Tottenham Hotspur appeared to have banished their so-called “Wembley hoodoo” with an emphatic 3-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League in midweek, but Mauricio Pochettino’s side dropped yet more points at their temporary home against Swansea City on Saturday evening.
Paul Clement set up his side to defend deep at the national stadium, frustrating the hosts and grinding out a 0-0 draw. Spurs saw three strong penalty shouts turned down, but, ultimately, last season’s Premier League runners-up failed to create enough clear-cut chances.
On another day, Harry Kane’s effort which struck the crossbar goes in and Tottenham are perhaps awarded one of the penalties they appealed for, walking away with three points.
Put credit to Swansea for executing their plan to near perfection, frustrating Spurs and ensuring they return to South Wales with a hard-earned point.
Here are our five tactical takeaways from the game.
Spurs Struggle Against Low Block
Swansea lined up in a 5-3-2 formation, keeping their wing-backs tucked in to augment the backline and shackling their attacking ambition in order to restrict Tottenham‘s space in the final third.
And, for the most part, it worked.
The congested central zone meant that Spurs’ front three of Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen struggled to get their trademark combination play going. And the Swans held their line so deep that, in complete opposition to Dortmund‘s approach in the Champions League, there was no space in behind for the home side to exploit their pace advantage.
Spurs dominated the ball, enjoying a 75 percent share of possession, and took 26 shots in total. But 17 of those efforts came from outside the penalty area, rarely troubling Łukasz Fabiański in the Swansea goal.
Clucas Monitored Danger Zone Well
Key to Swansea’s ability to stifle Spurs was the discipline and positional awareness of Sam Clucas at the base of their midfield three.
The former Hull City player expertly marshalled the central zone in front of the three centre-backs. What made his task more difficult than would ordinarily be the case, and what demanded his full focus for the entirety of the game, is that this is the space where Eriksen does his best work.
The Danish assist master starts on the right side of Tottenham‘s attack but he looks to drift centrally whenever possible, taking up the part of the field typically occupied by a No.10.
This means that Clucas had to be aware of where Eriksen was at all times, picking him up when he moved into the middle but also being careful to not allow the former Ajax man to drag him out of position when he dropped deep or switched back out to the right.
Tottenham’s Wide Centre-backs Helped Build And Sustain Pressure
With Spurs chasing a winner in the second half, Pochettino’s men did a good job of raising their tempo and increasing the pressure they were able to put Swansea under.
Key to their effectiveness in doing this was wide centre-backs Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen pushing up to support the attack. The Belgian pair, with record signing Davinson Sánchez holding a deeper position to sweep up behind them, pressed up to the edge of the Swansea third, chipping in with incisive passes.
This helped build the pressure Spurs were exerting, but their ability to regain possession and immediately feed it back to one of their side’s danger men was crucial to Tottenham maintaining the heat on their visitors once it had been raised.
Abraham’s Hold-up Play An Outlet For Swansea
Partnered in attack by Jordan Ayew, Tammy Abraham, the 19-year-old striker on loan from Chelsea, demonstrated his maturity and game awareness by acting as Swansea’s target man up top.
The 6ft 5ins forwards, who spent last season on loan with Bristol City, rarely threatened Hugo Lloris’ goal, but his strength, control and ability to link play offered his team an outlet.
The option of playing high and direct in Abraham’s general direction, safe in the knowledge that the young Englishman would make the ball stick and make the right choices when picking out colleagues, helped ease the pressure Clement’s side were under for the 70 minutes the Chelsea man was on the pitch.
Aurier’s Diverse Skillset An Asset For Spurs
Tottenham started the game with Kieran Trippier and Son Heung-min in the wing-back positions. But the duo struggled to affect the game in the way desired, with the South Korean in an unfamiliar role and the former Burnley man lacking the dynamism to help break down Swansea’s rigid defensive block.
The introduction of Serge Aurier, who made his Spurs debut against Dortmund in midweek, with 63 minutes played, was timely and enabled Spurs to really push Swansea back.
The controversial Frenchman’s arrival meant Tripper switched to the left, leaving Aurier free to maraud forward down the right, where his diverse weaponry caused real problems for Swansea.
The Ivory Coast defender is adept at crossing from deep, like Tripper, but also has the pace and athleticism to break forward at speed, the quality to instigate intricate interchanges with attacking team-mates, and the intelligence to time opportune breaks into the half-space – one such burst should’ve resulted in a penalty for Spurs.
Pochettino may want to integrate Aurier into the team slowly, but he already looks like becoming a key player for Spurs.