Tottenham need forward momentum to make passing from the back work | Barney Ronay

Mauricio Pochettino needs to remember the key purpose of the Fannying About Theory to hurt opponents further up the pitch

ballroom dancer

There was an unusual moment in the first half at San Siro on Tuesday night. With the score 0-0, the sky still deep blue above the stand, the game still to take its decisive shape, Mousa Dembl burst the ball. Radja Nainggolan will claim an assist on this. Both men went into a slide tackle with full force. As they made contact simultaneously there was a deep booming noise, like the sound of a major world war two ammunition dump exploding 50 miles away.

For what its worth Dembl just about won the ball, albeit at the expense of the balls good health. Nainggolan punted it off the pitch with a look of distaste. The game rushed on. And looking back on Tottenhams oddly mannered defeat it seemed like a reminder of this teams best qualities of the past two seasons.

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Poch-era Spurs have often been bruising opponents, a team of collisions, always coming forward. Dembl himself ran over and through the midfields of Juventus and Real Madrid in their best performances in last years Champions League, looming across the middle of the pitch like an avenging wookie, albeit an avenging wookie with the feet of a ballroom dancer.

Something has changed this season. The gearing has been altered a little. In the last week the most striking part of both the 2-1 defeat at San Siro and the 2-1 defeat by Liverpool at Wembley is how long Spurs have spent operating to a different rhythm, keeping the ball in different areas.

Yes, its time to talk about playing out from the back. Pep Guardiolas champions have shown the benefits of developing this style, of working space at one end of the pitch by drawing an opponent out, of keeping the ball rather than kicking it away and feeding an opponents strengths. When City were learning to play this way two years ago Guardiola had to defend it, to make speeches about being brave and ballsy, about the stones of John Stones. In victory a kind of mimesis has begun. Other managers have sought to bring the benefits of deep possession play. Players have been willing to take it on. Supporters have been patient.

As so often this is a question of timing and of execution. Rather than being in crisis after three successive defeats, rather than Mauricio Pochettino losing his magic, or the players all simultaneously falling apart which may or may not be the case to varying degrees perhaps Tottenham are also trying something new, and experiencing some bumps in the road.

Pochettino has often spoken about finding different ways of playing, pointing out that all the best teams do this. The cow and train metaphor caused a degree of bafflement, but it seemed like a good analogy on the page, a parable about learning new things. Perhaps he was talking about players struggling to expand their own range. Five times in the first half at San Siro the back five made a jittery attempt to play the ball out rather than clear it in one or two longer passes. They almost went behind after Jan Vertonghen had given away a needless throw trying to dribble out of the left-back area like a supermarket-brand Gareth Bale.

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Michel
Michel Vorm is not a natural fit for a game built on passing from the back. Photograph: Tim Rogers/Seconds Left/Rex/Shutterstock

Michel Vorm in particular has seemed to have the ball at his feet far too often for a player whose feet are not precision instruments. At San Siro he had 17 more touches than Samir Handanovic. Against Internazionale and Liverpool combined Vorm had 105 touches, to 78 for his opposition goalkeepers, one of whom, Liverpools Alisson, is actually good at this stuff.

Inter had presumably been watching. In Milan Luciano Spallettis team pressed high up the pitch right from the start, convinced they could disturb Tottenham. Often Mauro Icardi ended up standing in the six-yard box while Vertonghen attempted a hair-raisingly complex passing triangle by the corner flag, transformed suddenly into the Belgian Xavi. Davinson Snchez is a good defender but he has also been successfully targeted by Jos Mourinho as a weak point playing the ball out. Against Inter, Snchez showed the accuracy of Mourinhos gimlet eye, earning himself a booking after punting the ball in a panic across the face of his own area.

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There are two points worth making about all this. Firstly, why do it at all? And secondly, can it be done a little better? On the first of these, it is easy to point out that passing from the back has not so far been a defining quality of this modern Spurs. In the 3-1 defeat of Real Madrid last year Snchez and Vertonghen had 92 touches to 150 for Sergio Ramos and Nacho. This is where that Spurs team wanted the game to be played, happiest snapping and pressing and stealing the ball in those attacking areas. But Pochettino will have his reasons for playing like this as well at times. Change, and new things, are often good. You cant always go out and try to burst the ball.

Spurs are missing two vital elements, however. Firstly Hugo Lloris, who is an excellent passer, long and short, with no fuss in his delivery. With Lloris Spurs play like this naturally at times. Lloris has an excellent throw. He can ping it hard and flat to the halfway line. Spurs havent seemed to get penned in so easily. The other absence is Harry Kane, or rather the Kane that runs in behind defenders.

The point of playing out from the back in the modern style, the key tenet of Fannying About Theory 1.0, is that it draws opponents in and makes them vulnerable once you get past the press. This requires speed and clever movement in attack. Spurs didnt have these things in Milan.

With Kane playing back-to-goal down the centre there were fewer runners, fewer options for a pass, less fear of being turned in that Inter backline. So the advantage of deep possession is lost, leaving only the risks. Will they stick with this approach? Dele Allis lack of fitness has been an obstacle here, as has Son Heung-mins absence. Both provide excellent movement. Both should be up to full speed again soon. After three defeats Spurs desperately need a result at Brighton on Saturday. But the style and tone of the performance might be just as interesting.

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

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