In the second round of fixtures since the Premier League resumption, Tottenham Hotspur took on West Ham. The London derby had a lot on the line for both teams with Spurs needing a result in their hunt for Champions League football. Whereas for David Moyes his side desperately need points if they want to retain their Premier League status. However, thanks to an own goal from Tomáš Souček and Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur won 2-0 meaning they are one point behind Manchester United who plays Sheffield United later in the week.
This tactical analysis will provide analysis on the managers contrasting tactics as Moyes looked to try to sit back and counter-attack Spurs, while José Mourinho wanted to move the ball across the pitch as quickly as possible.
Mourinho made three changes from their draw with Manchester United with Dele Alli, Lucas Moura and Giovani Lo Celso coming into the squad. This did not mean a change in the system as Spurs kept with their 4-2-3-1. With Lo Celso in the team alongside Moussa Sissoko, it meant that when Tottenham turned the ball over they would have a creative player who is comfortable driving the ball forward and finding a dangerous pass. In a similar way having Alli back in an advanced position meant Spurs had a player who is used to operating the gaps in the middle of the pitch enabling them to find the limited space in West Hams defence.
Moyes also made changes from their defeat against Wolves. The most notable being Fabián Balbuena for Felipe Anderson. This meant Declan Rice moved back into midfield and pushed Mark Noble into a more advanced midfield role. This tactical move was designed so that West Ham would have more defensive-minded players in the middle making it harder for Tottenham to run past them and play through them.
West Ham’s early crosses
From the early stages, it was clear the way that West Ham wanted to attack Spurs and that was through the use of deep crosses. One of West Ham’s strengths is Michail Antonio physical presence alongside his pace. This provides a dangerous combination with the crossing ability of Aaron Cresswell as it enables the hammers to target the space in behind Spurs. This is what happens in the example below as Antonio has been able to get goalside of Ben Davies and has a run into space behind Spurs. As West Ham have been able to shift the ball quickly to Cresswell he has time to pick out a cross.
Notice how Pablo Fornals has also drifted wide, this is to stretch the Spurs defence as a defender needs to move across in order to cover the run this movement creates more space for West Ham to target. However, on this occasion, the ball to Antonio had too much hight on it meaning the forward had to stop to control the ball enabling Davies to get back and recover.
In the early stages of the game, this worked for West Ham as they were able to get the ball across to Cresswell quickly. However this was something West Ham struggled with as the game went on, this is because Tottenham was able to get players back quickly and into a deep position as the image shows Moura has got back to a defensive position and is able to put pressure on Cresswell. This enables Serge Aurier to cover Fornals run meaning Spurs can be more compact in the box. This combined with the fact West Ham are often only able to get three players in the box in Antonio, Noble and Jarrod Bowen there was not the same space to target making it harder for West Ham, in fact, it meant that only 5/16 crosses were successful.
Tottenham’s wide set up
Despite setting up in a 4-2-3-1 formation the way Aurier was positioned was more of a winger. Interestingly Davis would not do this on the opposite flank, this is partly because Son Heung-min will maintain a wider position and it provides defensive cover if Spurs lose the ball. The image below demonstrates how Tottenham set up as Lo Celso will drop to the halfway line in order to receive the ball and keep the ball moving. Notice how the three defenders are close in order to be a quick passing option on the ball while Aurier has pushed high up the pitch. West Ham are comfortable in this position as Bowen and Noble will move up alongside Antonio in order to form a narrow three-man block. This stops Spurs from finding a forward pass in the middle.
As West Ham have the block in the middle it does force Tottenham wide, which is how they are wanting to play. As the example shows when Lo Celso passes it to Davinson Sánchez the defender will drive into the space out wide left by Aurier. From this position the defender then has multiple options on the ball. Because Aurier is keeping the width it enables Moura to come inside and play on the shoulder of West Ham’s defensive midfielder. This is where the Brazilian can be most effective as his pace and technical ability enable him to quickly turn a defender and then run at the hammers defence. In a similar way, Alli is good at finding pockets of space in-between the lines.
As the example shows Alli will move about in this space then when the defender moves forward he will call for the pass. If pass is successful would take out West Ham’s midfield and Alli would be in a pocket of space where he could find a dangerous pass or shoot. However, the problem Spurs found particularly in the first half was keeping the ball when it went into this area this is because Rice and Souček were effective at immediately applying pressure on Alli and Moura meaning they had nowhere to go and would, therefore, they would win the ball back or stop the attack.
West Ham’s resistance defence
As the analysis has mentioned Moyes side will set up a narrow three-man block man block when Spurs have the ball in a central position, however where they really frustrated Spurs is when they tried driving forward with the ball. The analysis described that Spurs are wanting to get balls into Alli and Kane who are operating in the pockets, however, they could not do this because of the way the hammers would press. Using the example below notice how as soon as Lo Celso wants to go forward with the ball he is surrounded by three players. This can happen as Noble is already in an advanced position, the defensive midfielder will then push up to stop the advancing run and block off the forward pass. The only player that doesn’t press is Ryan Fredericks as he tracks Son’s run in order to prevent this passing option. This tactic frustrated Spurs through the game as they struggled to play through them.
The danger of enabling the defensive midfielder to push up when a defender tries to drive forward is it leaves Alli or Moura in space. Nevertheless, as the press was often effective it forced Tottenham to try and restart the attack. Them on the occasions when Tottenham did get the ball to the final third often by playing the ball wide West ham would switch to a flat defensive block.
As the example shows Fornals will drop back into the left-back position and the defence will shift across when the ball goes out wide to Son, the advantage to defending with a flat structure in this situation is it means there are no gaps for the midfield to play in meaning everything was in front of West Ham, and with only Kane and Alli in the box, they are set up for the cross. This structure meant that Spurs struggled to break down West Ham especially in the first half, limiting Mourinho side to shots from distance. It did cause problems for West Ham getting out of their own half as with so many players back they struggled to play out meaning Tottenham could turn over the ball.
Mourinho tactic was for Tottenham to start their attacks out wide before finding a pass inside to draw West Ham in order to create space back outside for either Son or Kane to run into. As the analysis has mentioned so far West Ham have defended against this well as when the ball has gone inside they have been able to limit what Spurs are able to do. This meant Spurs had to try a new approach.
In the 44th minute instead of a ball to Kane’s feet Spurs tried a lofted ball, Kane did not win the header but the clearance fell to Lo Celso on the edge of the box, this immediately triggered the press from West Ham. However, on this occasion, it left Son unmarked at the back where the winger was able to put the ball in the net only for VAR to deem he was fractionally offside. This moves demonstrated how dangerous Spurs can be when they move the ball quickly and more directly.
Tottenham take control
Tottenham’s first goal may have come with a bit of luck as Souček turned in a Tottenham corner but it did mean that West Ham had to commit more players forward in an attempt to get back into the game this favoured Spurs as it meant that there was much more space in the final third to exploit and with the introduction of Steven Bergwijn it meant they had someone who liked to directly run at opponents.
This caused West Ham problems as Spurs started to create chances, however, it was not till the 82nd minute that Kane was able to double Tottenham’s advantage and put the game to bed. As the example shows the goal happened because West Ham had committed players forward meaning they were exposed when Tottenham won the ball back leaving space for Kane to run into.
To conclude this Tactical analysis it is clear that David Moyes has his team set up in a good defensive structure however they are lacking the ability to create chances of their own and against quality opposition who have players that will create chances West Ham don’t seem to have a plan B if they do concede. The result means that they are currently level on points with Bournemouth and only a point in front of Aston Villa, both of which haven’t played yet in this round of fixtures. It is a worrying start for West Ham as even with the difficult fixtures they look like a side that will struggle to win many games.
As for Tottenham Mourinho will be happy with the performance as it is a win that keeps them in touch for a Champions League place and with Kane back scoring he will hope the Spurs talisman will be able to fire Spurs into a Champions League place.