Reading 1 Spurs 3 | Stats & Tactical Analysis

Reading 1 Spurs 3 | Stats & Tactical Analysis

Spurs secured their first league win of the season under Andre Villas-Boas (AVB) with as comprehensive a 3-1 victory as you are likely to witness in the Premiership this season. The final score line arguably flattered a Reading side who failed to show any sense of urgency during a flat first half and allowed Spurs to take charge of proceedings.

With just one away win in their last 11 league games and rumours circulating around AVB being handed a set number of games to turn things around, this was a potentially awkward game yet Spurs handled it convincingly.

Reading Vs Spurs Line Up

With a 25 day break since their previous league game, Reading were suitably rested for this game. Brian McDermott announced an unchanged line up from that game, a 4-2 away defeat to Chelsea.

Guthrie was tasked with providing support to Pogrebnyak as Reading lined up in a broadly 4-4-1-1 formation with Leigertwood the deepest midfielder. In the second half Reading moved to a 4-4-2 and provided a better contest for Spurs without really threatening sufficiently.

AVB announced a changed line up for Spurs for the fourth league game in a row. Assou-Ekotto was replaced by Kyle Naughton at left back whilst Livermore dropped to the bench as Dembele made his first start for his new club.

Despite the personnel changes, Spurs lined up in 4-3-3 formation with an adventurous looking midfield trio, the more defensively minded Sandro partnered by the attack minded duo of Dembele and Sigurdsson.

Spurs Starting Line Up

Spurs Shape

The Spurs line up was very attack minded. Would such a midfield have been selected against stronger opposition who carried more attacking threat? Nonetheless, not only was the line up attacking on paper but in operation also.

Both full backs pushed very high up the pitch from the outset. There was seen as early as the 2nd minute when Naughton crossed from the left and Walker shot over from just outside the penalty area.

In general, Naughton pushed slightly higher on the left handside, staying wide as Bale cut infield. With Lennon tending to hug the touchline on the right, there was less space for Walker to move into but when the opportunity arose he pushed forward as evidenced by his assist for the second goal.

When Friedel had possession, the centre backs would split allowing Sandro, and on occasion Dembele, to drop between them offering three outlets against Reading ’s two pressers in Pogrebnyak and Guthrie. Spurs were able to pass their way out from the back with ease as the Reading midfield dropped off leaving their two attacking players somewhat isolated and fulfilling the thankless, and fruitless, task of pressing in an uncoordinated fashion.

At Porto, AVB preferred his midfield trio to rotate and there were signs this was occurring at Reading . There was a fluidity between the midfield trio and particularly the pairing of Dembele and Sandro that allowed Spurs to pass their way around the challenge presented by Reading.

Further forward, AVB is a fan of a traditional winger on one flank with an inverted winger on the other. The deployment of Lennon on the right and Bale on the left provides for this perfectly and was showcased by Bale’s goal when he broke into the penalty area to convert Walker ’s cut back.

There is however, a concern about positioning Bale so far forward which is discussed later.

Next Page: Sandro and Dembele Stats, Goals analysis and Gareth Bale

Sandro and Dembele Stats

Throughout the game, Spurs passing was slick and accurate and much of the credit for that goes to the duo of Sandro and Dembele. Sandro was nominally the deepest midfielder but on occasion he broke forward prompting Dembele to drop back. Sigurdsson was usually the most advanced midfielder, connecting with the attack. The stats are very impressive

Dembele and Sandro – Key Passing Stats

Short, accurate passing allowed Dembele and Sandro to create the majority of Spurs play with Reading unable to close them down. Their movement off the ball was excellent, always offering angles to receive a pass from a team mate and keep the play moving. It often left Reading to shift uncomfortably across the pitch.

Dembele and Sandro made 67 and 65 passes respectively, more than any other player on the pitch. They also enjoyed more possession of the ball than any other player with 82 and 85 touches of the ball respectively.

They provided the foundation for Spurs to build their play upon.

First and Second Goals. Deja Vu?

The opening goal arrived when Lennon made a run behind Harte and McAnuff to collect Sigurdsson’s pass. Both Harte and McAnuff were far too tight to Lennon. With McAnuff supporting his full back, Harte should have dropped off and positioned himself close to his centre back but failed to do so and was easily beaten in a straight race for the ball.

Lennon cut the ball back for Defoe to slot home. Despite having covering defenders in the penalty area, nobody picked up Defoe as he halted his run.

The second goal was an almost carbon copy of the first. The time Walker made the run to the byline and cut back for the waiting Bale to score with a slightly scuffed shot. As before, no Reading defender matched the opponent’s run into the penalty area allowing Bale space to score.

Reading were caught out with a  similar movement twice in the same game.

Gareth Bale

Bale, as against Reading , has often being deployed in an advanced position on the left. Given his undoubted attacking potential, this is understandable. What may seem counter intuitive is the view that Bale is potentially a better attacking player when operating from a deeper position.

This may not be obvious against such passive opposition as Reading provided however it will become apparent when Spurs face sterner examinations.

Against a tighter defensive structure, if Bale starts in an advanced position with defenders close by he will be unable to use his greatest asset, his pace. However, if he starts deeper, he can arrive in the final third of the pitch at pace. Rather than being static, Bale can provide that moment of explosiveness which can be required against a deep defence.

Bale provided a far greater threat in the second half of the game when he could use his pace in the Spurs counter attack (which is possibly the quickest in the Premiership?). There is space ahead of him to exploit and Bale attacks from deep. Jermaine Defoe’s second goal was a perfect example of this. Bale moved at pace from left to right and dragged Gunter away from the ball leaving Defoe with the task of outpacing Pearce before scoring the third Spurs goal.

It is still possible for Bale to attack purposefully from the left back position, almost in a fashion similar to Dani Alves at Barcelona . He possesses the pace and the athletic ability to fulfill such a role. The key will be developing an understanding on whoever is positioned ahead of him. A left winger who knows when to hold his position and allow Bale to attack, who stays wide and lets Bale cut inside. Assou-Ekotto could be that player for AVB to develop on this part of the team. What you effectively then have is two left backs who have been converted to wingers and who defend and attack in tandem.

It was interesting to also consider how Reading attacked Spurs, mainly down the Spurs left.

Next Page: Reading Attacking – too submissive?

Reading Attacking

The advancing Naughton provided Reading with their best attacking opportunities.

Twice in the opening half, Naughton fouled McCleary deep in the left back area of the pitch offering Reading two set pieces in good positions, neither of which amounted to much.

Le Fondre was introduced at half time for Karacan and the home side moved towards a more conventional 4-4-2. Le Fondre was prepared to work the channels especially in behind Naughton where ample space existed. Reading played a number of balls over the top to turn the Spurs defence and provide something for Le Fondre and Pogrebnyak to feed upon. It may have been scrappy and as simple as a long ball being cleared out of play by the Spurs defence but it gained Reading a throw in further up the pitch and enabled the team to shift higher up the pitch. Set pieces possibly offered Reading their best opportunities to create something in the game given their relative paucity in open play.

The consolation scored by Robson-Kanu in the 89th minute originated on the Spurs left with substitute Noel Hunt gathering the ball in space and playing in Le Fondre to chip to the back post where the substitute hooked the ball home.

Too Submissive?

All newly promoted teams will face challenges as they adapt to life in the Premiership. Some opponents will possess a level of quality which proves a challenge which cannot be met.

Reading Manager Brian McDermott acknowledged his side’s shortcomings in the match

“It’s a learning curve for all of us. We knew we were playing against a team of world-class individuals. They played well and we didn’t cause them enough problems.”

Yes, you will always lose games to superior opposition but at least be prepared to match, if not surpass, your opponents in terms of workrate and endeavor.

Not one for the purists, but when you have a reasonably lenient referee in charge of the match, the crowd is quiet and the away side are controlling the game, simply put a few tackles in. Reading did not do this.

Reading Competitiveness vs Spurs

Its surprising to see a home side surrender the game so meekly and yet the signs were evident from early in the game yet the fact that Reading conceded just 5 fouls in the game seems quite staggering. They were broadly competitive in both ground and aerial duels but also made less tackles than Spurs.

It’s difficult to conceive a side such as Everton or Stoke being beaten at home so easily without some form of reaction on the pitch.

When Spurs had possession at the back, the pressing from Reading was poorly executed. The midfield sat someway behind Pogrebnyak and Guthrie. Given the pace on the Spurs counter, perhaps McDermott was a little more wary of pushing high and being caught out with a ball over the top. But even further forward, Reading allowed their opponents far too much time and space on the ball. Too frequently, Spurs were able to shoot from distance under little pressure.

That Reading were beaten is not a concern. That they were so comprehensively beaten and offered so little in return must be.

Did the gap of 25 days since Reading ’s last competitive hinder rather than help the side?


This was a very positive display from Spurs and one which demonstrates that Spurs are adjusting to life under AVB. It will take time to fully assimilate his ideas but the versatility exists within the squad to do so. Will they adopt such an expansive open style against tougher opponents? Concerns will remain over the defensive side of the team particularly when the full backs are so attack orientated but that can be a positive for Spurs. With such an attack minded team, should they not be seeking to impose their style on opponents in a pro-active fashion?

Reading were very poor and enabled Spurs to dictate the tempo of the game. Players such as Dembele and Sandro simply had too much time and space on the ball and the Royals were punished as a consequence.

Maybe Reading would not be expected to beat Spurs and McDermott is targeting the key games against other sides in the division when points must be won. That is an approach which some newly promoted sides have taken over the past few seasons but you must compete as a defeat such as this can adversely affect morale. The Royals get the chance to bounce back away to West Brom this weekend. They may not win but they must compete.