The Athletic’s Michael Cox has written a piece analysing the tactical system that Tottenham have employed over recent weeks and has identified one chink in the armour that opposition teams can potentially exploit.
Cox explained how Tottenham defend with what is essentially a back six when they don’t have the ball, which is often the norm for Jose Mourinho’s sides in bigger games.
As pointed out by Gary Neville in his recent column for Sky Sports, he describes how the Tottenham boss has tasked Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Moussa Sissoko with occupying the gap between full-backs and centre-backs instead of asking Tottenham’s wide players to tuck in.
Cox wrote: “Mourinho’s approach in the 2-0 victory over City and the goalless draw at Chelsea was particularly interesting. He deployed an unusual defensive system, which has been interpreted as a six-man defence.
“Mourinho has used that approach before, most obviously during his time in charge of Manchester United. Whenever he faced Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, who were prospering with a 3-4-3 shape that became 3-2-5 in the attacking phase of play, Mourinho would ask his wingers to mark Chelsea’s wing-backs all the way back, turning a 4-2-3-1 into, effectively, a 6-2-2.
“However, his approach in Spurs’ last two games was very different for two reasons: 1) the “back six” claims were something of an exaggeration since Tottenham’s defence rarely ended up looking like a six-man back line and 2) the players dropping in weren’t the wingers, but the central midfielders.
“Here’s a good example from the 2-0 victory over Manchester City. Guardiola’s side, like Conte’s Chelsea, effectively form a front five during the attacking phase of play, and are particularly effective at stretching the play with the use of wingers, before pushing one of their No 8s — usually Kevin De Bruyne, but sometimes Bernardo Silva in this particular game — into the space created between opposition centre-back and full-back.
“The approach largely worked well, with Hojbjerg defending in a similar manner on the opposite flank, when De Bruyne made his usual bursts into the inside-right channel.
“It seems, though, that Mourinho’s approach against City wasn’t a one-off. In the goalless draw with Chelsea, he deployed a very similar system, with Sissoko again effectively becoming a right-sided centre-back.”
After giving a few more examples of how the system effectively stopped the likes of Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech from making runs in between the centre-backs and the full-backs in the 0-0 draw against Chelsea, Cox then goes on to point out the one weakness with the system.
He suggests that if Sissoko and Hojbjerg are preoccupied with tracking the wide players’ runs, it sometimes leaves the space open for the opposition midfielders to receive the ball in between Tottenham’s lines.
Cox provides an example of how Mason Mount was able to receive the ball unmarked and drive into space and unleash a dipping shot which drew a great save from Hugo Lloris and suggests that Mikel Arteta’s side could look to exploit that weakness.
He added: “N’Golo Kante is about to play the ball left, so Aurier has to push out and shut down substitute Christian Pulisic, wide on Chelsea’s flank. As soon as he starts that movement, Sissoko drops back into the channel……and, furthermore, because Ben Chilwell pushed forward, Son tracked back with him, too.
“So who was stopping Mount? Well, with Giovani Lo Celso — on for Ndombele — being sucked towards the ball, nobody. Mount was free to receive possession, with oceans of space to burst into between the lines — if such a concept can exist when the holding midfielders are becoming defenders and Mount tested Hugo Lloris with a good dipping shot.
“And this is the very obvious concern with this system — if you’re dropping your holding midfielders into defence, you beef up your defensive line while losing resources in midfield. Thus far, it hasn’t proven problematic — but you suspect Mikel Arteta, whose Arsenal side travel to White Hart Lane on Sunday, will be trying to work out how to exploit that space.”
Have something to tell us about this article?