Premier League 2019/20: Wolves vs Tottenham – tactical analysis
After the midweek European competitions, the Premier League is back. Wolves had a strong form, they were unbeaten in the past 11 games in the domestic league; they also secured a 4-0 home win against Turkish side Besiktas on Thursday. In this round of fixtures, Wolves faced Tottenham, a strong opponent.
Tottenham had been doing quite well in the domestic competition after the arrival of José Mourinho, especially scoring many goals. Despite the defeat in the last group game of the Champions League, they had to focus on the league, looking for a win at the Molineux Stadium.
Nuno Espírito Santo lined up his team in a 5-4-1 formation, all these players were very familiar with the tactics and the style of Wolves. Despite Ryan Bennett was available, Leander Dendoncker continued to play as the right centre back; he partnered with Conor Coady and Romain Saïss. Diogo Jota, Raúl Jiménez and Adama Traoré were the front three.
Mourinho’s Tottenham played in a 4-2-3-1 formation, their key players were rotated in the game against Bayern. No Danny Rose or Ben Davies today, so Jan Vertonghen played as a left-back. Harry Winks was on the bench as Moussa Sissoko and Eric Dier played as the defensive midfielders on the pitch. Lucas Moura got his chance to continue impressing the new manager; the in-form Dele Alli also started the game.
The first phase of Wolves’ attack
Wolves were a more counter-attacking team, however, in this match, they got 59% of possession in the game thanks to the non-optimal Tottenham defence. When got chances to play out from the back, Wolves did not insist to penetrate through the centre by finding João Moutinho or Rúben Neves. They remained in their own style, tried plenty of long balls to progress the ball.
This graph was the long passes map of Wolves centre back Coady. The skipper made 52 passes in this game, 16 of them were long passes, and, only two of them failed. It was not a coincidence to obtain these data; As shown below, most long-ranged passes of Coday were diagonal passes instead of direct vertical passes; this reflected Wolves was prepared to play in this way instead of forced to play long.
To begin with, we introduce the general structure of Wolves in their first phase when the ball was in their own half. The three centre backs split in a ‘V-shape’, with Coady being the deepest centre back. The benefits of this setup were twofold. Offensively, a deeper position kept a distance with the oppositions, hence, allowed the English to play the ball with more time and space. Defensively, this was vital for Wolves to defend against transitions, as the skipper was the last man of the defence, Rui Patrício did not need to be the sweeper-keeper, lowered the risks.
Tactically speaking, this structure of Wolves allowed them to play the pass to flanks and start an attack comfortably. On occasions, Tottenham tried to match the three Wolves centre backs with three players, usually, Heung-min Son on Dendoncker, Moura on Saïss while Harry Kane on Coady; Neves and Moutinho pinned Dier and Sissoko. Therefore, Tottenham must choose to mark players on the flanks or not, if they intended to do so, their defenders must step out from the defensive line, then the defence lost shape.
As this example showed how Wolves and Tottenham players reached numerical equality. Coady got time to play this ball, which he played a diagonal ball to find Matt Doherty. This was difficult for Tottenham to defend as Son had to choose between Dendoncker and Doherty, in this case, he tried to close off the Belgian to prevent Coady from passing short.
Wolves attacked flanks
Wolves were dangerous on both flanks, on the right, they had Traoré, who could just simply beat defenders with his pace and physical strength. Statistics reflected how unstoppable was the Spaniard, he attempted 19 dribbles, completed 14 of them. As mentioned in our previous analysis, the partnership between Traoré and Doherty were allowed Wolves to create problems for the opposition left-back. More than half, 21 passes of Doherty were finding Traoré.
In this section, we wanted to show the attack of Wolves on the left flank. After playing together for more a season, Jonny Otto, Moutinho and Jota showed great understanding of each other. Their quick movements were difficult to defend as the Tottenham players could merely react.
Since Nuno switched his tactics into a 3-4-3 formation in the attack, these three players seemed cooperating with each other even better. They could move the ball very quick with first touch passes since they read the space well. A strong passing triangle was formed on the left flank. On the below occasion, Jonny played the ball to Jota, the Portuguese played a one-touch pass to Moutinho without any hesitation; Moutinho read space behind Serge Aurier as the Ivorian tried to close off Jota. With these quick attacks, Wolves could enter to Tottenham’s box.
Wolves constrain the build-up of Tottenham
Tottenham wished to play out from the back in this game, however, they had huge difficulties as the midblock of Wolves denied penetrations. The build-up structure of Tottenham has liked the previous game. On the right, Aurier provided the width high up on the pitch; the back-three positioned themselves centrally; double pivots were in front of the defenders to form another line to build-up. It was a 3-2-4-1 formation, with Kane stayed upfront.
Nuno prepared to face this tactic of Tottenham. For Wolves, they defended in a 5-4-1 midblock. Wolves did not wish Toby Alderweireld or Vertonghen on the ball as these two players were good with the ball, they could penetrate the defence of Wolves. By contrast, Davinson Sánchez was the relatively less dangerous player with the ball. Therefore, Wolves allowed the Columbian to receive passes, but deny the others in the build-up.
The below situation illustrated. Sánchez on the ball, however, he lacked passing options. Jiménez’s positioning was clever as he stayed at the centre, maintained the same distance with Alderweireld and Vertonghen, so Sánchez did not take the risks to pass to these two players. Meanwhile, Dier and Sissoko were both man-marked by Jonny and Neves; Moutinho pressed the Columbian, who could not move the ball forward and returned the ball to Paulo Gazzaniga.
Tottenham defence was a bit hit and miss
In this section, we are going to evaluate the defensive performance of Tottenham. In general, the block of Tottenham was deep. When Tottenham opened their shape in the attack, it left their defence exposed. When possession turnover. they had to deal with quick plays of Wolves, which targeted both flanks.
Wolves did slightly better in terms of picking second balls in this game. As in this example, after battles in the air, Neves won the ball from Sissoko. Traoré was readied to counter, as he knew the quality of Neves, who could pick him with a comfortable pass. It was a disaster for Vertonghen, a 32-year-old defender to face Traoré alone on these occasions. In this attack, the Spaniard cut inside without too many difficulties and tested Gazzaniga.
For the level of concentration during defence, Tottenham were also below par, as demonstrated in these images.
Vertonghen loss the duel with Doherty, hence, Wolves continued their attack. Tottenham players were sloppy to react. Son, who was marking Traoré for the first time, focused on the ball instead of tracking the Spaniard. Meanwhile, as a defensive midfielder, Dier should have read the space around him and anticipate the pass if Vertonghen lost the duel. However, both Englishers did not do their job, they let Wolves progressed the attack easily.
Traoré got the ball from Doherty and exploited the highlighted area. Alli was behind him, but it was too late, as the Spaniard passed the ball to Jiménez. At this moment, the defence of Tottenham was not lost shape. Vertonghen out of position, Dier covered the area behind him, it was fine; for Aurier, the distance between the Ivorian and Sánchez was too large, while Jota was lurking behind him. It was a possible one v one situation if Jiménez passed the ball to Jota. At last, the Mexican decided to shoot, or else Tottenham could be in trouble here.
Tottenham did better when they were defending deep, they were fully aware of the ability of Traoré and they avoided a defender to face the Spaniard alone. Throughout the match, 19 of 40 duels from the 23-year-old winger were challenging Vertonghen. The Spaniard also dribbled ten times past the Belgian. Vertonghen was very careful on Traoré, he preferred to keep a distance with him, hence, gave chance for Traoré to shoot at zone 14 and equalized. Therefore, on many occasions, it required the concerted efforts of Tottenham players to defend Traoré together.
Sometimes it was Son or Alli to trackback, as, on occasions, Vertonghen stepped out to mark Doherty, it came to Alderweireld to deal with Traoré. The only things Tottenham could do were to make the winger difficult when he crossed and clear the crosses (only three succeed out of 11). When players stepping out, Dier did very fine to cover the spaces between defenders, as the below occasions. Therefore, despite both centre backs stepped out to press the ball, the defensive shape of Tottenham was okay to deal with Wolves.
It was also reflected in statistics. This graph summarized all the shots from Wolves. Despite Wolves had an xG of 1.12, almost half, 0.43 of them were blocked by the players, including a chance from Jota with the highest xG of Wolves in the game. Another intriguing point to note for all shots on target was from the right of Wolves’ attack, it hinted Traoré’s electric pace helped their attack efficiently. Tottenham defending deep in the game, they managed to control Wolves players in the final third for most cases, as the statistics showed, they blocked eight shots out of 14 attempts from Wolves.
Wolves were unlucky to lose all points as Vertonghen’s header helped Tottenham secured a difficult win. Despite playing in a tight schedule, seemed their main squad players were very motivated to play, but tired legs and match fatigue may still become a problem of Wolves in weeks later. In this match, Nuno did not make any changes, even though some attackers, Pedro Neto and Patrick Cutrone were on the bench.
For Mourinho’s Tottenham, their performance was not as sharp as the previous games, especially they seemed lost focus when pressing high up on the field. They also faced some difficulties to play out from the back. The game was a very different one from their win against West Ham and Bournemouth. Mourinho would continue to try and modify his tactics.
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