Spurs Week 7

Man City Down!!!

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 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.

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.

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.

Transfer Deadline

The window closes…for now!

The transfer window just closed and there was some last minute craziness.
  1. Son is staying despite Wolfsburg offering big money.
  2. Isco turned us down to go back to his previous club Malaga.
  3. The N’Koudou/N’Jie swap is done.
  4. Out of nowhere we bought Moussa Sissoko, of Newcastle and the French national team, for 30M pounds.
Sissoko is a “box-to-box” midfielder in the same vein as Dembele. Plus they have the same first name, Moussa, so we have to come up with a new nickname other than Moose. This gives us 2 incoming defensive players and 2 incoming offensive players, in lieu of a bunch of replacement-level talent that was shipped out. I don’t know how to justify his price tag of 30M pounds as TransferMarkt.com has him rated about 75% as high as Dembele.
That gives us the following quality players at each position band:
  • Striker – Kane, Janssen, Onomah
  • AM – Lamela, Alli, Eriksen, Son, N’Koudou
  • Pivot – Dembele, Sissoko
  • CM – Dier, Wanyama
  • FB – Rose, Walker, Davies, Trippier
  • CB – Alderweirald, Vertonghen, Wimmer
If we consider positional flexibility (Kane playing AM, Dier playing fullback, etc) we actually have a lot of depth out of not that many players. That gives us 6 strikers, 8 AM, 5 CM, 5 FB, 5 CB out of 19 possible players. Hopefully this means we get to play a lineup of 11 good players regardless of who’s getting the day off, instead of a team full of scrubs for early round League Cup and FA Cup matches–more critically, it should mean we can play our best line up in either the BPL matches or the Champions League matches and not experience a huge drop off in the other as we did last season.
As you can tell, I drank the Kool-Aid.

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?
Inline image 1
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.

Spurs Week 2

A win!

1-0 to Spurs. I don’t know exactly what to make of this game. Last week we started flat and lacked control of the middle of the pitch (making Alli and Kane ineffective). At 55 mins Janssen was subbed on for Alli and we shifted to a 4-4-2 / 4-(1-3)-(1-1) and the game turned. We controlled the ball better and created more chances from the wings–and remained ineffective up the middle. The draw was disappointing but on the balance a fair result.

This week was different. Alli was dropped to the bench in favor of Janssen (supposedly Alli was sick midweek but that doesn’t justify his terrible performance the week before). Our formation was the familiar 4-2-3-1 but with a few guys moved around. Janssen was up top to harry the defense. Kane dropped into the playmaking #9 role. Lamela and Erikson swapped sides. And the defensive half of the lineup was the same as last week.
CP lined up like a 4-2-3-1, but due to their 2 very defensive midfielders and 4 wingers in a useless jumble up top it played like a 6-0-4 with giant holes in the midfield.
We controlled the ball well from the opening whistle. On offense, Wanyama and Dier actively dribbled the ball forward to transition from D to O. We controlled the middle of the pitch and created chances from steep runs. We had 10 corner kicks to their 1, and dominated them in shots 14 to 8 (and I can’t remember a single one of their shots requiring a good save from Vorm). Our finishing, however, was awful. We didn’t shoot well but our biggest problem was that we squandered at least 5 great opportunities without even getting a shot off. Erikson led a fast break where we had even numbers; he streaked down the center of the field dribbling from our box to theirs before tripping over the ball while trying to cross the defender with a pass to Kane. It was a perfect microcosm of the game. April of last season we would have generated 10 additional shots and finished at least 4 of them. I don’t know if our guys were trying to get too cute or choked or couldn’t see their angles, but the failure to close out the game early meant CP was always a lucky counter attack from snatching points.
Here was the Expected Goals (xG) map for the game as compiled by Michael Caley and posted on his twitter:
Inline image 1
In addition to poor finishing, our wing game was lacking. Rose and Walker weren’t particularly effective bringing the ball up the wings–the reverse of last week–possibly due to unfamiliarity in the Rose/Lamela and Walker/Erikson passing combinations. Erikson was really off his game with poor first-touches, bad passes, and not enough going forward. He’s been in a protracted contract negotiation and hopefully that’s not distracting him. Below is a passing map showing the relative position of each Spur during the match and the frequency of their passes. Erikson was a dead zone and clearly didn’t work well with Walker this match:
Inline image 2
On defense, we were stout. Poche’s system requires hard pressing by the front line and smart rotation by the midfielders to close down the obvious outlet passes. The system is supposed to generate turnovers in advantageous positions and prevent offensive build up by the other team. Janssen at the top was a beast. He pounced on loose balls, made hard tackles all over the pitch, committed tons of fouls and injured defenders, and mostly worked his ass off. The back 6 did a great job of isolating the CP wingers/attackers so they always seemed to be working alone and taking on 2 of our defenders. They had maybe 3 decent chances to score all game. It was an excellent game in defense.
Around the 70th minute Erikson was subbed out for Alli and within seconds Alli flicked a gorgeous ball onto the path of the cutting Janssen. Janssen should have scored but managed to send it further from the goal that might have been humanly possible. Alli looked sharp in his 20 minutes of game time–more like the Alli of last season. We kept pushing and earned an 85th minute corner kick. Kane got his head on it about 12 yards out and sent a solid shot goalward. Wanyama intercepted it with a slight flick guaranteeing that it wasn’t going to be saved. Not sure if Kane’s would have gone in but Wanyama’s did and that was all that mattered. We closed out the remaining minutes and earned our first win of the season.
Probably the best single moment of the game–even better than the goal–was Lamela nutmegging former Spur Andros Townsend:
The last few frames reveal a lifetime of regret and insecurity as his soul is cleaved from his body. RIP Townsend.
Player Ratings (-5 to +5)
Janssen +3 – would have been +5 if he had scored some of his chances. On a better day he would have had 2 goals and an assist.
Kane +2 – not as dogged as Janssen but he was playing a different role and put in a solid shift
Lamela +1 – Some good moments, but was guilty of creating chances but not shots
Erikson -2 – Not a good game
Dier +1 – Better than last week. Solid on D and more productive on O. Nothing stood out from his game other than a major nut shot
Wanyama +3 – First goal as a Spur. Pushed the ball forward to create a lot of attacks. Man of the Match.
Rose +1 – Smooth passing out of the back but wasn’t effective enough as a winger
Vertonghen +1 – much better than last week. Stifling D.
Alderweirald +3 – really good on D, got his head on a couple of corner kicks. Unlucky to not get a goal.
Walker 0 – nothing bad but nothing good.
Vorm +1 – made some easy saves and was a solid distributor. No complaints.
Alli +2 – created a lot of chances in his 20 minute shift. Unlucky not to come away with a goal and an assist.
Onomah +0 – less than 5 minutes on the pitch
Carroll +0 less than 2 minutes on the pitch
Glad we got our first win of the season.