Ham Mpanga writes a detailed tactical analysis of the Premier League match that ended Tottenham 4-0 Watford.
The high-flying Tottenham Hotspur hosted mid-table Watford in a lunchtime clash. The home side are the only side unbeaten at home in the league thus far with 13 (now 14) wins and 2 draws to their name. Watford meanwhile, sit in the middle of mid-table at 10th place. With their season petering out, Tottenham saw this as the perfect chance to bolster their outside hopes of a title and a chance to tighten their grip on a Champions League place.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Lloris// Trippier-Alderweireld-Vertonghen-Davies//Dier- Dembélé (Sissoko 75’)//Son (Onomah 88’)-Alli-Eriksen//Janssen (Kane 61’)
Watford (3-4-3): Gomes// Cathcart-Mariappa-Holebas// Janmaat-Doucoure (Zuññiga 59’)-Cleverley-Amrabat (Deeney 70’)//Success-Okaka (Kabasele 84’)-Niang
Spurs’ positive movement confuses Watford
One feature of Tottenham’s attacking play is their fluid movement in the final third. In particular Son Heung-min (left), Dele Alli (centre) and Christian Eriksen (wide right). These three interchange positions regularly in order to draw out defenders & create spaces which would otherwise be occupied. Watford set up in a 3-4-3 in order to stop the Spurs trio from creating chaos in their back line; they also deployed a man-to-man marking system so as to track runs more directly. In order to combat this, the wide players Son & Eriksen would come into central areas which caused problems for Watford. An obvious solution would’ve been for their wingbacks to come inside & track the runners but Ben Davies & Kieran Trippier did an excellent job of stay wide towards the touchline & occupying their opposite number. This meant that Spurs had a 4v3 central overload in their favour, so Watford needed Doucoure or Cleverley to drop back to even up the numbers. With a man less, Watford’s build-up play became incoherent & this benefitted Pochettino’s men as it allowed their team to move up the pitch & recycle the ball more effectively. Watford’s marking system was also left in tatters due to the quick movements between men, meaning that Son, Alli & Eriksen would change position at such speed that Watford would be left without time to react. Watford’s defenders were drawn out of position regularly, opening up dangerous areas time and time again.
In the build-up to Dele Alli’s opener (pictured), Davies had removed Janmaat from the situation; Son had also pulled out his opposing centre back, meaning Dele Alli was left free in the left half-space to shoot & score. In this same phase of play, Christian Eriksen makes a late run into the box in an attempt to catch Watford off guard. Isolating defenders is another key feature of their play Pochettino has incorporated.
Ultimately, a lack of communication rendered Watford’s marking useless as the creative minds of Tottenham’s attack could ghost through their opponents with ease.
Hornets forced wide for the answer
In the few phases of play that Watford had the ball, Tottenham would press in a 4-4-2 shape with Alli partnering Janssen, Son on the left & Eriksen on the right. This was done to restrict Watford from passing vertically & Tottenham’s semi-aggressive press resulted in the away side having to pass sideways & backwards. This left the hosts relatively untroubled as Watford barely caused them any real cause for concern.
Watford’s wing-backs provided little contributions to attacks, leaving their team to 1v1 wide situations to create chances.
Whenever Watford’s wingers did get forward, they failed to beat their man regularly & without support from their wing-backs, Spurs found it easy to reclaim the ball to launch their own attacks. Up front, Okaka’s movements were largely poor & unsupportive which left the away side pointing fingers whenever an attack broke down. The main problem with Watford’s structure on the day was that the midfield was always stuck in transition. In attack they failed to provide an escape route from danger or create anything themselves. Whilst in defence they remained largely lethargic & inactive when faced with a problem. As soon as Tottenham pushed themselves out of first gear, they found it relatively easy to enforce their way of playing into the game as it progressed.
Dier & Dembélé break lines with ease
The 3-4-3 deployed by Walter Mazzarri held Spurs at bay for the opening parts of the game but as it grew on, Okaka, Success & Niang slowly neglected their defensive duties which eroded their front line. This meant Vertonghen & Alderweireld could push up to construct play as well. There were times during the game when only one half was used to play football, this signifying aggression & penetration Tottenham had forced into the game.
It is important to break the lines of the opposition as it allows the team to move forward. The most common way to break lines is by passing vertically as it the most direct way forward but it is also possible to break lines horizontally.
With Spurs breaking Watford’s lines regularly, they could enter the final third often & create chances at will. Tottenham’s midfield pivot could also sit back, knowing their smart passes & timed runs would do the work for them. Eric Dier also scored a goal, displaying the gifts of anticipation. Watford made no attempt to counter this, so their languid pressing off the ball meant the game played right into the home side’s plans.
Dier was mostly picked over Victor Wanyama for his calmness on the ball & superior passing ability. Spurs’ depth in profile helps them to prepare & navigate most situations they come across.
In conclusion, Watford lacked leadership on & off the pitch as conflicting ideas were evident on the pitch. This led to weak build-up play & a discontented team performance throughout. Spurs meanwhile, showcased their evolving resilience in tough times is a sign of their improving mentality, a mentality which deserted them this time last season.
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