Harry Kane’s header in the 88th minute was enough to salvage a 1-0 win for Tottenham Hotspur against West Bromwich Albion. This means that Tottenham move to the top of the table for the first time in six years. Spurs found it hard to break through an organised and well-drilled West Brom defence. It was a largely flat attacking performance from Jose Mourinho’s side. Both teams had half-chances, but the best of which fell to Heung-Min Son, whose close-range shot was blocked. Kane’s 150th Premier League goal and a seventh this season proved to be the winning goal from the simplest of situations. It was tough on the Baggies, who deserved at least a point, but Spurs worked hard and got their reward.
Slaven Bilic opted for a 5-3-2 formation instead of his preferred 5-4-1 in this match. Former Manchester United academy graduate Sam Johnstone starts his 100th league game in a row for the Baggies. The back three comprised of Semi Ajayi, Kyle Bartley and Dara O’Shea replaced Branislav Ivanovic. Darnell Furlong and Conor Townsend started at right and left wing-back positions while the midfield three remained the same. Callum Robinson started at the top along with Karlan Grant.
Mourinho went for his favourite 4-2-3-1 formation with Hugo Lloris keeping his place in goal. There were no changes made in the back four. Moussa Sissoko partnered the summer signing Pierre-Emile Højbjerg in the midfield. Gareth Bale made his first league start since his return to the club in place of the injured Erik Lamela. Kane played as a lone striker at the top.
Tottenham’s build-up play
Tottenham enjoyed about 61% possession of the ball throughout the match, and they needed to be effective in breaking the opposition down. West Brom defended in a low to mid-block 5-3-2 shape. Their priority was to block the build-up play through the centre. The Baggies made it difficult for Spurs to make any progressive passes. Now, we’ll have a look at what different build-up tactics Spurs used to break down the Baggies and how Højbjerg played a vital role in it.
Tottenham’s shape while in possession of the ball was usually a 3-2-5 or a 3-4-3. A major feature of Tottenham’s play was their willingness to switch the play from side to side, which they could do in these shapes perfectly. Spurs used two distinct methods to switch play and get Højbjerg on the ball.
The above picture shows us the first method. As you can see here, Sergio Reguilon forms a very wide back three along with Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier. This allowed Matt Doherty to move up the pitch while Sissoko would form a double pivot with Højbjerg in the centre. Spurs would then move the ball down the wide channels using their wide centre-backs and free up Højbjerg in the centre.
The above picture shows us the second method, which involves Højbjerg dropping in defence to form a back three with Dier and Alderweireld. This allowed the adventurous Reguilon and Doherty to expand the field and provide width. Then, Son and Bale would push inside. The shape looked more like a 3-4-3 as Tanguy Ndombele and Sissoko would remain as the only options in the centre. They are vital to this system as they have the recovery pace to react if the opposition hit them on the counter and possess the ability to dribble forward through the middle with speed. Spurs attacked through the middle (40%) far more frequently in this match because of Kane dropping in between the lines to help in the build-up.
The Baggies began the game well as they congested the midfield and did not allow Spurs to pass through the central areas, pressing them high up the pitch as you can see in the above picture. Four West Brom players would push on to press and force the opposition to go long, so they could win the ball back and hit them on the counter.
While in the second half, West Brom’s PPDA decreased from 15.9 to 10.2 as their pressing intensity increased. Spurs were dominating the game and were not allowing the Baggies much time on the ball. Thus, Spurs switched tactics and we could see Højbjerg operating in between the lines as a single pivot. Hence, the shape changed to a 3-1-4-2. Højbjerg held his position and had time and space to switch the play from side to side. He also did the defensive work in behind his team’s attackers and won nine defensive duels with a 100% success rate.
West Brom’s build-up and attacking tactics
The Baggies were quite competitive in an evenly contested first half and had a few chances to score a goal. If they had more quality players, then the score line could have been different. The positions the players found themselves in were very impressive. Thus, they had a very limited success attacking wise.
While in possession of the ball, the Baggies would maintain a 3-5-2 shape in which the wing-backs would push high, and Livermore would screen the defence as a single pivot. Spurs pressed high from the very first minute and did not allow the Baggies time on the ball. But the Baggies could beat Spurs’ first line of defence by making use of Livermore in the centre. As you can see here, Ajayi is in possession of the ball. He passes to Livermore who’s not able to make a turn as he took too much time on the ball and Ndombele closes him down. Thus, Livermore has to pass it back to Bartley.
Later on, Spurs started marking Livermore and forced the Baggies to resort to other ways. Spurs pressed man-to-man on the opposition back three with their front three. Thus, the wing-backs were left unmarked. As you can see here, Townsend is left unmarked as Son presses O’Shea.
To stop the ball going to the opposition wing-backs, Spurs changed their pressing tactics. As you can see here Bale, starts the press by acting as the positional diagonals and forced O’Shea to play the ball inside or go long as all his passing options have been marked out. Thus, Spurs could quickly retain the ball and dominate possession.
While defending, Spurs looked to overload the central areas, which left their full-backs exposed out wide sometimes. Thus, the Baggies tried to play through the wide channels by using one of the centre-backs in the build-up. West Brom attempted 22 crosses in the match, nine more than Spurs. Only three of the crosses were accurate, which shows that clearly West Brom lack the quality in attack.
West Brom got one of their best chances in the 18th minute. As you can see here, Furlong delivers a cross towards the penalty spot to Grant who is unmarked in between Dier and Alderweireld. Grant tried to glance the ball into the far corner of the net, but the free header was just wide of the post.
Harry Kane – the playmaker
Mourinho lined his side up in a 4-2-3-1 shape, with Kane up top. While in possession of the ball, the team’s shape would become similar to a 3-5-2 morphing into a two-man attack. In this shape, we would see Kane dropping in between the lines. He helped in the build-up and acted as a playmaker. This would allow Son and Bale to make press breaking runs in behind the opposition defence and meet the penetrative passes from Kane. We’ll now have a look at Kane’s playmaking skills and how his striker’s instinct got his team the winner.
Mourinho has changed the team’s approach play this season. Now, Spurs play in a more counter-attacking approach, which allows Kane to drop deeper into space and play longer passes. As you can see in the above picture, due to him dropping, there is a lot of space that is created between the opposition midfield and defence. He drops into his own half and plays a long pass over the opposition defence. In this way, the athleticism of Bale and Son were put to great effect as they could exploit the spaces.
West Brom defended in a 5-3-2 shape, and they overloaded the side where the ball was to win it back. Hence, there would be a lot of space on the opposite flank. Like in the above picture, we could see Kane dropping into the half-space. Spurs would begin the build-up on one flank and quickly switch to the other side to find Kane in the left half-space and Ndombele in the right half-space. This was a common tactic used by Spurs as this allowed their full-backs to go 1 v 1 against the Baggies’ wing-backs. Thus in the above situation it is Kane, he would be 1 v 1 against Ajayi and Reguilon is up against Furlong.
The above situation occurred in the 50th minute and here we could see Kane’s ability to hold up the ball which allowed others to join the attack. Alderweireld played a long pass over the opposition defence from his own defensive third. Kane makes a run in behind the centre-backs towards the right-hand side, holds the ball and dribbles past Bartley. As he cut inside, Kane tried to curl a pass towards penalty spot for Bale. But Bale could not quite reach it as he was a split second late.
Whenever Kane dropped deep, the Baggies offered him too much space, which allowed him to show his passing range from a distance. As you can see here, Kane drops while on the counter to receive the ball. He plays a very precise pass out wide to Son down the left. Son dribbles inside and drills in a low effort towards the goal, but the keeper does well to save it. This more withdrawn role has suited Kane, as he can show his creativity by picking passes and breaking the press from the opposition.
In the last 10 minutes, Spurs increased their attacking efforts. It looked like Spurs would have to settle for a draw. In the 88th minute Kane’s striker instinct revived as he was able to break the deadlock. He got near the penalty area. As you can see here, Matt Doherty floats in a cross into the penalty box. Kane positioned himself perfectly between Bartley and Johnstone, before flicking his header into the empty net over the helpless keeper.
West Brom will feel aggrieved not to have taken something from this game as they managed to match Spurs throughout the match. We were able to see a better attacking play by the Baggies in the first half, but Spurs improved in the second half and dominated till the final moments. Kane was the superstar despite the lack of creative spark. He was present everywhere, trying to create something. He had a total of seven attempts on goal out of which only one was on target; it was the winner. Kane also made four key passes, which shows how effective he is when he drops back. Another couple of minutes and West Brom could have snatched a valuable point, but a momentary lapse of defensive concentration cost them the point. The Baggies are still winless this season and remain at the bottom of the table in the 18th position.