Spurs Week 5 Action

He’s back (or is he?)!

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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.

Spurs Week 4

The flood gates open!

Spurs!!!! 4-0!!!! This sums up my emotions around the 75th minute: https://twitter.com/Mariners/status/773732386697728000?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

This was the game of Heung-min Son.
We lined up 4-2-3-1 with Lloris in goal, Ben Davies replacing Danny Rose at left back, and Heung-min Son at left wing and Erikson at right wing instead of Lamela.
Stop me if you heard this one before, but Spurs started slowly. Mark Hughes’ boys came out in a pressing 4-3-3 and were active early. Spurs couldn’t settle the ball at the back and were trying to push long passes into the midfield with middling results. Stoke kept getting corner kicks, which plays into their strength–being one of the tallest, toughest teams in the league. Spurs are just as tall and were up for the challenge.
After the initial 15 minutes of choppy play, we started exerting our will on the game. 20 minutes in, Son dribbled into the box and Jeff Cameron clipped his heels and then fell on him. No call. 5 minutes later, Son lead a counter attack but his cut back pass was terrible–so terrible that it clanged off the shins of back-tracking winger/lunatic Marko Arnautovic and straight to Deli Alli who was played onside, alone, 6 yards out. Alli turned and fired on instinct and missed the goal with a move that was more clearance than shot. It was all confusing but we were showing promising signs.
Around the 35th minute, Arnautovic–who was sent off against Spurs last April in the middle of a 4-0 mauling–was given a yellow for diving. It was tough to see in real time but the ref was standing right there, it was clear in the replay, and no one on Stoke protested. Except for Mark Hughes who flipped his shit. The sideline official was offended that Hughes was offended and had the ref throw him out of the game. Hughes doubled down on losing his mind. The announcers decided it was the most interesting thing ever and talked about it constantly. Of the 100 minutes of game footage at least 7 minutes was of Hughes trying to call his assistant managers from his cell phone. Thankfully, it was revealed that Hughes’ official charge was “remonstration”, which, as nerds can explain, means he protested. Oh England.
Then, a few minutes later, Walker hit a short cross from within the box and it clipped his defender’s hand before the on-rushing Deli Alli was bowled over from behind by his defender. The ref decided Alli was faking and called a foul but didn’t give him a card. It was all chaotic and poorly ref’d. But by then we were clearly in control of the game. Stoke’s press eased up; our passes through the midfield became shorter; and our guys started gathering the ball, turning, and taking the space with dribbles. A lot of movement went through Erikson as he was pinching in very narrow to link play with Alli. He wasn’t sharp at first, some sloppy passes and some lost possession, but he did combine with Alli to unlock the defense and feed Son with a sniping pass to the penalty spot. Son, in an acre of space, put the ball in the net first touch. 1-0 at halftime. http://cartilagefreecaptain.sbnation.com/2016/9/10/12871248/watch-son-s-clever-finish-gives-spurs-lead-vs-stoke-city
Second half opened with a disjointed first 5 minutes but then the Spurs turned it on. 20-pass combinations, sweet overlapping runs, and the Stoke press was completely beaten. We were nasty on the counter attack, clinical in possession, and the chances that Stoke did create were harried or deflected shots that never felt like a real threat. When it was still 1-0 in the 55th minute, Stoke would have gladly ended the game if it were offered to them. Instead, Alli looped a pass to Erikson who coolly brought it down, twisted Jeff Cameron into the pitch like a screw, and fed Son with a soft pass to his feet. Son smashed it into the net. 2-0.  http://cartilagefreecaptain.sbnation.com/2016/9/10/12871632/watch-son-s-sensational-strike-notches-brace-vs-stoke-city
That’s Erikson gathering the corner kick clearance, feeding the recently subbed on Lamela, who feeds Walker–who sprinted 80 yards before taking the pass–who tucks in an easy cross to Alli sitting at the top of the box. Boom. Beautiful counter attacking goal.
Stoke preceded to walk for the next 25 minutes. Spurs did not. We got a corner, then played some ping pong in front of the goal. Kane’s shot from 3 yards out was blocked but Son ran it down halfway to the corner flag, turned, and sent it back from whence it came. Dier narrowly missed touching it in, but it ran to Kane who recieved it with more than 2/3 of the goal in front of him. His gathered it, measured, backed up, checked the wind, re-tied his shoes, brushed his hair, texted his pregnant fiance, straightened his shirt, cupped a fart to see how much it smelled, and then lashed it into the net past the reach of the diving Shay Given who is 40 years old. I think the rest of the defenders had stopped for tea.
The game wasn’t perfect but we controlled 70 of the 90 minutes and dominated 45 of them. We had 20 shots, 8 of which were blocked and 8 of which were on target. That means 8 of our 12 unblocked shots were on target. Good teams put it on net. We were a good team today. Really good. Around the 80th minute the very raucous traveling Spurs fans sang:
“It’s happening again, It’s happening again, Stoke City, It’s happening again”
Player ratings (-5 to 5)
Lloris – 2 – made some good saves but wasn’t under a ton of pressure. Made some good decisions to come claim crosses out of the air.
Davies – 3 – Excellent at left back. Knows he’s not as athletic as Rose and didn’t try to play like him. Had some clever 1-2s with Son and Dier. Didn’t let himself get pulled out of position too much.
Vertonghen – 3 – some smart, seamless defending. Didn’t appear to get caught out like the last few weeks.
Alderwierald – 3 – Solid as always.
Walker – 4 – Some great hustle plays. Got involved several times in the offense. Assist to Alli. Should have had a second one but for the ref. Made a nice goal line clearance.
Wanyama – 1 – I can’t remember him doing anything but getting a yellow, and then committing a few more fouls before being subbed for Lamela. We controlled the middle of the pitch so he couldn’t have been bad.
Dier – 1 – See Wanyama. Except no card.
Son – 4 – 2 goals, 1 assist, some awesome hustle. Enthusiasm and energy. Both goals were missable and he made them look easy. Would have rated 5 had he not scuffed about 3 fast breaks
Alli –  3 – 1 goal, 2 hockey assists, 1 total howler. He was creative and sneaky and mazy. It was fun to watch.
Erikson – 4 – Was hailed as the man of the match by many. His second half was very good, better than his first half, and much better than the first 3 weeks. Created a lot of chances.
Kane – 2 – 1 Goal and lots of hard work but still didn’t look very sharp. Glad he got his goal.
Lamela – 1 – Came on for the last 30 mins of the match. Lots of good passing. Showed poise.
Janssen – 0 – 20 minutes but had no impact.
Sissoko – 1 – Played right wing for 15 minutes. Had a deflected shot that still almost went in. Looked pretty fast. Picked up a yellow for a lazy foul.
Here was our xG map:
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Shots are getting closer to goal and more central. Could have been 6-0 pretty easily.

Spurs Week 3

A draw at home with Liverpool

1-1 Draw at home with Liverpool. This was the Choose Your Own Adventure game. So many incidents that could have dramatically altered the course of the game.

“Alternative Universe 1 – Coutinho sits due to a tight hamstring”
Up until the day of, this was what was being reported. Coutinho is one of the lynch pins of Liverpool’s attack. He played an excellent game, creating chances through smart passing and dangerous runs. Had he not played, Liverpool probably wouldn’t have been so effective through the first 65 minutes of the game.
“Alternative Universe 2 – Coutinho can finish”
Maybe 5 minutes into the match Liverpool’s domination of the midfield resulted in some nifty work down the right, inside of Rose, then behind Vertonghen, and a tidy pass horizontal pass to an unguarded Coutinho at the 6 yard box with 2/3 of the goal at his disposal. Vorm made a hockey kick save and then lept on the ball securing it. Going down 1-0 5 minutes in would have completely changed the game. As it was, Liverpool was the sharper, more aggressive team. Their high press and superior numbers in midfield meant Spurs had to move the ball around the back a lot and look for 25-yard passes through the midfield. We were much too stretched and many passes were intercepted. There were several instances of poor back-passing that lead to Liverpool scoring chances.
“Alternative Universe 3 – Healthy Hugo: Not a Sweeper Keeper”
Vorm was fantastic today. He’s so obviously less talented than Lloris, and yet I think he did a better job today than Lloris would have. Vorm made some great reaction saves and several furious out-of-the-box tackles on streaking attackers. His tackles were athletic, and superbly timed and one was probably 35 yards from his goal. So often we see keepers caught out where they can’t use their hands and the “no, Brain, we have to use our feet” thought process is almost visible as they change their posture and haphazardly fling their lower bodies at the dancing feet of the attacker only to draw a card and a penalty. Vorm did it with aplomb and in a way that I doubt Lloris could have matched.
“Alternative Universe 4 – Kyle Walker wasn’t ill”
In the 35th minute Kyle Walker came off. Dier moved to right back, Alli moved to cover Dier at CM, Kane moved to center AM, and Janssen came on as the new striker. It wasn’t until halftime that the announcers let us know that he was off due to being ill rather than an injury. Walker was pretty lackluster for his short stint. I’m sure this was the reason. Regardless, Firmino, Llana and Wijnaldum were having their way with Walker. When Coutinho got free at the back post, it was on Walker’s side and he was nowhere to be found. I don’t know if a healthy Walker would have made an appreciable difference in the game but Dier at right back did. More on that in a minute.
“Alternative Universe 5 – Sadio Mane gets sent off”
In the 35th minute Mane committed a clumsy foul on Alli. It earned him a yellow card. 2 minutes later his committed the same foul on Rose. Then in the 48th minute he did it again. Each time heavier and clumsier. The second was clearly worthy of a yellow and third definitely should have had him sent off. Why the ref allowed it to continue I don’t know. But had Liverpool lost their 2nd best attacker by the 40th minute and been a man down it would have been a radically different game. Instead of cutting our defense to pieces with a 3-man front line, they might have brought on Sturridge to act as the lone striker in a 4-4-1. Instead, he didn’t come on until basically stoppage time. Had he gotten his second yellow in the 48th minute with Liverpool up 1-0, that too would have change the game. They would have brought on extra defenders and tried to lock it down. Liverpool is not good at traditional defending. Moreno coming on would have been a gift.
“Alternative Universe 6 – Lamela doesn’t try to put his fingers up Firmino’s ass”
Around the 40th minute, Lamela got beat to the touchline by Firmino, who turned the corner and moved torward the goal. In his attempt to catch up, Lamela accidentally clipped Firmino’s trailing leg bringing him down and the ref had no choice but to award a penalty. Despite being their starting left back, James Milner took the penalty and calmly pinged the back of the net. Given the run of play, it was amazing that Liverpool wasn’t already up 2-0. I’m not sure what Lamela could have done differently, he got beat but tried to work back. One of the announcers kept admonishing him for “getting too close” but that’s like scolding cupcakes for having frosting. Uh, he’s Argentinian. They invented the Tango and anal sex. Of course he got too close. Also, there’s some discussion that Firmino might have been outside the box. I’m a giant homer and at no point did I think it was an unfair call.
“Alternative Universe 7 – Coutinho doesn’t get subbed”
In Alternative Universe 1, Coutinho’s hamstring keeps him out of the game. Instead he played and created a lot of chances and missed a total sitter. But he wasn’t net neutral. We know because he was subbed out in the 67th minute for Origi, another striker, and the game immediately shifted. Suddenly, Dier was able to play the right back-attacking winger role. Repeatedly he pushed up the wing and fired in crosses. There was a beautiful cut back to Erikson that was wasted, and a couple of other good chances created, before he whipped in a far post laser for Lamela. Lamela had a defender on both shoulders and the three went down in a heap. The ball deflected off of someone and Danny Rose streaked in for the follow up. In a classic defender’s goal he aimed for the far post and barely nipped it in at the near post past the on-rushing goalkeeper. 1-1 Spurs. Why didn’t Klopp sub on Sturridge? Why didn’t he shift to a more defensive 4-4-2? Why Origi? Why Klopp?
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Here’s how The Guardian put it “74 min Jurgen Klopp growls with frustration, punches the air in anger – and then, a split-second later, motions for his team to calm down!
1-1 was a better result for Tottenham than for Liverpool. Liverpool dominated the first 65 minutes of the game with crisp passing, an energetic press, and smart defending to cut off our passing lanes. Liverpool’s new defender Matip was particularly effective and probably the best player on the pitch. The second best was Toby Alderweirald. He was incredible, constantly mopping up for his defensive cohorts’ lapses and mistakes.
Player ratings (-5 to 5):
Janssen 0 – He worked hard but didn’t produce much. Zero shots.
Kane 0 – See Janssen.
Erikson -1 – He had moments, he had opportunities, and he was not productive. Kane and Janssen didn’t produce but they never had the opportunity to do so. Nothing made it up to them. Erikson was part of the reason why.
Lamela 1 – Committed the penalty that gave Liverpool the 1-0 lead. Worked hard and was involved in most of our chances.
Alli 2 – Put in a good shift as a CM. Was not effective at linking up with the attacking band. But defended well when his role changed.
Wanyama 2 – lots of good tackles in the middle of the pitch. strong on the ball but couldn’t link up with the attack.
Rose 3 – His goal outshines some bad passing and putting Vertonghen in a bad spot with Mane more than once.
Vertonghen 0 – Sloppy defending. Tim Howard once referred to him as the best defender in the BPL. I haven’t figured out why.
Alderweirald 4 – Was outstanding. The Janitor mopped up everything that his partners let through. He even got his head on 50% of our corner kicks and was unlucky not to get a goal. Our best player.
Dier 4 – Didn’t get much going from CM but was our sole offensive creator when he replaced Walker at right back.
Vorm 4 – Great GK’ing. Three incredible open field tackles. Several awesome reaction saves. Could be better at distribution.
Walker -3 – Was off his game for understandable reasons. However, his mark should have scored at least twice in the 35 minutes he was on the pitch. Them not scoring was by no credit to him. Should buy Alderweirald dinner at a nice taco stand.
Onomah 1 – Normally I hate this guy. But he wasn’t bad in his 10 minutes on the pitch.
Winks 0 – Name rhymes with twinks and he looks like it. Was only on the field for a hot minute. No touches no chances.
Liverpool ratings:
Just kidding. Booooooo the Reds.
Liverpool played really well for most of the game and showed why they are a team to be feared. They also showed why they won’t win the league anytime soon. They can’t finish the great chances they create, and they can’t defend enough to protect a lead. Tottenham showed that on a flat day, they’re very beatable by the best teams. They also showed that beyond their best 13 players, they have very little to offer that might scare thine enemy. When they control the middle of the pitch, they’re awesome. It unlocks the offensive pivot and allows the full backs to create from the wings. When they don’t have control of the middle of the pitch, they’re forced to resort to long passes and but lack the speed to be dangerous in that manner. The announcer pointed out as much late in the game when Kane was subbed off. It will be interesting to see what happens in 2 more matches when Dembele comes back. Wanyama and Dier are similar players and neither is particularly inclined to keep their ball at their feet and claim the 10 yards of space in front of them. I’m hoping that Dembele’s controlled attacking brings the Alli-Erikson-Kane triumvirate back into the game. Lamela doesn’t seem to be getting frozen out by the lack of service, but the others need a smart pass at their feet to be able to work their magic.