Tottenham 2-2 Everton: Spurs go ahead very early, then equalise very late

April 8, 2013

The starting line-ups

An interesting battle between two sides both without their key attacking player.

Gareth Bale was injured – as were Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon. Andre Villas-Boas was forced to select a ‘mezzala’ on either side – Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson – in the absence of natural wide players. Jan Vertonghen was at left-back.

David Moyes was without Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini. He handed a rare start to Ross Barkley, and used Leon Osman behind Victor Anichebe, rather than selecting two strikers.

This was an interesting but disjointed game, where both sides had spells of dominance. There were lots of small tactical features, rather than a clear overall pattern.

Tottenham lack of width

Both sides were without their key attacking player – Bale and Fellaini are similar, as two players who caused (imminent) champions Manchester United significant problems early on this season, and were then man-marked by Phil Jones in the return game. The attitude from United was that if you stop their key player, you stopped these two sides playing. This was an opportunity for both to prove otherwise.

But stylistically, Spurs were arguably in the trickier position. Fellaini gets on the end of crosses, but Moyes has other players who can do that – Spurs don’t have any other wingers. Therefore, the key early consideration was how Spurs would cope without natural width – Everton, predictably, defended very narrow to show them out wide.

Amazingly, Spurs went ahead within a minute, with Vertonghen’s cross finding Emmanuel Adebayor. It was unusual, perhaps, to see Villas-Boas opt for a converted centre-back out on the flank when he required great width and attacking drive – but it sums up how adaptable and technically gifted the Belgian is, that he was (correctly) deemed a better option than Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

From then, however, Spurs did struggle to stretch the play. Both Dempsey and Sigurdsson drifted infield quickly, which allowed the Everton back four to remain extraordinarily close together – it took Kyle Walker a while before he started overlapping effectively. It wasn’t just the simple concept of width that was absent, either – it was direct forward running on the ball, which meant Spurs’ central midfielders, in particular Mousa Dembele, had a responsibility to drive forward in possession, but Spurs’ dribbling and crossing was poor.

There were other consequences of the narrowness – both positive and negative. Having so many players in central areas allowed Spurs to dominate possession clearly (62%), but it tended to produce too many ambitious, long-range shots from central areas – which suggested Spurs were lacking ideas in the final third, and unable to work the ball into central goalscoring positions.

Formations and openness

Amongst all the considering of Spurs’ narrowness, the formations appeared of secondary importance. But Villas-Boas changed his shape slightly, preferring a 4-3-3 rather than 4-2-3-1, with Scott Parker in the holding role, and Demble and Lewis Holtby dovetailing nicely ahead of him.

This meant a natural 3 v 3 situation in the centre of the pitch. Dembele and Holtby battled against Darron Gibson and Johnny Heitinga, while Leon Osman was up against Parker. That was the most important battle in the first half – Parker’s good at scrapping as a ‘free’ man between the lines, but tracks opposition number tens poorly. Osman drifted from side to side, particularly to the right, and combined well with Anichebe.

But the key feature of the game was its sheer openness. Both sides wanted to win, and both pushed up with high defensive lines. Everton usually get back into two solid banks of four quickly, but here their wide players were given more license to attack – they were unusually poor at defensive transitions, although Spurs’ lack of wingers meant the away side’s full-backs were rarely exposed.

Mirallas and Barkley swapped midway through the first half – this worked better, even if only because Leighton Baines could overlap more – Mirallas was starting too high up the pitch for Baines to become a factor in the attacking play.

Moyes goes 4-4-2

Moyes made the first significant switch of the game on 52 minutes at 1-1, with a change to 4-4-2. Jelavic replaced Barkley, with Osman going to the left – it was an attacking move, showing Moyes wanted to take the game to Spurs.

It seemed to work immediately. Spurs’ centre-backs struggled to deal with the double strike threat, and Mirallas motored into score a fine solo goal within a minute of the change. Now, oddly, the 4-4-2 wasn’t what Moyes needed – and he must have been tempted to switch back to a five-man midfield almost immediately. Instead, Anichebe dropped deeper and played closer to Scott Parker – but as Everton retreated, Spurs dominated possession even more.


The only other significant change was a brave move from Villas-Boas, who took off Dembele and brought on Tom Huddlestone. That was a surprise – Parker would have been the obvious option to make way – but Huddlestone drove some good diagonals out to the flanks, encouraging the Spurs full-backs forward, helping to increase the pressure on the Everton backline.

Eventually, it worked with Sigurdsson’s late equaliser – although Everton had a couple of chances on the break at the other end.


There were two factors here – Spurs lack of width, and how they compensated for it. Vertonghen swung in an early cross for the opener, but from then Everton’s narrow defence wasn’t significantly tested, as Spurs funnelled the majority of their play through the middle.

Then there was the formation battle. Spurs started 4-3-3 to match Everton’s midfield triangle in the centre of the pitch, then Moyes going 4-4-2 worked – arguably – too quickly. A draw was a fair reflection of the game.

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