy run time and the “carnage” caused by these two men was fairly limited due to their age and respective careers. In the end, Triple H won after hitting an Achilles-esque sledgehammer shot which I’m sure was fun for the Game but not for anyone else and he lives to fight at next years ‘Mania…. Hooray.

Kurt Angle was here to say goodbye next and we were all saddened to realise he really was facing Corbin to end his time as an in-ring performer. Kurt gave as good as he could at his age and the missed moonsault at the end allowed Corbin to pick up the win and the heat from the crowd inside the Met Life Stadium. The win only served to garner Corbin further heat from the crowd but didn’t make him look any better and only proved that he wasn’t a worthy final opponent for the Olympic gold medalist. The farewell left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth and so we all grouped together to forget about it by singing along to Kurt’s theme song as he exited the arena and left behind a wonderful and memorable career.

As our eyes grew heavy, it was time for the penultimate match of the evening as the Demon persona of Finn Balor recaptured the intercontinental title from Bobby Lashley in another forgettable affair. The only question this match raised was why Finn doesn’t always compete in his Demon persona as he is yet to lose as this character who really doesn’t have a backstory. Perhaps I’m just uneducated on the topic but nothing about Finn’s general persona indicates that he possesses this “Demon” inside of him and why he can seemingly turn it on and off like a tap.

Finally… and I mean finally… after seven hours and 15 matches, we have come to the main event of the evening. This was the first time the main event of Wrestlemania would be competed by the Women’s division and with both the Smackdown and Raw Women’s Titles on the line, Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch would face off in a triple threat match. Charlotte dominated various periods of the match and for the most part came off as looking like the most deserving of the victory before Ronda and Becky hip-tossed her through a table to eliminate her from the proceedings. Upon Rousey hoisting Lynch onto her shoulders, Lynch was able to shift her weight and pin Ronda’s shoulders to the mat for the 1, 2, 3! The finish was a little botched yes but that wasn’t the point of the affair. Becky Lynch cemented her place in the history books as the first woman to close out the main event of Wrestlemania as the undisputed Women’s Champion. Personally, I would’ve liked to see her submit Rousey for the win but I suppose they want to ensure all women look as strong as possible which perhaps wouldn’t matter as I believe Ronda is now set to take some time off but whatever!

It was a historic Wrestlemania yet one that ultimately didn’t provide us with many “moments”. Outside of the victories for Lynch and Kingston, I will most likely forget about all the other bouts by the end of the month. The length of the show as well as the sheer multitude of matches meant it was very easy to forget about contests that had occurred even earlier in the night. Many of the matches themselves also didn’t help their cause although I suppose many were limited by the time they were given and by what they were cleared to do. The hardcore spots seemed reserved for the part timers and apart from Triple H, Batista and Shane, it seemed no one else had the influence in the company to command a ladder match or the usage of any weapons which hindered a lot of the stories on show.

The takeaway from this show was clearly that the women deserve their spot at the top of the card and that if the men are to take back their spot, then they really need to up their game. Another takeaway is that seven hours and 16 matches is clearly too much, even for ‘Mania. The congested and exhausting schedule fatigued the crowd and limited the performers, especially when Triple H continues to steal half an hour of the spotlight. As this also was the first Wrestlemania to not feature the Undertaker in nearly 20 years, you’d have hoped that WWE could have put on a more unforgettable and exciting affair so as to make sure the Deadman wouldn’t be missed.

Ultimately it felt like a very safe affair which resulted in an underwhelming show and hopefully WWE can sort out their storylines for next years Wrestlemania quite a bit before the four weeks leading up to the event this time around.

A Filthy Casual’s WrestleMania 35 Review

Tonight – A review

Joyous feelings this evening as Tottenham ended Chelsea’s unbeaten run in the Premier League by a score of three to one. A result befitting the night that Alli and Eriksen returned to the starting lineup, seemingly exterminating all previous injury concerns in ruthless fashion. The pair toyed with the Blues throughout the game, exposing the soft spot of the opposition spine in the same way Zuniga did of Neymar’s many moons ago during one South American World Cup skirmish.

Enjoying the spectacle of an elite side being taught a lesson in football, the neutral is struck by the influence of the Danish maestro in games such as these. Nicknamed as such by his teammates, Eriksen galvanised a Tottenham side that has had to stumble over the finishing line in previous weeks, his creativity now liberating the likes of Son, Alli and Kane from creative demands. His passing and movement dictated the flow of the Lilywhite’s offense and it was his imagination and delivery that earned the midfielder two assists on a night he could’ve had three had it not been for Kepa the keeper. As the water that flows provides life, Eriksen hydrated Spurs’ possession to the point of a tidal wave, overwhelming all before it on this dark winter evening at Wembley.

Pressing the Chelsea backline in a familiar 4-3-1-2 shape, Spurs advanced on the opposition CBs with a three-pronged attack of Kane, Alli and Son. The defensive unit blighted any clean supply into the feet of Jorginho, mirroring the approach of Marco Silva’s Everton a fortnight prior. Alli and Son regularly exchanged roles in marking the Brazilian-turned-Italian and exploring the space behind the advancing oppposition FBs upon a turnover. Son in particular mastered the directions of his manager, incessently chasing down the channel balls, exploiting the space left behind by Alonso and Azpilicueta, his pace and trickery creating chance after chance before the Korean, finally, put the game to bed in the seocnd half. On an occasion when none would have been surprised had the winger been named on the bench, Son commanded the attention of the viewing crowd and displayed a potential still to be truly recognised. With a mastery of both feet and pace unmatched by most, the Korean presented Pochettino with the ‘Sadio Mane’-type the Argentine had previously yearned for seasons prior.

The chain-smoking Chelsea manager did his side no favours with his team selection, charging his players with the task of assaulting the Spurs back line without a focal point in attack. The argument could be made that Foyth’s lack of physical presence or experience could of been a weak spot in the Tottenham unit and Giroud’s header five minutes from time alluded to a night that could’ve turned out entirely differently. Giroud’s height and power gave Chelsea the target their crosses had been crying out for all night and his willingness to receive the ball and stay onside gave an entirely different dimension to the previously hapless Chelsea attack. It turned out to be another hopeless night for Alvaro Morata, the Spaniard was often found lingering in offside positions, his “emotional fragility” seemingly compelling him to remain in the one space no defender has any reason to defend.

In all retrospect, the game adorned an all too familiar dynamic as seen in previous big games involving Tottenham Hotspur with one side outclassing the other and painting the opposition side as schoolboys. What was striking about tonight was the fact that it was Tottenham this time, who were in control and for once not exposed as the younger and more naive side. This fact was illustrated as the two managers cut entirely different figures at the end of the game. As Maurizio Sarri surrendered to his chair, huddled up in an almost fetal position, Pochettino stood tall, cool, calm and almost…. cold. Frankly though, for me, his outward emotions reflected my own throughout the game. Right from the get-go, Tottenham’s performance never suggested a result other than the final commanding scoreline.

What makes tonight’s result all the more compelling is the idea that Tottenham are still yet to hit their peak this season. Just consider that for a moment, five points off the leaders, missing three to six key players almost every gameweek, still “alive” in three competitions and Tottenham are yet to reach their best. Only once you’ve revised those points for a while do you realise the truly terrifying implications. I’ll leave you, the reader, to decide for yourself, for whom, those implications may be terrifying. I have my own ideas of course but perhaps tonight is not the night to explore those ideas.

For those of you reading this fresh, enjoy the rest of the night. Enjoy the luxury of supporting a football teams that wins matches and allow yourself to enjoy the other aspects of life because for you (the Spurs fans) football is not something you’ll have to worry about until Wednesday. Goodnight.

Tonight – A review

Looking back at Spurs in August and looking ahead to tomorrow

Nine points out of nine, this is very good. Two wins away from home at St. James’ Park and Old Trafford make it even better. It is perhaps testament to the long term fitness work conducted by Pochettino and his staff that the majority of players so far have hit the ground running despite their disruped pre-season and has clearly offered us an advantage over sides like Manchester United.

What is especially pleasing however is that we’ve achieved the points haul that was arguably expected of us. Whilst the performance may not have been entirely convincing at Old Trafford, the fact is, we should’ve have beaten this United side, and we did. I would say that, normally, a result like this would offer us a vital advantage in any potential title race however I’m a believer in statistics and they’re saying that United really aren’t impressive so I won’t be surprised to see other sides take points here as well. Still, a good result for Spurs and a real show-stealing performance from Lucas Moura to boot.

In the absence of Dembele, Pochettino has, thankfully, begun to play around with our formations and has begun to pack the midfield with extra numbers. Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen have been entrusted with deeper starting positions and so far it’s not affected the team’s or their own attacking performances. Pochettino has utilised the 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 diamond so far this season which has somewhat compensated for Dembele’s absence and offered an insight into Moura’s and potentially Son’s roles this season as second strikers. The incorporation of a second striker in our starting lineup is something I’d been hoping for and predicted in my previous piece and it’s without question that Moura’s dynamic running without the ball has eased the pressure on Kane to lead from the front.

The addition of another striker on the field could offer a potential salvation for Fernando Llorente. His stature and ‘back-to-goal’ playing style lends itself more towards playing with a partner Or, maybe it won’t, we won’t know until we see however it’s clear that his role as a lone forward in previous systems hasn’t shown any indication as to why we paid £15 million for him!

I’m undecided as to where I stand on the whole Toby Alderweireld situation. It’s obvious how good he is and how much he improves the team when he plays for us and we are undoubtedly a stronger side when he plays. However, he’s going next year right? And for considerably less than he could’ve gone for this year? Obviously I woudn’t have been happy to see him leave to another English side and we’ll never know if we could’ve organised a move for him to a side like Bayern or PSG who seem to be the only sides rich enough and potentially interested enough to agree to a deal. I am also happy to see Toby still here because of his aforementioned quality so why the hell am I questioning his situation? It’s perhaps because I wonder what good his situation may do for us after the current season. While he’s here and in the manager’s good books, he will start because he’s that good however next year, he’s leaving, isn’t he? We already have his replacement and successor in Davinson Sanchez who (likely) will be here next year and for many years after, so is it sensible to limit his development time on the pitch? By not selling Toby this year, we’re also missing out on many millions of pounds in transfer fees after his release clause kicks in next summer. In my mind, Alderweireld staying and playing regularly this year only makes sense if one or two situations arise. Firstly is if he has a change of heart and commits his future to us beyond next season without agreeing to any release clauses and secondly, if we win the Premier League this year. Both situations seem unlikely to me and are perhaps dependant on the other and it seems the situation we’ve allowed ourselves here is one where we’re always going to experience some hurt no matter what the outcome.

One situation I am decided upon is the one concerning Hugo Lloris. I respect the argument that it’s a personal situation where we’ll never know why or how he ended up in this situation that frankly belies his character and there may be extenuating circumstances (a la Livermore) however there must be some repercussions. To lose the captaincy was an absolute must for me. His actions put his own and other lives at risk and quite simply, to not remove him as captain trivialises the whole ordeal. I don’t follow the argument that his loyalty to the club demands loyalty in return as firstly, where do we draw the line? Would he have had to have killed someone before he’d lose the captaincy or starting spot? Secondly, in my opinion he’s not yet demonstrated any loyalty to the club, only to Pochettino. It’s been made clear that after his second season, Lloris was ready to jump ship and it’s only because of Poch’s interjection that he’s stayed and I’m almost certain that once Poch moves on, so will Lloris. This whole ordeal all makes for a rather disillusioning experience and only services to remove previous goodwill towards the club and the player.

Onto something more positive, I was able to attend my first u23s game of the season last night as our youngster took on Arsenal at the Emirates. Whilst is was a rather toothless performance from our makeshift side, the atmoshpere from the away support was inspiring, singing nearly non-stop for the enitre 90 minutes and it made for an entirely enjoyable experience.

What was disturbingly apparent however was just how far off a number of these youngsters are from first team football. Whilst, unfortunately, a large number of the side will clearly never be at the technical level expected of first team players, those that may be (i.e. Skipp and Lyons-Foster) have a long way to go before they are physically ready to play in a Pochettino side. We already know how hard it is for senior and already physically mature players to nail down a starting spot in Pochettino’s side which suggests it will be at least another two or three years minimum’s worth of work and preparation before any of the current side are ready to make the transition.

Why that’s disturbing is related to our recent transfer failings and with no additions coming from outside the club, we become more reliant on those from within and quite simply, there is no one ready to make the jump. It does make the loan moves of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Onomah all the more puzzling as I feel both could’ve proved to be useful squad additons to the side this season considering the aforementioned transfer woes and system changes. Whilst it’s good that both have secured regular football for next season, I don’t believe it will serve them well next year in terms of securing a squad space at Spurs. Pochettino’s system and regime is SO demanding that the only true way to acclimatise yourself with it, is to live it, much like Winks did for three long years. As it stands, both will have to spend the entirety of next year’s pre-season re-acclimatising themselves with the Argentine’s demands and by that time, I feel we’ll have acquired more significant first team additions, to the point where I feel both will be surplus to requirements and most likely, moved on permanently.

I’d like to believe we’ll make additions in January as, if we don’t, we’ll have awarded other Premier League sides 18 months to make additions and improvements to their sides during which we will have been inactive. Allowing 12 months is already bad enough and we’ve been lucky so far that the recruitment of the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal haven’t done too much damage to our top four chances.

Tomorrow we travel to Watford whose early season schedule has allowed them to mask their rather limited attacking displays. Whilst they’ve been somewhat impressive defensively, they havent yet faced a side with an offensive quality much like ours and I fully expect another away win tomorrow.

Apologies for the rather lengthy opinion piece, I must make the effort to comment on such matters individually and closer to the time. I do hope you’ve enjoyed this piece however and I’ll do my best to get back to providing informative tactical pieces in the near future.

Looking back at Spurs in August and looking ahead to tomorrow

Looking ahead to 2018/19 and beyond

Just thought I’d share a few opinions before the start of the season.

Tottenham Hotspur will have to come to terms with the departure of Mousa Dembele within the next 12 months which will create an issue for either our coaching staff or *scoffs* our recruitment department.  Mousa’s unique skillset sanctions Pochettino’s contemporary 4-2-3-1 and his previous absences from the first team has seen our build-up play suffer at the hands of Dier and one of the Belgian’s replacements (in either Victor Wanyama or Moussa Sissoko). Pochettino’s pressing structure, in its current 4-3-1-2 incarnation, places a lot of demand on the holding midfielders. Simply put, to succeed in this system, a player has to be aggressive in the tackle and physically capable to cover vast amounts of ground in closing down space for the opposition and in some instances, even tracking the opposition fullbacks. This is not an issue for the majority of Tottenham’s midfield employment however, what propels Dembele above the rest of his compatriots is the fact that he combines this defensive industry with extraordinary dribbling and progressive ability. Spurs’ Belgian cheat code reduces the demand placed on Christian Eriksen to drop deeper during our build-up play and reduce the number of forward passing options available to our midfielders. This can therefore accelerate our possession play and make Spurs a more dangerous attacking outfit.

Dembele’s skillset is unique and arguably irreplaceable and should Spurs find a player who could replace him, Daniel Levy would never be able to agree to the inflated transfer fee. One solution to this problem therefore is to invest in Harry Winks, to work towards allowing him as much playing and development time as possible. Whilst Winks doesn’t boast the same defensive and dribbling skills, Winks does possess a greater passing range than our other options in the holding midfield position which can offer a progressive alternative to Dembele’s deadly dribbles. It is also not unreasonable to suggest that Winks cannot develop further physically in order to become an efficient component of our counter-press. What complicates these matters however is Winks’ current injury complications and history as the young Englishman has so far failed to shake off a persistent ankle problem which has so far stunted his development thus meaning Winks is perhaps an unreliable long term solution.

It is my opinion therefore that Spurs will be forced into altering their current setup over the next 18 months in order to successfully adapt to Mousa’s permanent absence. Considering our current personnel, system and lack of training time throughout the season, I believe Tottenham will revert back to a three at the back system. More specifically I suggest Spurs should adapt into a 3-5-2 system operating with (on paper) one holding midfielder and two freer eights. In my eyes, it appears to be a natural adaption for our players, to move towards a line up which will look most likely like this:

Lloris; Trippier/Aurier, Dier, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Davies/Rose; Wanyama, Eriksen, Dele/Winks; Kane, Son/Dele

Without Dembele’s counter-pressing prowess, I believe Tottenham will struggle to defend as many actions that penetrate our midfield line and therefore we must remove an attacking midfield option for a third CB. Offensively, this setup doesn’t venture far from our current one however comes with the benefit of removing a traditional holding midfielder for a more creative one and moving the starting positions of our WBs into areas higher up the pitch which (in theory) should do the opposite to slowing down our possession play.  This new system wouldn’t even massively change our pressing shape, our two strikers could still funnel passes out wide and we can use a 10 to mark their 6 leaving two midfielders covering and the half spaces protected by the wide CBs. This is not a new role to the likes of Dier and Vertonghen who operated in the exact same role during the 2016/17 season.

Personally, if Spurs were to line-up in this formation, I’d prefer to see Son accompany Kane up top where his starting position would be much higher upon transition and he would have the space to drift wide where necessary. Son’s pace is also a much more terrifying aspect for a defence to cover so this could open up space for Kane to get away from opposition CBs so as to ease him back into the swing of things after a demanding World Cup campaign. This would also allow Alli to make runs from deeper positions and allows him to vary up his game without placing it on Kane’s expense.

This switch would also open up opportunities for youth players such as Josh Onomah and Cameron Carter-Vickers to gain some meaningful minutes as a switch to this formation would push us even further for CM and CB depth. Walker-Peters also could be granted an easier adaption to Premier League life with the added protection behind him.

This doesn’t have to be a permanent formation next season, only when Dembele isn’t available. With the plethora of attacking midfielders we have at the moment, the 4-2-3-1 will still be heavily favoured next season. It will be interesting however to see if any effort is made however to begin adaption to post-Dembele life.

Do I believe that Spurs will adopt this approach when it comes to replacing Mousa? My answer is no! Even though our recruitment department is an apparent mess and whilst we’re not in a position to splash the cash as we move into our new stadium, Tottenham Hotspur will still attempt to identify and obtain another once in a generation player in order to solve the issue. This means we’ll probably end up with Andre Gomes next year…. Hoo-f***ing-ray!

I love Tottenham Hotspur and I’m exceptionally proud of how far we’ve come in recent years but for God’s sake, what are we doing in the transfer market? We’ve lumbered ourselves with expensive deadwood in the likes of Sissoko, N’Koudou, Janssen and Llorente, none of whom we’re going to turn a profit with and there’s a distinct lack of direction with almost every new signing. In my opinion, our efforts in recent years with regards to the transfer market have been embarrassing and my frustrations will only be heightened next year when we’ll be looking to replace Dembele and Alderweireld.

It is extremely upsetting to believe that practically none of our targets are apparently measured using any form of analytical statistical method as the signings of Sissoko and N’Koudou could’ve easily been avoided. I’m not saying that all our signings have been dire as I still believe that the acquisitions of Lucas Moura and Serge Aurier could still represent good business but they were clearly being flogged by PSG last year and they were unlikely to have been long-term targets we’d identified ourselves. It’s just baffling considering we are moving into a new stadium and therefore we are financially hampered, that we aren’t looking for shortcuts in the market or new ways to identify targets that are not shared with other rival clubs.

For me, this is the single biggest issue preventing Tottenham Hotpsur from genuinely competing for the Premier League title. We have one of the best first eleven’s in the Premier League however those players are drastically under supported by the options from the bench. It’s not an easy task; I realise, to find players good enough to replace Kane, Vertonghen, Dembele or Eriksen if they’re injured. There must be however some players, somewhere, that can at least minimise the damage done by the absences of these players, better than the likes of Janssen, Llorente or Sissoko. We don’t even have any viable cover for the likes of Vertonghen or Eriksen.

After all that moaning, you’d think I’d predict us to finish in the relegation places this year, however, we are still a comfortable top four team in my eyes. I do predict us to have a slow start to the campaign but I think there are bigger issues at the clubs around us so as not to let this particular window affect us too badly. What concerns me is how the next two or three windows are going to affect us because there are positions which need strengthening and replacing soon. Do I see any one of Mousa Dembele, Toby Alderweireld, Danny Rose, Michel Vorm, Kieran Trippier, Sissoko, Janssen, Llorente, N’Koudou or Wanyama still at Spurs in two years? Not really is the answer and Jan Vertonghen will be 33 by this stage and this highlights just how active we’ll have to be in the market in the next two years in order to continue performing at our current level. With the way we’ve been operating so far, I’m very concerned as to how we’ll navigate this period in our club’s history, especially to a standard which maintains Pochettino’s interest and standards because if he goes, then almost any player at the club’s future is cast into doubt.

Something to think about, I don’t like worrying on my own.

Looking ahead to 2018/19 and beyond

Mauricio Pochettino & Tottenham Hotspur: 2016/17 Tactical Analysis

How to Read

I don’t expect anyone to read this piece in one sitting; my best hope is that it will remain open on one of your tabs for several days or weeks where you can pop in and out and read about whatever may be crossing your mind. I will include a list of the contents inside this piece below where you can find easier whatever it is you may be curious about. My biggest hope for this piece however is that from reading it (or parts of it) you can at least become 90% aware of how Pochettino sets up his teams, how they play exactly and how he approaches squad management as well as game management. What you’re about to read is only my opinion however, my opinion on how Pochettino sets up his teams to play and I have guessed as to the reasoning for why he sets his teams out as they are but I may be wrong however this piece is here solely to provoke thought and attempt to raise the standard of which football is written about. I hope you enjoy!

Contents

  1. General Theory

1.1 Splitting the pitch into 5 vertical channels

1.2 Building with a back three or “La Salida LaVolpiana”

1.3 Diagonality

  1. Early season 1-4-2-3-1

2.1 Why no one (who’s sane) builds up in a 4-2-3-1 and my initial issues with VW

2.2 Pochettino adapts build-up structure and plays with two strikers

2.3 Unclean ball regains have a negative impact on structure

2.4 Wanyama’s role and why Pochettino loves him

2.5 Spurs struggle to cope with Liverpool’s press

2.6 Spurs switch to a 4-4-2 diamond vs Liverpool

2.7 How Pochettino’s 4-2-3-1 plays out in the oppositions half

2.8 Structural issues vs Sunderland

  1. The 4-1-4-1

3.1 Eriksen moved into the centre and wing dynamics

3.2 Christmas tree pressing

3.3 Vs Manchester City (H)

3.4 This 4-1-4-1 is getting annoying (and flat midfield lines of 5)

  1. Pochettino smells of Old Spice

4.1 Stale possession leads to stale results (and the specifics for providing width)

4.2 Why we struggle when pressed

4.3 The ‘3’ at the back is born (or born again) vs Arsenal

4.4 The diamond vs West Ham

4.5 Familiar faces with new scars (4-2-3-1 vs Chelsea)

  1. The 3-4-2-1

5.1. A change in build-up structure (and why it’s Vertonghen – Alderweireld – Dier)

5.2. A horror show vs City

5.3. Please stop this 4-2-3-1 nonsense.

5.3 Liverpool nullify Tottenham’s most effective tactic

5.4 A return to 3-4-2-1 and how we press

5.5 Pochettino’s substitutions

5.6 Injuries prompt a return to the 4-2-3-1

6.0 Tactical Profile

6.1 Starting XI and player “profiles”

6.1 Defensive Strategy & Tactics

6.2 Pressing + Triggers

6.3 Offensive Strategy & Tactics

6.4 Set-pieces

7.0 Conclusion

Once again I hope you enjoy this piece and perhaps I’ll start it with the same words I used to end the last piece I wrote exploring Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur:

“I also hope this piece has given you, as readers, an idea of what types of players Pochettino needs and who he is after. Though I must say, the main aim of this piece is to provoke my readers to question further the tactical innovations taking place at all times in the modern game as this is how football will continue to grow and improve as a game and as a spectacle. The readers of this piece, as well as the authors of similar pieces, are the future of football and it is us who will change the way the game is thought of and how it is discussed.”

Once again… thank you and enjoy!

  1. General Theory

1.1 Splitting the pitch into 5 vertical channels

5 vertical channels

The theory behind splitting the pitch into five vertical channels focuses around the positioning of players and how possession can affect a defensive block as it travels through the various channels. In terms of positioning, some teams use these channels as guidelines for their attacking players to occupy in order to pin the opposition midfield into deeper areas of the pitch. This means having five attackers high up within the final third of the pitch, overloading the back four, not only preventing the opposition midfield from venturing too high (meaning if they win the ball, it will be far away from our goal) and potentially forcing the opposition into a back six with the two wide midfielders being lured back by the high wide attackers. This consequently makes it harder for the opposition midfield to defend the width of the pitch (as they’ll now be defending in a 6-3-1 or 6-2-2 shape) and opens up space in the half-space channels.

In terms of possession, the general theory dictates that the differences between having possession in the centre and on the wing revolves around the space available to the player on the ball and the passing options available. The idea being that while there is more space on the wings, there are less passing options available as the players on the other wing are only accessible if the player attempts a long lofted pass which means the opposition defensive block can remain horizontally compact and temporarily forsake defending the opposite flank. If the ball is in the half-space, there is still the potential to access the entire width of the pitch as the ball carrier with lower and quicker passes. Having the ball in the centre however allows for both sides of the pitch to be accessible to the ball carrier however most teams tend to overload and protect the centre as this is where the goal is and thus most players struggle to find space within the central channel. This thus means that should a player have possession in the half-space, then the threat of a ball being played to either side of the pitch keeps the defensive block as horizontally stretched as possible thus opening up gaps along the defensive lines and should also mean there may be gaps the player can receive the ball in as close to without being inside the more crowded central channel.

1.2 Building with a back three or “La Salida LaVolpiana”

Building with three at the back can have two very distinct benefits to a team depending on how the opposition react to this. One benefit can be to easily play around a single opposition striker, usually even though he is up against three CBs a team or manager will still most likely moan if he doesn’t press the three CBs so if he does then he will become tired extremely quickly and thus become less of a threat offensively or he risks upsetting his teammates and thus this creates disharmony within the squad.

Secondly and more commonly seen, the opposition will send up a midfielder to help the striker press the three CBs thus conditioning the opponents into a 4-4-2 shape which most teams find easier to penetrate due to the gaps created between the strikers and the midfielders and the midfielders and the defence. Other benefits include covering the width of the pitch with one less defender who can now operate further forward and thus make life harder for the opposition’s defence as the CBs now have more progressive passing options as well as allowing WBs to push forward, creating dangerous width and allowing the team to overload the centre and half-spaces with creative types or “needle” players. The back three shape also can allow for easier access and occupation of the half-spaces due to the stretching of the first two opposition’s lines of pressure and can thus create beneficial passing angles (diagonal ones) which can help to ensure quick and clean circulation of the ball.

1.3 Diagonality

Generally it is more beneficial to pass and receive the ball upon diagonal angle so the ball receiver has a greater view of the play around and ahead of him when receiving the ball. A vertical pass will mean the receiver will likely receive the ball with his back to goal and therefore won’t be able to see the opposition behind him nor be in a position to act quickly and progressively as he has to turn to face goal. A horizontal pass is also not ideal as it doesn’t progress you’re team up the pitch and thus keeps you closer to your goal and further away from the oppositions. A diagonal pass therefore has benefits for both the team and the receiver as well as being more disruptive to the opposition team shape as they now have to shift diagonally as well as deal with the faster ball circulation.

  1. Early season 1-4-2-3-1

For the purposes of this piece I am defining the build-up as possession that takes place outside the opponent’s defensive block (shape) as well as the initial passes and actions around and behind the opponent’s first line of defence/pressure.

2.1 Why no one (who’s sane) builds up in a 4-2-3-1 and my initial issues with VW

Opening the season away at Goodison Park, Pochettino “treated” us to Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama as the ‘2’ in a 1-4-2-3-1. Eric Dier made many similar movements to the ones he made during the majority of the 15/16 season which included dropping either in between or next to the CBs in order to form a back three. I wrote this in an earlier article on the matter of why back threes are so essential to clean build-up possession play:

“I do apologise for repeating much of what many of you may already know but this is for the benefit of any new readers and it’s also always nice to reinforce present knowledge. By splitting the CBs with only one holding midfield we can cover a wider area of the pitch with less players thus stretching the oppositions first line of pressure and creating more passing options further forward thus making progression of the ball out from the back much cleaner. Creating diagonal passing options allows the receiving player to receive the ball facing more of the play and thus makes it easier for him to detect and resist any pressure from the opposition.”https://lukeballsburgess.wordpress.com/2016/12/22/will-tottenham-hotspur-challenge-in-201617-a-brief-analysis-on-tactical-theory-and-application-among-other-things/

Other vital advantages include conditioning the opponent to defend in a 1-4-4-2 shape as a team’s second striker isn’t likely to leave his striking partner to press a back three + a goalkeeper all by himself otherwise he’ll quickly tire and thus become less of a threat offensively. This allowed Walker and Rose to push on and provide width whilst Lamela and Eriksen played inside which is all sound theoretically except for the fact that this also leaves Victor Wanyama as a man in between the opponents 1st and 2nd lines of pressure. Whilst this allows Eriksen to find the ball easier by dropping deeper which would naturally increase the tempo of our play (thanks to Eriksen’s technical ability and Ajax education) it does as much slow down our play because Victor Wanyama is positioned in between the opponent’s 1st and 2nd lines of pressure.

This positional deployment of Wanyama as well as Everton’s aggressive 1st line of pressure (consisting of Deulofeu, Mirallas and Barkley) resulted in a rather chaotic tempo during our build-up play which resulted in a lack of clean and central progression. Wanyama often found it difficult to find the space in which he could properly receive a pass due to this pressing triangle of Everton forwards and his movement rarely occupied or disrupted this pressing trio in any purposeful way giving Everton an easy time of disrupting our build-up play. A common issue Wanyama would have would be he’d offer support to a player on the wings or in the 1st line of pressure along the same line as a teammate meaning the receiving teammate wouldn’t have any support himself thus making build-up tricky.

the issue with Victor

(Red highlights what happened, Green offers a friendly suggestion)

Above is an example from the game against Everton demonstrating Wanyama’s lack of understanding of structure and how his presence can often result in inefficient use of possession. Although in fairness, this criticism could’ve been aimed at a number of our players early in the season. Wanyama offers a horizontal pass to support Danny Rose on the ball by moving directly towards him and thus on the same vertical line as Jan Vertonghen, not only allowing Everton to press us easily due to the lack of distance between our players but also due to the fact that now, no matter who receives the pass off Danny Rose, this player has no immediate passing option which threatens to exploit or disrupt Everton’s defensive structure. This slows down our build-up play to a pace where Everton can press us and thus take the initiative out of the hands of our players.

This made it difficult for Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen to properly dictate the tempo of the game and ensure the teams advancement up towards the halfway line from where they can control the game with less risk. Generally our build-up consists of utilising the GK as well as the employment of a back three in order to push our FBs on and create space for midfielders dropping into this space to receive the ball so we can utilise a mixture of horizontal, diagonal and vertical passing to circulate possession of the ball until our backline is in position near the halfway line. This means all 10 of our outfield players are inside the opposition half thus giving us the option of either using long switches of play, short passes or battling for the 2nd ball as offensive tactics with as little risk as possible as the opposition will be defending deeper and thus have greater distance to cover when transitioning into offence. This also means our offence have less distance to cover themselves and means we are more likely to end moves by creating chances on goal as once you’re in the opponent’s half, their goal is within sight.

The chaotic tempo created by Wanyama and Everton meant we found it harder to cleanly circulate the ball as the pressure created often meant our players were forced into kicking the ball longer and earlier or more of our players being forced into dribbling with the ball as a method to escape pressure thus meaning we were deeper in our own half, losing the ball more often and not creating appropriate structures to attack, defend or transition. This was perhaps reflected in the type of passes Harry Kane received during this match, receiving only two inside Everton’s penalty area and nine from passes originating in our own half.

2.2 Pochettino adapts build-up structure and plays with two strikers

These inefficiencies demanded a tweak and by our next game against Crystal Palace, our build-up play had taken on a different structure. This time Victor Wanyama was often allowed the opportunity to drop in between our CBs and thus keep Eric Dier in between the opposition lines. This gave Wanyama more time and space on the ball as well as the option for Toby and Jan to bypass him completely when circulating the ball as well as offering our CBs a more assured option further forward (in Dier) which allowed our build-up play to adopt a much more composed nature.

This however was only the case half the time as we rotated between a structure created by dropping Wanyama in between our CBs and one which had Dier dropping to the right side of our CBs which pushed Walker on. The line-up against Palace featured both Janssen and Kane starting with Lamela deployed on the left and Eriksen on the right so it was vital to allow Walker the license to advance forward on the right so Eriksen’s intelligence could be used more centrally and so we could create havoc with Janssen and Kane attacking the Palace box (thus why Dier’s role in this game).

2.3 Unclean ball regains have a negative impact on structure

This line-up against Wickham’s presence and Palace’s long ball tactic often meant our regains were unclean and players like Vertonghen, Wanyama and Alderweireld were often forced into clearances and thus keeping the ball in the air which often prevents any creation of any structure appropriate for a transition from defence to offence.  This often meant we struggled to create from these transitional moments and exploit the periods in which Palace were unbalanced and not in their low 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 shape.

This wasn’t helped by the deployment of our most technically proficient players on the wings and with those responsible for dictating our play in the backline. Due to Palace’s long balls played towards the heads or in behind our CBs it meant Jan and Toby weren’t in a position to claim the 2nd ball and move the ball on into appropriate areas. This also left Wanyama and Dier and Kane fighting to control these bouncing and unpredictable 2nd balls adding to the scrappy nature of the game.

Not so much an issue however in this game as I suspect Tottenham’s selection had the idea of taking advantage of Palace’s poorly executed man marking system at set pieces. Spurs were able to create a number of scoring chances from corners by overloading the Palace box with Alderweireld, Dier, Wanyama, Kane and Janssen with these players managing to get on the end of a great deal of Eriksen’s deliveries.

Another problem we had during the build-up in this game was seeing both Wanyama and Dier drop into their respective positions in the backline alongside Jan and Toby at the same time, thus meaning we’d often build-up with 4 or 5 or even at times 6 players in our backline! With Janssen and Kane pinning the Palace backline, this often resulted with only Eriksen and Lamela providing a central link between our backline and our forward line, often meaning when (and if) they received the ball they were forced into ineffective passes backwards or early passes forward which again created a chaotic tempo and forced us into an unclean transition from which Palace could counter.

So you see without a clean build-up, we can’t attack with any clear structure or strategy as we’re either forced into playing too far away from the opposition goal or with too few numbers in attack and this goes some way as to explaining why our most dangerous moments against Palace came from set-pieces.

2.4 Wanyama’s role and why Pochettino loves him

It was (somewhat) fun to see Pochettino adapt his build-up structure so early on and tweak it to suit the game as well as the players he had at his disposal however whilst allowing Wanyama more time and space on the ball by dropping him deeper gave us more composure in our build-up, it meant he had more ground to cover if there was a sharp transition to defence if we lost the ball during this phase. This would severely limit Wanyama’s benefit to the team as his physical prowess and defensive instincts in transition could be severely restricted as he would be positioned deeper at the start of any potential transition between offences to defence. When you limit Victor’s impact on our defensive transition, then you make his inclusion in the team redundant.

Pochettino favours six foot plus monsters within his ‘2’ in midfield because he values their contributions within our defensive transition more than their contributions to our build-up. This is because Pochettino uses his ‘2’ to cover the entire width of the pitch during defensive transitions, so one monster can go chase down the ball carrier whilst the other can remain central and wait in ambush like a pride of lions after gazelle.

This takes the responsibility of defending the flanks away from our wide players (who up until this point had been a mixture of Eriksen, Lamela, Alli and Son) and therefore allows them to remain central or higher up the pitch in preparation for a potential offensive transition. This minimises the instances of attacking players, like Eriksen, Son or Lamela, from starting an offensive transition from the left and right back areas and allows them to remain more of a threat offensively.

This also allows your destroyers more freedom to do what they do best, it’s no different to allowing a playmaker to roam freely and make an impact when and where he feels best. This allows Dier and Wanyama to engage the opposition not only higher up the pitch but more frequently than their teammates thus allowing their teammates greater freedom and less likely to be exposed in a 1v1 engagement.

When your CBs are Ajax-educated and as technically proficient as Jan and Toby, then perhaps we can reap just as many benefits from incorporating monsters within our midfield, allowing guys like Eriksen, Lamela, Son, to find a place in the team away from the wide areas. While Wanyama can disrupt our build-up rather easily, Spurs always have the option through Toby to ping a long ball into an area of the pitch where we can exploit an under loaded area or play the game on our terms, within the transitional phases.

Wanyama’s role was then quickly corrected by the time of our 3rd game of the season against Liverpool with Dier returning to normal duties in dropping anywhere he so pleased to create a back three and with Wanyama in prime position to compete for 2nd balls and cancel out any potential Liverpool offensive transition.

2.5 Spurs struggle to cope with Liverpool’s press

The game against Everton however highlighted an issue that would continue to haunt Tottenham throughout the season and that is that Spurs struggled to maintain any sort of composure against high pressing teams. Liverpool are as aggressive as they come under Jurgen Klopp and they were ruthless in hunting down and pressuring any pass that was played a split second too slow and forcing Spurs into long and dangerous passes.

Dier and Wanyama made up the most physically dominant and defensively solid holding midfield pair in the Premier League however their lack of ball mastery created issues for Jan and Toby as they tried to circulate the ball against immense Liverpool pressure. Their lack of composure under pressure and control allowed Liverpool to commit many men to their press which made it hard for Jan and Toby to find many secure short passing options in order to circulate a composed build-up of possession. Vorm was often forced long in possession and Liverpool were able to create their best chance from open play as Liverpool’s press took advantage of a vertical pass played into Eriksen by Vertonghen as they pressed the Dane’s poor touch and poor receiving body shape in order to create “that” chance for Coutinho.

Spurs struggled to adapt to Liverpool’s press whilst Liverpool were undeterred by Spurs pushing four players forward early on in the build-up and continued to commit men forward to their press. This gave Liverpool the advantage during an offensive transition where they were easily able to overload our back four and create spaces where they could penetrate us with ease. Ironic isn’t it then that when the back four did receive some defensive support from our forwards, it resulted in a penalty for Liverpool.

2.6 Spurs switch to a 4-4-2 diamond vs Liverpool

Walker’s early injury in the game forced the introduction of Vincent Janssen into the fold, recreating a similar line-up to the one we played against Palace except with Alli in Dier’s place and Dier in Walker’s. Unable to build centrally with the personnel and the setup, Poch experimented with a 4-1-2-1-2 setup in the 2nd half with a midfield diamond of Wanyama – Dele, Eriksen – Lamela.

This allowed us to employ a more direct approach with our possession, minimising the amount of times we were being disposed just in front of our backline and giving us a greater chance of winning the 2nd ball off a long ball to our frontline. This also uncoordinated Liverpool’s press as their deeper midfielders were hesitant to step forward in anticipation of the long ball up to Kane, Janssen and Lamela. This direct approach had the potential to create a number of decent chances for Spurs with Danny Rose and Dier bombing down the flanks, Spurs would usually always hit the box with a minimum of four players, overloading Liverpool’s back line and creating a quality chance for Eriksen and Rose for our equaliser.

This formation also simplified the dynamic between our CBs and Victor Wanyama, with the Kenyan being the sole screen in front of our playmakers, offering an angled passing option to our CBs as well as allowing them to spread and cover the width of the pitch whilst in possession. This also created the space necessary for the two Belgians to drive forward with the ball, again creating new and challenging dynamics which Liverpool struggled to defend.

A positive mid-game change from Pochettino earned us the point against Liverpool however our severe failure to cope with Liverpool’s aggression offered a concerning foreshadowing of events later on in the season.

2.7 How Pochettino’s 4-2-3-1 plays out in the oppositions half

Our away game against Stoke saw a continuation of the Dier-Wanyama double pivot but also the introduction of Son Heung-Min and Ben Davies, two players who would become increasingly relied upon as the season progressed. Spurs had an easier time of it in this game with regards to our build-up due to Stoke’s rather uncoordinated approach to defending outside of their half often pseudo-pressing with a number of random combinations of three. However Stoke did press high which still made it difficult for Spurs to reach the halfway line in a consistently clean nature.

Son’s role in the team didn’t vary greatly from Lamela’s when Spurs were in possession inside Stoke’s half. Son was still expected to drift inside and open up space for Davies to advance so little changed in this aspect bar introducing a more direct, two-footed (though less creative) shooter into the team. Below is an illustration of generally how Spurs set-up their structure inside the opposition half whilst in possession with arrows offering a general indication of how players moved.

possession structure in opp half 4-2-3-1

Putting this illustration together I imagined Toby had the ball at his feet however the structure differed very little if the ball was with Vertonghen, usually seeing players like Kane and Alli move over to the left side of the pitch. Dier and Wanyama’s movement would generally be key to opening up space for Eriksen to drop into so he could be used centrally whilst also providing security for the FBs to advance high up the pitch. With Dier dropping in between the CBs and Wanyama either staying very central or moving wide, Vertonghen and Alderweireld would have more success in terms of finding forward passing options to our attacking players as well as creating space in front of them where they could drive forward if necessary. FBs occupying the wide channels allow Eriksen to float within the half-spaces and allow Son, Alli and Kane to play within the width of the 18 yard area where their shooting ability can be best employed.

Perhaps due to Son’s skillset however (or due to Davies’ inclusion in the team) Son had a much wider starting position for every possession Spurs had. This way Son was the one providing a wide outlet for the team, meaning Davies had fewer opportunities to get forward. Deploying Son out wide can have many potential benefits for Spurs due to his directness and his ambidextrousness giving him the advantage in 1v1 duels. It was this wider starting position for Son which gave him the space on the counter-attack to score his 2nd goal of the game against Stoke. Two devastating offensive transitions within a close couple of minutes finished off an uninspired Stoke side and Spurs walked to three points and a second clean sheet of the season.

2.8 Structural issues vs Sunderland

A mixture of injury and perhaps insanity resulted in a more fascinating (though I probably described it as ‘sickening’ at the time) line-up as Spurs kept another clean sheet against a Moyes-led Sunderland (shocker!). Vertonghen’s deployment in his preferred position at LB made room for Dier to drop into CB alongside Toby, which in turn made space for Dembele’s return from suspension, partnering Wanyama in midfield. This is where the crazy part comes in…. Sissoko started over Eriksen! “Kill me now” may have been my favourite expression that day as an overwhelming sense of dread threatened to override my internal organs and end this extraordinary misery I called “life” on the day of 18th September 2016 when Moussa Sissoko started ahead of Eriksen for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club of the Premier League.

Perhaps I can see some theoretical, maybe even practical, reasoning for this absurdity with Sissoko offering a physical and direct option within an offensive transition against a side where this game would most likely be won considering our inability to break down any type of defensive block with sustained possession. Eriksen would also get a much needed and deserved rest against a side we would most likely walk over and Sissoko would get an easy ride in the side whilst he familiarised himself with his new surroundings. Maybe that was what Pochettino was thinking, maybe, but sometimes you have to realise the optimist inside you can be a blatant liar and that logic, evidence and common sense should always dictate decision-making over delusion-ist concepts.

The game against Sunderland painfully illustrated some flaws with Spurs’ possession structure in this game. With Sunderland defending in a 4-1-4-1/4-5-1 variant and with Defoe not making the effort to chase down any of Sunderland’s clearances, Spurs were able to regain the ball often and cleanly every time they pressed Sunderland into a clearance and were able to camp inside Sunderland’s half. The issue created here however was how Spurs deployed Son in this new winger role, with no one taking his place in the centre of the pitch.

structural issues vs Sunderland

Because Son was providing the width on the left hand side of the pitch, Vertonghen didn’t have the space to move forward so Son could drift inwards and instead Jan remained deep on the left flank. Spurs did an excellent job at isolating Sonny vs Denayer in this game and the South Korean was handed a number of chances to run at the FB creating great discomfort for Sunderland and creating a number of chances for Kane inside the box. With Jan playing deep, Januzaj felt little need to track back and this left Son 1v1 against Denayer and prevented a more space-limited 2v2 situation.

What was an issue however was that this was only where our threat was coming from because of who we had in the centre of the pitch. Spurs’ five man attack kept Sunderland’s back four pinned to the edge of their penalty area which in turn kept the Sunderland midfield wall from venturing too far away from their back four which left a lot of space for Spurs just outside of Sunderland’s defensive block. So, who was Spurs’ most creative player playing outside of this block? Depending on your own opinions, I imagine most of us would come to the conclusion of either Dembele or Alderweireld and while both are fantastic players we can realise that both would struggle to break down a 4-1-4/4-5 block considering the players they had around them.

Now I’m not saying, “Oh, if only Eriksen had played, we’d have won 5-0 and broken down Sunderland with every attack” but we certainly missed his speed circulating the ball and his lack of passiveness working in between the lines in comparison to Sissoko. With Ndong however being dragged into the back four due to Walker’s high positioning, Sunderland left a lot of space open high up within the right half-space where Eriksen prefers to operate and from where he could’ve offered some dangerous deliveries a la like his two assists vs Chelsea later on in the season. Sissoko failed to recognise this space opening up and instead preferred to hit the box, meaning Spurs rarely had the right personnel positioned in areas where we could’ve broken down Sunderland in this way. Sissoko’s lack of technical prowess also offered Spurs very little when trying to break down Sunderland centrally.

It was from a (very poorly defended) cross which led to Spurs’ winner in this game but again Spurs demonstrated an inability to create good goal-scoring chances outside of set-pieces and transitions as there possession play still lacked a creative spark. Apart from the game against Stoke, Spurs had scored four in four and conceded two, both from set-pieces and it was this approach that I’d begun to criticise as our attacking output was very low and this outstanding defensive form was unlikely to benefit us in bigger games. While I wasn’t expecting Pochettino to change up his system, it wasn’t a surprise to see him experiment with a new formation in response to our offensive struggles by the game against Middlesbrough.

  1. The 4-1-4-1

3.1 Eriksen moved into the centre and wing dynamics

The single biggest benefit the 4-1-4-1 had on Tottenham was that the starting positions of the players allowed for a much easier access to the ball for Eriksen. Eriksen not only had a bigger space to receive the ball in outside of the opponent’s defensive block but he also had easier access to the central channel and both the half-spaces. Forgive me if this sounds like lazy analysis but guess what, giving your best players more freedom can paper over a lot of cracks i.e. Guardiola moving Messi into the centre and AVB doing the same with Bale in 12/13.

Other benefits the move to a 4-1-4-1 had for Spurs is it created the room deep in the left half-space (with Wanyama dropping towards the CBs) for Ben Davies to step into midfield and at times, create a pivot alongside Eriksen but mainly to create the room for Son out on the left. With Davies being encouraged to step inside into midfield, this was another way of leaving Son 1v1 vs his fullback but yet also gave us a useful passing option in the middle of the field unlike when Jan was simply remaining deep on the left flank.

On the right hand side of the pitch, the partnership between Walker and Sissoko was again employed in a similar vein to the way it was used against Sunderland. Sissoko would move inside in between the opposition midfield and defence and remain there so Walker could move high up the field and become the occupier of the opposition fullback. When the ball was with Walker, if he had lured the opposition fullback, Sissoko then had the space to attack, running into the chasm created between the opposition LCB and fullback. It offered Spurs a great way of moving the ball into the opposition penalty area yet Sissoko rarely had the end product to exploit it.

The game against Middlesbrough also saw Vincent Janssen receive his 2nd start in the Premier League in place of the injured Kane and he did a fantastic job in this game of pinning his marker and holding up the ball for onrushing attackers. With Janssen rarely dropping off the Middlesbrough backline and doing his best to receive the ball with his back to goal as high up as possible, this created some larger temporary pockets of space around Janssen where players like Dele, Son and Eriksen could combine with him near the opposition goal. What we lost with Kane in finishing and long shot ability, Janssen made up for with a simpler hold up game which created several 1-2/up-back-through opportunities.

Spurs did lose a lot of solidity moving Dier out of the midfield and defending with the 1-2 triangle in midfield as there were times during which Eriksen and Alli would make vertical pressing runs and the other wouldn’t provide the balance leaving Wanyama with large areas of open space to defend in the middle. This wasn’t highlighted as such due to Middlesbrough’s “safe” usage of possession and the lack of a strong central link between the base of midfield and the frontline.

This did offer some cause for concern however heading into our next game against (at the time) League frontrunners Manchester City, what needed to be corrected was, if Alli and Eriksen were going to break out of the midfield line in our low block 1-4-1-4-1 shape, they needed to press much more aggressively/quickly whilst the other tucked in closer towards Wanyama so he would have the freedom to plug any gap left by the pressing midfielder.

3.2 Christmas tree pressing

What was being attempted by Pochettino however was when the ball was with the Middlesbrough CBs, Spurs would press in an almost Christmas tree/arrow head shape, with Sissoko and Son remaining deep and wide and with Alli and Eriksen stepping forward, tucking in behind Janssen so as a way to deny Middlesbrough central penetration and so as to not discourage their uninspiring wide play. Wanyama was being given license to marshal a larger amount of space on his own but a space that was hard to break into for Middlesbrough due to previously mentioned variables.

4-1-4-1 christmas tree press

This shape was the result of a slight tweak on our usual 4-3-1-2 pressing shape as this was more appropriate a pressing shape due to our change to a 4-1-4-1 shape as Pochettino wanted to keep our pressing three as Son, Alli and Eriksen who perhaps offer a more dynamic offensive transition than a combination of Son, Sissoko and Lamela.

3.3 Vs Manchester City (H)

This game saw a line-up selected by Pochettino dictated by our pressing scheme in this game. Tottenham again lined up in a 1-4-1-4-1 shape vs City with Rose coming in for Davies and Lamela in for Janssen with Son starting up-front. This game saw Spurs move away from their slow build-up play and their attacks through Alderweireld switches as they sought to make City’s life as uncomfortable as possible.

Spurs adopted a much more direct approach to their possession and pressing play, Spurs rarely waited to get to the halfway line with their possession before initiating an attack with the Spurs backline playing a lot of their passes and clearances into the channels for the likes of Son and Sissoko to chase down. Spurs tried desperately to exploit the spaces left open by City behind the fullbacks due to their possession structure and thus enjoy better quality chances on goal. Spurs sought to make this game as physical as possible, asking a lot of the City players being through asking them to use their strength and balance when battling for 2nd balls or through having to sprint backwards and forwards during the many transitions in this game.

Spurs played this game with an unsustainable high intensity and created a chaotic tempo within which City struggled to cope and it was due to the chaos caused by these speedy transitions that City conceded their two goals. Spurs also wasted little time in waiting to take their chances vs City, with Spurs taking a number of early shots and limiting attacking moves to as little amount of passes as possible so as to reduce the number of times City could win the ball back cleanly and exploit Spurs’ high line.

Spurs continued to press City in a Christmas tree shape yet also modified it to press in a 4-1-3-2 shape at times with Alli stepping up alongside Son to either make vertical pressing movements towards City’s nearside CB or to cover Fernando so Son could make horizontal pressing movements towards the City CBs whilst also leaving the other always within his cover shadow. It was movements like these that often left City with little options to play out from the back and the only way out was through the use of Bravo in goal. Spurs were keen to force City long early where Aguero struggled to get on the ball or wide where Sissoko/Walker and Lamela/Rose used their physicality to bully the City wide players and win the ball back in this way.

This game also saw the continuation of Wanyama being left to marshal large areas of the centre of the field by himself but he did so masterfully and with relative ease due to our compact pressing shape (also helped by the aggressive advancement of Toby and Jan). Wanyama enjoyed the free roaming destroyer role as he was able to cover a vast amount of ground quickly due to his speed and due to Spurs’ man-orientated pressing, was able to read where the ball was going and was able to shut down plenty of City moves before they started.

Spurs’ efforts were rewarded in the first half with two goals however the physical exertion of the pressing took its toll on the players midway through the 1st half as Spurs rarely used their possession as a method to rest on the ball. This created a number of pockets of space for the city players, especially after Bravo became more involved in City’s build-up, who was able to find some simple passes into Fernando as the pace of the Spurs players slowed around this time. This led to a number of occasions where Silva was able to get on the ball and turn into space and where Spurs enjoyed some luck in the fact that City couldn’t field their strongest line up.

Had Gundogan started over Fernando and De Bruyne over Navas, City could’ve easily come back into this game between the 25th and 35th minute. Part of the reason why Spurs were unable to rest on the ball was because of their inability to cope with City’s aggressive pressing with Guardiola using Sterling and Aguero to press both our CBs, triggered by the two passing between each other. Saying this, Spurs rarely made the effort to play through the press or maintain any sustained period of possession perhaps fearing the quality City have in offensive transition and thus perhaps valuing any kind of possession high up the pitch with plenty of Spurs players behind the play in case it broke down. Spurs picked up the pace again at the start of the second half and their direct play resulted in a penalty which was unfortunately saved by Bravo. In and amongst the play of the second half, Guardiola turned to his bench which was again, severely lacking in quality. Gundogan came on as an 8 and Iheanacho went upfront alongside Aguero meaning City lost some central presence.

3.4 This 4-1-4-1 is getting annoying (and flat midfield lines of 5)

By the time of our game against West Brom, Pochettino maintained the 4-1-4-1 from the game against City with the only change resulting in Janssen coming in for Son as the 9.

Against West Brom’s deep 4-5-1 shape, Spurs lacked a strong central presence within Brom’s defensive block. By this, I mean with Lamela and Sissoko primarily occupying the wings, there were times where only Alli and Janssen occupied the space in between Brom’s midfield and defence meaning Spurs struggled for penetrating passing options as well as setting up actions in these areas (i.e. zone 14). This was because Eriksen would drop outside of Brom’s defensive block in order to receive the ball in front of Brom’s midfield where there were large amounts of space which Brom were sacrificing inside their half in order to protect their box.

With Lamela and Sissoko occupying the wings as well, there were more instances of Walker and Davies occupying the half-spaces so at times Spurs would build in a line of 4 outside Brom’s block (and at times, even 5 as Sissoko would randomly drop outside the block as well, although arguably, Walker should’ve advanced higher up the pitch in these instances) and with Brom’s discipline, rarely did they worry about the number of Spurs players receiving the ball in these areas. This flat line of 4/5 passing sideways outside of West Brom’s block just resulted in a lot of boredom and stale possession play which isn’t fun for anyone at any time of any day. It was a pseudo-battle of the line of fives with ours against West Brom’s defensive flat 5, and football wasn’t meant to be played in this way, not now, not then and not ever again.

Where Spurs enjoyed more success was when Alderweireld and Vertonghen had space to drive into midfield when Eriksen didn’t drop so deep and when Walker and Davies weren’t so central. Their advancement up the pitch allowed Eriksen to occupy spaces higher up the pitch (thus breaking up this stale line of 5) and this was also a much more luring prospect for the Brom midfield to press or at least engage with. However with the flat 5 midfield line and Janssen struggling to pin the more combative Brom CBs, Spurs primary form of penetration came via the wings and through 2nd balls.

With Brom’s man orientated defensive shape, competing for 2nd balls off crosses was the easiest way for Spurs to guarantee momentary freedom from their markers high up the pitch. With the ball being out on the wing, the Brom man markers would struggle to keep their eyes on both the ball and whoever they were meant to be marking creating greater potential for blind-side movements from the Spurs attackers and as I said increase the moments of temporary freedom as the chaos of the 2nd ball would again distract and lure Brom players out of a disciplined position.

Had Spurs been using their fullbacks to create the width, they may have enjoyed more success in terms of creating scoring chances off 2nd ball battles as this would allow Lamela and Sissoko to operate inside the pitch, inside the West Brom defensive shape and perhaps allow these guys to get on the ball (or allow Alli and Eriksen more freedom to do the same) and “make something happen”. Spurs’ structure wasn’t appropriate for creating scoring chances upon an offensive transition sparked by a 2nd ball as the Spurs wingers were too wide and the FBs remaining too deep and perhaps not as central as they should’ve been, leaving Spurs with minimal chances to take advantage of the chaos caused by a 2nd ball as only Alli, Janssen and Eriksen were in positions to fight for it inside the Brom block.

There was perhaps more of a call for a direct/wide-play orientated approach vs West Brom in order to create the same chaos as Spurs did vs Man City, Wanyama was always free to remain close to the midfield line as West Brom always left Rondon to press the Spurs CBs on his own meaning Wanyama had no reason to drop deep (West Brom were hardly likely either to allow themselves to be conditioned into a 4-4-2 shape so there was no point in Wanyama dropping to create a back three).

In reality, there wasn’t so much inherently wrong with Spurs’ play, they just lacked the quality inside the Brom block (the ‘needle’ players). Spurs played with the ball inside West Brom’s half for most of the match and there were many times when they were able to find a ball inside this shape, problem was, was that the ball was found by Janssen, Alli, Sissoko and Lamela and these players lack the quality to play through these shapes on the regular or in the right ways (case in point, Sissoko’s hashed chance in the 62nd minute or better yet, his performance the entire game).

In these tight defensive spaces, even the slightest misplay will be punished and the attack will break down and that can be caused by any innocuous bobble, minutely over-hit pass or just controlling the ball with the wrong surface etc. These spaces must therefore be widened and enlarged with quicker play and therefore you need to crowd your starting line-up with “quick” players, give me Leandro Paredes instead of Wanyama, give me Harry Winks for Sissoko and a less clumsy forward than Janssen and I might be happier. Create chaos Pochettino, not with Wanyama but with Messi, give me quick, direct vertical play, it can exist with little guys and it was from chaos that we scored our equaliser with little guys running around in that Brom box!

It was perhaps my emotional response to games like these which led to me to question Pochettino’s long term position at Tottenham in the piece I linked above and by the end of this piece I’ll know if I still stand by that point.

  1. Pochettino smells of Old Spice

4.1 Stale possession leads to stale results (and the specifics for providing width)

Alderweireld’s injury sustained during the game against West Brom prompted Eric Dier’s return to the RCB role with Dembele regaining his starting spot in the team in the ‘2’ alongside Wanyama in the 4-2-3-1.

Again, watching these games I find myself dying a little inside with the personnel set up within the 4-2-3-1 and how the decision making of some players screws over the rest of the team. Without again touching on Wanyama, whose first touch is rarely ever progressive (or his second touch!), I find myself always crying out for the wide men to position themselves higher up the pitch and act differently when receiving the ball in these areas.

Son’s introduction into the team will always result in a little bit of chaos because that’s the player he is, a direct and hard-running, two-footed shooter whose first touch will usually always run a little away from him. When positioned as a wide man in a 4-2-3-1 he will usually disrupt the movements of our FBs and therefore the build-up down whatever flank he happens to be operating on. His preference to receive the ball close to the touchline will usually prevent the FB from moving forward and often means they’ll stay deep and (though they rarely do so) have to utilise their skillset within the half-space as part of the midfield line however as I said they rarely do so as they’re reluctant to give up their territory on the flanks.

What’s even more frustrating about this is that whether it is Sonny or the FBs on the flanks, they’re never high enough up the pitch to have the ideal effect upon the opposition and thus open up space in the centre for your creatives (…and Wanyama). In order to best do this, and to take advantage of this action, the wide player must be receiving the ball along the line of the defence and ideally, high up the pitch towards the by-line. This is so, (with the idea being to pin the opposition into a back six) you can threaten running in behind the opposition and thus luring their focus away from the central players only to then cut the ball back into the space opened up in the centre and half-spaces as the opponents move towards their own goal in panic. In the first phase of the build-up, the same principle applies; you pass wide in order to create time on the ball for yourself as a central player and the higher up the FB, the further back the opposition winger, thus stretching the opponent’s first line of pressure thus creating space.

Back to Spurs, there were simply too many times when one of Walker, Rose or Son were deeper than they needed to be and often meant they weren’t the highest positioned players entering the opposition final third meaning any pass into the central players was often made when the opponents defensive line had full sight of the ball and the receiver meaning the player receiving the ball was often in a position with his back to goal or his body wasn’t ideally positioned to turn on the ball or make a quick progressive action (also meaning he was forced into a shielding action and unable to turn).

Spurs didn’t react nearly aggressive enough to these passes as when you make a forward diagonal pass from the wide areas into the centre you limit yourself into an up-back-through routine as a way to break the opposition shape and as I said Spurs didn’t seem to identify these scenarios and thus act appropriately. This is because, as I said, the opposition have an easier time of focusing on both the ball and the man and can pressure the ball receiver as he will most likely be receiving not entirely facing the goal. What is ideal, is for the wingers/wide players to be positioned as the highest attackers within the opposition final third, to threaten the backline with a dribble in order to create panic and attract the opposition midfield and defensive line towards their own goal and redirect their focus onto the ball out on the wings before cutting the ball back to a central player who should’ve positioned themselves as such within the half-spaces or central channel where they’ll have a moment to exploit the space afforded to him if he’s move correctly and potentially the spaces opened up as the opposition’s defence shifts again in panic.

As an example of how devastating this can be, just re-watch our two goals in our 2-0 home win over Chelsea, as Eriksen exploits the space created for him in the right half-space after Walker receives the ball and threatens to attack the by-line before playing the ball back into Eriksen to cross for Alli.

4.2 Why we struggle when pressed

Again, Bournemouth’s pressing within a narrow 4-2-2-2 structure also created difficulties for Spurs as their wide midfielders would prioritise defending the half-spaces and preventing Dembele and Eriksen from receiving the ball at the “risk” of allowing Wanyama and the FBs easier access to the ball. Their energetic pressing within the wide areas where they forced us made for a scrappy game which again created issues with tempo and structure.

A general trend again resurfaces when teams actively press Tottenham high up the pitch as we’ll often see Eriksen drop deep in an attempt to ease ball circulation and escape pressure however what this frequently results in is Spurs occupying the space high up the pitch with less players. This thus makes it harder to battle for any 2nd balls should our defenders be forced into a clearance as there’s less players around to win the 1st or retain the 2nd ball, this also makes it easier for the opponents to press us as they can now commit one more player to the high press as Eriksen is now operating deeper and this also means we can’t utilise the skillsets of Alli, Kane or Son as they’re also further away from the opposition goal.

A possible solution to such an issue is to perhaps in these games where we are pressed, simply leave Wanyama higher up the pitch and drop Eriksen deeper and then use Wanyama as a wall pass or hold up player. Alternatively you drop Wanyama altogether and you sign Leandro Paredes (too bloody late now) however if you’re Pochettino and you have little faith in the pressing-resistance of your players, then I suppose you need these “scrappers” to make your life easier during the constant transitions and turnovers. By including these “scrappers” however, you guarantee a scrappy game much like the one against Bournemouth where nothing but nonsense turnovers in wide areas occur every 30 seconds.

4.3 The ‘3’ at the back is born (or born again) vs Arsenal

3 consecutive Premier League draws after the win against City and after not scoring from open play in 5 matches across all competitions, Spurs’ form prompted a change of system for the game against Arsenal. Pochettino seemingly threw together a 3-4-1-2 with Eriksen, Son and Kane forming the inverted triangle up top.

The introduction of an orthodox back three changed very little in terms of Spurs’ structure during the build-up bar the FBs having greater license to get forward as well as Eriksen enjoying more space and time in the centre of the pitch. What did massively change for Spurs was how their structure conditioned the opposition to defend in a 4-4-2 shape as the starting positions of the players lent itself to the 3-4-3 build-up structure so instead of having Wanyama umming and  ahrring about when and where to drop off, Spurs were already lined up with a back three.

This forced Arsenal into a 4-4-2 shape as they were never going to let Sanchez press on his own and what’s more, they had to adopt this shape for the entirety of Spurs’ build-up and with Kane and Son occupying the back four, Arsenal’s FBs couldn’t push high up the pitch and squeeze the midfield line. Also with Son always threatening to run in behind the Arsenal back line, the back four were hesitant to push too far up the pitch thus in turn meaning Arsenal’s midfield line did the same creating large gaps in between Arsenal’s lines and on a pitch the size of the Emirates, Dembele and Eriksen enjoyed frequent touches on the ball in large areas of space, conducting our possession upon an extremely vertical orientation.

With three at the back and two striker formations, there is sometimes the worry of being outplayed and outnumbered down the flanks however if the two strikers position themselves correctly then this isn’t an issue. To pin a back four with two strikers, the two strikers must occupy the spaces in between the opposing CBs and FBs thus creating a difficult situation/scenario if the opposition FB attempts to move forward as this will either leave a lot of space down the flank for the striker to attack or threaten to open up space in the middle if the opposition CB chooses to move over to cover the advanced FB.

In this game, this meant Rose and Walker were free to occupy Walcott and Iwobi thus stretching the midfield line of four for Arsenal leaving Dembele to dominate a number of 1v1 battles vs Coquelin and Xhaka again ensuring a quick and vertical tempo to Spurs’ possession.

Spurs didn’t always position themselves like this however and so did not maximise the potential this structure could create for them and perversely they instead (at times) positioned themselves with narrow strikers (no greater than the distance of the opposition CBs) and high and wide FBs, conditioning a wider defensive line and narrower midfield line for Arsenal. This created an extremely difficult 4-4-2 defensive block to break down for Spurs as Arsenal could easily overload the central and half-space channels making penetration near impossible, in other words, we at times, through simple positional deficiencies conditioned Arsenal to defend like Atletico Madrid and doesn’t that make you feel a little sick!

This is of course an exaggeration and an unforgivable comparison for Atletico Madrid however this scenario was the consequence of a drastic change in attacking structure after less than three days of training time and the change in pace associated with a North London Derby.

Another issue with this formation was how we defended in a low block, in a 5-3-0-2 formation, with Eriksen dropping into the same line as Dembele and Wanyama. The three man midfield was easily overloaded on a number of occasions and Arsenal enjoyed a lot of good possession on the edge of our box and against a more prepared opponent Spurs would’ve been punished more severely. This defensive flaw meant this formation was unlikely to be a long term solution for Spurs’ issues with getting a positive result from games and was merely a one-off experiment. Spurs duly switched system again in time for the next game against West Ham switching to a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation as well as handing Harry Winks his full debut in the Premier League as the LCM.

4.4 The diamond vs West Ham

The diamond in midfield created issues for West Ham in the way of stopping them from defending high up the pitch. West Ham defended in a 5-1-3-1 formation with Pedro Obiang man marking whichever Spurs midfielder operated within the ‘10’ space. This meant that West Ham’s midfield line of three had to defend deep and narrow as there were still three central Spurs players to consider and with Rose and Walker staying high and occupying the West Ham WBs (Antonio and Cresswell), Dier and Vertonghen could easily between them (+ Wanyama and Lloris) pass rings around the lonely Sakho.

This gave Spurs easy access to the halfway line where they could ensure appropriate structure for a defensive transition or at the very least make any potential West Ham offensive transition even harder thus guaranteeing a lot of possession during the game. It was from being able to apply good pressure on the ball carrier upon a West Ham offensive transition due to appropriate structure upon losing the ball that Spurs were able to regain the ball to start the move that resulted in their initial equaliser.

Spurs’ issues then quickly became apparent against the West Ham low block as with Obiang making life difficult for Eriksen, Spurs struggled for passing options centrally and many attacks broke down once the ball was played into the physical battle Kane and Janssen were engrossed in with the West Ham back three. Rose and Walker as well, did very little to threaten in behind (by staying deeper) though at times this could’ve been a ploy to open up space to attack behind the Ham WBs as our two strikers and midfielders attacked this space on a number of occasions without any real success.

Although Spurs went into the second half 1-0 down, only minor tweaks were needed to ensure Spurs could break down the opposition shape on a more regular basis including: 1) Speed up the tempo of our play and 2) Push Harry Winks into the space between Ham’s midfield and defence. These two changes would overload the opposition defensive line thus opening up spaces on the wings as well as giving Spurs a fair chance on converting scoring chances from crosses.

These tweaks allowed Spurs to overload the space Obiang was marshalling which brought the opposition midfield deeper however they were kept narrow by Dembele and Wanyama giving Walker and Rose greater license to get forward with Kane, Winks, Eriksen and Janssen occupying the Ham back five. It was the result of this which gave Rose the space to attack down West Ham’s right and put in the ball for Janssen to shoot and for Winks to convert the rebound.

With Spurs looking good after the half-time changes, Pochettino inexplicably switched Spurs back to a 4-2-3-1 with the introduction of Alli for Janssen. With the wider attacking midfielders and with the double pivot in play, Walker and Rose seemingly became more hesitant to move forward and Sonny’s introduction didn’t help matters and Spurs lost a lot of their dynamism and momentum they’d built up.

Pochettino’s saving grace in this game came in the last five minutes of regular time when Pochettino dropped Wanyama into a permanent back three, changing Spurs into a 3-3-3-1 variant. The back three restored Walker and Roses’ license to get forward and gave Winks freedom of the centre whilst also creating space for Dier and Vertonghen to drive forward with the ball thus speeding up our build-up play. Walker and Rose maintaining a higher position up the pitch (as well as it being so late on in the game with y’know attacking mentalities n’all that) Son was restrained to the width of the penalty area and Eriksen, Alli and Kane were able to again pin the opposition back five and midfield. Spurs then enjoyed a lot of space in dangerous channels in West Ham’s half and the new dynamics late on the game duly delivered Spurs with two chances to enter West Ham’s box and punish West Ham accordingly so a good result for Spurs after a mixed performance.

4.5 Familiar faces with new scars (4-2-3-1 vs Chelsea)

The big news emerging from Tottenham’s starting XI pre-Chelsea depicted a starting line-up with Kevin Wimmer returning to the team in the LB position with the rest of the team picking itself, with Son on the left and Eriksen floating right.

The immediate thing to notice in this game was just how wide Son was playing out on the left, almost never coming into the centre like how Pochettino usually prefers his attacking midfielders to play. With no Danny Rose and with Victor Moses still adjusting to his new RWB position for Chelsea, it made sense to stretch the pitch in this area and if possible isolate Moses 1v1 and after Sonny’s performance as a winger against Sunderland, it was worth a try to see if he could recreate a similar performance against the League leaders.

Eriksen and Alli offered Spurs a strong presence in between the Chelsea lines and their movement was fantastic as they constantly interchanged and roamed and linked with the flanks to create overloads in order to help Spurs maintain possession in Chelsea’s half. Wimmer staying deep and wide in this game created an interesting dynamic for Spurs down the left hand side as his occupation of Pedro, alongside Hazard’s passivity over on the right hand side, stretched the Chelsea midfield line creating a crude 2v2 in the middle. Dembele again enjoyed his 1v1 battles and with the Chelsea midfield line stretched it didn’t so much highlight Kante’s or Matic’s defensive skills and instead left them rather troubled.

Spurs still weren’t controlling the game however and their lead was hardly justifiable (and it seemed to make Eriksen go mad as he wasted a few decent possessions with stupid long range shots after his opener). Spurs’ press was slightly more intense than it had been in previous games (perhaps understandable due to the proximity of the two clubs as well as their previous encounter) however it stretched the midfield line terribly and Chelsea were able to play through it/around it several times which made it harder for Spurs to offensively transition effectively outside of an out ball to Son who was doing an impression of 15/16 Sonny. Alongside a number of well-timed fouls, Spurs limited the amount of times this happened however and this maintained an impression of control at least as Spurs could then setup in their mid/low block shape. Spurs also struggled to penetrate Chelsea’s penalty area and a lot of shots came from outside of the area as Kane didn’t do enough to unsettle the Chelsea back three by dropping off, instead merely trying to pin one of them or occupy just the two.

Ultimately a mad moment from Dembele led to a chain of events which ended with Pedro’s equaliser. Frustrated by Kante’s tactical foul, Dembele tried to restart play quickly with Eriksen and Walker not appropriately set up to support him on the right hand side leaving Dembele to run into a cul-de-sac where upon losing the ball Spurs didn’t appropriately invest in their own press. Tired towards the end of the half and with the midfield line disorganised with Dembele out right and Eriksen central, Matic easily found an incisive pass into Pedro who produced a moment of magic on the edge of our box to level with Chelsea’s second attempt of the game.

I can’t necessarily slate Son for not tracking back  for the Moses winner as his instructions seemed to tell him to stay high in an attempt to pin Moses or exploit his offensive tendencies and thus the winner came as a result of a poorly dealt with cross and a gamble that paid off for the Chelsea WB.

Through tiredness or tweaks, Spurs played less intensively in the second half of the game and Chelsea took the initiative away from Spurs and threatened to run away with the game early on after the restart. All of Spurs’ issues became exaggerated in the second half as they produced a rather pathetic display akin to a bottom six side merely making up the numbers in clashes against the top four. It was perhaps the cherry on top to be placed upon the cake of poor form that Spurs wallowed in towards the back end of 2016 which prompted the publication of a number of doom-and-gloom tactics articles from myself, Nathan Clark (@TTTactics) and Jake Meador (@jake_meador) just in time for Christmas. As aforementioned, I even called into question Pochettino’s long term position at Tottenham Hotspur as his emphasis on defensive concentration and rigidity seemed at odds with our youthful side’s inexperience and flair.

  1. The 3-4-2-1

5.1. A change in build-up structure (and why it’s Vertonghen – Alderweireld – Dier)

As addressed when first reviewing our switch to a three at the back formation for our 1-1 draw against Arsenal, the starting positions of the players streamlined a lot of Spurs’ positioning and thus their circulation. We now had capable ball players like Dier and Vertonghen stretching the opposition’s 1st line of pressure and operating (and at times) driving into the half-spaces with Wanyama providing the tip of a diamond which gave our CBs the option of a quick 1-2 or wall pass in order to find space. Both Dier and Vertonghen have experience playing as FBs and aren’t shy to take on their man or drive with the ball and coupled with Dier’s crossing ability, this gave Spurs a new dynamic in possession and the potential for a new threat which is hard for the opposition to defend as if you press a CB, you are most likely leaving open a midfielder or forward. I’ve previously explained some benefits to operating deep in the half-space in my first tactical profile of Pochettino:

“This tactic allows our midfielders easier access to the ball from our CBs and allows (the ball receiver) the chance to drive/pass diagonally infield. From this angle, (the ball receiver) has a greater view of the field and the play ahead of him and is therefore also able to make a better decision and hurt the oppositions shape. By driving diagonally in towards the centre of the pitch, this forces the opposition to drastically change their shape, having to drop both horizontally and vertically, therefore creating more disruption (as opposed to reacting to a vertical long ball, the opposition would only have to drop vertically, taking a few steps back). This also allows (the ball receiver) to pick up the ball in more space as the opposition are unlikely to press him in this area and risk losing their shape.”

It is also important to analyse why Toby Alderweireld is positioned as the central CB in this shape and the answer is relatively simple. Toby is, without question, the CB who possesses the greatest range of passing in our squad and who can be relied upon to not only see a defence splitting pass but also pull it off with laser-like precision. So, if Alderweireld possesses the ball in the central channel of the pitch, then the opposition’s shape will likely be at its most stretched as Toby has access to players both on the right and left side of the pitch. With the opposition’s shape at its most stretched, ideally you’d want your most dangerous passer on the ball in order to exploit the existing gaps as well as giving him the freedom to dictate the direction of our play where he can ping a ball to the left or right as he so pleases.

With Wanyama also restricted within the central channel due to the advanced nature of our wide CBs his lack of appreciation for structure is minimised and again he is limited to operating merely as a wall pass for our more purposeful passers. This also gives him quicker access to all channels on the pitch upon a defensive transition where he can work his (for the sake of it) “magic”. With the WBs still operating as the sole width-providers in this formation, this leaves open space higher up within the half-spaces for Dembele and Eriksen to work within. With the five channels already now occupied during our build-up structure, Alli and Kane are free to move about the ‘10’ space and drop-off or pin the opposition’s defence and create as much havoc as they see fit. Our new build-up shape is illustrated below.

3-1-4-2 build up

The above illustration is a little deceiving however as it indicates that we keep this 3-1-4-2 shape once we enter the opposition’s half or final third which isn’t usually the case. Upon entering the opposition’s half, generally our shape will change to a more traditional 3-4-3 or 3-2-5 with Wanyama stepping up alongside Dembele and Eriksen joining the forward line so as to occupy the five vertical channels high up the pitch as well as providing us with a steely counter-pressing double pivot which will help us circulate possession, prevent counter attacks and ultimately, control the game.

The danger defending this build-up shape for the opposition comes mainly from how to defend against the CBs who are bold enough to drive into midfield. After conditioning the opponents into a 4-4-2 with our three CBs and with Alli and Kane occupying the back four, we outnumber the opposition midfield 5v4, which not only keeps them pinned but opens up areas in the half-space for our CBs to drive into where they can either be left alone to put a ball into the box or be pressed at the risk of opening up receiving space for the WBs or forwards.

The greatest example of how difficult it became for teams to defend against us came in our 4-0 thrashing of West Brom at the Lane. With Walker, Rose, Kane and Alli pinning West Brom into a back six, West Brom were defending the edge of their area with a very narrow three man midfield who simply couldn’t defend the space they needed due to the speed at which Tottenham Hotspur were playing. This was helped by Vertonghen and Dier joining the midfield line, confident Alderweireld could defend any (if any) hopeful ball cleared to Rondon, therefore easily allowing Spurs to outplay and overload the West Brom midfield three with the help of Wanyama, Dembele and Eriksen.

The rate at which West Brom’s midfield three were getting overloaded prompted panic from the West Brom low block and this led to a number of occasions where a defender from the last line was forced into a late reaction, leaving his line to press the ball carrier opening up gaps to exploit. At times one of the wide men was forced into a hurried press, opening up an angle for our WBs to receive in time and space and even for our opener where McAuley was hurried into pressing Eriksen leaving Kane open to receive and hammer home his first of the day. Our shape and positioning was leaving the West Brom defence in tatters and it was as beautiful to watch as it was horrifying knowing there were teams in the English Premier League being thrown about like a ragdoll.

This shape also lent itself to our high-pressing game as with the three CBs offering protection, our WBs could really push up the pitch and press without fear and squeeze the opposition’s shape. Dembele would also often step up and join in with the squeezing of the opposition, especially in games like our 2-0 win over Chelsea where he would man-mark Kante during the press. Likewise Spurs’ wide CBs would usually break out from their line to press one of the Chelsea attackers who would be receiving with their back towards goal, knowing the four other defenders or Wanyama would close up and cover for them.
5.2. A horror show vs City

Spurs’ man orientations during their press however still had the potential to cause them issues such as in the 2-2 draw away to Manchester City in January. Spurs attempted to press City’s back line man for man with Alli and Kane on the two City CBs and one of Eriksen or Dembele would be responsible for Toure however Claudio Bravo was the ace up City’s sleeve and his composed nature on the ball helped lure the likes of Dembele, Kane and Alli away from their man opening up space.

Even if Bravo was forced long, his passing ability usually meant he was able to find a City player which caught Spurs out a number of times due to the nature of their pressing/marking. With Toure’s movement separating Eriksen/Dembele from the midfield line, De Bruyne and Silva often easily found the space to receive the ball as they would venture into the half-spaces where Wanyama and Dembele were rarely willing to follow due to the risk of creating too large a gap in the middle.

City would also throw their FBs forward early as well, putting Sterling, Sane and Aguero right up against our CBs which gave City’s attackers the advantage when attacking long balls in behind due to the speed advantage they had over our CBs. City’s front five meant Wanyama was often being dragged deeper and deeper which forced us to defend in that dreaded 6-2-2 shape as Alli and Kane maintained a high position whilst we were defending, perhaps anticipating a clearance but meant we were overloaded with ease in midfield.

With City maintaining a similar man for man structure during their press with their front three on our back three Spurs struggled to maintain any possession or create a meaningful attack as our CBs weren’t free to dictate the play and with Silva and De Bruyne covering our double pivot, Spurs struggled to find Eriksen or any of our forwards with a clean pass leading to structural issues upon any transition.

Within 20 minutes Spurs had switched to a 4-3-3 variant with Dier moving into midfield which whilst it made it easier for us to defend in a low block, it hampered our offensive transitions as the FBs now had less protection and license to go forward. This meant we struggled to create any width offensively and thus made it easier for City to press us as we didn’t stretch the pitch or attack with appropriate numbers again meaning we struggled to keep possession of the ball.

Upon surviving the first half, Pochettino committed to changing back to the 4-2-3-1 with Son coming on for Wimmer, which again, whilst making it easier for Spurs to defend in midfield as we now could defend with better horizontal coverage in a 4-2-3-1/4-1-4-1 mid/low block, we struggled to threaten City with any central presence and again most of our possession occurred in wide areas where we were easily pressed and lost the ball.

Later on in the game, when Wanyama had to fill in for Toby at CB and Winks was introduced, Pochettino changed our defensive shape to a 4-3-1-2 shape in an attempt to split the pitch and perhaps prevent City from circulating the ball across the width of the pitch considering Sonny’s lack of defensive work ethic when placed on the wing. This switch provided some temporary offensive relief for Spurs however as the inverted triangle at the top of our defensive shape could quickly pin the opposition back four into a narrow shape and Sonny’s introduction further enforced this, thus opening up space on the wings from where Spurs created some decent chances, one from which they converted for Dele’s goal.

5.3. Please stop this 4-2-3-1 nonsense.

Within minutes of watching our game against Sunderland I’m vomiting again. 4-2-3-1, Wanyama not splitting the CBs, FBs wide but deep and wingers inaccessible with a lack of strong central presence, do I have to say anymore. To watch me watch these games where we played the 4-2-3-1 in this manner would most likely resemble Gordon Ramsey throwing up some trash served to him as all red faced he screams, “BLAND! RAW! DISGUSTING”

I tell you what as well, it’s these games I remember more than anything else because the solution is not so simple except it is. There’s more to a game than a one team playing 3-4-3 in possession and thus the other 4-4-2 out of it however you dismantled West Brom by overloading their back line and opening up the half-spaces and in this game, you barely attempted to and we had boring old stale Tottenham that couldn’t break down a team bound for relegation. Against Middlesbrough in the next game as well, it was the same! These are games which kill our title challenge and where I question a man who’s broken records and giving us two of our best seasons in recent memory.

5.3 Liverpool nullify Tottenham’s most effective tactic

Against Liverpool, Pochettino switched Alderweireld and Dier around at CB, placing Alderwiereld on the right and Dier left perhaps knowing he could use Toby’s diagonal pass to the left of the pitch as an escape from Liverpool’s press. Dier does try but can’t pull off the pass with the same accuracy or trajectory often making the usage of this redundant. Perhaps it was also a ploy to cover Ben Davies against Mane’s pace however that didn’t bloody work.

Like City, Liverpool didn’t so much care for creating space for their attackers away from our defenders as they knew the speed of their attackers would find them that space if they could find the right ball in behind. Liverpool applied little subtlety to their attacks and often hit the channels early upon winning the ball back seeking to exploit any gaps in our shape upon transition, avoiding Wanyama and Dembele (a crucial tactic for Liverpool and one that had several consequences for Spurs) and looking to best exploit the space left behind our back four.

These passes created plenty of issues for Spurs as their attackers were forced into sprinting retreats and with Dembele and Wanyama unable to counter-press successfully Spurs struggled again upon offensive transitions. Not only this but when Davies failed to hold the defensive line, he let Mane run inside and behind him to score the opener. It was also threw the positioning of Liverpool’s attackers (narrow and central) that space was opened up for Liverpool on the flanks where Clyne in particular found the space to attack to allow Liverpool to play more of these direct attacks which forced Spurs into disrupting any potential structure appropriate for an offensive transition.

Spurs’ 4-2-3-1 rarely threatened Liverpool’s defensive shape and why would it due to its acknowledged flaws. With Wanyama and Dembele unable to create through the counter-press, Spurs could never disrupt Liverpool’s defensive shape and struggled to create good quality chances. Pochettino changed next to nothing in the second half and the game turned into a bore fest in the second half and Spurs whimpered to a 2-0 defeat.

Spurs didn’t help themselves in this game as they failed to match Liverpool’s intensity, too many times they handed Liverpool the initiative by failing to advance up the pitch quick enough after a clearance forward. With Son out on the left and Davies hesitant to get forward this often meant Son stayed wide on the left, again meaning Spurs struggled to provide a strong enough central presence offering a route of penetration through Liverpool’s centre. This left Wanyama and Dembele struggling for passing options which made it easy for Liverpool to press our midfield and regain the ball in order to launch a counter.

Liverpool’s style of press upon our build-up again created a chaotic tempo and this disruption led to inappropriate structure for Spurs upon transition and no sustained period of possession from which to progress up the pitch. With Firmino deep and the near side ‘Pool wingers pressing our CBs from the line of our FBs Spurs were often forced long and left barren for options during the build-up. The over and underlapping runs from Liverpool’s 8s also created a number of marking issues for Spurs as Wanyama and Dembele were often forced to track back into the defensive line for fear of letting Wijnaldum and Lallana run behind our backline freely again meaning Spurs were often inappropriately structured to form an effective offensive transition.

Spurs again switched to a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond around the 25th minute and it helped to create Spurs a couple of chances for a few minutes through Ben Davies who now had room to move into ahead of him with Son now partnering Kane up front. This also prompted Spurs to defend again in a 4-3-1-2 shape perhaps to again split the pitch and stop Liverpool from exploiting under loaded flanks with a direct switch. This change didn’t improve Spurs’ defensive performance however as Liverpool still found ways to isolate Mane against Davies and still release Clyne down the right hand flank which now featured an overload in Liverpool’s favour. Son was having a really poor game up top as well and our attacks regularly broke down once they found his feet which didn’t allow the rest of his teammates to setup in time to defend the incoming counter attack, all in all a bad day for Spurs.

5.4 A return to 3-4-2-1 and how we press

The next home game against Stoke, Pochettino, buoyed by the return of Jan Vertonghen from injury, returned Spurs back to the 3-4-2-1 which prompted another 4-0 thrashing of one of the League’s most forgetfuls. With Dier and Vertonghen boosting the midfield line, Spurs enjoyed a strong central presence with Eriksen, Alli and Kane floating in between the Stoke lines whilst Davies and Walker had the freedom to pin the opposition wide men. One interesting thing to note from this game was how we attacked Stoke with our set-pieces as we positioned Vertonghen and Kane on the edge of the box for many of them. Stoke were unwilling to place anyone there on the edge and left both Jan and Kane free every time and Spurs punished them rightfully with Eriksen finding Kane to score the second of the game from this position and on another occasion Vertonghen hit the crossbar.

I previously mentioned how our new 3-4-2-1 lent itself to our pressing shape without going into much detail however I shall now correct that. Like in the home game against Everton, teams found it very hard to produce any clean build-up whilst being pressed by Spurs. The main reason for this is how the front three press as a unit in such a way that makes it difficult for the opposition to create and exploit overloads in these areas.

Even though Everton would tend to use one of Schneiderlin or Barry to drop in between the CBs whilst leaving the other six slightly higher so as in order to create a diamond shape to attempt to escape the Spurs press, Spurs would position their players much like how Liverpool pressed us in order to disrupt this build-up. One of the front three of Kane/Eriksen/Alli would sit more or less on the higher 6 whilst another would do the same on the CB furthest from the ball however not so close so as not to open up gaps in the middle. This would leave the first presser to then press the ball receiver (either the deeper six or other CB) from the line of the free man, leaving the free man in their cover shadow thus meaning we could press four Evertonians with three attackers. This means we still had a numerical advantage behind the ball (7v6) and our WBs could press high up the pitch so as to restrict the usage of any wide outlets Everton might plan on using.

With the three CBs as well as Dembele and Wanyama, Spurs also enjoyed great access and presence within the half-spaces and central channels of the pitch thus making it really difficult for teams to pass through us. Our pressing shape is illustrated below.

pressing shape 3-4-2-1

With this pressing shape, Spurs can easily split the pitch (by which I mean cut off half the pitch from the player on the ball) and from this make the opposition play predictable and force them to clear it long where we’ll have the advantage. As you can see as well, Spurs are heavily man-orientated during their press as it is the easiest method for cutting off passing options and forcing the opposition into clearing it long, also with our physically superior players Spurs have the advantage in pressing players receiving the ball facing their own goal as well as retaining the ball upon a recovery such as a tackle.

If the opposition do try to pass through us and play into these players being forced to receive with their back to our goal (due to our man-orientations) we tend to see Wanyama/Dembele/Walker set upon them with a mixture of arms and chest and upon winning the ball simply hold off whoever they’ve just tackled. With the numbers advantage behind the ball, Spurs’ midfield line also had the potential to press up the pitch as high as necessary and even on occasion see one of the midfielder or wide CBs break from their line to press the ball in a dangerous area if they thought the risk was worth it much like in our home game again Chelsea. That game saw, on plenty of occasions, our wide CBs breaking from the defensive line in order to press Pedro and Hazard further up the pitch in order to stop them turning on the ball and running at our mid/low block.

The 3-4-2-1 again as I mentioned streamlined our circulation and whilst it had the potential to give access to Eriksen and Dembele, it also meant Wanyama was able to receive the ball at a beneficiary angle on more occasions thus meaning his first touch didn’t kill moves early on in the build-up. Saying that, Wanyama definitely improved over the season with how he used his first touch in order to receive the ball facing play so that he at least could see where he needed to pass early on  and he thus wouldn’t slow our possession play down as much as he used to. In most cases he learned how to scan before receiving the ball so that upon being passed the ball he wouldn’t even have to take a directional first touch and could instead let the ball roll past him so he could keep his head up and receive the ball facing the play.

5.5 Pochettino’s substitutions

It was also around this time, with Spurs out of other competitions that Pochettino now wasn’t restricted to using his substitutions for merely fitness purposes and his subs could now take on a more tactical nature. Frequently in games around this time we’d see Winks come on between the 60th-70th minute for Dembele, now this one was primarily driven by fitness issues as Dembele would often fade around this time. After this, generally when winning games, Pochettino would bring on Sissoko and Janssen for the likes of Kane and Alli in order to see out the game and use their physicality to hold-up/battle for the ball and suck in fouls or even make them in order to run down the clock. Janssen in particular became known as a time vacuum and his energy alone became an absolute nuisance for tired teams towards the end of games as he would be relentless in his pressing and his physical nature would rub defenders up the wrong way and win a number of fouls which allowed Spurs to maintain control of possession within the opposition’s half.

Pochettino was rarely forced to tinker with this formation from game to game as a number of teams failed to find an adequate way to defend against the positioning of players. Southampton in particular, or their FBs to be specific, struggled to contain Spurs’ 10s (Alli and Eriksen) and never stepped inside to keep the back four narrow and with Southampton’s wide players not covering the spaces opened up in the half-spaces, Spurs FBs were able to occupy two respective Saints defenders whilst Eriksen and Alli enjoyed great deals of space on the ball. Eriksen benefitted in particular being allowed so much space upon receiving the ball and he punished Saints by chipping in with his 10th goal of the season.

5.6 Injuries prompt a return to the 4-2-3-1

Pochettino would rather switch to a system he doesn’t trust rather than pick a player he doesn’t trust which is why when Dembele or Wanyama was injured, Pochettino would thrust Dier into midfield and switch back to a 4-2-3-1 then restore Kevin Wimmer to the starting XI. This was also reflected in Pochettino’s continuous selection of Trippier over Walker towards the end of the season even though Trippier was perhaps the weaker performer within the 4-2-3-1 formation.

Thankfully the Spurs players were firing on all cylinders around this time perhaps thanks to Pochettino’s adapted fitness regime throughout the season (or perhaps due to the fact he couldn’t get his hands on half of them over pre-season due to the Euros) and all players were playing with a new found drive and desire. The final set of games at White Hart Lane also set an emotional tone upon many of Spurs’ last few games which potentially had a number of benefits on the player’s arousal levels. In the game against Arsenal for example, the Spurs players were applying themselves with a great sense of urgency (I know that’s a pathetic thing to say in a tactics piece) which meant the Spurs players were making greater effort to get into positions which would disrupt the Arsenal shape.

Players like Trippier and Davies were running into positions higher up the pitch earlier than usual, players like Son, Alli and Kane were making more runs in behind the Gunner’s defence and our players pressed the opposition with a higher intensity and counter-pressed for longer periods of time. That’s why Spurs’ 4-2-3-1 didn’t show itself with the same flaws it had done throughout the course of the season. Wanyama and Dier were circulating the ball at a quicker rate partly because of the occasion but mostly due to the speed of movement from their teammates around them. The only tweaks made to the 4-2-3-1 towards the late end of the season was with Dier now back in midfield, he was responsible for dropping back into the deeper areas of the right flank and right half-space to create our back three as well as provide some protection for Trippier who’s a weaker performer defensively than Walker. This position also meant Spurs could still utilise Dier’s crossing ability and even though the positions he crosses from are less than ideal (too deep) it can have the potential to create for Spurs due to the accuracy of his delivery as well as competing for second balls high up the pitch near the opposition goal.

Spurs’ issues in possession within the 4-2-3-1 were still apparent however as Spurs’ struggled to break down Arsenal’s newfound three at the back shape outside of the transitional phases of the game. These struggles again plagued Spurs in their away trip to West Ham where Spurs struggled to overload the West Ham defensive line of five with their possession play. The best chance of the game for Spurs came as a result of a long ball from Toby Alderweireld where Son was able to knock the ball down to Kane who’s long shot produced a number of rebound chances immediately after.

Again the 4-2-3-1 struggled to break down the opposition’s shape in possession with neither Son or Alli operating within the half-spaces, with neither of the FBs having the room to advance up the pitch as high as they needed to be and thus meant pot shots and set-pieces were the only way Spurs looked like they could get something from this game. Having to rely on unreliable sources of goals is a bad idea and it showed for Spurs in this flat performance as they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat which was the final nail in the coffin for Spurs’ title challenge.

With Sonny’s continuous selection in the team combined with Rose’s injury and Pochettino preferring the 4-2-3-1, Pochettino did utilise Ben Davies as an inverted FB in games to allow Sonny to operate wide left whilst maintaining some presence within the half-spaces. When Davies did take up residence in the half-spaces it did help to clean up our circulation in the initial phases of our build-up as it helped us to keep the ball in dangerous areas as well as overload the opposition’s initial lines of pressure with a 2-3/4-/5/4 shape. When forced to combine with Son higher up the pitch however, Davies’ dribbling ability (or lack thereof) as well as his crippling right foot did lead to some attacks breaking down and it would’ve been interesting to see Rose used in this role at points during the season.

In the final match staged at White Hart Lane, Spurs again enjoyed success against a top six opponent using the 4-2-3-1 but with the FBs pushing on constantly into high positions. Such was the extent to which Davies and Trippier were pushing on that even when Spurs had the ball on the halfway line, Manchester United (because of their rigid man-marking system) were already conditioned into a 6-3-1 shape. This allowed plenty of room for Alli, Son and Eriksen to combine with the FBs as well as Dier and Wanyama in order to ensure plenty of progressive possession within the Man Utd half.

This limited Man Utd offensively however their deep and horizontally compact defensive line did mean Spurs failed to create some good quality chances and it showed as our only two goals of the game came from set-pieces. Man Utd’s man-marking system did have some benefits for Spurs as players like Son reacted quicker to transition situations and were able to free themselves of their marker. Spurs’ interchanging attacking midfielders created the same effect as the Man Utd players struggled at times to register when to stop following their man and communicate that to their teammates. Man Utd’s team selection made life easier for Spurs with players like Bailly, Blind and Lingard providing the width for Man Utd, with Martial isolated from the rest of his team up front Man Utd rarely produced a quality attack. Their goal coming from an individual moment of quality when Martial was isolated 1v1 vs Trippier and then able to get to the byline near our goal and lay on the goal for Rooney.

The last two games of the season turned out to be a matter of smooth sailing for Spurs with away trips against already-consigned-to-midtable Leicester and already-relegated Hull. With Dembele returning from injury, Spurs again deployed the 3-4-2-1 formation with minor rotational tweaks (Son for Eriksen and Sissoko for Trippier) as well as a small tactical one with Alderweireld playing as the RCB with Dier in the centre. This tactical change was perhaps in anticipation of the fact that we would again easily overload Leicester’s 4-4-2 and have our wide CBs (as well as our defensive line in general) positioned high up the pitch, Poch probably preferred the choice to push Alderweireld on and leave Dier back so as to match the pace of Vardy potentially running in behind. Pochettino continued this rearrangement of his back three in our next game against Hull however so perhaps he saw Alderweireld as offering more to our possession play from the right half space than Dier. It’ll be interesting to see if Pochettino continues with this arrangement going into the new season as both players have the quality to benefit our attacking play from this area.
6.0 Tactical Profile

This part of the piece will provide an overview of Pochettino’s tactics and strategies and will perhaps be the only part of this piece most will read and will thus cover his player “profiles”, his defensive and offensive strategies as well as how he prefers his teams to press. This will be presented without the game-by-game diary-esque manner as presented above but will however include further analysis from me on the pros and cons of his various tactics.

6.1 Starting XI and player “profiles”

This part of the piece will provide an outline of what I deem to believe Pochettino looks for in his “profiles” and will perhaps give us a sense or what we will look for in the transfer market ahead of the 2017/18 season. Universal attributes for new signings will include being under the age of 25/26 so we can have at least two years of these players at their prime before possibly declining and so they may retain some potential resale value. These players will also have to be known to work extremely hard on and off the pitch so as to maintain Pochettino’s fitness requirements and so as to avoid Pochettino “freezing” him out of the 1st team picture after a couple of months.

Goalkeeper: Of course, every goalkeeper in the Premier League has to be a fantastic shot stopper however for Pochettino and his systems, the goalkeeper has to be comfortable coming off his line and adept at using his feet in order to assist our build-up play. Though these skills aren’t as necessary considering Pochettino generally prefers a midfielder dropping in between the CBs to help in this way and with the likely signing of Pau Lopez, I don’t believe we’ll be looking for a GK in this window anyway.

Centre-back: A Pochettino CB has to be a physically superior specimen, height doesn’t necessarily matter however these CBs have to be physically strong as well as have enough pace about them to cover a large distance of ground quickly due to our high-line. Ideally this CB will also have enough experience or nous to be able to play in one of the FB positions due to the offensive contributions they’ll be expected to perform in a wide CB role in Poch’s 3-4-2-1. Good technical ability, referring to passing and dribbling ability is also necessary considering our CBs are the ones who dictate play due to the roles of our DMs in both the 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-2-1. With Pochettino switching to a back three for the second half of the season, Spurs are perhaps one CB light in this area, especially if Kevin Wimmer forces a move out however with Cameron Carter-Vickers and Ben Davies we have two potential squad options already available to us.

FBs/WBs: Again these players have to be physically superior specimens in terms of their stamina, acceleration, pace and strength due to the man orientated nature of our pressing/marking. Pochettino certainly adores the modern FB/WB so this player will be expected to be adept at both defensive situations as well as offensive ones as they will be almost solely responsible for what occurs down the flanks. Good crossing technique is therefore desirable though not so important due to Spurs’ tendency to try and overload the box and fight for 2nd balls. If Walker does end up leaving (he did) then we’ll certainly be in need of another RB whether or not that comes in the form or Walker-Peters being promoted or otherwise. Personally I don’t feel as if our FBs/WBs are as important to the way we play and I feel like what’s more important is their understanding of the role and application so I wouldn’t be too unsettled if we went into the new season with Rose/Davies/Trippier/KWP though I would prefer a RB with a more guaranteed offensive output.

DMs/CMs: Perhaps where I disagree most with Pochettino. Pochettino again wants his DMs to be physically superior in almost every way to their opposition. These DMs will be expected to be able to cover vast amounts of ground, horizontally and vertically. They will be expected to have exceptional work rates and be prepared to counter-press an opponent for lengthy durations as well as be prepared to defend in wide areas. Passing, dribbling and first touch don’t matter as much to Pochettino as it does to most managers as he believes his CBs are capable enough dictating the play therefore the DMs need to be able to thrive during defensive transitions so as to prevent offensive players from being dragged too far back. Any newly arriving CMs will also have to be able to offer some pressing resistance due to the man-marking nature of our pressing structure. With Dembele, Wanyama and Dier Pochettino has his preferred DMs in abundance and with Winks he has a promising youngster of a different mould who gives him other options. The only real concern is if we don’t bring in another CB or don’t yet trust Carter-Vickers, then what happens when Dembele starts to implode physically and with his injury history he is perhaps not a reliable first teamer.

AMs: These players will have to be able to thrive across the three central channels and operate as second and support strikers as they will be expected to overload the box upon entering the opposition final third. These players must be able to find space within crowded areas of the pitch and thus possess an excellent first touch as well as approach the game with a positive and attacking attitude meaning they must be able to find ways to create chances for others as well as themselves. These players must also be able to recognise when it is (and more importantly when it isn’t) time to drop deeper within the half-spaces in order to ease ball circulation during the build-up as well as when to rotate and interchange with other central and wide players in order to create overloads and allow attacks to “breathe”. We’re fairly well stocked in this area however with Sissoko likely to depart and with Lamela’s injury troubles; there is room for a new incoming. What is a priority is to find a rotation option for Eriksen, a playmaker who is as adept in front of goal as he is further away from it. We need someone who can recognise the current needs of the squad within any situation within the game and have the positional sense necessary so they know how to occupy numerous defenders at any one time creating space for the DMs and WBs.

Pochettino has been on a quest the last two years to find himself also thee squad winger who he can utilise in order to give Tottenham a more direct option in possession, naming “Sadio Mane” as the perfect profile of player for this role. This quest has already cost Spurs a hefty £50 million-odd with little return both on and off the pitch and it’s hard to say whether Pochettino will continue in his search for such a player considering the development of Son Heung-Min this season who I believe has the potential to fit such a profile.

ST: Spurs won’t be after a striker in this window, however it’s still fun to outline what Pochettino seems to prefer for his strikers. Much like the AMs, Pochettino prefers his strikers to have some ability within the lines of the opposition’s midfield and defence as he requires them to be able to freely interchange with the AMs so as to benefit Spurs’ press however Pochettino doesn’t mind and perhaps prefers his strikers to have some of the attributes more closely assigned with the classic target man. Pochettino seems to prefer his strikers to offer themselves as a direct option in possession, ready to receive and hold-up the ball off the team at any time especially within the 4-2-3-1 considering the deeper positioning of the FBs and when you look at previous Pochettino strikers, they all can be recognised as physically dominant players such as Pablo Osvaldo, Rickie Lamert, Emmanuel Adebayor and Harry Kane. This presents the team  with the opportunity to play the preferred up-back-through passing routine as enjoyed by Pochettino as his mentor, Marcelo Bielsa.

My personal desires for the transfer market:

I’m happy with the defence, I don’t think there is much need for adding depth either as I hope to see Kyle Walker-Peters and Cameron Carter-Vickers breakthrough into the first team as with some game time I believe they can be good enough to aid our title challenge. Kevin Wimmer is also someone I’d like to see us continue with as left-sided CBs who fit our system are hard to come across and after a poor year he deserves the chance to continue his development with us as again I see him as having the potential to be a first-teamer for us soon enough.

With Winks as well I feel like we have enough depth in CM alongside Dier however I wouldn’t be averse to seeing us sign a new CM who offers a greater passing range and who boasts near inhuman vision who can act as another quarter-back when splitting the CBs alongside Alderweireld. I realise however this is not a necessity for this Pochettino team however Paredes would’ve been my ideal signing (who has since moved to Zenit) alas signing a CM who could match 80% of Wanyama and Dembele’s counter-pressing ability alongside greater speed of action and a better first touch will get a thumbs up from me.

The biggest priority for me is finding another quality attacking midfielder who can at least rotate for Eriksen should he ever get injured and in order to do this we need to find someone who can create chances for others en masse. Therefore we need someone with excellent vision, adept passing and crossing ability to sustain their vision (ideally with both feet) and also someone who has the potential to score 10+ goals over the course of a season. This sort of player is hard to come across or at the least, hard to acquire who’ll be happy to be another rotation option. Players like Hakim Ziyech spring to mind however he has issues with his crossing and shooting locations however being young and from the Eredivisie he’ll be affordable to us and still present us with some resale value. Perversely I’d also like to see us bring in someone who can produce quality set-piece delivery with a left foot so as to allow us some flexibility in set-piece situations if Lamela’s injury issues continue. This in turn suggests Thomas Lemar would make a good signing however questions still reign over his head with regards to whether he can produce the same offensive output consistently outside of Ligue 1 and “that” Monaco system.

Strikers aren’t a necessity for us as Kane is Kane and there’s more to come from Janssen however not having a wealth of stats knowledge within my head or available to me, I’m perhaps the wrong person to be suggesting transfer targets and this is more a task for James Yorke (@jair1970) of @StatsBomb.

6.1 Defensive Strategy & Tactics

Pochettino’s teams tend to adopt a fluid approach to their defensive shape off the ball depending on where the ball is on the pitch. Generally, if the opposition has the ball on one of the flanks or if they’re circulating the ball along their defensive line, Pochettino prefers to set his teams up in a 4-3-1-2 shape in order to make our high pressing easier on our forward line, a formation which offers a lot of vertical coverage at the risk of not adequately covering the horizontal width of the pitch at all times. To combat this, Pochettino employs Wanyama, Dier and Dembele in midfield, players who can cover vast amounts of ground quickly. Also, this is where we see some fluidity from Spurs as the three behind the striker (talking in the 4-2-3-1 for example) generally interchange between themselves to ease the horizontal shifting as Spurs hunt down the ball circulating amongst the oppositions defence. For example the LM in the 4-2-3-1 will push into the front three when the ball is on the right hand side of the oppositions defence and then become the LCM when the opposition moves over to the left side of their defence.

This is the shape we inherit whenever we are in defending in our high or mid-block which is different to how we defend in a low block (when the opposition enter our final third). Upon the opposition entering our final third through a period of sustained possession (not usually a thing), when operating in the 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1, Spurs tend to adopt a 4-4-1-1/4-5-1 variant and practice a zonal-orientated man marking system. This practice ensures the team and the players will defend initially in a zonal fashion, focusing on maintaining a narrow and horizontally compact shape against the ball however once an opponent enters the space around a player or a particular players zone then they will be pressed and man-marked heavily.

While usually effective due to the physical prowess and discipline of Pochettino’s side, this man-orientation still has the potential to disrupt Spurs’ zonal shape as usually you’ll see Wanyama or Dembele break from the midfield line to press an opposition player receiving the ball in their zone which then affects the positioning of their teammates as they seek to close up or adapt to the new situation. This then has the potential to, if our players are unsuccessful in recovering the ball or forcing the opposition backwards, to further disrupt our shape as the opponent can consequently lure another player out of the midfield line and exploit the temporary gaps if they move the ball quickly enough. Defending in the 4-4-1-1 however generally prevents this from happening as one of the strikers can move over in order to prevent the ball being circulated horizontally or diagonally forward and thus force the opposition backwards where we can press again in a 4-3-1-2 shape.

When utilising the 3-4-2-1, Spurs tend to defend their low block in a 5-3-1-1/5-3-2 shape again sacrificing some horizontal coverage for the sake of more vertical coverage. Also by keeping two strikers high up the pitch, this has the potential to pin a back four and perhaps prevent the opposition FBs from stretching our midfield line. This is a riskier defensive strategy and our low block shape is more like a 5-3-1-1 however this shape has created difficulty for Spurs such as in the 2-2 draw away at Manchester City. Pochettino seems to prefer these narrower and smaller midfield lines when defending for the same reasons he uses Wanyama and Dembele the way he does, so our “wide” attackers aren’t forced to start an offensive transition from the lower wide areas. This seems to be Pochettino’s way of combatting Spurs’ desperate lack of pace upon transition by positioning his players higher up the field and trusting the horizontal coverage of the pitch to Wanyama and Dembele/Dier.

In order to benefit our pressing, Pochettino sets up his teams to defend as high up the pitch as possible which means we defend with a very high line with our defenders usually stationed on the half-way line and even pushing into the opposition half should our possession allow for it. The high line kept by our defenders is absolutely vital to the success of Spurs’ high press as it allows Spurs to keep a narrowly compact shape whilst we defend meaning our individual players are responsible for defending a lot less space thus ensuring more success in recovering the ball and denying the opposition players time and space on the ball. The high line does leave a lot of space in behind for the opposition to exploit however the intensity of our press means rarely can the opposition play an accurate ball into this area and rarely do we come up against teams who have the pace to exploit this space (only Liverpool and City have really exploited our high line to devastating effect). This is also why it’s so important for our GKs to be comfortable rushing out off their line in order to kill an attack before it begins, an expert example of how this is done was produced by Michel Vorm in our home 1-1 draw with Liverpool at the start of the season.

6.2 Pressing + Triggers

Mauricio Pochettino’s team generally employ a zonally man-orientated approach to their pressing, meaning if a player enters a specific zone with the ball or perhaps threatens to receive the ball in this zone, then they will be marked closely and pressed immediately. Apart from the initial pressing of the opposition CBs where a Spurs striker will press a CB from the line of another CB (a passing-lane orientated press) Spurs operate almost solely with option orientated man-marking scheme.

This means, upon a press being triggered, the 1st defender will press the ball carrier whilst the nearby secondary defenders man-mark the ball carrier’s closest options within the closest four vertical channels. This is because any option open to the ball carrier over three channels away will most likely only be accessible through a long lofted pass which means Spurs will have ample opportunity to re-adjust their position upon the opposition player receiving the ball. This means defenders on the ball-far side are free to maintain the balance of the defensive shape and defend zonally thus helping to keep Spurs narrow and compact in case the initial press is beaten which would risk an opposition player now operating in space.

This is why physical superiority is so critical for Pochettino as he needs his men to be physically dominant over their opposition so they can outmuscle and outwrestle their opponents during their man-orientated press. Man-marking during a press is an easy way to guarantee your defenders maintain both an eye on the ball and their opposition and thus means they can guarantee an immediate pressing of the opposition’s first touch should they trigger any of the out listed pressing triggers below:

  1. Opposition player receives the ball near the touchline
  2. Opposition player receives the ball near the byline
  3. Opposition player receives the ball in our penalty area
  4. Opposition player receives a ball on the edge of our box
  5. Opposition player receives the ball behind our defensive line
  6. Opposition player receives the ball with his back to our goal
  7. Opposition player receives a ball with his back to his marker
  8. Opposition player receives the ball not facing play
  9. Opposition player receives a bouncing ball
  10. Opposition player receives a headed pass from a teammate
  11. Opposition player receives a slow traveling pass from a teammate
  12. Opposition player receives a square pass from a teammate
  13. Opposition player receives a back pass from a teammate
  14. Opposition goalkeeper receives a back pass from a teammate
  15. Opposition player receives the ball off a long lofted switch of play
  16. Opposition player recovers the ball after a clearance
  17. Opposition player recovers the ball after a tackle (counter-press)
  18. Opposition player recovers the ball after an interception (counter-press)
  19. Opposition player takes a poor first touch
  20. Opposition player is stretching to control a ball
  21. Opposition player opens up their body preceding a pass or shot
  22. Opposition player turning on the ball
  23. Opposition player dribbling with the ball
  24. Opposition player has no passing options open to him
  25. Opposition player running back towards their own goal
  26. Pressing player has numerical support around him
  27. Pressing player can force opposition player into a pressing trap

The triggers listed above are ones I’ve seen Spurs react to across the season and am confident that if the opposition present Spurs’ players with any of the situations above then this will trigger an explicit effort from the Spurs team to execute their press. Of course these situations above will only trigger a press if a Spurs player can make up the ground in time to press the opposition player before the situation no longer exists and if they have adequate support around them.

Spurs’ man-orientations does create issues however during offensive transitions as upon recovering the ball, Spurs’ pressers now become man-marked by the very opposition they were just marking making them inaccessible for the ball carrier. This has the severe potential to slow down Spurs’ offensive transitions as Spurs’ attackers lack the extreme pace necessary to get away from their markers thus meaning the only accessible players to the ball carrier are usually defenders meaning the ball must initially travel backwards.

This also means a lot of our ball recoveries come through tackles as opposed to interceptions which makes our ball recoveries unclean and inconsistent, again, leading to slower transitions and also perhaps a disruption of appropriate structure. As always with man-marking this means our defensive approach is somewhat more reactive than what is ideal as this thus has the potential to allow the opposition to dictate the positioning of our players much like how we usually do by operating the five vertical channels in the oppositions final third, once more disrupting any potential offensive transition.

This defensive approach also restricts our recruitment and team selection meaning players like Harry Winks and Josh Onomah don’t see as many minutes as they perhaps should in their preferred positions. This also means those who specialise in moving the ball quickly don’t see much playing time at CM meaning we can sometimes become too much of a one-dimensional team when we aren’t allowed to create from our counter-press such as in the game against Liverpool. It also means our possession can sometimes become rather stale and rather uninventive as if the opposition defend properly, then our creatives are forced to drop deeper to collect the ball which then in turn minimises the number of penetrative passing options we have within the opposition’s defensive block.

6.3 Offensive Strategy & Tactics

Pochettino’s Tottenham rarely deviate from their commonplace offensive tactics even if they choose to switch system dependent on the players he has at his disposal. Pochettino’s side will always build possession from the back using a back three using one of the DMs and the two CBs and these are the players Pochettino trusts to dictate the tempo and direction of our play. As our FBs are our primary width-keepers (considering the lack of 1v1 specialist wingers we have in the squad), this means one of our AMs will drop deeper into the same line as our remaining DM in order to create a 3-4-3 shape during our build-up thus meaning (when applied correctly) Spurs maintain a strong central presence during the build-up and thus lends itself to the creation of appropriate passing angles, triangles and diamonds in order to overload the opposition lines of pressure and thus make for a clean progression up the pitch.

Through Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, Spurs have two superb passing technicians at CB who boast a vast range of passing which Spurs utilise on many occasions during a game. Through Toby in particular Spurs use him to bypass the opposition midfield and sometimes their defence with a long ball in order to break opposition lines which create issues for the opposition as they’re now forced to change their defensive positions. This can even create goals for forward runners like Dele Alli who can be put clean through on goal thanks to the weight and accuracy of Alderweireld’s passing. If Spurs are particularly struggling to break down their opposition and penetrate centrally, Spurs can use Alderweireld’s passing to switch the ball to an under loaded side of the pitch which will force the opposition to shift their defensive shape drastically which can open up temporary gaps within the opposition shape to be exploited. At the very least this direct switch can be a powerful weapon in Spurs’ arsenal as it can guarantee a disruption of the opposition’s shape against most teams as if there’s no gap to immediately exploit upon a switch then the wide player receiving can usually play back to our CBs who can circulate the ball horizontally again in order to demand a shift in defensive shape from the opposition. In other words, Alderweireld’s switch can also provide Spurs with a faster method of horizontal circulation which makes life difficult for opposition teams.

The biggest benefit to Spurs’ 3-4-3 during the build-up is constant occupation of the half-spaces through Spurs’ CBs and through either the two central CMs or even the three attackers up front. With Eriksen usually being the attacker to drop into the half-space, Spurs are best utilising their most intelligent player who, like Spurs’ CBs, recognises when it’s time to increase/decrease the tempo of our play (so as to disrupt the opposition shape/allow Spurs to set-up) and when to continue overloading one flank or switching it to the other. This is why, even when we switch to a 3-4-2-1, Spurs’ build-up shape only changes slightly to a 3-1-4-2 in order to allow Eriksen easy access to the ball within the half-spaces. Spurs’ three attackers left up front are tasked with occupying the back four, keeping them relatively narrow during our build-up so as to leave the opposition wide men responsible for defending the flanks meaning our FBs can pin the opposition wide men to a worse starting position for an offensive transition. Spurs can still occupy the opposition back four with just the two attackers hence why Pochettino changed up the build-up structure to a 3-1-4-2 however this leaves Spurs in a worse position to battle for any second balls or counter-press should Alderweireld attempt to put Alli through on goal with one of his long balls.

Upon entering the opposition’s final third, Spurs adopt a 2-3-5/3-2-5 shape, dependent upon either using a 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-2-1 so as to overload the opposition back line and condition the opponent into a 6 at the back shape. This again means the opposition wide men become less of a threat offensively but more importantly means Spurs can overload the stretched opposition midfield line and open up the half-spaces for players like Eriksen to dictate the chaos of our attack. Spurs rarely tend to try and break down the opposition through the wings and flanks considering our FBs struggle in 1v1 situations and instead prefer to use these players to create space for those in the centre.

Spurs’ team features a number of long range specialists like Kane, Eriksen and Son and Spurs don’t mind shooting from range, preferring to guarantee quantity over quality when it comes to producing shots. This is because, as I said, Spurs have a number of long range specialists but also by allowing Spurs’ players the freedom to shoot from range, Spurs increase the chances of ending a possession with a shot on goal which is harder for the opposition to transition off of. Producing more and more shots on goal often means the opposition are forced to defend with a number of blocks meaning they’re unlikely to recover the ball cleanly and this can also force a number of 2nd ball battles within the opposition box (again, disrupting any structure appropriate for the opposition to transition) and also corners for Tottenham.

Creating space for Spurs’ long range shooters is a big reason for Spurs adopting this 3-2-5/2-3-5 structure in attack and is a reason why Spurs haven’t gone all out in the transfer market for a starting winger as they’re not a wing-orientated team. Spurs are volume creators and as such don’t worry about where the shots originate from or where our crosses or balls into the box come from as they’re just as confident they can create from any 2nd ball situation.

This also offers an explanation as to why Spurs struggled to score when using the 4-1-4-1 with Lamela and Sissoko used as wide players as neither were particularly good long range strikers and neither were particularly good at producing crosses or creating space for teammates in the centre. With Spurs’ FBs not suited to the inverted WB role (and not even positioning themselves as such) Spurs lost a lot of their central presence and this meant they struggled to create gaps high up in the centre of the pitch. It also meant Spurs couldn’t overload or stretch the opposition midfield line and thus making it harder for Spurs to penetrate centrally such as in our 1-1 draw away at West Brom.

Another one of Spurs’ biggest offensive threats originates from their counter-press as well as how high they press. This is why Pochettino presses the opposition with three strikers so as to create a number of vertical penetrating options upon winning the ball back high up the pitch. Pressing high up the pitch and with a number of forwards, Spurs can easily overload the opposition’s CBs who’ve set up wider and higher in an attempt to produce clean build-up and create high quality scoring chances such as for Kane’s second goal in our home 3-2 win over Everton.

6.4 Set-pieces

Much like in his pressing schemes, Pochettino tends to prefer a man-marking system when defending set-pieces with only a handful of players zonally positioned on the edge of the six yard box and the edge of the penalty area. Pochettino usually brings all ten men back into or around the box to defend set-pieces which whilst increases Spurs’ chances of winning any second balls, means Spurs are almost never likely to score off a counter attack from an opposition corner. Pochettino tends to place two to three men on the edge of the six yard box, oddly enough with Danny Rose usually defending the near post with Kane just behind him.

This goes against conventional wisdom of having your most aerially dominant players defending this area as they’re more likely to clear away the first ball. This is perhaps done to ensure a speedy reaction to defend a short corner or a cleared ball back towards the corner taker with Rose leaving his post but certainly you’d feel Rose can be made more of a use of elsewhere during defensive set-pieces. Eriksen as well is almost always responsible for defending the edge of the penalty area or preventing a short corner as he is the least aerially capable person in our team. Generally the rest of the Spurs team are assigned traditional man-marking duties as most of them are at least 185cm tall and strong in the air.

The man-marking nature of our corners is something I disagree with as it means Spurs are generally out of position appropriate for defending the second phase of a corner. This also always has the potential for Spurs to concede should one of our markers be blocked or lose concentration as shown when Michail Antonio opened the scoring for West Ham in our 3-2 thriller with the irons at White Hart Lane.

Spurs kept a high line defending free kicks and where they could help it they would set up the defensive line outside their penalty area. Players like Son, Eriksen, Rose and Alli were kept placed in front of the defensive line as Spurs defended free kicks in a 7-3 shape. The highline demanded pinpoint delivery from the set-piece taker as well as increasing the chances of catching any opposition attackers offside.

Spurs’ scoring output from set-pieces diminished compared to their output in 15/16 and watching Spurs it’s not hard to see why. Plenty of Spurs’ set-pieces throughout most of the season lacked imagination with many of our offensive corners being directed at the near post where many teams were able to clear the ball away easily. Spurs would frequently try an overload the near post area with attackers but the set-piece delivery was usually unreliable and again, many teams were set-up to defend the near post area. Spurs unreliable delivery from set-pieces reflected Spurs’ troubles from scoring from direct free-kicks with Eriksen still not having scored from a direct free-kick since October 2015. Outside of Eriksen, Spurs’ only other set-piece takers were Erik Lamela and Son Heung-Min who also had issues supplying consistent quality delivery.

Spurs do seem to do some homework on the opposition’s set-pieces as in games like against Crystal Palace and Stoke City; Spurs were able to produce a number of chances from set-pieces. Towards the end of the season as well, Spurs experimented with a number of shorty-taken corner routines which proved more successful in accessing the opponent’s penalty area using Eriksen, Dembele, Son and the respective FB to create overloads down the flank. Spurs were arguably forced into trying a number of short corners in order to ensure some quality delivery and create a better crossing opportunity like for our short corner to open up the scoring against Manchester United during White Hart Lane: The Finale.

7.0 Conclusion

Spurs finished 2nd in the Premier League with 80+ points and only losing four games all season so there’s no doubt that we had a fantastic season. Highest scorers in the Premier League, best defensive record… in most scenarios that would be enough to win the League… I hate how that sounds familiar.  Even eight draws isn’t bad going and it was only Chelsea’s remarkably relentless campaign (possible due to their lack of any European competition) that prevented Spurs from winning this time.

Still, Spurs and Pochettino aren’t free of criticism; our recruitment has been dire over the last two seasons and this simply must improve if we hope to compete in any other competition outside of the Premier League. Our offensive options in particular need addressing as outside of Son, our squad is bloated with underperforming attackers who don’t fit or add anything beneficial to the current system (in my head I see nothing but Sissoko and N’Koudou).

The issues with the 4-2-3-1 need addressing as well considering Pochettino clearly favours this formation. With Wanyama’s inclusion in the team as well as Son’s, Spurs need to forget their slow tempo build-up play and seek to be more direct and more aggressive with their possession as this was our best method for breaking down teams in this formation. Alternatively, utilise the same formation however operate it with new personnel; Winks would make a fine addition for example. The issue is rather easy to fix however as they’re merely some positional flaws which plague Spurs’ 4-2-3-1 mostly associated with the height of the FBs and how this impacts the wide attacking midfielders. For this to be an issue throughout the season creates some cause for concern as it suggests Pochettino either didn’t recognise the problem or wasn’t able to get his coaching points across.

Spurs excelled using the 3-4-2-1 and credit should go to Pochettino for finding a formation that allowed for easier overloading of the opposition midfield. Pochettino’s willingness to adapt his systems throughout the course of the season as well as in the middle of games shows off the flexibility of the Spurs squad as well as Pochettino’s proactive approach towards the football season. Pochettino frequently adapted his game plans during most games when Spurs were struggling and it did help to serve as either damage limitation or boost Spurs’ chances of getting a result from the game which quells the idea that Pochettino doesn’t have a “plan B”.

Going forward, I’d recommend that Pochettino mould his squad so as to have enough options so as we can use the 3-4-2-1 for most of the season as well as strengthen the squad so we can put together a worthy Champions League campaign next season. Pochettino’s attitude towards players he doesn’t trust may also be up for review as his distrust of Wimmer (for example) often led to Pochettino forsaking a system that worked just so he wouldn’t have to play an unhappy but still capable player which could’ve been the cause for some lacklustre results.

I’m not going to worry about Tottenhams move to Wembley either as our run of poor form more reflects the quality of the opposition we’ve encountered there rather than a devil’s dose of voodoo. Spurs can also adapt the size of their training pitches and therefore become more familiar more quickly with the new conditions and demands by the bigger pitch which will only serve us better in the long run.

Should Pochettino address these issues I would be comfortable in the knowing that Spurs will once again challenge for the title and continue to grow as a club alongside its promising youngsters. If Pochettino can’t recognise and appropriately address these issues then I’m sure I will again question his long-term position at Tottenham Hotspur, but for now, we’re lucky to have him. Spurs have been the best team in England over the course of these last two seasons and they’re a hairs breadth away from showing they are the best again over the course of the 17/18 season. I, for one, am realistic yet hopeful because after all, “he who dares… wins!”… Wait that’s not it! Oh yes… “To dare is to do!” COYS!

Follow me on Twitter @LukeBBurgess

Mauricio Pochettino & Tottenham Hotspur: 2016/17 Tactical Analysis