Spurs Week 7

Man City Down!!!

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Hopefully you’ve all seen the game. If not, it’s worth watching on-demand if you can find it.

City, as mentioned, is the best team in the BPL. Their attack is so potent–3 goals per game–that it makes their above average D a non-factor. Led by former Barca and Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola, they quickly adopted his tactics, won 9 of their first 10 games, and looked unstoppable though unpolished. Pep is the best manager in the game. He has only coached at Barca (junior team then senior team) and Bayern and in just those 400 top flight games he’s had a win percentage of 75%. That’s insane. His player proteges have basically been the core of the winning and losing teams of each of the last two world cup finals. He is a truly transformative manager who takes talent and puts a high polish on them. Strategically, he’s known for build up play and controlling the channels that are between defenders. It looks like this:
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He tries to put no more than 2 guys in any “box” and actively works to dominate the light shaded channels. He tends to put numbers forward, and leave a defensive trio plus a sweeper-keeper GK to clean up anything that squirts through the midfield. That was why Joe Hart was pushed out in favor of the less technically proficient Claudio Bravo in goal. Bravo can pass and doesn’t mind the ball at his feet. Hart loves to shank punts into the fifth row at midfield. (Just for fun, here’s Zlatan punishing Hart for not being better as an outfield player: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ck5P30zC3Z0). Guardiola’s teams line up in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-4-1, but really it operates as a W-M or W-W shape like this pass map from their 4-0 win over Bournemouth:
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Spurs had two advantages going into this game. First, Kevin De Bruyne–the best attacking player in the game–was injured. Second, City haven’t looked good on D. They give up goals, they give up chances, and their offensive pressure leaves them vulnerable to counter-attacking teams. Spurs are a team that create chances through pressing, and are scary on the counter. This was definitely an interesting match up and several notable pundits flagged it as a potential Spurs win.
Spurs were without Harry Kane and Mousa Dembele, but Sissoko, Dier, and Rose made it back from injury. Among the Spurs-fan pundits there was a lot of agitating for a more defensive lineup (Dier/Winks at the pivot with Wanyama, Erikson/Son/Lamela at AM, Janssen at striker). Instead, Poche decided to tango. Get it?! He’s Argentinian! We lined up like this:
Son
Lamela, Alli, Sissoko
Erikson, Wanyama
Rose, Vertonghen, Alderweirald, Walker
Lloris
Spurs came out like a shot and immediately put City on their heels. Son and Alli were really aggressive on the press and Son created a few quick chances in the opening minutes. Janssen has been playing the lone striker/holder role with his back to the basket, so to speak. Son, positioned himself wider, faced the goal and made very vertical runs. City’s defenders, Stones and Otamendi were not handling it well. It forced a lot of passes to Bravo that didn’t lead to much. Bravo was supposed to be City’s supplemental defender who would turn back passes into outlet passes and allow the wing backs to stay higher up the field. Because of Son’s pressure, the wing backs were dropping ever deeper making City’s passes through the midfield longer and easier to pick off.
Erikson and Wanyama were incredible. They harried the passing lanes and positioned well off of each other. I’ve been harsh on Wanyama for most of the season but his game this weekend was everything we could have hoped for. While Erikson was covering box-to-box and sideline to sideline, Wanyama was defending the “False 8” or central attacking midfielder. Without the injured De Bruyne, City played Silva in the role and he was effectively controlled the entire match through solid defending and timely fouls to stop build up. He even had a few forward runs into the box which I hadn’t previously noticed from him. With Wanyama anchoring the midfield, Erikson out-hustled and out-passed Fernando and Fernandinho. Look at his activity map, he was everywhere:
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And his passes received show how much ground he was covering. Short passes everywhere:
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And this was his defensive presence in a game that was free-flowing but in an attack-and-parry way and not possession attacking. His performance was compared to Luka Modric which is the highest praise available to a creative holding midfielder.
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In the first Erikson action map, note how vertical his attacking half passes were. Absent from some of our previous matches was the threat of vertical attacks. After the CSKA match I tried to show that our passing gets really flat around the top off the opposition box. Typically we’re facing a flat back 4 holding the line and rebuffing our advances. I’m not sure if it was City’s positioning or our strategy, but we rarely controlled the ball with methodically advancing passes and the D never quite got organized to oppose us. It resulted in more vertical runs from the midfielders (Son and Alli in particular) and City never got comfortable.
As their D separated further and further from their O, it opened up space for Walker and Rose on the sidelines and in the channels. Both men exploited acres of space and Rose got lucky with a hopeful cross to the back post that Kolarov bungled in for an own goal. It was a lucky break but fit the momentum of the opening few minutes. You can see the goal here: http://cartilagefreecaptain.sbnation.com/2016/10/2/13137302/watch-aleksandar-kolarov-s-own-goal-give-spurs-lead-vs-man-city I think it’s relevant to note that Rose was further upfield than Lamela when he received the pass and Alli and Sissoko were unmarked in the box during the cross. We had numbers and pressure and they were not adequately prepared to defend against it.
The second goal was also a product of pressure and hustle and pushing numbers forward. http://cartilagefreecaptain.sbnation.com/2016/10/2/13137460/watch-dele-alli-put-spurs-two-goals-up-over-man-city Rose’s recovery tackle in the middle of the pitch slows the counter-attack down enough for Lamela to pry it away from the defender. Lamela then continues to stay on the action until the ball comes back to him. He feeds Son who feeds Alli, while Lamela continues his vertical run at the far post and pulls two defenders out of position. Alli runs into the space when he sees his intercepted pass fall to Son and Son lays off an inch-perfect assist at his feet. I love that the video is the full sequence, but I wish it had the replay from the other side of the field. You can see how Alli and Son spy the passing window opening up and how their movement happens before possession actually comes to Son. Great anticipation.
On defense we were ferocious. Normally, I think Vertonghen looks a little haphazard and Alderweirald mops up. On Sundaythey were both equal to the challenge of facing the best offense in the BPL. They stayed at home more and rarely ventured up field. Normally Toby gets up the field a little as a second central midfielder and uses over the top passes to try and soften up defenses that have packed it in. Instead, our guys were packed in. Here’s Toby’s action map. Only once did he attempt a long pass from the attacking half of the pitch. More notable is how many clearances (green circles) he made from our danger area.
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So for the first 70 minutes we pressured their back line, and bottled up their central midfielders, effectively strangling their midfield and playmaking. It was beautiful. Here was their pass map for the first 70 minutes.
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Compare that to their W-W shape from the first pass map and you can see how disruptive we were to their midfield and how pulling them out of shape and interrupting the flow out of the back prevented their attackers from doing anything. I think this heat map is even more effective. They were stuffed into the central third of the pitch while we occupied all of the open space. Our shape offers obvious passing lanes and theirs violates Pep’s channel/spacing strategy.
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Gundogan was subbed on for Fernando for the last 35 minutes of the game and around the 70 minute mark things opened up a bit for City. I think our legs were getting tired and we shifted into protecting our 2-0 lead instead of keeping on the attack. Gundogan and Iheanacho started creating chances for Aguero and there were some nervy moments. Lloris did well in the face of pressure and came up with some crucial saves. Somehow the game ended with City having 58% possession and a lot more passes than us. I guess that happened but until late in the game I felt like possession was all us. In hindsight we weren’t playing for possession but for attacking runs. It knocked our stat total down from their usual lofty tallies but the results speak for themselves.
Here is our passing map:
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Normally we see more possession passing (bigger circles, thicker connecting lines as noted in the CSKA and Middlesbrough passing maps below). I think this reflects a wholesale tactical change from a very familiar 4-2-3-1 configuration. That’s awesome to see and a great development from last season when we were one-dimensional, and if that wasn’t working our only option was to hope that a sub would shake things up. The new tactics also made our attacking shape much more balanced. I’d like to see more from Sissoko on the wing–he doesn’t seem to send many passes back into his teammates–but at the least he represents a more muscular, but slower version of Son which still fits our bully lineup.
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Going forward we have two sets of tactics from the same configuration, and each one slightly favors a different set of personnel. Based on last year’s success, I would describe them as:
Kane
Erikson, Alli, Lamela
Dier, Dembele
Rose, Vertonghen, Alderweirald, Walker
Lloris
Son
Lamela, Alli, Sissoko
Erikson, Wanyama
Rose, Vertonghen, Alderweirald, Walker
Lloris
It will be interesting to see how N’Koudou, Winks, and Janssen figure into these plans. Hopefully Poche can figure out modifications that play to their strengths in addition to straight swaps. Both of our 4-2-3-1 can functionally play as 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1 lineups and have resembled them for stretches (Kane dropping deeper than Alli; Son and Alli simultaneously pressing; starting Kane, Son, Lamela, Alli, and Erikson in attack; etc). That tactical flexibility will be necessary for taking on the other good clubs and whatever else awaits us in the CL. We should be destroying the shit BPL teams with whatever lineup finds the field.
Player ratings (-5 to +5)
Son (+4) – High energy press, no lack of confidence in take-ons and shots, so happy he’s on our team
Alli (+4) – An excellent game with some excellent runs. Still trying to make too many clever passes and youtube highlight shots. Maybe that audacity is what makes him so good. Drew the PK with a really smart run through the middle.
Lamela (+1) – Hustle was key to the AM level press. Terrible, terrible miss on the PK that would have put us up 3-0 and ended the game 20 minutes early. Not his best passing or shooting game.
Sissoko (+0) – Some nifty solo runs up the wing but at no point did I feel like he was actually creating anything. Had some good tackles but spent too much time rolling around on the ground not getting a call and not getting the ball.
Erikson (+5) – Omniscient and omnipotent. Fantastic game. Took Fernando and Fernandinho out of the game simultaneously. Man of the match.
Wanyama (+5) – Heavy and punishing in his tackles. Took Silva out of the game. Brings an interesting variation on Dier’s game. Would hate to be a small guy playing against them.
Rose (+3) – Lucky to force the Kolarov own goal. Created some good chances. Neutralized the always dangerous Raheem Sterling. Sterling was lucky not to get a second yellow card.
Vertonghen (+4) – Impenetrable at the back despite facing the best offense in the league
Alderweirald (+4) – See Vertonghen
Walker (+4) – Is looking better going forward every week. I was listening to a soccer podcast today and they put him forward as the best right back in the world. No one could come up with a better alternative based on current run of play.
Lloris (+3) – Some great reaction saves and kept a clean sheet against the best offense in the league.
Dier (+3) – Came on for the last 20 minutes when legs were getting tired. His hammy looks fine. Was a good box-to-box defender
NKoudou (+1) – Late sub for Lamela. Brought tons of energy and pace but spent his possessions trying to do it all himself. It looked like it annoyed City more than worried them.
Janssen (+0) – Very late sub. Didn’t do anything except body slam a few guys. Fun to watch but didn’t contribute anything.
Next up is a runaway hype train and the international break. Most of our guys will be playing for their national teams in WC qualifying. Our next real match is October 15th away to West Brom and we follow up with matches every 4 days until the end of November. Hopefully the guys can find some rest and Dembele and Kane’s recoveries come along on schedule.

Spurs Week 7

Manchester City

I don’t know if anyone watchs the Men In Blazers show on NBCSN but it’s pretty fun. Two Brit ex-pats with a deep love of America and a great sense of humor review the week. Keep an eye out for it.

Last weekend Arsenal destroyed Chelsea. I wish they had both lost but at least one of them was humiliated. The highlights are pretty sweet, but this play captured both teams perfectly:
N’Golo Kante, the heart of last year’s Leicester D was bought by Chelsea to be their new lynchpin. Ozil robs him of the ball, books it down field, and lets Sanchez cross up and then lose Luiz (50M# transfer) and Cahill, 1-2 and the flubbed volley for a goal off the post. The icing on the cake is that when Kante gets robbed, he’s next to the ref. The ref beats him back on defense. Not exactly commitment. Chelsea is in trouble.
A stat radar for Son’s last 3 games. Not shabby:

Champions League

CKSA

Just watched the CSKA match.

The CKSA crowd was really loud. I was imagining 30,000 very drunk Russians working themselves into a near-anarchic lather. I can see why it might be unnerving to play there. Well, not so much play, as leave safely after the game. Check your tea for Polonium.
I watched the game looking for to see if we have a striker problem and I agree that we may have a blind spot there. Janssen worked hard, but he frequently backs into one of the CBs and tries to box them out in an attempt to hold and dish,or turn and strike. So far he’s better at the hold up but other than that one dish off to Son against Middlesbrough he hasn’t created much. And he hasn’t been good enough at turning opportunities into shots on target. Time will tell if he figures out our system, or the BPL, or just finds a hot streak. Perhaps he’ll just be the guy who gets minutes when we need a front line defender to spell Kane when we’re holding onto a 2 goal lead in the 75th minute.
I was looking at our pass trackers over the past few games and there’s a pattern.
4-0 win over Stoke:
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1-0 win over Sunderland:
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2-1 win over Middlesbrough:
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1-0 win over CSKA:
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In all four of those matches we’re controlling the whole field except hit a wall about 22 yards from goal. It makes sense in that’s where the center backs stand, but it also aligns with our playing style of lateral/outside-in runs. With all of our attacking midfielders pushing so far up the field, we need vertical runs from deeper to break the defensive line.  The other options are passes from the wing backs into the near post or over the top passes. All three of those are in our repertoire. We haven’t had an awesome shred-them-to-ribbons game yet where those dinky Alli-Lamela-Erikson 1-2 passes turn into open shots, but it happened a bunch when we peaked Feb-March last year so we have it in us.
For comparison, here are the pass trackers for Man City’s 2-1 win over Swansea and 4-0 win over Bournemouth:
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They’ve scored 80% more goals than us with about the same number of passes and shots. I think they’re getting a little closer to goal than we are with their passes. I checked their shot locations and they look pretty similar to ours. Perhaps they’re 2-4 yards closer and that makes a big conversion rate difference. I’m not sure. On the other hand, it’s only been 6 games. If you strip out the 3 PKs they’ve scored (compared to our 0) they’re getting a free 0.5 goals per game awarded to them that we’re not. Or, maybe they’re just better at finishing? You’d hope so given the value of their players is double ours.
Back to the game. I thought we were pretty blah in the first half. In particular, Alli was mediocre. His passes were sloppy, his shots were wasteful, he couldn’t dribble and his timing was weird. Hitting the crossbar early made him look more productive than he was. And his first half giveaway after he dribbled back deep into our half should have put us behind 1-0. Lamela and Son weren’t very impactful either. CSKA was also very well organized in defense and played their offsides trap really well. They nailed Janssen and Son several times and Son’s goal could have been called either way (although I think he was onsides and it was legit). Traore up top was a handful. It’s not often Vertonghen and Alderweirald are at a loss for size, strength, and speed. And he worked hard. There’s your striker target man, E.
In the second half we picked it up. Son was much better, and Davies, Vertonghen, and Alderweirald were excellent, but my man of the match was Erikson. He was the conductor, moving the pieces, linking passes, and opening up opportunities. He was too eager to shoot from distance early in the game, but after the first half hour he was really good. His 50 yard knee high laser to a streaking Alli at the far post was brilliant and would have been a tournament highlight had Alli turned it goalward. Janssen didn’t quite make it happen, but I like that he beat the keeper with a flick during one of his offsides calls. They were both going for it and Janssen won even if it doesn’t make it onto the scoresheet. NKoudou looked dangerous as a sub. I’m liking this guy and he’s very different from the other guys he’d be replacing. Poche likes having utilitarian cogs to swap out across his positions but having another speed merchant/dribbler is pretty exciting (besides Son). We definitely lacked that last season. Now we need to see NKoudou shoot.
Player Ratings (-5 to +5)
Janssen (+0) Decent hold up play, hustle as usual, couldn’t find enough good shots or passes from that lead role.
Son (+2) Better second half than first. Can’t fault the lone goal scorer though.
Lamela (+1) Better second half than first. Thought he was going to get booked for petulance in the first half. Good to see that he still owns the gloves. And the guyliner.
Erikson (+3) My man of the match
Alli (-1) Wasteful. Bad giveaways. Goes to ground looking for a foul too easily. Everyone and their mother is looking for his soft penalty dives.
Wanyama (+1) A few poor giveaways but owned the central defensive midfield. Was always available for an outlet/restart pass
Davies (+3) Good bounce back game following that shitshow against ‘brough. Was quick going forward, made smart passes, didn’t leave a gaping hole in defense, and stuck some good tackles
Vertonghen (+2) Was getting pushed around by Traore but never let it turn into a card-worthy foul. Did his job.
Alderweirald. (+3) I always rate him higher than Vertonghen because I suspect Vertonghen is a dick. Also, Toby offers a lot more going forward. Sometime soon I’m going to write about his awesome long ball game. He’s like a sniper for over the top passes. And he gets his head on the ball a lot on corner kicks.
Trippier (+1) Got down the field well to create width in the attacking third. Tracked back well most of the time, but got beat around the corner at least twice.
Lloris (0) I want to rate him higher because I like him but he didn’t look very good claiming crosses. Toby and Jan made his job a lot easier today.
NKoudou (+3) That was fun.  Hope to see more of that soon.
Winks (+1) Not a lot of time on the ball, but looked good when he was in the play.
Here’s the Korean commentary during the Son goal. Tight pass by Toby to get it started. Nice assist for Lamela.

Spurs Tactics

A few comments

I still haven’t watched the CSKA game but I found some interesting articles last night about the team. They’re old but interesting, if a bit fan-boy-ish. The author also posts at Cartilage Free Captain and is a Spurs fan.
A breakdown of Poche’s tactics:
A friend sent me a long text yesterday that was a fair complaint about the quality of our finishing. He pondered how much better we would be with an Edson Cavani or Ibrahimavic type striker. Here’s a defense of Kane and what our system calls for from that role:
Here’s a breakdown of Erikson off-the-ball movement opening things up for Kane:
And, just for fun, an old article about a crazy passing-goal sequence from Poche’s first season at Tottenham where we strung together 48 consecutive passes before scoring:
And the video of it (turn off the sound): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLUlN9ih16o
A few comments about Kane. Two seasons ago Kane scored 21 goals in 35 league games. Last season he scored 25 goals in 38 league games. Aguero is the best central striker in the BPL and had 26 in 33 games and 24 in 30 games, so Kane’s not too far off that rate of return. Here’s the PL stats for the past few seasons.

Many have wondered he’s not scoring more. Except, he scores at a higher rate than he should. At the beginning of last season 538.com did an article about how he scored 19 non-penalty goals against an xG of 11.3, and that over-performance wasn’t sustainable. But he went out last season and did it again, albeit not 70% better than expected. He still scored 25% above his season xG. And he’s converting from his shots at a higher rate than would be expected if you swapped out another striker into the same situation.
This season, like the last two seasons, he’s started slow. Hopefully he will pick up. Hopefully Janssen puts a few in the back of the net and we have a team full of 10G/8A attackers. 70 goals on the season will get us in the Top 4. Conceding fewer than 40 will probably do the same.  We’re on pace for 63 scored and 19 conceded. And, we haven’t conceded a goal from open play yet (2 free kicks and a PK). That’s insane.
This Sunday we are home against Man City. City is the best club in the BPL, but they too have holes. And their best player–the best player in the BPL–Kevin De Bruyne is injured. I’ll get into the game later this week and write more.

Soccer Stats

How I do my research

I’d like to delve a little bit on how I do my soccer analysis. I think the best place to start is with this star-graph piece:

Almost all of the raw data comes from a company called Opta. They do all of the live tracking stuff which ends up getting post-processed by Stats Bomb, 4-4-2, Michael Caley, and a couple of others. Michael Caley’s xG maps are probably the most accessible and well distributed work outside of generic heat maps and crossing maps. Caley’s stuff can be found on his twitter feeds:
He does a good weekly podcast with another stats nerd named Michael Goodman called Double Pivot. Caley’s voice and speaking style are stuttery and grating, but he’s really smart and earnest.
I’ve tried a few other soccer podcasts and they’re mostly terrible including the Spurs-centric Wheeler Dealer Radio. Most of them are 2-6 guys taking turns shitting on average players and making pleas for the manager of their choice to sign/start/drop Player X.
Soccer stats are in their infancy. At least the public face of it. There are a couple of guys doing analytic videos breaking down how players take space but I haven’t seen anything on the regular so I can’t remember where I’ve seen any of it. There’s so much room for smart analysis of formations, player movement on and off the ball, and strategic breakdowns. Dozens of times I’ve wished that I had an easy way to capture a quick, high quality clip from my DVR as I’m watching the game. It would turn my 1-hour email into a 6 hour email but it would open up the conversation so much more.
When I come across the good stuff I’ll pass it along.

Spurs Week 6 Action

Second in the table!

Welcome back everyone! Just to reiterate, the Spurs are a really fun club to follow. Aesthetically pleasing hi-tempo style; young, likable and slightly villainous players; smart and passionate coach; and a shrewd team president who is half way through implementing a 10 year plan to make them one of the big money clubs in England. They’re quite a bit below Arsenal and Liverpool in spending but way above the next tier of teams like Everton, Leicester, and West Ham who have no real shot at securing consistent European qualification. And Spurs are in the Champions League!

On to the game review. 2-1 away win to Middlesbrough. Our third win in a row and an easy result. The English media is trying to spin a narrative that the Spurs were given a run for their money late in the game, but this game was over after 20 minutes. What they should have been talking about was that Middlesbrough’s uniforms are from the early 2000s–baggy, long shorts, 1990s shoulder stripes, Italian-esque body stripes, and just shitty looking. I don’t know if this was some sort of secret throwback alternative kit or if the team is just afraid that their disgustingly fat fans might buy a form-fitting kit and try to wear it in public but it might have made anyone cry if he watched the game.
Anyway, we opened up with a half-strength lineup and played a variation on our typical 4-2-3-1 with Alli and Wanyama at the CM pivot instead of Dembele and Dier; Son, Erikson, and Sissoko playing left to right in AM; Janssen in the striker slot; and Davies at left back. It looked something like this:
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Possibly due to stylistic differences, we played quite differently than normal. Sissoko stayed way out wide forcing Walker to pinch in from right back. Wanyama sat very deep while Alli and Erikson rotated playing the pivot. Janssen made almost no Harry Kane-type steep runs and operated almost exclusively like a center in basketball acting as a distributor from the high post. It was a forward-pushing, but very flat formation that almost looked like a 4-1-1-4 with Walker and the pivot keeping control of the midfield. I’ve diagrammed it thusly:
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As you can guess by my doodles, I did not rate Sissoko or Davies highly this game. That’s because they were garbage. Here’s a map of Sissoko’s contributions. Blue are good, red are bad, a prize to the person who can figure out which goal he was trying to score on:
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Sissoko went out injured in the 70th minute–a knock to the head–and was replaced by Lamela. Here’s what Lamela contributed in 1/5th the time from the same position. Almost every single ball is in the attacking direction.
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I don’t know what Sissoko is trying to do on the pitch but he’s nowhere near the same page as the rest of the team. His positioning was detrimental to Walker, Alli and Erikson, and when he would get the ball it was rarely given back in a more advanced position. Sometimes he takes on defenders but they always drive him to the corner flag where the best case scenario is never more than hopeful cross getting deflected out for a corner kick. Maybe it’s because he’s only been with the club for 4 weeks, but he does not fit what we’re doing.
Davies, on the other hand, has no excuses. He’s been on the team for years so he knows the tactics but his passing was terrible, the timing on his forward runs were confusing and left gaping holes in the D, and he was consistently beat by his man to crosses at the far post. Middlesbrough had exactly 4 crosses from their left to right and all four found Davies’ man or went over Davies’ head to the man he should have been marking. Danny Rose is weak against aerial crosses but he makes up for it by staying goal-side and not letting his man find space behind him. Here are all 6 of Middlesbrough’s shots. The two gray ones were blocked in plays that I can’t remember. The other four are headed balls following crosses by the man running at the far post. That’s it. That’s the entirety of Middlesbrough’s attack. Davies misplaying all 4 of his opportunities to defend crosses:
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So here’s what was good. Our offensive rotation was fluid and potent. Our attackers were coordinated and creative and looked to set each other up. We consistently created scoring chances and harried the ‘brough defense into turning the ball back over in their own half. We had long stretches of possession that strangled the life out of them while not slowing the game down. When the ball does get sent out, Alderweirald is our Belgian falcon swooping around the field picking off passes and through balls with the foresight of a clairvoyant.
Games like today prove that we can roll out a diminished line up against the lesser teams and not really miss out on much. Our fatal flaw last season was that any lineup that didn’t include our top 11 was significantly worse. Late season fatigue ended our chances to really push for the title. Last week against shitty Sunderland with a top line up this was our expected goals (xG) map:
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And this week we took our foot off the pedal at halftime and still put up 1.7xG:
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Son will get the plaudits for this game and that’s reasonable. He came into the match having put 2 screamers past Stoke and looking to take advantage of another starting spot. In August, he requested a transfer back to the Bundesliga following his underwhelming first year in the BPL. Pochettino talked him out of it and looks like the genius that he is. Here are the match highlights, including Son’s two goals:
The first goal is remarkable for two reasons. First, Janssen’s hold up play is par excellence. He could have held onto that for 30 more seconds if he wanted. Second, note that Son is coming from the right and Sissoko is manning the far post on the left. Erikson provides the starter pass to Janssen. All 3 AMs are out of “position” which shows the flexibility and fluidity in Poche’s system. Pep Guardiola of Man City literally drew a chalk mark on the pitch for Raheem Sterling to stand on like a fucking robot. Poche just gets guys who can play, outlines a strategy, and unleashes them.
The second goal is laudable for the hustle that Son shows winning the ball back. Not exactly quality D by ‘brough but the shot was inch perfect. Valdez the GK didn’t even try to save it.
In the ‘brough chances on goal, look for Ben Davies (33) not defending anyone or getting goal-side of his man. Terrible.
With our comfortable 23rd minute 2-0 lead the ref put the whistle in his pocket and we played a gentleman’s game. Not a lot of fouls and Dele Alli actually checked on an injured Smoggie instead of just giving them the hairy eyeball. Not shown on that xG map is the two very reasonable penalty calls that were waved off for no discernible reason in the first half. Alli got inside his man twice and was tripped from behind on the first one (no ball contact at all) and the defender knocked the ball out of the air with his arm on the second one. In the second half, Son was denied a penalty after getting tripped in the box (no ball contact on that one either) so at least the ref was consistent.
‘Brough seemed happy with the 2-0 loss too. The only players in red who took exception were the GK Valdez who nearly attacked his own defender for not tracking back and had to be restrained by another defender, and the left winger who pushed the ball into dangerous areas only to find that there were zero teammates following or making runs.
As the second half opened up, we relaxed. Erikson and Alli were completely in control of the midfield in what was probably the most complete game by the two of them all season. They should have had an assist-goal combo after Erikson stole the ball from a dawdling ‘brough defender and slipped it to Alli who lifted it over the keeper and bar from 8 yards out. It was a silly miss but didn’t feel like anything at the time given our total control of the game.
Around the 65th minute ‘brough made a double switch and one of the new guys made a mazey run up the middle of the pitch. It was an exciting play that didn’t really turn into anything but the announcers got excited and decided that Middlesbrough was back in the game and that was going to be the narrative. They scored off a silly Wanyama foul free kicktwo minutes later when our man Davies whiffed on the header and Wanyama’s man climbed over his back to finish it. Poor defending by both men, but very much against the run of play.
This wasn’t Spurs best game of the season but the guys who played well, Janssen, Alli, Erikson, Son, Walker, Alderweirald, and Vertonghen were very good and might have won the game by more if the other guys weren’t on the pitch. Bill Simmons jokes about the Milton Berle game (pulling out just enough to win) and this was very much an example of that. It was easy even if the score line doesn’t reflect it.
Player ratings (-5 to +5)
Janssen (2) – strong in his hold up play, got the assist on Son’s first, and could have gotten more assists with better finishing.
Son (3) – aggressive, 2 smartly taken goals, hustled all game
Alli (3) – would have scored higher had he converted the easy chance that he put over the bar
Erikson (3) – Man of the match. Controlled the middle of the pitch
Sissoko (-2) – I’m sure he’ll score a goal or three this season but given the way he’s playing it’ll be a fluke play not by intention
Wanyama (-1) – Knows how to do the dirty work in the CM spot to slow down an attack but switches off too easily and was beat for Middlesbrough’s goal
Davies (-4) – Awful. Was lucky that we weren’t facing an actual offense that could have really exploited him
Vertonghen (1) – Tough to rate. I think most of his action was trying to cover for Davies.
Alderweirald (3) – Never a wrong step. Is a great source of pin-point forward crosses when our O is having trouble stretching their D.
Walker (3) – Adapted well to Sissoko being shitty and taking advantage of the space available to him
Lloris (-1) – Not a very good game for our keeper. Not responsible for the goal, but was poor in distribution in his few chances. No real saves to speak of.
Lamela (2) – creative and aggressive in his 15 minutes of sub time.
Winks (0) – I want to rate him higher. Only had a few minutes of sub time but looked smooth and comfortable in the midfield. Hope we see more of him in blow out games or against weaker competition.
N’Koudou (0) – pacy and youthful. Only had a few minutes of sub time but was really aggressive in his defensive press and pushed hard to create a shot in his only opportunity. Good effort at the least.
Our next match is Tuesday against CSKA Moscow in our second Champions League match. We travel there. English soccer teams traveling to Moscow–a 3.5 hour flight–complain like people in the LA’s South Bay going East of the 405. It’s not that big a deal and at least the team is doing it in September and not December. I’ll do some research on CKSA tomorrow. The game is being shown on Fox Sports 2 at 11:30am PST Tuesday.

Spurs Week 6 Action

Middlesborough

This week we’re playing away at Middlesborough. As you may remember from my Arbitrary Power Rankings (APR)–trademark pending–they were holding down the coveted 11th place. Minimal fanfare! Exceeding baseline expectations! What’s not to love about the….Smoggies? I shit you not, that’s what their fans are called. Brexiters really pine for the long lost days of Industrial Powerhouse England. I’m not sure why. By all accounts it was a sooty, toxic, abysmal place to live. They romanticize chimney sweeps for fuck’s sake.
Back to soccer. The Smoggies are one of the promoted teams and started their season well with a draw against Stoke, a win over Sunderland, and a draw with West Brom before losing to Crystal Palace and Everton. On second look, those first three performances mean nothing and Middlesborough is a poor team that will struggle to avoid relegation. They are bereft of quality players and their coach said in an interview today that Tottenham will win the game regardless of whether Kane is injured or not. After they got smoked by Everton last week, the manager said “I can be happy with the attitude of the team because other teams would have lost five, six or 7-1. We were battling to the end.” That’s a serious glass-half-full spin!
Middlesborough has nice red uniforms and Brad Guzan is their backup keeper. That’s about all the nice things I can say about them. Last year they had a really stingy defense but they’ve given up 7 goals in 5 games against not great competition. This is Tottenham’s game to lose. Or draw. But most likely win and win comfortably.
Spurs, as most weeks, will probably come out with a 4-2-3-1. Most likely Janssen starts up top. Son has been great in his last two matches so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him swap out for either Lamela or Erikson. I would expect Dier and Dembele in the pivot, and I think Rose is still injured so Davies will start at left back. This being an easier match, and with our pending trip to CKSA Moscow on Tuesday, seeing a few of the back ups wouldn’t be a terrible thing.
For the first few weeks of the season I’ve been harping on how much Mousa Dembele means to the team. Offensively, as you’ve all seen, we’re blessed with creative playmakers and a flexible idea of positioning for our attacking band. Kane is part-time holder and changes it up by making steep runs off of inside passes. He’s tall-ish, fast enough, and kinda strong. He is, however, both skillful and opportunistic. He combines well with the outside-in movement of Lamela and Erikson, and the creativity of Alli. Because all of our attackers tend to cluster in the middle of the field, we rely on Walker and Rose to get down the flanks and provide width.
On defense, we are anchored by the consistent, well-positioned, strong trio of Vertonghen, Alderweirald, and Dier to close down the middle. Rose and Walker rely on their speed to recover from deep forays into the attacking half of the pitch. Our attackers play a quick pressing system that requires all of them to switch onto the nearest free players to slow down any counter-attacks until we recover our defensive shape.
All of this is acceptably good with Dier and a replacement-level CM holding down the middle of the middle. Dembele, however is a game-changing beast. Man U bought Paul Pogba, a fellow CM pivot, for $133M this off season because he can attack with the ball at his feet, use his strength to hold off defenders, change directions to open up new lines of attack, close down quickly on defense, and is generally unstoppable. Now watch this Dembele video:
That’s 5 minutes of him crushing ankles on tackles, and breaking ankles on turns. His first touch is impeccable and leads second touch passes. When he dribbles, he’s upright and balanced. He’s freakishly strong but has a delicate and deft passing touch. His strides are long and fluid but he’s never out of control and the ball never strays too far. Defenders are always close to the ball but never able to steal possession. Second defenders are forced to crash with help. Where the rest of our players instinctively try to pass advance the ball, Dembele dribbles into space and at defenders. This forces them to engage and suddenly the defensive shape is broken and Alli or Lamela or Erikson is standing 16 yards out with a 3 yard cushion and a twinkle in their eye. I’m wet just thinking about it. I love watching Dembele. He elevates the team by magnifying the things we do well and adding that dribbling control that not even Lamela possesses. And he’s mean. I’m sure he’s nice off the field, but on the field he and Lamela and Alli (and Janssen) love to tackle late and start shit with their counterparts. They niggle and nag and harass and draw fouls while putting up their hands as if to say “I didn’t know I was stepping on his calf”. They give our team a villainous attitude. Arsenal and Liverpool and Man City can move the ball with delicate grace but they’re pussies. We are bullies. We punish with volume and force and sinister intentions. We have half a team of Diego Costas–the most hated footballer in England on the biggest bully team–and here we are bullying them at the end of last season when the league title was out of our grasp. Look for Dembele poking Costa in the eye. Fuck ’em. I love this team.