Swansea 1 Tottenham 2 : Story Of A Match

Tottenham did their Champions League ambitions a world of good with a 2-1 win at Swansea on Saturday. In doing so, Spurs maintain their advantage over Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton as they battle for a fourth placed finish in the Premier League this season. Today on the blog, Matt Wallace tells us how they did it.

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Things are beginning to tighten up in the race for the Champions League spots. With Arsenal likely to close to gap with a home tie against Reading, Spurs knew they had to put some patchy form behind them and get a result against Swansea. But the Liberty Stadium has been a tough place for teams to visit this season...

First Impressions

Spurs recalled Kyle Walker to the starting lineup, moving Naughton out to the left, while Lennon returned from injury to start again on the right flank. Swansea were able to pick fan favourite Chico Flores for the first time in a few weeks.

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Under AVB, Spurs have played with a high backline all season. Against Swansea, this was combined with an attacking, energetic pressing game that gave the Swansea defence little time on the ball and forced them into rash decisions. Below you can see the interceptions and tackles made by Spurs, including large numbers in the middle third of the pitch, and many in the opposition half.

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Scott Parker in particular was mobile in the middle, regularly pushing De Guzman and Britton back and giving them little time on the ball. This, in turn, forced a high number of backpasses to Vorm and long, aimless kicks.

Vertonghen

It’s a tactic many managers used to suss out Rodgers’ Swansea last year, and it has it’s uses with Laudrup too. What made Spurs’ so effective in the first half was it was their natural game. Walker and Vertonghen are two defenders who are positive in their play, and both were regularly over the halfway line, trying to start attacks.

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This could be seen perfectly in Spurs’ opener, with Vertonghen stepping out of defence, feeding the ball into Bale and continuing with his direct run into the heart of the Swansea defence.

One perfect chipped ball, first touch and finish later and Spurs were ahead. It was just reward for their positive start to the game, and Vertonghen in particular was having a stormer. He has been a terrific signing for the North London side; cultured at the back and able to chip in with goals going forward.

Spurs Going Forward

Despite the return to fitness of Lennon, Spurs had the majority of their best play through the middle. This isn’t a great surprise – it’s where Bale has found himself during this run of great individual form. What Lennon provided was pace enough to keep the Swansea defence mindful and pinned back, while Bale was regularly coming deep to find space, and then linking well with Dembele and Sigurdsson in starting attacks.

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Lennon also chipped in with his fair share of pressing, and this led to the second goal. He continually harried the Spurs defence and keeper, forcing a rushed clearance which quickly found its way to Vertonghen. This time he set up Bale, rather than the other way round, and one brilliant finish later it was 2-0. Two perfectly taken goals, with the same players involved both times.

Spurs Conservative In 2nd Half

Things began to change second half. It is only natural for a team 2-0 up to begin to be more conservative, and Spurs did just this. Rather than playing with most of the team in the Swansea half, they sat about 15 yards deeper, pressed less and invited a bit more pressure.

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This allowed Swansea to get on the ball more and gave them more fluency. Spurs, in effect, stopped doing what had got them into such a good position. Above you can see the difference in their first and second half passing. First half they were compact, accurate and positive. Second half it was more stretched, much more long balls trying to counter, and with less success. They were on the ball about half as much. The longer things went on, the more they sank a bit deeper.

This is no tactical decision, it’s just natural. Swansea were pressing to get back into the game, doing all the running and making changes to try and swing it back in their favour. Spurs were just trying to stay where they were.

Tiendalli and Sigurdsson

The one area that Swansea looked most likely to make a breakthrough was down their right, as fullback Tiendalli was having a lot of space. He was up against two players, Sigurdsson and Naughton, who were both out of position. Gylfi is a central midfielder playing on the left to accommodate Bale, and while the job he has done has been admirable, he does have a tendency to cut inside and offer up space.

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Naughton is a right back covering for Assou-Ekotto, and while a good player, was often so tight to the centre-backs that he allowed Tiendalli time to get crosses in. Swansea’s attacks became focussed down that side, and it was from this side that they won the corner which led to Michu’s goal.

It was no less than Swansea deserved at this stage of the game, as their positive play second half was putting Spurs under a lot of pressure.

Swansea Final Third Inefficiency

However, ultimately, they struggled to make this pressure count. While they continually got the ball in the final third, they struggled to do anything meaningful with it. Dawson and Vertonghen were excellent in their duties, while Bale gave everyone a reminder of his defensive prowess by regularly tracking runners into the box and trying to sweep up any loose balls.

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It was a solid team defensive performance, helped by Swansea’s own wastefulness when they did shoot. Spurs regularly tested Vorm – the same cannot be said for Friedel. To have so many shots, and so few off target, says all you need to know. Other days everything they hit will be testing the keeper. On Saturday, it just didn’t fall for them.

The Final Word

It was a great result for Spurs who needed to get back to winning ways, while Swansea are in that end of season predicament of having nothing to fight for. Their story of the season is done – they have a trophy. They won’t challenge the top of the table, and won’t go down. They are seeing the season out before preparing for a huge campaign next season.

For Spurs, there is still everything to play for – and if they play like they did on Saturday, they won’t have any problems getting that Champions League spot.

 

 

To read more of Matt's work, visit his blog Holtamania.com

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