Injuries may have been the catalyst for Tottenham Hotspur’s second half turnaround in their 2-0 win over Burnley on Saturday, but it was Mauricio Pochettino’s tactical adjustments that made the difference at Turf Moor. Pochettino, reorganizing his tactics after injuries to Victor Wanyama and Harry Winks, switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation, and pushed Eric Dier to the midfield alongside Mousa Dembele.
Spurs were vastly improved in the second half against Burnley, scoring two goals and looking a heck of a lot like the team that dominated Premier League opponents in the same formation in 2015-16.
Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen, speaking after the match, said that the win against Burnley shows that the squad has learned from the late season collapse that saw them slip to third place by the end of the campaign. This Spurs team, Vertonghen said, is mentally tougher than last year’s.
“We’ve got no excuses any more. The gaffer put a winning mentality in the team and you saw this again. Before, we might have been happy to take the draw because it’s a very tough place to come. But this team kept on pushing for the winner and we deserved it.
“We changed the system and we played with four at the back. You don’t have to be a great tactician to know what that means. Obviously the full-backs need to stay more inside and protect me and Toby [Alderweireld], especially with their tall guys up front – and they did that.
“Then it’s down to other guys like Sonny, Christian [Eriksen] and Dele [Alli] to help us move forward a bit more, and it was a perfect plan in my opinion.”
Vertonghen credits the tactical shift, but also singled out Eric Dier for praise on Saturday, saying his positional flexibility was a huge asset after Wanyama and Winks both had to be subbed off.
“It helps that we have players that can play in different positions – especially Eric [Dier], who played in midfield for England during the week and did the same again for us [on Saturday].
“For me, he was one of the best players on the pitch, with the other midfielders. It helped us because we lost two defensive midfielders and it would have been very hard for Mousa to do it all by himself.
“We have big players that can come on. If you have Mousa Dembele and Moussa Sissoko to come on, you have a very strong bench.
“It’s the same with guys like Tripps (Kieran Trippier) and Sonny, who came on and [scored]. We just have a big squad and that’s very important, especially near the end of the season.”
With a midweek match at Swansea this Wednesday and Spurs still nursing injuries to Harry Kane and Danny Rose, rotation is especially critical. It’s even more the case now with Winks likely done for the season and Wanyama questionable. Spurs have carved out a little breathing room over their competitors and are starting to put pressure on Chelsea at the top of the table, but they can’t afford a slip-up if they want to finish the season with their best ever table position. They will need to rely on their depth players to come through and put in a shift if they want to end the season on a high note.