Premier League 2019/20: Tottenham Hotspur vs Crystal Palace – tactical analysis
Gameweek five in the Premier League had Tottenham Hotspur host Crystal Palace at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Each team had a completely different mindset going into this game, based on the result of their last performances before the international break. Tottenham Hotspur shockingly lost to Newcastle at home, conceding an early goal from Joelinton. Meanwhile, Crystal Palace were able to get their first win against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Premier League era, a massive feat. A week later, Crystal Palace controversially got another three points against a ten-man Aston Villa. Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur threw away a two-goal lead against fierce, North London rivals Arsenal, only able to earn one point at the Emirates. One team coming into game week five on a complete high, and the other on the lowest of lows.
That being said, just by watching the match, you would never know that Tottenham Hotspur had just gone through such a bad run of form. They easily beat Crystal Palace in every department, winning the match with a comfortable 4-0 victory. This tactical analysis will examine how Tottenham Hotspur were able to get out of their rut and perform at a level they have not shown in a while using tactics and analysis.
Mauricio Pochettino set up his home side in a 4-4-2 that often looked like 4-2-2-2 formation. Every player bar Serge Aurier had also started the game at the Emirates versus Arsenal, but Pochettino’s 4-4-2 differed from the 4-2-3-1 in the sense that the midfielders were given much more freedom to roam, rather than be in a rigid shape. It also allowed Tottenham Hotspur to play with two strikers in Harry Kane and Heung-min Son, rather than just one. Two strikers help tremendously against teams that sit deep in a low block, which Pochettino correctly assumed is how Crystal Palace would set up.
Roy Hodgson made more changes than his managerial counterpart. After guiding his side to a 1-0 victory against Aston Villa with a 4-3-3 at home, he opted for a more defensive shape against last year’s Champion League finalists. A 4-1-4-1 formation that often changed shape that often looked like a 4-5-1. Hodgson’s goal was clear; to limit Tottenham Hotspur’s clear cut chances and attempt to counter their high line. The scoreline obviously suggests the Hodgson was unable to get his players to execute his tactics properly.
Use of Width vs. A Low Block
Tottenham Hotspur were able to get at Crystal Palace because of their use of the whole pitch. Although Crystal Palace played in a low block, they were uncharacteristically narrow. This allowed Tottenham Hotspur to continually play around them.
Crystal Palace did not seem to get the memo and Tottenham Hotspur were happy to keep playing the same way. The width was used on both sides, as Crystal Palace’s back four remained narrow and compact.
Tottenham Hotspur’s fourth goal again came from the same situation, with Kane out wide passing it to Érik Lamela on the other flank. It was a constant tactic that the home team were happy to use against Crystal Palace’s narrow defence as long as it kept working, with multiple similar chances in the second half.
Crystal Palace lacking in the final third
At the end of the day, Crystal Palace were not able to score a single goal, and they let in four. However, the scoreline was a bit harsh on them, as they had moments during the game where they were threatening.
That being said, from the chances they had, the wrong decision was often made by the players, which ruined the play. Against a top-six team, the rest of the league will often find themselves with only a few clear cut chances. With these few chances, the players must make the right decisions in order to maximize these chances. Crystal Palace failed to do this.
Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace’s star man, was played on the right-wing. Presumably, Hodgson thought that he could get the better of Danny Rose. Zaha put up some substantial numbers: two shots on target, four out of four attempted dribbles completed and winning possession seven times. However, there were moments where he failed to look up for his teammates and tried to play in the ball himself. Tottenham Hotspur’s defenders were so focused on him that he often got the ball taken off him before he could shoot. He was also the target of many fouls as four of Tottenham Hotspur’s yellow cards were given out for fouls on Zaha. Tottenham Hotspur were aware that Zaha would be Crystal Palace’s main chance maker, so they stopped him every way they could. Zaha did not help his teammates by looking for other options while on the ball.
Crystal Palace’s lack of ability in the final third can be summed up in around the tenth minute. From a setpiece, they looked sure to score from Gary Cahill’s chance. Mere seconds later, Son scored the first goal, allowing Tottenham Hotspur to go 1-0 up.
One of the things that Tottenham Hotspur have been lacking in their past few games is good performances from their full-back areas. The past four games have seen Tottenham Hotspur play Davinson Sánchez or Kyle Walker-Peters in the right-back position. While both players have their strength, Walker-Peters is still quite young and developing while Sánchez is more of a central defender.
Aurier came into the starting lineup and made a massive difference to the way Tottenham Hotspur play. He had not played since Tottenham Hotspur’s Champions League against Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion due to injury. Surprisingly, he did not look like a player who had missed six months of playing time. Statistics show he made five interceptions, won possession back four times, and made three key passes, including an assist for Son’s second goal.
He always threatened Crystal Palace’s defence by staying wide while in possession and making several smart passes. This match was especially crucial for Tottenham Hotspur to have their fullbacks play well going forward, because of the lack of wingers in the formation. Aurier was always wide which forced gaps in Crystal Palace’s defensive line.
Tottenham Hotspur’s second and third goal came from Aurier and his position. For the second, he stays wide and receives the ball from Son. Aurier is then able to beat Patrick van Aanholt and shot before the latter accidentally pokes it in his own net. The third comes from Aurier via an assist, as his width allows him the time and space to get a cross into Son.
Consistency is Key
Both teams have been extremely inconsistent so far in the past five fixtures, in terms of both overall play, as well as individual players.
Tottenham Hotspur come from the first five gameweeks with eight out of possible fifteen points, drawing two matches, winning two, and losing one. While this form can obviously be worse, they are a team that have been expected to easily get into the top four, and try and challenge the top two in Manchester City and Liverpool. Their current form does not get them there.
Players like Aurier and Son who had great showings against Crystal Palace will have to prove to be a bit more consistent. Before this match, Son had not scored in the Premier League since the beginning of April during last season, after he seemed to be on a terrific run of form. Aurier has notably been inconsistent in the past as well, making it hard for himself to cement his place as Tottenham Hotspur’s first-choice right-back.
Crystal Palace came from the first five matchdays with seven out of possible fifteen points, drawing one match, winning two, and losing two. The loss of Aaron Wan-Bissaka had many people questioning Crystal Palace, and wondering if they could avoid a relegation battle. Beating Manchester United should give them a considerable boost; however, they’ll do well to prevent meaningless points dropped such as the draw at Everton and the loss at Sheffield United.
The team is also severely lacking goals; they may be in eighth place in the league table, but they are in last place in terms of goals scored, with only three. Players like Zaha as well as Andros Townsend, Christian Benteke and Jordan Ayew will need to step up to help fill a void.
Both teams need to find some form of consistency in order to fill the expectations put upon them this season.
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