Champions League

CKSA

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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:
Inline image 1
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:
Inline image 5
Inline image 6
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.

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:
Inline image 1
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:
Inline image 10
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:
Inline image 3
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:
Inline image 5
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.

League Cup

Gillingham

Tomorrow is our League Cup match against Gillingham. I haven’t even bothered to see if this is on TV. With Kane injured, a thick schedule going forward, and an offseason of clearing out non-future starters, I expect our youth team to get a lot of run.

I don’t know anything about Gillingham so almost everything below is from this article:
The author is proposing a lineup that looks like this:

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alderweirald in the back line for the first half just as an token of stability. Poche doesn’t tend to swap out his entire starting lineup. Whether that’s to keep a cohesive playing style or because he doesn’t trust his youngsters, I’m not sure. But as we’ve discussed before, League Cup matters to no one. I guess it would be good to win it but I think the payout is less than a week’s wages for the club so in the face of a $40-50M payout from Champions League, this is not the place to put our resources.
Gillingham, again from the above article, is pretty blah this season. They’re mid-table in the third division (League 1) and feature mostly over the hill players and one central playmaker, Bradley Dack. Dack will be playing his heart out hoping to get noticed by a big club, but we should be able to shut down their attack. Carroll, Erikson, and Onomah are all very creative players, and it will be good to see what N’Koudou can do (that’s satisfying to say out loud).
Hopefully out youth proves themselves worthy, we score early, and run the game out. This is a good chance for them to make their case for first team minutes. Given the cramping of Walker, Dier, and Dembele, the injury to Kane, and the possible shittiness of Sissoko, there will be minutes available in all bands of the pitch. Last year 4th choice defender Kevin Vimmer got an extended spell in relief of the injured Vertonghen and played like a boss. It’s really important for our depth and club finances to keep developing useful players that can step in and bang, or be sold for a profit. It’s an aspect of club Chairman, Daniel Levy’s financial strategy; buying young so they can either develop or be sold when their wages are cheap and their value on the rise.

Spurs Week 5 Action

He’s back (or is he?)!

1-0 Victory at home against one of the 3 worst teams in the league (arguably the worst). Perhaps we under-performed given that a 4-0 score line would have been perfectly appropriate for all of our chances and the quality of our opponent. I’m a little more positive about the result. We blooded the new guys- Sissoko and Wanyama – with a shuffled version of our established team. We also got our first taste of Dembele in league play following his interseason 6-game ban. We lined up in the familiar 4-2-3-1 but it looked a little different:

  • Kane
  • Son, Alli, Sissoko
  • Dembele, Wanyama
  • Vertonghen, Dier, Alderweirald, Walker
  • Lloris

When we were at our peak last season, Rose and Walker played like wingers and were often the most advanced players down the field. That gave us plays over the top and long passes up the wing. Our attacking midfielders, Erikson, Alli, and Lamela were fluid in their positioning but worked to get 2 guys open for each pass through the midfield. Kane would make himself free for runs in the channel and would drop deep to play 1-2s with the AMs. Dembele, however, was the key. He would pick the ball up in midfield, shield it from opposing midfielders, and dribble into the attacking third. His ability to hold off defenders and draw in second and third defenders was instrumental in breaking down organized defenses. We frequently faced 8 or 9 behind the ball, and even bad teams can be difficult to break down with that many behind the ball. Dembele could draw 3 defenders from the middle of the pack and create lanes for the AMs to make runs toward the middle.

We saw a lesser version of that today. Vertonghen doesn’t venture as far upfield as Rose, and Sissoko was on a completely different page than everyone else. Our O played more like this:
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We had 74% of the possession so there was a lot of time to watch our plays develop in the face of a team full of defenders. Sunderland were so pessimistic in their outlook that it was often 10 behind the ball. When we passed our way behind the D it was to Son or Walker on the wing. Crosses into the middle were frequent but mostly unsuccessful. With so many bodies packed in tight, there was no room for Kane or the other AMs to make runs to the near post. Our attacks up the middle were into the face of so many defenders that we ended up taking a lot of low percentage shots from outside the box. We had a couple of inside 1-2 runs but again faced confined spaces. The good news was that Sunderland was not threatening our goal but our constant offensive pressure meant they never got out of their defensive shape. Either ironically or predictably, one of our best chances came from a counter attack following their free kick in our half. We set off in numbers and the ball made it’s way to Son on the left who snapped a shot against the post. Around the hour mark, Walker carried the ball up the wing, pulled back and whipped in a looping cross to Alli at the back post. Alli and his defender collided and Alli’s soft header fell to the feet of the center back, who completely whiffed. The ball trickled to Kane who smashed it home.
Down 1-0 Sunderland had to come out of their shell. Their press was weak and ineffective and opened up a bunch of passing lanes. I think we would have capitalized on it but Walker, then Dier, and then Dembele came up lame holding their hamstrings. Walker played on with no obvious issues but Dier and Dembele came off. Perhaps it was dehydration from the Monaco match? Hopefully they came off out of precaution rather than due to actual injury. Kane, however, was harrying his defender and had his ankle roll over during a tackle. It looked pretty bad on replay and he didn’t even attempt to get to his feet and walk it off. It wasn’t a great way to end the match.
My only real complaint about the game was Sissoko. He has strength and speed, and a decent first touch, but I hate his passing instinct. Everyone else on the field looks for the quick, easy pass. Sissoko tends to turn his back to the field when he receives the ball. I don’t know why, but he did it whether open or under pressure. Maybe it’s unfamiliarity with the system or a bad day, but it was annoying. He was a black hole for the ball or a dead end for attacking movements. When the rest of the guys looked to play out wide and whip in crosses, he was cutting inside; when everyone was playing inside, he would take it out wide. I don’t remember Dembele passing to him once. He and Wanyama clustered on the right side of the field and while they took a few shots, they weren’t creating chances for anyone else. Hopefully Poche breaks him of this style.
So let’s focus on the good stuff. Here’s the FourFourTwo.com Dashboard from the game:
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Not a single pair of Sunderland players made the most-passes list. That’s embarrassing for them. Also not on that list, Sissoko. Do note the 31 shots. This chart shows our xG total. Lots of shots from outside (courtesy @MC_of_A):
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Or you can look at it like this:
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That’s a lotta dimp! Here is a chart of our 30 crosses. Most were from Son who repeatedly schooled his defender and drew 3 yellow card fouls:
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We haven’t seen a bombing like that since Dresden. The hard stats are 74% possession, 31 shots to 6, 14 corner kicks, 543 passes completed. Our pass map is crazy:
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And here’s Man City’s pass map from their 4-0 drubbing of Bournemouth:
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They look very similar except Bournemouth completed 100 more passes than Sunderland did. We were far more dominant even if the score line didn’t show it.
Player Ratings (-5 to +5)
Kane – (+3) Excellent in hold up play, creative on the dribble. Best game he’s played all season. Unlucky to not have a hat trick given his shot placement. Here’s his touch map (blue and green are good, red and orange are bad, light blue is a chance created, and yellow is his goal):
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Son – (+4) Man of the Match. Creative and punishing on the left side. Tons of crosses, some good shots. Played well with Vertonghen, Dembele, and Alli.
Alli – (+2) Solid creator. Dangerous all game. Played well with Dembele, Son, and Kane.
Sissoko  – (-1) Unproductive and selfish. Touch chart is indicative. Lots of missed tackles (orange x’s), possession turnovers (orange stars), and either passed backward or shot on goal:
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Dembele – (+2) And here’s Dembele ignoring Sissoko:
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Wanyama – (0) Given how much everyone else created and how little a defensive minded midfielder needed to do today, he could have been replaced by anyone and it wouldn’t have affected the outcome.
Vertonghen – (+2) Looked good going forward. Overlapping runs created some good chances for Son. Was responsible in his defensive requirements
Dier – (+1) One really shaky giveaway in front of goal almost cost us. Otherwise a solid game at centerback.
Alderweirald – (+2) My man was a rock at the back and was unlucky to have his header saved on the line following a corner kick.
Walker – (+3) Saved a point blank shot off the line. Was responsible for the cross that turned into Kane’s goal. Picked up Sissoko’s slack. Was a big part of our offensive drive.
Lloris (0) – made one or two saves but didn’t have to work hard. Wasn’t a liability, but didn’t do anything impressive.
Subs:
Lamela – (+2) productive and snaky in his 20 minutes of playing time. Would have gotten a goal had Janssen not been selfish. Created a few chances for others. Just missed a good left food curler at the back post.
Davies (+0) was fine going forward but committed a few fouls in dangerous spots that weren’t called.
Janssen – (-1) we could have closed the game out 2-0. He and Lamela had a break away 2 on 1 and when the defender committed to Janssen at the top of the box a lay off pass to Lamela would have been an easy goal. Instead he skied it from a bad angle and distance. I appreciate his finisher’s mentality but that was stupid.
On Wednesday we play Gillingham in the League Cup. Hopefully we’ll hear that Dier, Dembele, and Walker are fine and just needed some fluids., and that Kane will be full strength when we go to CSKA in 10 days. I expect to see mostly subs against Gillingham.

Champions League Group Stage Match 1

A first Champions League match to forget…

So Fox Sports West fucked me. I’m pretty sure they singled me out and fucked me. Tuesday’s CL match between Man City and Borussia Mongeloidbach (sp?) was canceled because of rain and lightning. The game was rescheduled for Wednesday and they–the evil masterminds Fox Sports West – pulled a switcheroo and showed the City-‘Bach game instead of Spurs v not-Spurs. I found a later showing but it was already in the 22nd minute. And the Spurs were down 0-1 and Monaco was holding the ball and dancing around it like a conga line. I was….not calm.

We started the game in a 4-2-3-1 with Alli and Dier at CM, and Son, Lamela and Erikson at AM. This was the “here’s our dick, bet you can’t suck the whole thing” lineup. That’s not exactly how it worked out.
Monaco on the ball was very composed and played tight 1-2s and outside-in overlaps. They gobbled up the space outside of the CMs and then worked back toward the middle to find shooting angles. Their chances weren’t amazing but they were slippery despite being predictable. It was frustrating to watch. When we would get the ball in possession, we would string together 4 or 5 sideways passes between the defenders and then play long passes to the wingers. The wingers would push up the field in the face of 9 defenders. Monaco packed in their D tight and organized. Kane and whoever had the ball were always surrounded by 3 Yachties. I don’t know what Monaco’s mascot is but Yachties sounds better than Genetic Recessive Blood Disorders, and clearly they’re one of the two.
A replay revealed that the first goal was scored when Lamela gave up possession, the ball moved to a striker out wide who turned inside between Davies and Vertonghen and fired low and inside the far post. Opportunistic but worthy goal. Fuckers. Around the 30th minute, we were back defending and Erikson and Walker had their men pushed into the corner. The Yachtiest played around with it, pulled it back and whipped in a cross into a mass of 3 Spurs defenders and 2 Yachtie attackers. The ball ping ponged around touching all 5 guys before popping out at the foot of a surprised attacker who smashed the ball into the roof of the net. 0-2 Yachties and it wasn’t looking good.
Somehow the Spurs started to turn it around. Some over the top passes to Walker on the sideline created some openings in the Yachties’ defense. We were controlling possession and linking to our attacking band, but couldn’t find a gap wide enough to get a shot. A Lamela corner kick found Alderweirald’s head like a hair gel-seeking missile and he smashed it into the net in the 44th minute. 1-2 at halftime.
Spurs shuffled their lineup at halftime. Dembele came in at the pivot, Alli moved to AM, and Son went to the bench. It was a fair benching. Son was not very productive or thrifty with his touches in the 25 minutes I watched him. Other than his corner kick, Lamela wasn’t much better. The second half started way better for Spurs. We took possession and basically bombarded their goal for the next 20 minutes. It wasn’t until the 67th minute that the Yachties had their first scoring chance of the second half and a few more minutes before they strung together 5 consecutive passes. Spurs, on the other hand, were purposeful and probing in their attack. When he was on the ball, Dembele used his body to dribble past defenders with a long, galloping stride. It would interrupt the defensive alignment as players are pulled toward the ball. Erikson and Alli were very potent in their on-the-ball movement and passing. Lots of cool cheeky stuff to create chances. Erikson fizzed a couple of crosses inside the 6 yard box but was unable to find feet. Alli ripped a gorgeous volley from 25 yards out that was dipping under the bar and forced a good save from the Yachties’ GK. Kane, on the other hand, just couldn’t find his stroke. Extraneous touches meant that every shot he had was blocked by the defender. I don’t know if he’s lacking confidence or has tired legs or is just having a bad run of luck but we really need his finishing. The following shows his shot chart. Two of the gray arrows are from so close that he has to score at least one of those. The blue arrow up the middle I’ll get to.
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For comparison, here’s Erikson’s pass chart. He takes corners so that accounts for some of the red arrows but look how many times he put the ball into a dangerous area:unnamed-1
And here’s Lamela’s pass and shot chart. Too many backward passes although he did get the corner kick assist and nearly had a second on a sweet dipping cross than Kane and Alli both came up short on where the slightest touch would have been a goal.
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In that 20 minute burst we created so many chances and not all of them turned into shots. The announcer repeatedly referred to Monaco’s defense as “besieged” but we could find the touch that would put it in the back of the net. In the 70th minute Lamela came off and Janssen came on. Kane slid back as a central AM. Janssen was well suited for the game. His physical off-the-ball play negated the Monaco CBs and opened up the channels for through balls. Again we created a couple of good chances but couldn’t put them in the net. The best was a through ball that Janssen won in a footrace turned Greco-Roman wrestling match. He managed to get around his defender right at the touch line, gathered the ball and hit Kane with a tight pass. Kane hit it right into the hands of the dumbfounded GK–the blue arrow in his shot chart. The whole Spurs side basically sighed and the game was over. Sissoko came on for Erikson in the 80th and Monaco enjoyed spells of possession. Some of our guys walked while they had the ball. It was frustrating and the Yachties conga lined their way around the ball not doing much but not giving it away and the clock ticked away. We managed a few more chances but it all felt increasingly desperate and far-fetched. The game ended 1-2 to the Yachties. Fucking Yachties. Below is our xG map. I think it undersells how dominant we were in creating chances since a chance only gets an xG value if it becomes a shot. For example, one of those tiny dots from the top right of Tottenham’s chart was that teasing ball that either Kane or Alli could have gotten before the keeper snapped it up at the back post. Either touch would have been a goal and xG of close to 0.5. The end result and the xG tally would look a lot different.
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This was a poor result. We really needed to win this. I blame Fox Sports West.
The upside is that we’re a better team that Monaco and we can win there. More importantly, Levekusen was supposed to destroy CSKA at home but managed a draw. Our next CL match is away to CSKA in 2 weeks. That will be one of the 3 matches we have to win.