Where did Spurs’ desire and relatively solid defence come from on Sunday, having largely deserted them this season?
While the performances of the enthusiastic Harry Kane and goalscorers Christian Eriksen & Roberto Soldado were excellent, it was the team effort and in particular, the tactical changes of Mauricio Pochettino, seemingly based on the work of both his mentor Marcelo “El Loco” Bielsa and predecessor Tim “The Gilet” Sherwood, that truly sealed the victory over Roberto Martinez.
Spurs’ 2-1 win against Everton yesterday was regarded by many to be a turning point in their so far stagnant season. The dreadful football played at White Hart Lane (Emmanuel Adebayor recently spoke of the team’s improved performances away while not very subtly blaming home performances on the fans) had been epitomised by the hapless Roberto Soldado, without a league goal since March.
The Spaniard’s explosion of emotion was visible to all in the ground, with even the Everton supporters surely secretly hoping that the former national team striker can use this important goal to regain some form and confidence.
The birth of a goal machine?
Spurs appeared to line up in a 442 formation, as opposed to their streaker-filled midweek game against Partizan when match-winner Stambouli lined up next to Paulinho and Mousa Dembele in a three-man midfield behind Lennon, Lamela and Soldado.
In that game Lamela and Lennon started in their ‘conventional’ positions with the left-footed Argentine on the left and the right-footed Lennon in his preferred position on the right-wing.
This was done with the intention of supplying Soldado with crosses and balls in the box rather than the wingers cutting inside and shooting themselves.
This has been the Tottenham way since a certain G. Bale migrated over to the right, followed by Andros Townsend and Lamela, with right footers Eriksen, Lennon, Chadli more often than not playing on the left.
Pochettino’s desire to get the ball into the box was further emphasised by the inclusion of Harry Kane, whose tenacity and self-belief has been a massive factor in restoring the fire to the hearts of Spurs fans, as a second striker.
Pochettino was much lauded for his dynamic Southampton team, which was based on ball retention, high tempo, pressing and fluid positioning. These are the cornerstones of the footballing philosophy of Marcelo Bielsa, the former Argentina, Chile and Atheltic Bilbao manager who is currently a point clear of PSG at the summit of Ligue 1.
The Argentine is known as “El Loco” because of his incredibly detailed and innovative management techniques, such as press conferences that stretch into 4 hour territory, ownership one of the largest football video libraries in existence, and sitting on a water cooler by the side of the pitch during games (sometimes with disastrous consequences…).
He is also however known as a genius, with Pep Guardiola calling the Rosario native the “best manager in the world”. Chile’s current manager Joao Sampaoli has said that he is merely continuing the work that El Loco started and only left due in protest to a Chilean FA president he didn’t like being elected.
Roberto Martinez, Pochettino’s opponent on Sunday, switched to 3 at the back with Wigan after watching some Bielsa training sessions with Chile at the 2010 World Cup and even now the direct vertical running of Baines and Coleman is a nod to that of Jean Beausejour and Mauricio Isla of Chile.
Equally the importance of Gareth Barry in the Everton team is equal to the importance of Gary Medel to the Chileans, as like Medel he is excellent as a defensive midfielder/centre back hybrid that can fill in for full-backs that have bombed on.
Diego Simeone, managed for 4 years by Bielsa at international level, is another Bielsa disciple.
He employs the same defensive tactics as Pochettino did against Everton, two hard-working banks of four and solidity in the centre of the pitch, with the wingers and forwards doing most of the pressing.
The key phrase however is “pressing with intensity”.
Pochettino was said to have had 15 pressing triggers at Southampton, and their pressing was very good on Sunday, normally lead by the deep-lying Kane.
This worked out offensively as well, with the second goal coming directly from outnumbering the opposition after a Harry Kane challenge in his own half.
Eriksen had the most tackles overall in the match with 5, and although he sometimes was the last to get back into position after attacking he had one of his most defensively solid games for Spurs.
It seems like Aaron Lennon has been recalled to the Spurs team as much for his defensive work as his pace on the break, and Pochettino will be as happy with his defensive contribution as he would have been with his assist.
Spurs were unlucky to concede really, only poor defensive concentration by Roberto Soldado after a free-kick and a wonder goal from the returning Kevin Mirallas (which got him back into my fantasy league team for next week) saw Hugo Lloris picking the ball up out his net.
For the rest of the game the recently engaged Jan Vertonghen and Federico Fazio (much better but not without an error or two) marshalled their penalty area very well. Chiriches and Ben Davies were also very good defensively, Chiriches sometimes dropping in as a third centre half when necessary and Ben Davies a willing runner for the entirety of the match.
Tottenham’s line wasn’t as suicidally high as it has been at times over the past few seasons, and there were very defined banks of 4 in front of the defence when out of possession in their own half.
Hugo Lloris’ skill as a sweeper-keeper was less needed as a result, but he still had to be on his toes after a poor Chiriches back pass almost put Lukaku in.
While not identical to Bielsa’s 361, Pochettino’s right biased tactic while in possession allow for the exploration of areas departed by Everton players. The right was chosen by Pochettino as an area to exploit due to the attacking nature of Leighton Baines, and Harry Kane ran the channels in his vacated area excellently, giving the isolated Sylain Distin all manner of problems with his pace, technical skill, vision and physicality.
Vlad Chiriches acted as a third centre half and Nabil Bentaleb sat a little deeper than Ryan Mason, allowing Aaron Lennon to attack the right freely also.
Chiriches’ slightly more defensive role allowed Ben Davies to overlap Christian Eriksen, who was then free to roam in the space behind Soldado, near the number 1o position he favours. Soldado himself looked to stay further forward and seek out opportunities in the box, also his preferred style of play.
All in all, Spurs looked something like this in possession, a little more asymmetrical than Bielsa’s template but effectively a completely different formation to when the team doesn’t have the ball.
This dynamism makes a team much harder team to play against, as the opposition has to adjust themselves quickly when they lose the ball, something that didn’t occur for the equalising goal, when an on-rushing Christian Eriksen reacted to a Kane shot off the post from quickest and finished with a clever bounced shot into the ground.
The Kane-Soldado partnership is burgeoning very nicely, with Kane happy to drop deep and win the ball then drive at goal with his head up, looking for the shot or pass through to his predatory counterpart, who is looking much sharper in the past week or two. He scored most of his massive goal back catalogue at Valencia as a box player, and this system should see him and England U21 international Kane both flourish.
Christian Eriksen is one of the best playmakers in the league, and his goals and assists will complete what should be Spurs’ attacking cohort for the rest of the season.
Recreation in FM
if you’re interested in trying out Pochettino’s tactic in FM15 , I’ve attempted to recreate it here.
Let me know in the comments if it works as well for you/you’ve made some important tweaks that get it really purring.
Remember, 442 and Fluid/Very Fluid is essential to get the strikers and midfielders closing as well.
It seems almost ominous that Pochettino has finally found a winning formula in the same simple way that Tim Sherwood did: a high tempo 442 that is solid at the back and that attacks the space quickly.
However, by remembering his footballing roots and managing his squad well, the new Spurs boss has his team playing football that is both effective and entertaining, and although a 442 in name, this is a much subtler beast than that in actuality.
In the most Argentinian-influenced Premier League season ever, the rest of the league better start paying attention to the most Bielsa-based team it has to offer.
Spurs play Chelsea on Wednesday, could they be the ones to finally end Jose’s unbeaten run?
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