Last time I broke down a Spurs goal, I explained how dynamic Spurs’ midfield is becoming. Their midfield is stuffed full of playmakers, all bringing a unique style of play. Christian Eriksen – an intelligent, technically gifted passer. Paulinho, a deep-lying playmaker with a knack for getting up and finding space. I can go on – Lewis Holtby, Nacer Chadli, Etienne Capoue, Erik Lamela, Aaron Lennon. And then there’s Gylfi Sigurdsson. The left-sided midfielder gifted at getting into the middle of the field and splitting the defense. On Saturday, it was Sigurdsson again cutting through the middle of the pitch and – typically – putting the ball in the back of the net.
Let’s take a look at the set up of the goal. Kyle Naughton traps a cross-field ball from Kyle Walker and looks up field. Up to this point in the match there hasn’t been much of note, both teams swaying with their possession. Eventual goalscorer Sigurdsson isn’t seen below the left corner of the screen. Chelsea’s defenders seem to have each Spurs player marked one-on-one, and just need to close down passes to cause a turnover. Spurs’s midfield is going to draw closer to the ball though, dragging Chelsea’s midfielders slightly out of position.
Naughton gets the ball up the left hand side to Sigurdsson, and Branislav Ivanovic closes him down quite solidly, forcing Sigurdsson to make a decision.
- Firstly, Sig can run down the left side, attempting to beat Ivanovic and cross it in. This decision would be a very Premier League-esque choice, but not one Sig personally favors very often. So we can eliminate this.
- Next, he could opt to feed the ball back to Naughton. Again, very conservative but nonetheless not the style of play we have come to seeing from Spurs. With these tactics, we can eliminate this choice.
- Now, Sig can pop a ball over the top into the box/into the space behind Ivanovic. This would drag the defense out of position and force the issue, but would likely result in a cleared ball considering Chelsea’s defense outnumbers the Spurs attack.
- Lastly, we see the decision Sig goes with. Moussa Dembele is going to come towards the winger, and collect a pass. This move is conservative in itself, but still pushes the ball upfield and continues to give Spurs a chance at goal.
Bear with me here, as this concept is integral as to how this goal is created. The blue arrows here are the easy and most assumed moves in this case. The red, is what Spurs actually do.
One would assume that Sig would go down the left, try to beat Ivanovic, and Dembele would find him, as the space is just wide open to be exploited. Eriksen at the top would likely come in assistance to play some sore of one-two. Instead, with John Obi Mikel pressuring Dembele hard, Dembele cuts left and back into the middle of the field. Sigurdsson is going to turn back towards the middle of the field, and Eriksen is going to drop more centrally to pick up a pass.
As Eriksen receives Dembele’s pass, we finally see Spurs use width. Again it’s not what you would expect. With Frank Lampard pressing him and Obi Mikel trailing, Eriksen can drag Chelsea’s midfield defense wide, leaving a hole. David Luiz, being the actual defender here follows to prevent an entry into the box. Sigurdsson is going to see this move, and also recognize that Ivanovic is (if anything) leaning towards the left side and giving Sig the inside run. We know from last week that Sigurdsson loves to cut in, and him and Eriksen have developed a great partnership on these types of moves.
By now, the rest of the goal is left to Spurs to finish their passing sets. Eriksen has done his job of dragging the defense and midfield, and Roberto Soldado is marked. Sigurdsson can see the daylight in the box – only forced to win a footrace against Ivanovic. No offense to the Serbian, but that outcome is decided. Eriksen splits the defense with the pass, and Soldado is given room the one-touch the ball straight to the cutting Sigurdsson.
Only two motions left. Soldado grabs the ball and gets it on toe Eriksen. In other goals, I might praise this final pass for being clinical or smart. In this case, it’s relatively simple. Soldado barely even has to look up here to find his man and really only has to lay the ball off. For a striker, this is the best possible scenario.
Sigurdsson avoids the tackle from John Terry, and finishes calmly in the right side of the net, where he so often places the ball.
Many teams tend to play a style in which the midfield – in front of the box – is an area of pressing with little possession for their opposition. You see teams like United, City, Arsenal, and Liverpool playing deeper midfielders with a job to stop an attack through the middle. Chelsea, here, did the opposite. They tried to shut down Spurs on the wing. This chart shows that Chelsea didn’t attempt many tackles in the middle of the field in front of the box. Their defense sat back, and they gave Spurs room in front of them. In turn, that style allowed for players like Sigurdsson and Eriksen to come get the ball and run through the middle of field – which in turn created this fantastic goal.
I previously wrote about how Tottenham’s attack was bringing a different style to the Premier League, using an inverted attack to find cutting players to score goals, and this goal is no different. Gylfi Sigurdsson and Christian Eriksen seem to have a sixth sense between the two, and are giving defenders fits with their quick position and rotation. Spurs will be upset they couldn’t grab all three points in this match, but can’t be upset with their continuously improving attack.