Each week, our friends over at Total Football Analysis Magazine tactically preview our Fixture in Focus. Today, Lead Analyst Lee Scott looks at how Tottenham are in a title race and how they could set-up against Everton.
As we rapidly approach Christmas there are still signs of a title race in the English Premier League. Heading into the weekend, Liverpool sat at the top of the table with a one-point cushion on Manchester City. Just behind those two sit Spurs. The North London side are six points behind Liverpool but there is still a sense that they are still in touch with the top two.
If we look at it objectively then the performances under Mauricio Pochettino so far this season have been nothing short of sensational. They are still in touch at the top of the table at Christmas, through to the semi-final of the Carabao Cup and the last sixteen in the Champions League. All of this comes on the back of a preseason that saw the club choose to not sign a single player. Indeed, given the lack of investment in the first team squad, there was significant unrest amongst Spurs fans who saw this as a lack of ambition.
Throughout all of this uncertainty, Pochettino remained adamant that he was happy with the quality and the depth of the squad at his disposal. There was a definite sense that had the right player been available then the funds would have been released. Instead, Pochettino has been happy to turn to his younger players with the likes of Harry Winks, Oliver Skipp and Kyle Walker-Peters getting minutes at first-team level.
To go along with the integration of younger players in the first team squad we have also seen Erik Lamela return from a significant injury lay off and French midfielder Moussa Sissoko rediscover his form. These players add depth and quality. If Spurs are to continue their positive form then they will rely on two of their more high profile players, Dele Alli and Harry Kane. They will be key factors in the upcoming match against Everton in the Premier League.
Mauricio Pochettino is one of the most tactically flexible coaches in the Premier League. We have seen him alter the structure of this defensive lines from three across the back to four and even to a four that became a three in the attacking phase when the full-backs advance forward and the deep midfielder drops to the defensive line.
In recent weeks, however, we have seen Spurs adopt a more structured system that resembles a 4-3-1-2, with the deepest midfielder changing depending on the needs of the game; Eric Dier can play there as a more destructive option whilst Harry Winks offers a playmaking style.
In the attacking phase, the look of the side alters again with the tip and base of the midfield diamond joining and supporting different lines.
In the central areas, there are three key blocks to the attacking unit that are joined together by the controlling player at the base of the diamond and Alli at the tip. The other two midfielders tend to be players who complement one another with different skill sets, Christian Eriksen and Sissoko for example, who add different dimensions to the attack.
In the wide areas, the full-backs are expected to provide width and support the attacking movement. Typically we do not see full-backs on each side advance to the same line, with player nearest the ball moving high whilst the opposite full-back provides balance by staying deeper.
Against Everton, space in the central areas may well be difficult to access given the tackling ability of Idrissa Gueye. Instead, I would expect to see combinations played between the highest full-back and the likes of Eriksen in midfield and Son-Heung Min in the attack.
These players will combine in slightly deeper areas while Kane provides more of an attacking focal point on the highest line and Alli support this with timed runs from deeper areas.
In truth it should come as no surprise that Alli had something of a slow start to the season, he carried an injury into the World Cup in the summer and then tried to come back to club football without enough of a rest.
In recent weeks, however, we have seen the young English international go from strength to strength with his goal in the recent North London derby, a glorious dink over the goalkeeper, further showcasing his threat in the attacking phase.
The threat that Alli poses comes from his ability to identify and attack pockets of space in and around the penalty area from a deeper starting position. This coming weekend, Everton will struggle to cope with these delayed runs given the lack of flexibility they have in their defensive line.
With the ball in wide areas, the Spurs strikers make very pronounced movements initially. The ball-near forward will move closer to the front of the penalty area looking to combine or be in a position to run onto a through ball. The ball-far forward will drop to the far side looking to find space in the defender’s blind side. These movements create space centrally that can be occupied by Alli moving from deep.
As Alli is equally capable of finishing in the penalty area with his head or feet, he poses a huge threat to Everton when moving into these areas.
Equally important to Spurs’ attacking gameplan is the ability of Alli to move into occupied space in order to support the focal striker and overload the central areas. We tend to see this when Kane takes up central areas and Alli moves closer to connect with the front-man and the secondary striker.
When the ball is then played into advanced areas, whether to the feet or the head of Kane then we see Alli move forward to support the pass. From a deeper line, Eriksen will move into the space vacated by Alli and further overload through the middle.
In the game against Everton, I expect to see these movement patterns repeated as Spurs look to break through the Everton defence in central areas.
Traditionally Goodison Park is a difficult place to go to when you need a win. The fans are passionate and Everton are a difficult team to play against. With that said though the smart money is still on Spurs to come away from this match with three points.
They have the momentum and the desire to keep in touch with Liverpool and Manchester City ahead of them in the title race. More crucially though they have a coach in Pochettino who has the tactical acumen to guide his side to victory.
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