High full-backs stifled Norwich

Prior to the game on Saturday Spurs season statistics, as shown in the graphic (acknowledgement and grateful thanks to whoscored.com for their production), showed us having had 53 shots, which apparently equates to us having created more chances per game than any other side! Rather goes to show that stats can't tell you everything.

Tottenham vs Norwich team comparisonNorwich as you can be see like to attack down the wings and why wouldn't they with the excellent Snodgrass playing, an underrated player who would do well at a bigger club I believe. If Norwich had a threat it was going to come from his delivery. Rose might have a tough day, at least that was the thought prior to the game.

Andre Villas-Boas's system was put into action superbly, 63% possession tells it's own story, there was only one team in it. That's not because Norwich City were bad but that we were that good, we simply had the better players, the better tactics and executed them better.

Hugo Lloris had a holiday, Norwich had one shot for him to save and that was straight forward. He must have been bored when he came out to punch a cross that was marginally outside the penalty box and got booked for his troubles. So why did we dominate so much?

Putting aside the extra quality of player we had, the answer lies in the system we play and the player movement we showed. I have been talking about our system in the tactical series and wrote ast about the role of our full-backs within it. You can catch up on it below.

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The full-back role
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There were two keys to our dominance, the first of which was our misunderstood full-backs, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose. This game demonstrated the points I have been making. In our system the full-backs both attack together, joining the others to form a seven man attacking force, a striker, an attacking midfielder, two wide men, two full backs and the link midfielder.

Now I have not been Danny Rose's biggest fan but I have acknowledged that he is learning and he is getting better. Against Norwich full praise to him. He was excellent throughout, his positional play at the back was better, his linking with the midfield inside him in defensive areas was better, this week he drifted covering the wide man instead of leaving him and he was alert to the danger when Vertonghen went down in the box to rush across and prevent a free strike at goal. In previous games he has been tracking further back and wouldn't have got there, 2 yards change of position to be with his man instead of behind him made all the difference.

But the other area, the area he is better at, going forward is also improving, his delivery into the box has over the last two games improved, his pass into Soldado which led to our first goal was an example of that. But the point I'd like to make here and the key element was that he was playing in the advanced role AVB wants from his full-backs. The Norwich wide men were hardly seen as an attacking force, they spent most of the game in defence trying to cope with Walker and Rose overlapping.

Attack is the best form of defence as the saying goes, Walker and Rose kept their wingers busy in the Norwich half, between them they put in 9 crosses (Rose 6, Walker 3). Walker currently sits third in the creativity league table for the whole of the Premier league, that's not a league table for full-backs that's for everyone. Needs to be replaced does he? Like I say some people don't know what they are watching, don't understand what our full-back roles actually are and these are usually the most vocal element of forums.

Walker consistently plays more passes for us in a game than anyone else. He created as many chances as any other player and more then the whole Norwich team put together, yet I have still read people complaining he was out of position. His defensive stats were excellent but that doesn't fit in with their blinkered view so they ignore it. His pass success rate was 84% from a whopping 98 passes, he lost the ball just once, won all his tackles and made all his clearances.

Perhaps people need reminding we have conceded 1 goal in 4 games, less than everyone else apart from Liverpool who are yet to concede in 3 games. Not bad for a defence, where if you listen to some, 75% of it needs changing!

Because we had so many players in their half we were able to press very high and win the ball back a distance from our own goal which of course minimises the threat of conceding. We hunted in packs and their players had to quickly pass the ball which meant they were passing it to whoever was available and didn't have time to pick the pass they wanted. The result is panic passing which will eventually lead to a mistake or nobody to pass the ball to and our pack pounce to win possession back. Of the 11 interceptions we made 6 were in the opposition half, 3 were on the left of midfield and just 2 central in front of our box. Those stats show we kept them away from our area for most of the game.

The other key element was the movement of our midfield. Because we had advanced full-backs and were able to press them back Paulinho and Dembele were able to alternate who went forward and who sat. Paulinho crossed the ball for Sigurdsson's second remember and that came from an Eriksen pass after Townsend had over run the ball going for another greedy shot. Dembele was the holding player on the occasion, a holding player in their half though.

If you park the bus against a 4-3-3 it can be difficult to break down but the movement of our midfield, wingers and full-backs was such that their defence got pulled all over the place creating holes that we exploited. As I have mentioned in another piece off the ball movement is key to this system working. If you have movement all over the pitch the defender has to constantly make decisions, do I go here, do I go there, do I follow a run and that is when mistakes occur.

Our off the ball movement was exceptional, Townsend was cutting in with the ball, Walker could overlap and Rose do the same on the other side where Sigurdsson didn't put in a single cross all game. The Norwich players ran themselves ragged because Dembele and Paulinho can interchange. Dembele can drag a player out of position, Paulinho step forward and a hole is created, they have swapped roles and the midfielder is marking the wrong man.

One can drop back to collect the ball off the central defender or the other one can, each time a Norwich midfielder would come with them but as they were playing 4-4-2 that left them with only three midfielders and only one in the middle, so no only did we out number them we had space to work in as well.

They always look to give the option of a pass between the opposition players, everyone is doing this, it sounds simple but England for instance weren't doing it. When the England back four had the ball there was no movement. Next game keep half an eye on the movement off the ball and see how easy that makes each pass.

Chris Houghton commented on our movement in his poat match interview. "We had no complaints today. We were beaten by a very good side and we needed periods of possession on the ball. We didn’t do that well enough. Tottenham are too good with their movement and they can hurt you. They will definitely be up their challenging come the end of the season."

AVB also commented on it saying our movement wore them out in 45 minutes.

“I’m very happy for the team, I’m even happier because of the football we played, especially after an international break, which is always difficult. We knew that Norwich would sit back and wait for the counter-attack, they do it so well and did it against Everton (first game of season) to nick a point.

“We had to be patient and move the ball well and we did it so fast, so quickly that it really made the difference. In the end, in 45 minutes, we managed to make Norwich exhausted physically and they couldn’t really cope with our quality out there.

And his view on what the key was to that type of performance was:

“First of all, the quality of the players to understand which pass is most important, they linked up very well to create so many chances. Also, our defence stood up to press really high, so we managed to recover every single ball straight away, so we never allowed them to be in a position to threaten us. We controlled the set-plays as well, so overall, it was perfect. There were many positives for us.”

As a blueprint for how we want to play the game and as an example of the tactical side we have been going through, you couldn't have asked for a better example.

Tromso can't come soon enough and nor can Cardiff City.




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