Aston Villa (A) 01/11/14 - Post-Match Tactical Analysis

A match between two struggling teams can be a difficult one to dissect. Both Aston Villa and Tottenham were heading into Sunday’s match in need of a win, but low on confidence and seemingly short of answers for their troubles. 

In a matchup of two sides short on confidence as well as goals, the game had all the makings of an extremely dull affair. However, the desperate yet different situations the two teams found themselves in seemed to give both a hunger to get forward and break out of their struggling cycle and created a fairly entertaining but frustrating game. 

The space between defence and midfield still an area of concern

Etienne Capoue has been one of Tottenham’s strongest performers in the beginning of the season, but his form has noticeably dropped in recent matches and he was at fault for opening goal on Sunday. 

With Ryan Mason being the creative, attacking component of the two-man midfield, the responsibility of controlling the space just in front of the centre-backs largely falls on the shoulders of Capoue. 

Too often, Capoue is caught far up-field, leaving yards of open space in front of Kaboul and Vertonghen for an opposition player to receive the ball, or too deep almost alongside the two CB’s which creates the same problem. 

In the first half on Sunday, his poor positioning cost his team one goal, and could have easily cost them two. Before Villa’s first goal, there was an attack down Tottenham’s left-hand side that ended with a cut-back to Benteke near the top of the box which he hit off the post.

It was a perfect example of Capoue’s inconsistency in his role as the holding midfielder: his job in those types of situations is to be in a position to cut off the pass from the wing to the top of the box and then spring a counterattack, but instead, he was 10 yards too far up the pitch, allowing Benteke to almost open the scoring. 

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When Villa finally did make the breakthrough, it was Capoue who was at fault. He tracked Andreas Weimann into the box, and then, for reasons unknown, simply lost his mark and ball-watched as Weimann slipped in behind him as the cross flashed across the front of Capoue for the Villa opener. 

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Both sequences were ones that should be easily avoidable, but it seems Capoue’s relative lack of mobility and even lack of situational intelligence seem to be manifesting. He has improved significantly since last season in his passing ability, but a holding midfielder also has to be one of the most intelligent players on the field – his role is too important in the modern game, especially in a system like Pochettino’s, for repeated mental mistakes throughout the course of the game. 


Pochettino makes changes on the wings 

Tottenham’s lack of width in attack has been bemoaned since last season, but Pochettino’s change at halftime to bring on Lamela for Eriksen and put Chadli on the right and Lamela on the left improved on this reoccurring issue. 

Lamela’s best performances recently have come in the Cup competitions when he has started on the left and given freedom to come inside. This change hasn’t suddenly made him into a winger who is going to get down the touchline and put in crosses, but has rather been a small adjustment that forces his starting position in a wider position than when he is on the right, giving him more space and making him more difficult to mark for opposition defenders. 

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Chadli and Lamela were still drifting inside to work the channels, but there starting position was now wider and allowed Tottenham with at least the ability to stretch Villla’s defence in the low-block. The change also meant we saw an important part of the Bielsa philosophy which Pochettino prescribes, even if it was rather fleeting: creating overloads on the flanks. 

In Tottenham’s 4-0 win over QPR, Spurs consistently created 3 vs 2 passing situations on the edge of the opponent’s defence that dragged QPR out of their shape and opened up passing lanes for runs into half-spaces. Since that game, these overloads have become worryingly infrequent, and it is one of the reasons Tottenham’s attack has been so pedestrian and easy to stop. If Spurs are to be effective when facing teams in a low-block, triangular interplay along the flanks to create overloads and open spaces for teammates to exploit has to become a consistent part of the attacking play. 

 

How does Pochettino balance the team? 

Pochettino has a very interesting selection problem for Stoke. It seems as though Harry Kane may finally get his Premier League start, and after another wasteful and frustrating performance from Adebayor, it seems likely that he will field Soldado up top with Kane behind him. The question is, how does the rest of the attack fill out? 

Lamela will likely start, as he and Soldado play best when they’re on the pitch at the same time, which means there is likely one spot to be filled in the front four. 

Eriksen was disappointing in the first half, and although he has created 18 chances and scored three goals this season, he still hasn’t reached his peak performance level. One has to question whether the demands of Pochettino’s system are starting to wear at him, given that he has never been a player to put in much running or defensive work. His willingness to do the dirty work this season has been very commendable, and shows a great attitude to sacrifice himself for the collective, but if it is coming at the cost of his creative ability, it may not be worth the price. 

Meanwhile, while Chadli’s performances haven’t been awe-inspiring, he’s developed a habit of putting the ball in the net, which makes him difficult to drop. So does Pochettino put Eriksen on the left, and risk him repeating a performance like on Sunday? Or does he put Chadli on the left, despite the fact he doesn’t possess near the same creative abilities as Eriksen. Or, does he go another route, and play Eriksen and Mason together in midfield against a weaker team at home where Tottenham are going to have most of the ball? 

Every answer provides a new set of problems, and speaks volumes about the difficulty Pochettino has in trying to find the right balance in a team made up of so many different types of players who came from different types of systems. The only straight-forward picks in attack would be Kane and Soldado, as Soldado’s exceptional link-up play combined with Kane’s movement provide Spurs with the best chance to break down a compact defence. 

 

Conclusion 

Often times, to get out of a rut, you don’t need a grand epiphany or moment of brilliance; you just need a little bit of luck to go your way. On Sunday, Tottenham finally got a break, and the relief was practically palpable. Struggling to beat a 10-man team who had lost five straight may not be glamorous, but if it allows the players to feel a since of liberation and improves the sense of the collective in the face of adversity, than it is just as important as any four or five-nil win. 

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