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Tactics Tuesday Part 2: Lack of width stifles Tottenham attack

In the second installment of a special two-part Tactics Tuesday, Brett Rainbow breaks down how Spurs were hampered by a lack of width against Stoke City.

Gareth Copley/Getty Images

[Editor's note: you can find Part 1 of Tactics Tuesday in the aftermath of the Stoke match here.]

One of the key tenets of Mauricio Pochettino's football philosophy is playing with inverted wingers. This season, Pochettino has consistently played a left footed player, typically Erik Lamela or Andros Townsend, on the right wing and a right footed player, typically Nacer Chadli, on the left wing.

These players tend to drift centrally onto their strong foot, providing support for the central striker at the expense of stretching play in wide areas. Pochettino mitigates this problem by instructing his fullbacks to be aggressive in getting forward. This is a large part of the reason that Danny Rose plays ahead of Ben Davies; Davies simply does not have the pace to get forward in the same manner without shirking his defensive duties entirely.

Against Stoke City on Saturday, Pochettino played two center backs, Jan Vertonghen and Eric Dier, at fullback due to injuries. He did not, however, instruct the wingers to play differently. The result was an entirely predictable congested mess in the middle of the pitch. Below are a few clips that illustrate this point.

11th minute

This play initially looks promising as Christian Eriksen receives the ball in space. However, it is quickly apparent there is no easy pass available. Harry Kane and Vertonghen are tightly marked and the only option for getting the ball to Lamela is a near impossible ball over the top. The right flank remains completely free for the duration of the clip - Eric Dier has barely gotten out of his own half.

36th minute

Here, Stoke don't take the threat of Dier on the right wing too seriously, allowing Stoke's left back to pinch in centrally. Spurs are slightly slow to get the ball wide to Dier, and when they do get it to him he is unable to beat his man.

39th minute

Vertonghen's absence from the left flank compounds the congestion issue created by the poor movement of Harry Kane, Nabil Bentaleb, and Chadli.

As an aside,, Christian Eriksen has been getting a lot of heat in the last few weeks, but when the movement ahead of him is this poor, what else can he do?

40th minute

I've highlighted the right flank in this clip but both flanks are actually devoid of Spurs players, making it easy for Stoke to put all of their defenders in the central zone.

41st minute

Aided by a two goal lead, Stoke bring back all of their midfielders to protect the defence. The lack of fullback involvement makes it near impossible for Spurs to create a quality chance here.


Some clubs, like Chelsea, can create lots of quality chances without pushing their fullbacks too high up the pitch. Spurs are not one of those clubs. Without a defense wrecking wizard like Eden Hazard, Spurs need fullback involvement to help stretch the pitch and allow their attacking midfielders an extra yard or two to operate in. Without it, Spurs have attacking performances like this one.

If Danny Rose is still injured next week and Jan Vertonghen is forced to play left back yet again, Pochettino must play DeAndre Yedlin at right back. Yedlin is likely not a Premier League level right back defensively at the moment, but neither is Dier. Yedlin can at least provide an attacking outlet that will stretch defenses and provide that extra bit of breathing room for Tottenham's attacking midfielders and forwards. Without it, Spurs will struggle to create chances going forward.