Walker and Rose Key for Tottenham in 1-1 Draw with Leicester City

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Tottenham recorded yet another draw over the weekend, this time in their home encounter against Leicester City. It was the club’s fourth stalemate over their past five games, and again, the familiar problem of failing to generate high-quality opportunities in front of goal presented itself.

That issue means Spurs haven’t won in any of their previous five meetings, and even though their defence remains the best in the English Premier League, they need to show a little more cutting-edge if they hope to keep pace with the leaders. Of course, the absence of hitman Harry Kane, who netted 25 times last season, isn’t helping, but there are broader problems for Spurs than that. As it stands, they simply lack ideas in possession, and in the match against Leicester, they looked almost completely incapable of working the ball through the middle of the pitch.

That’s not to say they were awful, however, and they actually did a lot right. The defensive solidity which has come to define Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino was again present – Spurs have only conceded a league-best five times this season, and the goal they conceded against the Foxes resulted from a Victor Wanyama miscue – and they also appeared in control for vast chunks of the contest. In terms of possession, they enjoyed 64% of it, and in terms of shots, they led the count by 22 to 6. Sure, those shot numbers might be slightly bloated by Tottenham’s 12 attempts from outside the area, but this was still a strong display from the North London club.

As far as individuals go, fullbacks Kyle Walker and Danny Rose were at the top of the pile for Pochettino. They played with their typical mix of athleticism and energy along the wings, and given the way the game played out in a tactical sense, that was important for Spurs. Indeed, with Leicester sitting deep and aiming to congest the centre of the pitch, a lot was riding on the wide areas for Tottenham. They needed plenty of punch and drive from those zones, and given that wingers Christian Eriksen and Heung-min Son tended to drift towards the middle, Walker and Rose were the men who needed to provide it.

They required help, though. The fullback pairing needed their teammates to move the ball quickly in order to be effective, largely due to Leicester set-up. Claudio Ranieri arranged his players into their now customary 4-4-2 formation, and in the defensive phase of the game, he asked his winger on the far side of the ground to tuck into a central space. So if Tottenham had the ball on the left, for instance, Ranieri would want Leicester’s left-winger, in this case Ahmed Musa, to float in from the flank to create another defensive presence in the centre. For Spurs, this made it more difficult to play through the middle, but it also opened up some room for Walker at right-back. Of course, Tottenham needed to be quick, but if they could switch the ball from their left-hand side to the right with enough speed, they could free Walker to wreak havoc in attack.

As it turned out, this would become Tottenham’s most likely avenue to goal. They opened up a lot of room for Rose using this ploy, most notably for a first-half long shot after he received a pass from Eriksen, and 40 minutes in, Jan Vertonghen fizzed a long diagonal, from left-centre back, towards the marauding Walker. The powerful defender latched onto it, using his first touch to take the ball around Foxes’ defender Christian Fuchs. He then sprinted around the outside of the Austrian defender before whipping his cross into the area. Deli Alli ran onto it and crashed his first-time effort against the bar, and even though it didn’t go in, this kind of play looked Tottenham’s best bet – switch to the open side, find either Walker or Rose and hope that they could then generate a chance by bringing the ball back into the centre.

The match statistics highlight just how much Tottenham used the flanks. Spurs attacked through the middle just 27% of the time, meaning that much was left to their onrushing fullbacks. Walker and Rose recorded four crosses each, not to mention many more cutbacks, and between them they managed four key passes (Walker had three, Rose had one). The duo also saw a lot of the ball due to Leicester’s desire to clog up the middle. Walker was Tottenham’s fifth-most prolific passer for the day, with 50, while Rose’s 70 passes put him in second place, behind only Vertonghen. Compare these figures to the 24 passes registered by Tottenham’s No. 10, Alli, and it’s clear that the guys out wide were much more involved than those who had to feed off scraps through the centre.

Even Spurs’ last big chance arrived from a right-sided cross, although this time the scenario was slightly different. Here, in the wake of a corner, Pochettino’s men moved the ball quickly, from left to right, to find Wanyama out wide. The strong-bodied midfielder then curled in a well-hit cross, and Vertonghen, still up from the corner, propelled his header into the crossbar. Again the chance came from a quick switch of play, and again Tottenham were denied by woodwork.

That meant the match would end in a 1-1 draw, and despite the fact that it was Tottenham’s third consecutive stalemate in the league, they can still be fairly pleased with how things are progressing. They remain only three points away from the top of the Premier League table, and after five wins and five draws, they are the only team yet to be beaten. On the pitch, too, the foundation appears to be in place. Pochettino’s defence is exceptional, his players are capable of keeping the ball and, in Rose and Walker, he has two fullbacks who can make things happen in attack. Throw in the fact that he has key players yet to come back into the team, such as Kane and Toby Alderweireld, and much of the recipe is right.

That recipe will, however, be tested heavily in upcoming games. First up, Tottenham face a UEFA Champions League clash with Bayer Leverkusen, and following that, they move on to the North London derby against fierce rivals Arsenal (if you’re looking to have a bet, check out online bookmakers with Football-Bookmakers.com). These matches will force Tottenham to operate against high-quality opposition, and who knows, against a pair of teams who like to play higher up the pitch than the likes of Leicester City, they may even find space through the centre easier to come by.

Yet if Pochettino truly wants his side to contend for the 2016/17 Premier League title, he not only needs to continue on with the foundation that’s already in place, but he needs the added variation that consistent penetration through the centre would provide. That, as it stands, is Tottenham’s biggest challenge.