Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Swansea City: Tactical Analysis

Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Swansea City: Tactical Analysis

Sunday evening saw a very interesting game between Spurs and Swansea. Coming off a win against Crystal Palace last week, Tottenham were able to maintain their 100% winning record in the Premier League this season whilst impressively keeping another clean sheet. Andre Villas-Boas employed Etienne Capoue as the Anchor man in a 4-3-3 system, designed to A) distribute play quickly out wide to the flanks via quick diagonal transition passes from deep, and B) keep the midfield third extremely congested to cut off the passing lanes in which Swansea are notorious for exploiting with little tiki-taka passes. The end result being both the pitch and the flow of play compressed to largely about 2 thirds of the pitch (Swansea’s defensive third and the middle third) as Tottenham’s high defensive block system suffocated Michu who cut a very frustrated figure. In fact, Michu did not make a single successful penalty area entry through the whole game.

The results of the extreme compactness

Compact, to stop little needle passes from swans

Here is an example of the extreme compactness from Tottenham in the opening stages. The midfield trio of Dembele, Capoue and Paulinho along with the left sided winger Chadli (highlighted in blue) are in very close proximity of the ball. This allowed the Spurs midfield to keep the double defensive pivot of Jose Canas and Jonjo Shelvey (highlighted in red) rigidly fixed in their positions because of their fear of Swansea being penetrated too easily through the middle via short through passing or powerful dribbling from the likes of Dembele and Paulinho.


Here we see the benefits of this tactical ploy. Danny Rose isolated 1vs1 with Angel Rangel, without one of the defensive double pivot of Canas and Shelvey coming over to supply defensive help/coverage; as a result Rose was able to get his crosses off time and time again. So much so that he attempted more open play crosses (6) than any other player in the match. Townsend and Walker down the right flank also managed to attempt a decent number of crosses too, with 4 each.

Swansea’s reactive game plan

As the first half went on however, Swansea’s midfield picked up their pressing energy levels as a reactive tool, meaning Spurs had less time to pick out these diagonal passes out wide. AVB’s men then decided to expand their passing support ranges and Dembele and Paulinho pushed further up the pitch.

Tottenham in possesion

Swansea’s low defensive block meant it was almost entirely up to the midfield and attackers to press the ball around the pitch which became a very tiring feat for them. At this same point, Tottenham began to increase the amount of dribbles attempted, testing the concentration and the early season fitness of the Swans team; partly the reason for them attempting more than double the dribbles (31) than Swansea did (14).

The second half saw Spurs’ win their second penalty in successive games, which ultimately turned out to be the winner from Roberto Soldado. The introduction of Wilfried Bony late in the second half though gave Swansea more of a threat in behind.

Bony offering a threat in behind

Swansea rather uncharacteristically opted to play much longer passes, looking to force transitions into the final third quickly, but the Tottenham defence dealt with this threat well. The Swans final 3rd passing accuracy was down 15% from just last week vs Manchester United which I feel was mostly down to them being unsure as to how to manoeuvre their way through the high defensive block system, which Tottenham already look to have improved upon from last season.

Tottenham without the ball & handling of Michu

defensive block

As I mentioned earlier, Spurs employed a high defensive block system. However, this game saw the two full backs Kyle Walker and Danny Rose tuck in slightly narrower than normal, meaning Chaldi and Townswend had more responsibility of covering the wide areas. The reasons for this were to try and disrupt Michu’s supply and it seemed to work well.

Mich tamed by high line, walker as CB
Michu's average position doesn't change 2nd half

Michu’s (highlighted in red in the 1st picture, and blue in the second) average position from the start of the game to the finish is similar. He’s not dangerous at all in these areas.

michu passes recieved

Looking at Michu’s passes received, he only managed to receive the ball in the final third successfully once, and 0 times in the box. As a result he managed 0 attempts at goal, truly tamed. (Via Stats Zone)

Tottenham’s transitions:

Offensively – Tottenham looked to quicken the tempo of the game as soon as they won the ball. The team looked to dribble directly at the Swansea team, frequently executing ‘give and go’ passes to keep the forward momentum intact. If not possible, the team would look to switch the play across the pitch, either via a longer pass but usually via short horizontal passing.

Defensively – Pressing in two’s and three’s has become a regular fixture of the Spurs team. The players pressed viciously for the first 8 seconds and the likes of Dembele and Paulinho were given the license the press higher up the pitch than usual, trying to stop Swansea from playing from the back like usual.

press high

Dembele (highlighted in blue) Paulinho (highlighted in red), pressing high up with Soldado (highlighted in yellow.)

Spurs showed some encouraging signs against another low block defensive side, which will undoubtedly please AVB. Tottenham managed to create 11 chances during the course of the game and with more clinical finishing would have won the game by a more comfortable score line. Are Spurs’ showing that they have overcome their difficulty in breaking down a low block defensive system? Or do they still require that creative midfielder? Only time will tell.