Tottenham Hotspur – Wolverhampton Wanderers: Wolves make Spurs pay for their lack of creativity and eventual fatigue (1-3)
Nuno Espírito Santo’s side defended incredibly well against Spurs’ usual attacking patterns. Then, as Spurs tired, Wolves grew into the game and scored three goals to return to winning ways in the Premier League.
Tactical analysis and match report by Peter M.
In the search for his sixth consecutive league win, Mauricio Pochettino named an unchanged midfield and attack. His only adjustments came in defense, where Kyle Walker-Peters, Juan Foyth and Danny Rose, all made way for Kieran Trippier, Davinson Sánchez and Ben Davies.
After three successive wins, Wolves stumbled back into tricky form and were thus hoping to end the year on a high. Unlike, Pochettino, Nuno chose to rotate more in midfield, starting a different pairing altogether. Rúben Neves and Leander Dendoncker – the latter of which was awarded his full Premier League debut – replaced João Moutinho and Romain Saïss. Up front, Morgan Gibbs-White made way for Ivan Cavaleiro.
Spurs try to utilize planned attacking patterns
As expected, Spurs had full control of the ball in the opening minutes of this encounter. In their possession-based setup, Christian Eriksen and Moussa Sissoko – the two wider central midfielders – dropped very deep to create a “W” shape in their buildup approach. This allowed for Davies and Trippier to push up on either side while the attackers sat narrower.
Spurs’ possession-based 2-3-5 formation versus Wolves’ 5-2-3 defensive structure.
If the holding midfielder came wider to receive, the far-side The far side is the side of the pitch where the ball is not. midfielder and fullback sometimes dropped to create a flat four in the second line. The objective of this ploy was to continuously pin Wolves’ midfield line back.
Spurs had a few planned attacking patterns. For example, when the ball moved across the width of the pitch, the deep central midfielder would either push up into the space behind the Wolves midfield or peel wider and deeper. This would open up space for the fullback on the relevant side to drop and receive inside.
Once the ball was fed into the fullback, the attacker ahead would move wide to receive. This action split the ball-side center-back away from his two teammates. However, Wolves were excellent at following the attacker’s movements all the way, before using their holding midfielders to block any other routes into the center. Additionally, the pressure applied by each defensive player prevented any attempts to locate a channel run from the near-side attacking receiver.
Wolves hold Spurs off despite minor defensive weaknesses
Nevertheless, Wolves were still susceptible to leaving small gaps in their midfield, especially when pressing all the way up the pitch. Their disorganization in a temporary 3-4-1-2 was abundantly clear as Spurs consistently used their attackers to overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. the midfield pairing and progress forward in open transition. That was when Spurs looked at their most dangerous.
In more congested areas, the home’s sides best openings in front of Wolves’ defense came in the halfspaces If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace.. In these areas, Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli always looked to receive diagonally in the gap between the wide forwards and central midfielders.
Usually, the dropping forwards were not followed, as Wolves were trying to stay ultra-compact. Even instantly spreading the ball wide to stretch the opposition’s defense was ineffective, as Wolves’ wing-backs were already well-positioned. The best Spurs could do was recycle it from side-to-side, waiting for a slight opening to get a shot away. But all of these attempts came from well outside the box.
Even when Davies or Trippier found themselves with the ball at the byline, the options were severely lacking. Not even Harry Kane seemed to want to bust a gut to get to the near post. This created a large amount of cutback options, which seemed like a waste against a back five that could rush out to block anything in its path.
Spurs take advantage of Wolves’ poor ball control
Pochettino’s side stuck to their 4-3-3 formation out of possession, because they could go man-for-man in midfield and press while having a defensive midfielder covering the back four. Plus, with play so tight to one side, Wolves’ five-versus-four overload on the last line was never of any real threat to Spurs. The heavier and narrower the press, the more precise Wolves had to be, and that was where they faltered.
Wolves’ 3-4-3 formation up against Spurs’ narrow 4-3-3 high press.
Wolves’ two main ways of attacking were playing vertical passes into the strikers and finding the far-side wide players with sweeping diagonals. Wolves did not have too many opportunities to switch A pass from one side to the other. and stretch Spurs in the first half due to the constant pressure on their backline. Thus, they were forced to go for the direct route.
Typically, one of the midfielders or a center-back, would try to whiz a ball into one of the narrowed attackers. From there, the men on the ball would then try to lay possession off to a nearby player. Unfortunately for the away side, the control of each pass was generally terrible – most passes ricocheted wildly off the receiver’s foot.
Unsurprisingly, one of these lose touches led to a loss of possession in the 22nd minute. Son picked up the ball and moved it onto Kane. The striker cut inside and powered a weak-footed shot from range into the net.
Spurs begin to tire and Wolves grow into the game
In the first half, the game played out as a stalemate more than anything else. Even though Wolves had yet to threaten their opposition’s goal, Spurs had struggled to create any dangerous openings near the away side’s own box.
The telling difference that separated the two sides in the second half, then, was a drop in intensity levels. Despite all their control, the energy required for Spurs’ press was clearly more demanding and, subsequently, more draining than Wolves’ zonal block.
From a Wolves perspective, the unchanged players – in other words, the defense – were never asked to press aggressively, whereas the rotated midfielders did all the work. Pochettino, on the other hand, expected his tiring attackers to press relentlessly while his rotated back four had very little to do.
Though the sluggish pace of the game continued, Wolves started to get a greater grip on proceedings. With more time on the ball, their wide rotations began to work more coherently and stretched Spurs’ narrow shape as a result. On several occasions, the central midfielders on either side would push out to the flanks to receive away from the pressure of the center.
Additionally, Hélder Costa, who replaced an injury-stricken Adama Traoré before the hour, was the nominal wing-back who received out wide. Costa and Matt Doherty rotated positions, enabling the Portuguese attacker to drive inside when getting on the ball. Consequently, Wolves were now the side pinning their opponents back.
Wolves make their increased dominance pay
The ensuing pressure enabled Wolves to get into better positions. The wing-backs were finding it easy to run behind the outnumbered Spurs fullbacks, which then allowed them to gain easy access to the box. A corner soon came from this in the seventy-second minute. Substitute Moutinho’s delivery located the head of the towering Willy Boly, who headed in a across to the back post and equalized.
Spurs’ tiredness was even clearer for Wolves’ go-ahead goal. A simple diagonal into Costa might have been knocked back by Harry Winks, but no Spurs player was in the center to pick up the loose ball.
Instead, it was Moutinho who got there and made the telling contribution once again. He spread possession wide to Cavaleiro, who moved the ball inside to Raúl Jiménez. The Mexican striker drilled a shot towards the near post with almost no back-lift and scored.
To round it all off, Costa burst forward on the counterattack and slotted home the best chance of the match in the 87th minute.
Wolves created major chances in the second half, which was when Spurs had tired.
Only two minutes later did Spurs finally manage to put in a dangerous cross, as Davies’ ball so nearly met the head of Kane at the near post. But that was as close as the home side came to responding in the final minutes.
The World Cup and the lack of summer additions is beginning to take a toll on Tottenham Hotspur. This is especially worrying because the fixtures are only now becoming more numerous and intense. That is why Pochettino is in dire need of squad reinforcements, though it is remarkable to see how far the Argentinian has elevated this Spurs side in 2018/19.
Wolves’ excellent performance, especially in defense, saw them earn a deserved victory at Wembley. Their resurgence in form sees them push back up into seventh place in the table, having lost just one of their last six league games.
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