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C Palace v Tottenham tactical analysis

Adam Bate takes an in-depth tactical look at Tottenham's 1-0 win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in the Premier League on Sunday.

Last Updated: 20/08/13 at 11:00 Post Comment

Tottenham: Came away with the points after a tough test at Crystal Palace

Tottenham: Came away with the points after a tough test at Crystal Palace

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After watching rivals Arsenal stumble on the opening day of the Premier League season, Tottenham made no mistake as they overcame newly-promoted Crystal Palace 1-0 at Selhurst Park.

There was no Gareth Bale for the visitors but the club's record signing Roberto Soldado was in action and it was the Spaniard who netted from the penalty spot early in the second-half to claim the points.

Palace battled hard as Ian Holloway gambled with a triple substitution midway through the second period but with Hugo Lloris in good form there was no way through. Here we take an in-depth look at Sunday's clash...


Although the Opta starting line-up suggested Dwight Gayle would be the lone striker with Aaron Wilbraham and new signing Stephen Dobbie providing support from the flanks, Crystal Palace actually went with a narrow three in attack. All then worked hard to get behind the ball when out of possession, with Palace reliant on Gayle's pace to allow them to break.

Jose Campana had to settle for a place on the bench alongside fellow new boy Marouane Chamakh. Veteran striker Kevin Phillips was also among the substitutes as Holloway opted for a familiar-looking base to his team.

Belgium international Nacer Chadli, a summer signing from Twente, was the man tasked with replacing the injured Bale in the starting line-up on that left flank. Danny Rose, who spent last season on loan at Sunderland, lined up behind him at left-back.

Paulinho partnered Mousa Dembele in the centre of midfield, while Soldado was predictably preferred to Jermain Defoe in the lone-striker role. Notably, there was no place on the bench for Emmanuel Adebayor, although new arrival Etienne Capoue was among the substitutes for Andre Villas-Boas' side.

Where it was won and lost

Dembele hit the woodwork for Tottenham early on but the key to the game was Holloway's decision to play so narrow - asking his forwards to track midfielders into central positions rather than concentrate on wide duties.

The average position diagram shows just how much focus Holloway placed on seizing the middle ground, while the possession statistics show that Tottenham were still able to dominate possession. After all, while much of Spurs' work in midfield zones was cramped, there was always an out-ball for the visitors with their full-backs.

In Paulinho, Villas-Boas had a man capable of finding that pass. The Brazil international dealt with the fast-paced physicality of life in a Premier League midfield and was composed in his use of the ball - with a pass completion rate in excess of 90 per cent. He spread the play well.

Kyle Walker was the chief beneficiary, getting 114 touches of the ball - a whopping 38 more than any other player (that man being Danny Rose on the opposite flank). With Bale to the fore, Spurs were among the top six in the Premier League for attacking down the left last season and in the bottom five for percentage of attacks down the right flank. In his absence it was a very different story.

Walker made 32 passes in the final third, while no other player managed more than 20. Unfortunately for Spurs, the recipient of the full-back's possession was in wasteful mood before the interval with Aaron Lennon unable to pick out a team-mate with his crosses. Poor decision-making looked set to cost the away side and with both Soldado and Gylfi Sigurdsson more comfortable finishing chances than creating opportunities for themselves, the breakthrough did not come before the interval.

Of course, that was also down to the efforts of Palace with the home side working tirelessly to defend the box. Joel Ward was particularly impressive, making five tackles in the game and winning them all. His efforts summed up the willingness to compete but Holloway's main concern was on the opposite flank.

"That's been the biggest threat for Tottenham, down this (right) side," said Graeme Souness at the break. "They are there in numbers Palace and sooner or later someone is going to go to sleep." It wasn't narcolepsy that hit the Eagles, but rather a stray hand as Dean Moxey was ruled to have deliberately handled a Lennon cross shortly after the break.

Soldado duly converted the spot-kick - thus adding to last season's record of scoring all his goals from inside the area. It was only a penalty but the calm finish into the side-netting oozed class all the same. By the hour mark, Spurs had 10 efforts to Palace's one.

Holloway responded with a triple substitution. Marouane Chamakh and Kevin Phillips arrived to occupy forward positions, while Wales international Jonathan Williams was introduced to join Gayle in providing some thrust on the break. It was a qualified success as Palace did look more of a threat.

But it was not to be. Villas-Boas had made a substitution of his own in bringing on Capoue and the robust midfielder was a huge asset for Spurs in the latter stages - making six interceptions in his brief appearance, two more than any other player on the pitch managed all game.

It wasn't always pretty, but it was three points for a Bale-free Tottenham and disappointment for the Premier League new boys.

Holloway's view

"I don't know what the stats are, but we have got to learn how to attack. We defended very well, we blocked their spaces, but we didn't counter-attack after. Without (Yannick) Bolasie, with Wilf (Zaha) obviously gone, I think we need some pace - we are screaming out for that. I just wish Jonny (Williams) hadn't played 90 minutes for the Welsh team. He was injured for a year before he came and I thought he made a difference when he came on with his energy."

Villas-Boas' view

"We spoke before the game how difficult it would be because of the surprise factor. Ian put his team together very well because he had three players very narrow just behind the striker, which we weren't expecting. That caused a bit of unpredictability and it was a tough game. We had some good chances to put the game to bed but, bearing in mind 90 minutes, I think we deserved to win."

Graeme's view

"Today was exactly what you'd expect from Palace. They were spirited and they never gave up. But they were against a team that individually were better than them. I know they had three shots on target but I never really felt they were a threat until they made a few substitutions midway through the second-half. I think that's where they're going to fail or survive. Scoring goals is paramount in this league. You've got to be scoring goals at home to win games."

Player ratings

While the combination of Walker and Lennon was a key element of the victory and Soldado scored the goal, it was the simple effectiveness of Paulinho that caught the eye sufficiently to claim the Sky Sports man of the match award. It has become customary for specialisation in the centre of midfield but here is a player who can pass, intercept the ball and then carry it forward. On this evidence, he looks a shrewd signing.

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