Premier League 2019/20: Bournemouth vs Tottenham – tactical analysis
When José Mourinho first graced the Tottenham Hotspur dugout in November for his first home game in the Premier League, his side put on a good attacking display beating Bournemouth 3-2. This performance whetted the appetite of the home fans, the dawn of a new rejuvenated playing style under the Portuguese manager. However, Mourinho soon went back to his conservative style, and with key players like Harry Kane being injured, became very inconsistent.
When the league was halted in March, Tottenham Hotspur were one of the teams that were tipped to benefit most from the break as they would get back players like Kane who would recoup from their injuries to galvanise the North Londoners after the restart. The presence of a full squad, however, did not have the required effect as Spurs continued their inconsistent form with some rather unconvincing performances which led into the display against Bournemouth, a lacklustre and uninspiring 0-0 draw at the Vitality Stadium on Thursday evening, a stark contrast from the reserve fixture at the start of Mourinho’s helm.
Bournemouth, who are battling to get out of the relegation zone, had the better chances and looked the more likely to take all three points from the game. This tactical analysis will discuss the tactics and strategic setup of both teams and explain how Eddie Howe organised his team well defensively that got them a vital point but also left them with a chance to nearly grab a winner late on. The analysis will also focus on the reasons behind Spurs’ lack of intervention in the final third and how they struggled to create any meaningful chances in the game.
Eddie Howe set up his side in a 4-4-2 formation as he kept his team in the same shape that was well beaten in the 5-2 loss against Manchester United last weekend. The Englishman did make two personnel changes, however, looking to pick up results from such an unfavourable run in. Howe kept his faith in his backline and goalkeeper who shipped five goals as they remained unchanged for this game.
His first change was to bring in a bit more stability and physicality in the middle as Dan Gosling came in for Lewis Cook in the heart of midfield. Howe’s other change was the introduction of Bournemouth’s top goalscorer this season in Callum Wilson, who has scored eight goals in the league this season. He replaced Dominic Solanke who fell to the bench as Howe looked to build on his side’s attacking play – an area in which they have struggled to excel in all season.
José Mourinho set up his side in a 4-3-3 formation as he went hunting down the European places. The Spurs manager made three changes to his team that beat Everton in a very scrappy 1-0 win on Monday night. In the heart of defence, Mourinho was forced into a change as Eric Dier was serving the first of his four-game match ban for the incident at the end of the FA cup game against Norwich. Like the opposing manager for this game, Mourinho made changes to his forward line, replacing Heung- Min Son and Lucas Moura with Erik Lamela and Steven Bergwijn as he looked to freshen things up in attack while also having one eye ahead of the North London derby on the weekend.
Bournemouth’s well organised defensive shape
Before the game, Eddie Howe expressed that his side needed a quick start to this match; this was in order to avoid a repeat of proceedings from their last game as they were 3-1 down to Manchester United within the first 45 minutes, thus the game was over as a contest at half-time. The Cherries could not afford to let this happen again if they were looking to pick up a vital result. The players duly responded to their manager’s plea and Bournemouth started the game with great impotence and intent as they looked to impose themselves on the game. The Cherries players were flying into tackles, bringing aggression and high energy that stopped and disrupted Spurs’ rhythm.
Bournemouth did extremely well out of possession, preventing Spurs from progressing the ball forward as Howe’s men set up with 4-4-2 compact mid-block. This well organised defensive shape disrupted Spurs’ strategy and cut off access to the North Londoners’ forward options.
We can see Bournemouth’s compact defensive shape in action below, as both strikers drop back just ahead of the halfway line, pressing the Spurs’ backline with the ball and applying the first line of pressure. Behind them, the midfield line is compact horizontally and is staggered toward the ball side wing in order to keep close spacing behind the first line of pressure while also blocking any forward passing options behind them.
Bournemouth’s shape ensures that Jan Vertonghen (in possession) has no immediate options as Wilson’s body position when pressing ensures Bergwijn is left in his cover shadow while also showing the Belgium defender down the line. All in all, Bournemouth’s midfield line is blocking the vertical passing lanes well.
Even if Vertonghen was able to dribble past Wilson, Bournemouth is set up well to deal with this as each of Howe’s men are close enough to their opponents to close the space quickly and alter their shape accordingly (as indicated above with the black arrows). In this instance, Vertonghen does not try going down the line and Bournemouth’s well-organised shape forces the Belgium defender to go back to his keeper.
Spurs found it very difficult to break down and penetrate Bournemouth’s defensive shape and a big factor in keeping this well-organised shape was the work and constant intense pressure applied by Bournemouth’s front two. Both Josh King and Wilson dropped deep to press and challenge Spurs’ backline and pivot which ensured that Bournemouth’s second line could stay compact and organised and would not be pulled out of position, potentially creating space in behind for Spurs’ forward players, which is illustrated below.
Again Bournemouth’s staggered midfield line towards the ball side wing works effectively, forcing Giovanni Lo Celso inside as he plays a pass laterally to Sissoko, but before the French midfielder can take a touch he is pressed aggressively from behind and surrounded by Bournemouth’s front two as Wilson is able to nick the ball and create a good attacking opportunity on the transition.
Spurs did, on occasion, advance up the pitch in transition phases when Bournemouth had attacking set-pieces. However, as we can see below, Bournemouth were very effective at stopping Spurs from taking advantage of the space in transition situations by recovering well defensively to first slow up the Spurs player.
Once the Spurs player had been slowed down, Bournemouth did well to get back and surround the ball area and man in possession, as shown above. By overloading this area, Bournemouth has isolated the Spurs player, overwhelming him before winning the ball back and stopping the North Londoners’ attacking efforts.
Spurs’ suboptimal attacking play
Bournemouth’s defensive shape and work rate were impressive in preventing Spurs progressing the ball and creating chances in the final third but their attempts were certainty aided by Mourinho’s side being extremely lifeless in their attacking play. A big issue in why the North London side could not progress the ball was due to in large part to their forward players’ poor positional play and lack of effective movement.
Mourinho normally sets out his team in a 3-2-5 attacking formation with his right-back – normally Serge Aurier – providing the width on the right while Ben Davies stays deep on the opposite side, making up the back three as the width is provided by the winger on the left in the final third. For this game, Harry Winks dropped in-between the two centre-backs, making up the back three as Mourinho decided to push both Aurier and Davies forward to provide the width on the flanks as both the left and right winger tucked in centrally.
This was the root of the poor positional play as both wingers moved into the centre along with Lo Celso and were all essentially operating in the same space, on the same horizontal line, with little spacing between them, which formed a close cluster in the central area in between Bournemouth’s midfield and backline. At times, even Harry Kane dropped into this cluster, congesting the space even more. Coupled with this, the forward players lacked any sort of effective movement in this position and failed on several occasions to create any depth or width to open adequate space to receive the ball in this area.
We can see such poor positional play below with Spurs looking to progress the ball. We see Bergwijn, Lo Celso, and Lamela all on the space horizontal line, close together in a congested cluster. Their lack of movement to move off the same line as their other teammates in this area means it is a difficult passing option for Winks to access and he is forced to move the ball out wide as a result. His pass, however, is misjudged and Bournemouth win a throw-in.
With this poor positional play and lack of movement creating a cluster, Spurs are not taking advantage of their numerical advantage in the central area and not creating decisional problems for either Bournemouth’s midfield or defensive lines. Also, by being so compact in this cluster, it is playing right into Bournemouth’s defensive shape as their midfield can come in narrow to screen in front of them and with no depth or height being created by these players, the defensive line can squeeze up and close the space in-between the lines vertically.
Spurs failed to threaten in the attacking third and it was very comfortable for Bournemouth to defend against in their well-organised shape. Overall in possession, the North Londoners’ play was very ponderous and flat and did not take advantage when space opened up in advanced areas. When opportunities did open up to progress the ball forward, either the player in possession would take too many unnecessary touches or would not risk the pass and play the ball into a safer option, passing up the opportunity.
We see can see Spurs not taking advantage and passing the opportunity to progress the ball quickly below. Vertonghen wins the ball cleared up by Bournemouth up to Wilson, and the Cherries’ midfield line is quite deep and not set in their usual mid-block shape. The Belgium defender has two teammates ahead of him in space and could progress the ball quickly to either one of them to move Spurs into a dangerous position.
Vertonghen, however, first takes too many touches then decides to play the ball lateral to Sissoko, passing up the opportunity to play a more valuable passing option to take advantage of the space ahead. Sissoko, when he receives, also decides to take too many unnecessary touches and by the time he sets himself to pass the ball, Bournemouth’s midfield line has recouped their positions and organised into their effective defensive shape. By playing with such a slow tempo, Spurs could not take the opportunities to capitalise on Bournemouth’s slight lapses in their defensive unit when they arose.
Spurs wake up but their sloppiness is nearly punished
In order to change their fortunes and improve their attacking endeavour and overall play, Mourinho made changes to his side after the break, changing to a 4-2-3-1 formation and bringing on Tanguy Ndombélé in the double pivot position alongside Winks. Mourinho also brought on Son and Lucas Moura to play as the inverted forwards with Lamela lining up in the attacking midfield position behind Kane.
The changes made a slight improvement to Spurs’ attacking play as both inverted wingers and Lamela had a better understanding and this resulted in having a slightly better positional attacking structure. Behind them, Ndombélé increased the tempo in midfield and looked to play more positive forward passes which resulted in some good combination play between the three substitutes, as illustrated below. We see that Ndombélé has created a good angle to receive the ball off Winks, his body position is effective as he is able to turn out and face forward with his first touch.
Lamela drops deeper to engage Bournemouth’s midfield line, pulling them out to create more space for Son who has moved across into the vacated space. Ndombélé is positive and threads the ball through to Son which creates a great up, back and through passing combination with Lucas Moura running off Son’s shoulder. Spurs did have a good spell after the second cooling break in which they were better in their approach play but their final ball still left a lot to be desired.
After this small 5-10 minute spell, Spurs became incredibly frustrated that they could not convert or create any meaningful goal scoring chances and as the game neared the final whistle, they began to force things and were extremely sloppy and wasteful in possession. We can see this summed up in the image below as Winks is in possession of the ball and is anxious to progress his side forward. Son makes his inward move into the space again but Bournemouth are set up well to prevent this.
Winks sees Son, but is pressured by Wilson who does well to fluster the English midfielder who tries to play the ball forward trying to find his teammate. His pass does not have the required pace on it and the Bournemouth left-back is easily able to read the intension and intercept it. Bournemouth are then able to counter-attack effectively with Spurs caught in transition. A poor decision by Winks, who was very sloppy and tried to force the pass through a very tight window between lots of Bournemouth bodies, summed up Spurs’ poor display on the day.
Bournemouth brought great energy, aggression, and intent into this game creating a well-balanced playing style by keeping a well organised compact defensive shape and applying a quick transitional attacking play. Eddie Howe’s side was incredibly unlucky not to take all three points from the game as they had the ball in the net twice, one was an offside decision and the other was chalked off as Wilson’s overhead kick hit King’s hand on the way through to the net. The Cherries also had a late chance from Harry Wilson but Hugo Lloris did well to smother his chipped attempt from close range. With that well-earned point, Bournemouth move ahead of Aston Villa, going up a place to 18th.
In contrast, Spurs were uninspiring and toothless in their display as they were lacklustre and ponderous in attack, as shown in this analysis. Spurs also lacked any penetration in the final third even after Mourinho switched up his tactics after the interval where they did not register a single shot on target. This is an area that Mourinho must look to improve on as his team’s positional structure and creativity because these elements are becoming a big concern as his team have only created one big chance in their last three games. If they continue in this vein it could cause Spurs to miss out on a European spot altogether with their season potentially ending in disaster.