Spurs 3 Swansea 1
Any given Sunday? Not for Spurs in recent weeks. We haven’t won since early February until this particular Sunday just gone, but we finally did so with focused discipline and tenacious execution. We won because we fought for every inch in what is possibly my favourite victory at the Lane this season. I’ve bestowed this particular accolade to it because of the test the opposition gave us and the astuteness of our tactics in our response. We were patient and structured, our football was slick and our players spirited.
There was no parking of the bus from the Swans. They turned up to play their possession football, to have us chase them. But Harry Redknapp set us up to combat this with Parker and Sandro in the middle. A case of containment and closing down perfectly illustrated by both players that led by example, challenging the opposition higher up the pitch with the aim to win the ball back as early as possible. Give them no time to pass and run and break up any pattern to their play. You could question why we’ve given them so much respect as to line-up with the aim to nullify their rhythm. Why not? It was intelligent play, making sure that Swansea did not get a stranglehold on the game and allowed us to display strength in body and concentration and more importantly, still be able to play ‘our game’ when in offensive positions. It proves as a unit we are functioning, as a collective we can do what’s necessary to frustrate the opposition and carve out opportunities at the other end.
It also proves we placed the nessisity of winning above all else. Chess game football. Okay, so it was Redknapp, so it's probably more Backgammon.
First twenty minutes or so Swansea dominated possession (60/40) without dominating the match in terms of sustained pressure. We defended resolutely, our midfield showing industry in chasing down every ball/player. We took the lead with a quick attack (four passes for the ball to find its self at the feet of Bale) with Luka releasing Gareth. The cross for Adebayor was intercepted, finding itself in the path of van der Vaart who finished with supreme pomp, passing the ball into the net. Our first shot on target. A proper punch, no sign of playful slapping. Once chance, one goal. Clinical.
Defend. Chase. Recycle possession with pace. Attack.
The tactic was all about tempo. Don’t let them play, win the ball back, release the ball as quickly as possible to force an attack. It was working, be it to the detriment of the player’s physical state (retaining this pace for 90 minutes is unlikely in any scenario). But then the plan was not to ‘contain’ Swansea for the entire duration of the game. The hope was to hit them on the counter/break a couple of times to put it beyond them.
Bale was in his far more traditional left-flank role, waiting for the pass, looking for the pass but still capable of moving inside if necessary. He worked himself into decent positions. Wasn’t the only one that looked hungry for it. Adebayor worked as hard as we know he’s capable of in his lone forward role, except it’s not really lone with the support he’s able to facilitate with his movement. vdV busy and sublime, Modric always seeking to play the killer ball. Something he forgot to do when he took a shot rather than slip Adebayor in for what could have been 2-0.
The pressing game was a success. Swansea, for all their endeavour could not penetrate. Gallas made you forget King. Kaboul was a rock. Walker pulsated and BAE made me LOL when he struck Parker in the back with the ball from a free kick (best moment of the game).
What followed in the second half was the true test of whether we had turned that corner and rediscovered our belief. The tempo was now at a slower pace (in terms of easing down on the closing down) which meant they would see more of the ball. But as with most games the balance would mean we would be able to express ourselves equally so rather than remain confined to the exclusively to containment instructions.
Brad saved brilliantly with fingertips from Sigurdsson. Ominous. In the 58th minute Routlege lays the ball off to Sigurdsson who this time kicks his shot into the ground which bounced up and in for the 1-1. Open space, open game. But if you believe you have better quality in attack then it’s to our advantage. Pound for pound it should be our advantage. The test was whether we buckled or remained patient and pushed for it.
Bale to vdV, header, saved. We continued to push for it, building up sustained possession and pressure in the final third towards the 70th minute mark. Lennon made a welcomed return (on for Sandro) giving us the option to truly stretch the game with width on both flanks. An open game, further opened with the emphasis now on Swansea to do the chasing and closing down. The home team now dictating the rhythm, the opposing team dancing to our tune.
More good work from Bale saw his cross cut out by Williams with Adebayor in waiting. Corner, delivered, Bale header off Graham for another corner. This was like watching a team getting the basics right from dead ball positions. If that felt surreal what followed was akin to a twist in a David Lynch movie. vdV with a peach of cross, as simple as it gets, into the box for Adebayor to jump between Williams and Monk to head in for 2-1. A goal directly from a corner. Insanity.
We still continued to push. Bale beasting his way through defenders into the box, laying it off for Modric who had his shot blocked. Then Livermore (on for vdV) makes up for a misplaced pass by winning it back and giving it to Modric who then swapped the ball with Bale a couple of times before releasing the Welsh wonder who run full pelt through the middle before reshaping to cut in ever so slightly to shoot with his left. Ball found itself saved and landing at the feet of Lennon who took it out to the wing, then teased and turned to cross beautifully for Adebayor who once more got between two players to head in for the 3-1. Rose came on for BAE late late on, Swansea had some half chances towards the end, but in the end we claimed all three points with a top drawer professional performance spiced up with some delicious football – a testament to both manager and players for turning that corner and setting us up nicely for the final seven games.
We never lost our focus at the task at hand. We remained completely committed to claiming the three points.
Redknapp out thought Rodgers, so credit to him for drilling the players into the perfect mindset and a formation that asked a lot from the players but never neglected the style we adore to watch. Credit also to Swansea for having the balls to play the way they did. As for Rodgers as a prospective Spurs boss, I'd like to see how he handles a second season with Swansea at the Prem first. Having drawn our last two league games it was important for us to finally consolidate our momentum with a win. Work rate evident was ample proof that this team has woken up and has no desire to fall back to sleep.
More on Bale and Adebayor in a separate article.