Tottenham vs Espanyol at White Hart Lane last the weekend was the final chance to evaluate both collective and individual performances before the start of the Premier League campaign against Crystal Palace on Sunday.
Although the game itself will not entirely reflect the team that we will see in the coming months, there are clearly clues, in terms of a collective group and on an individual level which we can obtain from this performance.
Performance as a team:
Four flying wingers.
One of the most noticeable patterns of play during the game was the use of the fullbacks in offensive situations. They were at times acting as four wingers, rather than two fullbacks and two conventional wingers. It was in fact a common occurrence throughout the game that Rose and Walker were further forward than Lennon and Chadli, and were providing more deliveries from the byline. The fullbacks presence as offensive threats on the wing allowed from Lennon and more noticeably Chadli, to occupy more of an inside forward role, integrating with the midfield trio. Not only do such attacking fullbacks provide more entertainment for the fans in the form of attacking football, the pace of both Rose and Walker is possible without the strength of the defence being compromised. This is down to the ability of both Rose and particularly Walker to track back on opposition even if their opponent has a head start.
Whether it is the presence of more of a complete striker in Soldado or a deliberate tactical switch implemented by Andre (or a bit of both), there appeared to be more of an urgency to play the ball to the striker in a more central role. Whilst last season we perhaps played with a slower tempo and a patient build up, we saw in this game that fast passes, both ariel and along floor, were played into the lone striker. Perhaps the midfielders are aware of Soldado’s ability to play as a lone striker so effectively, that they can now afford to do so. Whatever the reason, it seemed that the ball reached the final third with much more purpose than other pre-season games that we have witnessed before the 2013-2014 campaign.
Will Dembele-Paulinho-Sandro be the most common midfield trio?
This combination certainly seems the most common midfield trio put forward by twitter users and it is easy to see why. Each of the three midfielders are extremely successful in both regaining possession through interceptions and tackling, as well as providing powerful runs into the final third. Even Stoke would not have much success battling against the power and strength in the midfield. However, it this was going to be the most likely midfield unit, so perhaps you would expect all three players to be present on the pitch at the same time during the final game of preseason. This could suggest that the Tottenham coaching staff feel that although Sandro, Dembele and Paulinho would be effective, all three players are so alike that perhaps a more creative player is needed in order to provide a greater degree of creativity. We may have that creativity in players such as Sigurdsson, Holtby and Carrol, and therefore we may benefit in having one of these players in the midfield, as we saw in the game against Espanyol in Sigurdsson.
The ‘soldier’ certainly does live up to his name.
Those who sold the Spurs shop out of No.9 shirts prior to the game against Espanyol will certainly have no regrets after seeing his first performance at White Hart Lane. Within the first ten minutes it was evident he had experience as a lone striker. His strength and control was most noticeably summarised when stylishly controlling an ariel pass within the box, whist simultaneously managing to hold off challenges by defenders around him. His ability as a lone striker was also emphasised by his instinctive ability to seek out Chaldi and Lennon on the flanks, rather than seeking out a partner in a central position. Positioning and movement seemed to come instinctively to the Lily Whites new No.9, when on a number of occasions he found himself in situations where he was only prevented from a clear goal scoring opportunity by being marginally offside. Bearing in mind that Soldado was the main penalty taker for Valencia, the quality of the penalty was unsurprising. If we have more luck with penalties this season, it appears we are in safe hands.
As mentioned in the previous article, Kyle Walker appears to have gone up a notch compared to this time last year; both offensively and defensively. The most noticeable difference in Walker’s performance concerns his strength, versatility and athleticism. Not only was Walker was able to track back very effectively marking opponents even if they had a head start, he was also able to muscle these opponents off the ball more effectively. Although his defending in the box still needs to be improved, the right flank is well covered, even if he is coming from a offensive position. Versatility comes in the form of his ability to act as an inside forward as well as a winger, where he at various occasions runs powerfully in a central position, mimicking a style of run sported by Gareth Bale. You even wonder whether he has been studying Gareth.
Chadli seems more suited playing from the left.
Fortunately for Nacer, his unremarkable performance playing in a central role against Monaco has been overshadowed by a much more convincing performance against Espanyol at the weekend, where he predominately played on the left wing. It appeared here that Chadli is much more comfortable in an inside forward role, as we saw on numerous occasions when he moved into a central position from the flank, creating space for Rose to run into. His strength and height as well as his ability to dribble past opponents suggests that he will become a effective inside forward especially from the left flank.
The applause following Kaboul’s introduction in the second half emphasises the Tottenham faithfuls’ appreciation of the presence on the pitch and there was every reason to do so. Similar to Dawson, Kaboul is a natural hard worker, and like Vertonghen is not afraid to dribble the ball forward into move into offensive positions. The fact that he is very tactically minded and not easily dragged out of position is just a shining example of the professional. Expect the Tottenham back four to be much more composed with his presence. Welcome back Younes.
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