Time and time again the very best coaches in the world tell us we focus too much on digit described formations. And I agree. No team plays set in their shape for 90 minutes; a team’s formation is fluid throughout the different phases of the game. And one team’s 4-2-3-1 is completely different from another’s.

So with that in mind here’s an entire article on a four number description of Tottenham’s shape over the last few games.

Something I’ve talked about quite a bit recently is the occupation of the five vertical divisions of the pitch. By forcing the opposition to defend against you across all five, you stretch them across the width of the pitch, opening up space in the middle for your central, attacking players.

Below we can see how Pochettino uses narrow wingers and attacking full-backs supported by two defensive midfielders – one dropping between the centre-backs – to occupy the five verticals with a 4-2-3-1.


The main shortcoming of this is that, by being limited to staying out wide and crossing, even top level full-backs have the attacking output of mid-table wingers. Additionally, this shape piles an incredible work load on the full-backs who each essentially have to do the work of two. Playing the hardest working role in a team that already outrun most teams means that last season Pochettino rarely played the same full-back twice in a week.

Still, attacking full-backs are all the rage, which has been limiting to attacking/possession teams looking to make use of the 4-1-4-1 shape (it’s a brilliant defensive shape in a medium pressing block but that’s another article).

Typically the 4-1-4-1 struggles for balance. Either the band of four push up into attacking midfield, leaving the lone defensive midfielder to get overrun. The team then either lose control of the game or become hugely vulnerable to counter-attacks.


Alternatively, the band of four remain deep. This leaves a disconnect between midfield and the lone forward, with very few runs from deep, and fails to occupy the five verticals. It becomes easy for the defending team to push the opposition wide where the full-backs and wide midfielders end up fulfilling similar tasks in the same vertical column.


This is where Guardiola comes in. Pep has his band of four push up into attacking midfield but compensates by having his full-backs remain deep and narrow; adding themselves to the midfield.


This is the shape that Pochettino has been using recently. In no small part, I suspect, to make up for a lack of Dembele. We don’t quite go all way with the full-backs operating as midfielders when in possession but they do stay deep, narrow, circulate the ball and help compress the space on the counter-press.

Walker’s heatmaps in the 4-2-3-1 (Everton) and 4-1-4-1 (Middlesborough)

So this shape no longer requires our full-backs to run themselves into the ground until their legs are worn down to stubs but are they suited to this more central role? Davies seems to be the most comfortable, Rose had some experience in midfield as a youngster and Walker isn’t a natural but continues to respond well to Poch’s coaching (could you imagine him trying to play this role in 2013?). So there’s competency here but none of them are exactly creatives, thriving in this role like Alaba or Lahm did.

Dele Alli is performing well and my thoughts on how well Eriksen plays in a deeper role are pretty clear for all to see.

Where we’re really struggling, and why I’m having doubts on our use of this shape, is on the wings. Son is flourishing, no doubt, but he’s doing so in multiple different roles. Lamela isn’t comfortable on the touchline and especially on the left. Sissoko continues to get game time on the right which suited playing against City as he was able to contribute defensively and make direct ball-carrying runs down the touchline but against more defensive teams he offers very little.

When Sissoko joined the club I thought he was coming to be back-up to Dembele but that’s yet to happen and is becoming a more and more distant dream. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that our 4-2-3-1 would have been more appropriate for the players we started against West Brom and in the majority of games going forward.

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Gareth Southgate: Ahead of Schedule

Gareth Southgate: Ahead of Schedule


On BBC Radio 5live last week, Rory Smith made the point that Gareth Southgate, unlike his predecessors, is very much a modern manager.

A coach much more like those the players of the England team are used to dealing with on a weekly basis. Analytical, calm, a student as much a tutor. Not the type of old school man manager to subject his players to the hairdryer treatment when down a goal at half time. Nor the type to put his arm round the struggling star’s shoulders and assure them they’re his main man.

Smith also states that Southgate’s time with England will come to an end – and here’s where I disagree with Rory – he uses the term sacked. Via official channels Southgate is always referred to as interim England manager and I think this is key. Southgate may only manage a handful of England games but…

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What Can Sissoko Offer Spurs?

What Can Sissoko Offer Spurs?

Tactics, Antics, And Semantics

Moussa Sissoko’s move to Tottenham in the dying minutes of the summer Transfer Window came as a bit of a shock to everyone. The club spent a reported £30m on a player that struggled to shine in a lackluster Newcastle side that was eventually relegated. Barring some magnificent performances in the Euros, his performances for Newcastle have been average at best. The move proved to be fairly divisive within the Spurs fanbase.

Seven games in and Sissoko is making a case for himself. He has shown that he’s not as inept as some (myself included) first assumed. His performances even earned him a start against a perfect-record, Guardiola-led Manchester City.

What has he been doing well?

Sissoko is a player with extreme physical ability. He has pace to run down the channels and a strong frame to hold up play or knock an opposition player off the ball. These attributes are…

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Man City Preview

In my tactical overview piece at the end of last season I explained how Pochettino, like many modern managers, organises his team to attack the opposition across the five horizontal divisions of the pitch. The wings, the channels and the centre. This spreads the opposition defence wide and opens up space to attack in the middle. Spurs achieve this in a growingly common method. We drop Eric Dier between the centre-backs, bring our wingers inside and push the full-backs into high positions.


Pep Guardiola is an adamant practitioner of juego de posicion which also encapsulates occupying these five zones but he achieves this through a different method. Instead of pushing his full-backs up the pitch he keeps them deep and moves them in centrally. His wingers stay very wide and his central midfielders push-up to so that City can have four attacking midfielders behind their striker.

This extremity has been reserved for games City have expected to dominate

This worked incredibly well for him at Bayern Munich and has already turned in very impressive results at City but the personnel remain imperfect. Despite Kolorov’s outstanding passing range City’s full-backs aren’t ideal inverted full-backs as they aren’t up to the technical and tactical level that Lahm and Alaba were at Bayern.

This leaves them somewhat vulnerable to pressing. And history has taught us the best way to play against Guardiola teams is to prevent them from developing quality build-up play from the back via pressing – especially their deepest midfielder Busquets/Alonso/Fernandinho. Celtic, Swansea and to a lesser extent Man United have caused City issues with their high-pressing.

In total contrast, Pep teams also want to be pressed. By deploying creative passers all the way back to, and including, the goalkeeper City look to invite and pass around opposition pressure to attack the space in behind, essentially counter-attacking without having lost the ball.

But we won’t be the only pressing team, Pep teams are renowned for their ability with the ball, but their ability to win it back with high-pressing is similarly impressive which means once again, because of his unmatched ability to resist opposition pressing, so much balances on whether or not Dembele is fit enough to start.

In at least our last two games we’ve used a 4141/433 shape to increase our midfield presence, to make up for the lack of Dembele and this has worked fairly well but I think we should persist with it regardless of whether or not Dembele starts.

Adding to our deep midfield again will help us against City’s attacking midfield overload which has caused several teams marking issues already. This will also make it easy to move to a back 3/5 which will allow our full-backs to mark the opposition wingers tightly and prevent them from running at us with the ball at their feet.

Christian Eriksen has come under some criticism recently and I remain one of his biggest fans. While I think a lot of what he does goes unnoticed that doesn’t also mean he is immune to having an off day. I think Eriksen should be rested on Sunday and that’s not a reflection of his overall quality or recent performances. Eriksen’s greatest ability is in helping us pick the lock of tight defences. As we’ll mostly be playing on the break, pressing with intensity and, I hope, playing a three-man midfield this game is less suited to his skill-set and the I think the fact that he has started our last three games supports the idea that Poch may be thinking similarly.


TACTICS: Manchester Derby Preview


Two of the best managers in the world go head-to-head once again this Saturday but for the first ever time they will be battling it out in the Premier League.

Both carry with them reputations that I think are probably over-stated. Guardiola is regarded as a manager who refuses to sway away from his ideology and Mourinho infamous for defensive, negative football.

It’s true that Guardiola has consistently played a brand of football that is based around dominating the possession throughout his entire managerial career but within that he’s also demonstrated a willingness to bend to context; always striving to develop and improve. Perhaps his most famous innovation will forever remain making the most of Leo Messi’s legendary talents, by moving to a strikerless formation and deploying the Argentine magician as the first modern iteration of the ‘false 9’.

He also moved from wingers, with their strong foot inside, behaving…

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Crystal Palace Preview

While you can never take too much from a single game and I do think there will be an occasion for playing Wanyama and Dier alongside one another, the Everton game wasn’t a great advert.

There are also some positives to take from the game in the form of positive in-game tactical changes from Pochettino – aided by his growing squad. Janssen came on which facilitated a change in personnel throughout the spine and Eriksen and Lamela switched to behave more like traditional wingers.

Any one of Dier, Wanyama or Vertonghen could have come off for the change and I suspect Dier was taken off due to the number of minutes he’s played in the last year and also to show a level of support to new signing Wanyama, who had a fairly poor first half to the game.

Kane also looked off the pace last weekend leading to concerns about long term fatigue built up from 2 year of nearly non-stop football. That’s possible, and concerning, but just as likely is that he’s sensibly, slowly building up his fitness at the moment which leaves him a little bit pre-season-y at the moment but is much better in the long term.

There are no shortage of analysis pieces on this game. You can read more in-depth thoughts here, here, here, here or here.

Palace have essentially swapped Bolasie for Benteke. We’ve arrived in the sweet spot in this regard as the latter is unlikely to be ready for Saturday although he may come on as a late sub.

Benteke, although technically gifted, is something of an old fashioned forward in that he thrives from crosses from out wide. Liverpool were not suited to him in that regard and while Palace play out-and-out wingers in Zaha and Townsend, we Spurs fans know just how keen Townsend is to dummy the cross to allow him to move inside for a low percentage long shot opportunity. Zaha is maybe not as bad, but similar.

In the meantime Palace will have to make do with Connor Wickham who provides an out ball and targetman contributions to the build-up play but just can’t put the ball in the back of the net.

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Pardew has apparently suggested he wants to bring a Barcelona style of play to Selhurst park this season (ha!) and maybe by that he means: ‘we don’t have any good strikers so we’ll just play with three wingers and hit on them with pace on the break’

Insisting on starting Yohan Cabaye in a midfield two continues to cause Palace defensive problems when in possession but it’s unlikely that there will be any opportunities for that this weekend.

Back to Spurs and three more games without Mousa Dembele. Alli represents the most similar first XI-er to The Moose so we could line-up similar to the second-half against Everton.

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But creativity is crucial for a home game against a defensive opponent. Perhaps Eriksen will drop alongside Dier as he did against Swansea last season or alongside both Alli and Dier in a 433 (Kane on the narrow left).

Ryan Mason and Tom Carroll remain options to Pochettino, even if this option fails to appeal to most fans. The other option is to bring in Harry Winks. This is an idea I originally questioned but have since completely turned around on. This, perhaps risky, but adventurous approach to the game would be my choice.

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Demebele isn’t the only absentee. Lloris is out for four weeks with a hamstring injury which has reportedly resulted in explorations into the transfer market for a keeper (if we weren’t already looking). Vorm will stand in for the time being.

Vorm seems to have a fairly low reputation with Spurs fans. He’s made a handful of poor errors in the cup games he’s played but he did play well against Everton. In fact the quality of player that arrived from Swansea had many interpreting his transfer as a precede to Lloris leaving. Surely Vorm was too good to play second string at this stage of his career?

Just about any keeper looks poor when his inclusion in the team interrupts a string of Hugo Lloris performances but I suspect Vorm is the type of keeper who (like many) only perform well with regular starts. Without another coming in we can expect Vorm to be approaching his best just in time for the captain to return.

Opinions on Vorm are at best mixed then, but he is the superior passer to Lloris. Making use of Vorm’s comfort on the ball will aid Spurs in the build-up which, if you’re Pep Guardiola, is just about the most important contribution the goalkeeper can make.