During the course of the first three matches of the Premier League season Tottenham Hotspur seemed to be missing something. Many have suggestions on what that something may actually be, but in this weekend's match, a 3-1 win against Reading, it didn't look like Tottenham were lacking much of anything. Manager Andre Villas-Boas will be pleased to have earned his first victory for Spurs, if only because it will relieve some of the ridiculous media pressure being applied to him. More importantly though, the club are now in the top half of the table and not fair out of the top four.
Reading were also seeking their first victory in their return to the Premier League, but were never able to mount any sort of substantial opposition. The Royals looked over-matched for much of the game. They did manage a couple of better stretches in the match, mostly in the second half, but nothing that ever indicated they had what it took to pull of a victory or even a draw. Let's take a look at how the teams lined up.
Figure 1: Reading vs. Tottenham Hotspur formations, 9/16/2012. Mouseover players for stats.
As you can see, Reading started the match with a lone striker. Manager Brian McDermott switched two a two striker formation in the second half and this resulted in some better play from the Royals. Tottenham, meanwhile, stayed in essentially the same formation for much of the game. Jermain Defoe again got the start as the lone striker and he rewarded his manager's faith with two goals. Defoe had 9 total shots during the course of the game. He only managed to get two of them on target, but those two were the ones that counted.
During this match we saw Gareth Bale occupy a bit of a deeper role than he has in previous weeks. Whether this was a planned move by Villas-Boas to give new leftback Kyle Naughton a little extra help on the left flank or if this was just Gareth making an effort to drop deeper and link the midfield and attack is uncertain. The midfield pairing of Sandro and Mousa Dembele also worked very well together. Dembele completed 91% of his passes and also managed four tackles and an interception.
Tottenham's defensive pairing of Jan Vertonghen and William Gallas were both excellent. Pavel Pogrebnyak is a big strong striker and the pair coped well with him. In addition both did an excellent job on the ball and did well recycling possession. Vertonghen in particular made some beautiful long passes, one in particular almost resulted in a goal for Gareth Bale.
Additionally, Kyle Naughton, making his Premier League debut for Tottenham Hotspur, looked very good. He gave away some sloppy fouls early in the first half, but calmed down as the match wore on. The thing that was probably most impressive about Naughton was his passing and his work on the overlap. We all love Benoit Assou-Ekotto, but I don't think he's ever three key passes like Naughton did in this match.
As you can see from the Volume Chart Tottenham were on top for a lot of the match. Some stretches were almost totally dominated by Spurs, especially in the second half. This has been Spurs modus operandi throughout the season, but the big change happened in the second half when Tottenham were, for the most part, able to sustain their dominance. There were only a few periods in the second half when Reading were able to sustain pressure in the Tottenham third, but they hardly came to anything.
Looking at the individual charts, it's nice to see Tottenham players dominating the ball. Every member of the back four and the two central midfielder had more passes than any player for Reading. Even Gylfi Sigurdsson, who played only 72 minutes, managed more than all but one player for the Royals. My only gripe is that I would like to see more involvement from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon. Both had very good games, so this is probably a little nitpicky, but they both need to touch the ball more for Spurs because they can make things happen
Figure 3: Reading vs. Tottenham Hotspur, location data, 9/16/2011.
Tottenham totally controlled the midfield. They had a lot more passes in the middle third than Reading. Spurs also dominated their attacking third. This week, as opposed to previous weeks, Spurs were actually able to get into the Reading penalty area and make some passes and as a result were able to score some goals. The rest of this chart just reinforces that Reading were on their back foot for much of the match.
These stats and charts really don't reveal hat the true difference in this game was though. That difference, of course, was finishing. In previous matches, Tottenham Hotspur had not managed to find a second goal. Then, when the eventual late goal came from their opposition it was an equalizer. This week, Spurs managed three goals before the eventual late goal came.
Obviously Spurs will want to cut out conceding that late goal eventually. The goals have all been fairly similar. The ball gets pinged around the Tottenham Penalty area for a while and then the ball eventually falls to an unmarked player who bangs it in. Perhaps the problem is the defense's concentration. I don't think it's a goalkeeper problem. Maybe we should just try to maintain possession instead.