Tottenham 4-0 Young Boys: Much-improved Spurs progress with ease

August 25, 2010

The starting line-ups

A routine victory for a Tottenham side that always looked in control, and are now into the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history.

Harry Redknapp made a few changes to last week’s side – Peter Crouch replaced Roman Pavlyuchenko (who, despite his late wondergoal, was awful in the first leg), whilst Tom Huddlestone came into the midfield alongside Wilson Palacios, Aaron Lennon was selected instead of Giovani dos Santos, and Ledley King got a start too.

Vladimir Petkovic named an unchanged XI, and his side lined up broadly in the same shape as in the first match – albeit with a more conservative slant.

One of the main themes of the game in Bern was Young Boys’ vulnerability from set-pieces – with Sebastien Bassong, in particular, constantly finding himself unmarked, and scoring Spurs’ crucial first goal just before half-time. Bassong was not in the side today – but Peter Crouch was, and his sheer height was always going to cause Young Boys problems.

Just as a Giampaolo Pazzini’s far post header was inevitable last night, Crouch opened the scoring after just five minutes, getting on the end of a cross from Gareth Bale following a corner. In truth, the Young Boys defending was so poor that Crouch’s height was fairly irrelevant in completing the simple task of nodding it across goal into the far corner, and the Swiss side’s stupidity in leaving such an obvious goal threat unmarked meant they were deservedly behind on the night, and in the tie.

Young Boys less impressive

Young Boys’ formation and strategy had a distinct ‘away leg’ feel to it – Scott Sutter’s runs forward were more subdued, and Henri Bienvenu was playing more of a hold-up role than providing a direct goal threat when receiving the ball, as he had done to great effect in the first game. Pascal Doubai played an even more conservative role than in the first game.

That said, they were still retaining possession of the ball nicely (though with less ease than the first leg, as Spurs’ strikers were quicker to close down Doubai, the free man in midfield, when he had the ball.) Young Boys’ pressing was also evident, with Xavier Hochstrasser closing down Wilson Palacios in possession, meaning the away sides’ 4-2-3-1 often looked more like a 4-1-4-1. If anything, they should have done this more, to put pressure on a slightly nervy Spurs backline.

Spurs controlled the game well with the use of a double pivot ahead of their defence – Palacios and Huddlestone both had good games and were sensible, disciplined and positionally aware. The use of that duo in the Champions League group games might prove a better bet than using Luka Modric there, despite the Croatian’s obvious talent.

Huddlestone’s distribution also proved important because of Spurs’ tactic to get the ball wide quickly and directly – Palacios is a fairly average passer and got caught in possession a couple of times, but Huddlestone has the range and passing vision to dictate the game when Spurs have possession. He played a reasonably understated role considering some of his previous passes on European nights but was nevertheless impressive in what he did, knocking the ball around with minimal fuss.

Jermain Defoe scored the second very simple goal when Young Boys had been growing into the game – probably using a hand but nevertheless producing an excellent finish – and Spurs were 2-0 up without ever playing particularly great football.

Second half

Little changed after half-time tactically. Young Boys were still a dangerous prospect, but Spurs defended deeper than in the first leg, not allowing any balls to be played in behind the defence, and the wet surface didn’t help the likelihood of successful balls over the top either.

The third goal didn’t change Young Boys task (to score two) but felt like the tie’s decisive goal – again Crouch scoring at the far post with a header, again Bale providing the assist. Crouch got his hattrick from the penalty spot, after Bale was brought down by Senad Lulic (who was dismissed) but by this time the tie was over. The one final point to note is the quality of the ball played to Bale by Benoit Assou-Ekotto – the combination of those two didn’t work well in the first leg, but the combination here was excellent.

Conclusion

The tie will have provided a good lesson for Harry Redknapp, a man with very little European experience. The use of two holding midfielders in this leg allowed Spurs much more control of the game, as Palacios and Huddlestone were reliable in possession, and Spurs had a better shape defensively. Spurs defended much deeper, so the use of a double pivot meant they weren’t exposed in the resulting space ‘in the hole’.

It also emphasised the need for some level of tactical variation away from home – this direct 4-4-2 with two wingers is fine in games at White Hart Lane where Spurs will dictate the pace of the game and can play the ball quickly to the flanks, but when travelling away (to play trickier opponents than Young Boys) they might need something different. As Sir Alf Ramsey observed half a century ago, “to have two players stuck out wide on the flanks is a luxury that can leave a side with nine men when the game is going against them.”

It was only due to the unavailability of Defoe, Pavlyuchenko and Robbie Keane last weekend that meant Redknapp played a 4-5-1 away at Stoke, but the success of that system might turn out to be very important. He clearly understands the need for midfield steel when away at better sides – last season he tried 4-5-1 twice, away at the Emirates and Stamford Bridge (with Keane shunted out to the left) but it didn’t work as Tottenham lost both games 3-0. Finding a cohesive alternative to the 4-4-2 is crucial.

Tottenham 4-0 Young Boys: Much-improved Spurs progress with ease

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