Tottenham Focus - Sheriff marshalled but are there concerns over the high line?
Tottenham make the long return from Transnistria with a further three Europa League points under their belt following a 2-0 away win over FC Sheriff Tiraspol courtesy of goals from Jan Vertonghen and Jermain Defoe - Defoe equalling Martin Chivers’ record as Spurs’ leading goal scorer in Europe in the process. The Lilywhites sit top of Group K with nine points from three games; a win in the home return with Sheriff will see Spurs qualify for the knockout stage with two games to spare.
Spurs dominated possession but found the Moldovan team difficult to deal with, especially in the first 60 minutes, before Sheriff appeared to tire quite sharply. Until then the home team had pressed Spurs, breaking up the play and releasing their quick forwards. Spurs defence played the high line reasonably well against a naïve forward line that was consistently caught offside - 10 times. When they did break the line they found Hugo Lloris in commanding sweeper-keeper form and on one occasion an exceptional goal line clearance from Vlad Chiriches.
The gap between the defence and Lloris was considerable. With Michael Dawson coming on for the injured Zeki Fryers - the impressive Chiriches moved to right back, Kyle Naughton left - Spurs appeared vulnerable to Sheriff’s pace. Against perhaps a better team or at least better forwards Spurs may have suffered. When the opposition has as much pace as Sheriff, is there an argument for the team playing deeper?
In doing so, and inviting the opposition to push forward, it may be more difficult for the opposition to get behind the Tottenham defence. They would have to play through Spurs more, conceivably far more difficult with Sandro in the team. This may also stretch the space behind the opposition midfield and allow Spurs to use their own pace to counter attack in the form of Aaron Lennon, returning from injury against Sheriff, Andros Townsend or Erik Lamela.
The high line also squeezes the play into the opposition half; almost by default this causes the opposition to “park the bus”. Width becomes a premium so Spurs may end up having to play through teams to try and break them down. Whilst Tottenham may have players to do this in the likes of Christian Eriksen, Gylfi Sigurdsson or Lewis Holtby, the 4-2-3-1 formation relies on the lone striker acting as a pivot for the three attacking midfielders - dropping deep, pulling defenders wide and creating space for players to move past.
Whilst Defoe scored, he seems unsuited to playing this role: 28 touches in the match against Sheriff may indicate a lack of involvement and inability to link play as needed. Spurs may have seen more last night from Lamela and Eriksen behind the benched Emmanuel Adebyaor than Defoe. Would Defoe be more comfortable if the team plays deeper? The space created behind the opposition may suit the Englishman’s game - playing on the shoulder, running the channels and using his pace.
Spurs got the job done in Moldova but should there be concerns over the use of the high line - or at least some of the players used to implement it?
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