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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.