Fulham 0-3 Tottenham | Spurs switch the ball quickly and exploit space on the flank to secure victory

After poor performances against Liverpool and Gent, Tottenham needed a resounding victory against Fulham to regain some momentum.

The North London side failed on two accounts first at Anfield and then at the Ghelamco Arena – the game plan put forth by Pochettino fell into the hands of the opposition, and poor individual performances exacerbated the overarching strategic issues. What Spurs fans suspected since defeats against Borussia Dotmund, Bayer Leverkusen, and Monac0 was confirmed in the span of a week: a high press is the definitive way to defeat Tottenham.

As such it was crucial that Spurs advance in the F.A. Cup in style, and on Sunday they did just that.

With the league title becoming a less and less likely possibility, Pochettino has decided to chase glory in the Europa and League cups, resulting in minimal rotation. Fulham played with a full strength team as well and from the beginning of the match it was clear that Jokanovic had done his homework.

The Cottagers looked to make Spurs uncomfortable within the visitor’s defensive third, as Jokanovic attempted to replicate the high press style that has proven to be the silver bullet against Spurs.

fulham-pressing

Fulham’s attacking force cutting off passing options. Winks is completely open for a pass, indicating that from the start the system would have pitfalls.

In order to defeat Spurs, it’s essential to destroy the interplay between its defensive players. One need only look at the recent result against Liverpool to know what happens. Indeed, Fulham’s clearest shot a goal was a gift from Vorm that only occurred because he was under pressure and had no safe passing options.

If not done correctly, however, players being drawn to the ball completely plays into Pochettino’s plans.

exploiting-the-half-space

Moments later, Winks can eliminate any influence on the play from Fulham’s midfielders due to poor positioning. Both Eriksen and Dele exploit the half-space while Trippier has massive amounts of space to run into. Eriksen’s role in the half-space and Trippier’s willingness to make darting runs were the key to unlocking Fulham.

Spurs have received some stick for playing out from the back under extreme duress, but it is an integral part to the way Tottenham progresses the ball to create chances. By inviting them to press, opposition players inevitably and inadvertently open up space behind them. Trippier put in a masterclass performance in exploiting this space.

switch-of-play

As the general run of play moves one way, the wingback on the opposite flank exploits the space that is opened.

This was a crucial component of Tottenham’s victory. We saw the return of a 3 man backline in the attacking phase – in possession, the ball near wingback would drop into the line while the wingback on the opposite flank would take up a far more advanced position.

trippier-in-acres

Another instance in which Eriksen receives the ball in the half-space and looks to connect with Trippier. The warning signs before the first goal were all too clear. As a side note, this is quite similar to how Chelsea utilize the Moses and Alonso duo.

This is hands-down the ideal situation that Spurs wanted to create. By starting the move on the left flank and drawing in players, they had confidence in their ability to bypass Fulham’s players and connect with Eriksen (or Winks) who would then look to release the onrushing Trippier.

Although Pochettino’s tactical plans as of late have been somewhat lackluster, he was spot on for this FA Cup fixture. Walker may have been benched to rest, but it’s possible that he may have not done better than Trippier in this particular instance. The former is the more well-rounded of the two, but Trippier undoubtedly shines in attack, and the system made his best qualities stand out even more. His link up play with Eriksen was simply immaculate.

Much of the joy that Spurs enjoyed was down the right hand side but that’s not to say Davies was not instructed to do the same.

two-triangles

Here we not only see Trippier (as the ball near wingback) slotting into the line, but a we also get a glimpse of how the Winks-Wanyama double pivot works. The ball near midfielder – Winks in this case – stays in a traditional MF position while Wanyama slots into the line, creating a number of safe passing options. Vertonghen, out of frame, is closer to the touchline and Davies pushes up into the middle third.

A trend developed rapidly, so quickly that Fulham were unable to respond – if an attacking move started on one flank, it almost always finished on the opposite flank.

davies-in-space

Moments after the image above. More of the same but on the left flank – Davies and Son are in space after Dele has received a ball from midfield.

Davies has received a lot of criticism as of late, and some would say rightly so after Sadio Mane dusted him numerous times. It was good to see him put in a solid yet unexceptional performance. The Welsh leftback certainly has some defensive wrinkles he needs to iron out, but his attacking movement and link-up play is even more lacking and is a bigger detriment to the team. It is for this reason that the attack from left seemed somewhat timid. Whereas Rose, Walker, and Trippier all tend to have an attacking mindset, Davies is a much more traditional fullback. Exploiting space and creating chances are simply not a part of his game – to be clear he’s more than suitable as a second option but I do wonder whether Pochettino is attempting to fit a round peg in a square hole.

Someone who  fits this system to a tee, though, is Harry Winks. The youngster is only the latest from Tottenham’s youth system to really make the best of every opportunity he has been granted. Universally described as ‘tidy,’ he exudes more confidence and calmness on the ball with each passing game. Not to create unjust comparisons, but he put in a very Modric-esque performance – playing the pass before the assist.

He’s proven to be an incredibly versatile player, and somewhat of a surprise package. With a small frame he knows how to hold his own and protect the ball – surely he’s been given lessons by Dembele. He’s not the slowest player on the pitch either.

winks-pressing

Pochettino’s side no longer press as ferociously as they used to, but one key trigger for the press has been poor body positioning. Carney can’t look forward to make a pass, and Eriksen, Dele, and Kane are making other passing options too risky. Winks read this in less than a second, and in a blur (literally) rushed to close down Carney. Due to the pressure Carney passes it to Kane and a chance is created.

Winks seems to be the perfect understudy for Dembele but he’s already showing aspects of his play that might see him usurp the Belgian. For one, he’s a much quicker passer of the ball, and has phenomenal range. Not only will he turn to take a man on but as soon as he’s past him he can lift up his head and pick out a teammate.

winks-trip-connect

Winks get past Carney far too easily and connects with Trippier (unmarked by Ayite who has fallen asleep) – not ten seconds later Tottenham are two goals up.

Secondly, and this might be an extension of the first point, he’s quicker to make a decision. Dembele has improved dramatically in this aspect but Winks does whatever he decides to do a second or two faster. The fact that both him and Eriksen have this attribute was another reason Spurs found victory at Craven Cottage – the passing to switch the ball had to be pinpoint and rapid.

Conclusion

This was a somewhat unexpected scoreline as Fulham have been excellent at home and Spurs have struggled on the road. Fulham came out with a good plan but, with all respect, they simply lacked the quality to pull off what Liverpool and Leverkusen have done before. For Spurs, the plan worked to perfection with yet another amazing performance from the likes of Trippier, Winks, and Eriksen (not to mention Kane with his hat-trick.) One wonders if Davies can truly find success in a system that is rapidly becoming the most effective for Spurs. The North London side simply need to take this result in stride and come out with the same urgency against Gent on Thursday.

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