Tottenham 1-1 Everton: a good tactical battle

October 23, 2010

The starting line-ups. Cahill and Pienaar interchanged in the first half.

An exciting first half followed by a quieter second, and a result that reflects the balance of play.

Harry Redknapp chose to start with just one striker for the first time at home in the Premier League this season, with Peter Crouch supported by Rafael van der Vaart. Younes Kaboul played alongside William Gallas at the back, and Wilson Palacios came into the centre of midfield.

Everton made two changes from the side that recorded a convincing 2-0 victory over Liverpool last weekend – Mikel Arteta and Leon Osman were both injured, so Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Steven Pienaar came in, with Pienaar starting in a left-sided midfield role.

The game was relatively open in the first half, despite the prospect of two similar shapes cancelling each other out. Both were using a clearly-defined holding player in the centre of midfield, with Palacios for the home side and Johnny Heitinga for the away side, but further forward it was relatively fluid.

Central midfield battle

Everton were using Pienaar and Tim Cahill interchangeably – one would support Yakubu upfront, whilst the other would drop in alongside Heitinga in a more disciplined role.

The use of either Pienaar or Cahill in the centre of midfield, along with Luka Modric for Tottenham, meant that the second-most attacking midfielder for each side was generally the one with time on the ball.

To explain, Heitinga marked his Dutch international teammate van der Vaart very well indeed (see below), but Everton didn’t have anyone taking care of Modric on a full-time basis, meaning the Croatian found space, having two long-range shots and playing some dangerous balls into the box. Likewise, Modric isn’t great defensively and let Cahill run free, so when Palacios moved across to close down Pienaar, Cahill had time on the ball, and he tested Gomes from long-range.

Wide zones

The battle in the wide areas was relatively subdued, with none of the four wingers having much impact on the game. Seamus Coleman’s natural defensive abilities and sheer pace meant he doubled up well against the in-form Gareth Bale, whilst Aaron Lennon was quiet, and the Spurs full-backs didn’t provide enough attacking support. Everton’s full-backs were probably more adventurous, with Baines in particular motoring forward whenever possible. His superb free-kick gave Everton an early lead.

Spurs’ approach is the same regardless of their formation – they try and get the ball wide and get balls into the box, and therefore the underwhelming performance from their wingers was the main reason they struggled to penetrate the Everton defence. They relied on a dreadful error from Tim Howard to get an equaliser, though it was the already-familiar sight of a Crouch knockdown combined with van der Vaart running onto the second ball that produced the goal. The Dutchman had otherwise been shackled by Heitinga, who tracked him everywhere unless van der Vaart moved deep into midfield – the pattern of his passes in the game (with very few in a central attacking midfield position) shows that well:

by Guardian Chalkboards

Second half

There were two changes at the start of the second half – one in terms of personnel, one in terms of positioning. Harry Redknapp brought off Palacios, who had been shown a yellow card and was in danger of collecting another, and brought on the Brazilian Sandro. David Moyes moved Cahill forward into a more ‘permanent’ attacking midfield role, with Pienaar deeper.

This meant the game took on a different feel in the centre of midfield. Sandro played much higher up the pitch than Palacios, with the Spurs central three rotating , and no real permanent holding player. Cahill got a little more space inbetween the lines, but failed to make the most of this. Meanwhile, the change in Spurs’ midfield didn’t seem to favour van der Vaart, who dropped increasingly deep (both to escape the clutches of Heitinga and as he had slightly more defensive responsibility) and didn’t influence the game in the final third.


The second half was relatively lacking in goalscoring chances, but it did produce an interesting tactical battle between the managers with substitutions towards the end of the game. This started with Harry Redknapp bringing on Roman Pavlyuchenko and going 4-4-2, but rather than pushing van der Vaart to the right (the position he started in against Aston Villa), he put him on the left, with Gareth Bale playing in an unfamiliar right-sided role. This was a recognition both of the threat from Leighton Baines at left-back, and van der Vaart’s tendency to drift across the pitch and switch off defensively – Bale is a better player going towards his own goal, so was used up against Baines.

Moyes then realised there was no need for Heitinga in the centre of the pitch as he wasn’t able to mark van der Vaart, so removed him and brought on Tony Hibbert, who went to right-back up against the Dutchman, with Phil Neville moving into the middle of the pitch. With no direct opponent, Neville played to the right and helped track van der Vaart, so Moyes didn’t need Coleman helping in that zone, and replaced him with a second striker, Jermaine Beckford.

Despite changes that were attacking in theory (both sides went from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 in the second half), there was clearly a great deal of attention paid to keeping things tight defensively and making sure dangermen were marked by appropriate players, and therefore it wasn’t a great surprise that the second half was goalless.


An entertaining game in the first half and an interesting one in the second. These are two good sides with technically-accomplished players, and whilst both set out with attacking intent, the two managers’ desire to nullify each other resulted in a stalemate and a deserved point apiece.

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