Inside Lane: Why there were positives to take from Tottenham’s tactics at Burnley
Tottenham blogger Chris Miller feels that, while Spurs’ performance at Burnley on Sunday was poor, Mauricio Pochettino’s system was a key factor in a rare clean sheet.
Sunday’s draw against Burnley was entirely forgettable for Tottenham Hotspur fans. It was a drab performance in a game punctuated by scruffy challenges with barely any quality on display from either team.
I tweeted towards the end that it seemed unfair that either side would get any points; that the Premier League should make an exceptional decision to award zero to both.
But the Spurs players and coaching staff will have been quietly appreciative of the clean sheet - the first since we won 3-0 at West Bromwich Albion on January 31 - not least because of pre-match injury news, as well as an in-game injury.
There was consternation on social media when the team news was announced. Vlad Chiriches played at centre-back for the first time since November, with Jan Vertonghen missing through illness and Federico Fazio not even in the squad.
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Fazio has not made every squad recently, but one would assume that he was absent through injury or illness too with Vertonghen missing.
With defensive cover so thin, it was inevitable that we would suffer an injury and Kieran Trippier’s reckless, studs-up challenge on Kyle Walker – which was not even deemed a foul - saw off Walker. He tried to play on after half-time but, after a minute of play, he slumped to the ground and then trudged off.
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Ben Davies came on and slotted in at centre-back, with Chiriches moving to the right in Walker’s place. Davies had started on the left of a back three for Wales during the international break, and it is a position he had been tipped to move into by Michael Laudrup as far back as 2013: “In the future, my personal opinion is that Ben can be a good left-footed centre-back,” the Dane said at the time.
Davies and Eric Dier - both just 21 - looked controlled in the second half, dealing with everything that was thrown at them with relative calm. Davies made eight clearances, two tackles, one interception and one block in his 43 minutes on the pitch.
However, I think - as much as the personnel did well - the change in shape had a lot to do with the increased solidity.
Spurs lined up in a 4-1-4-1 system, sacrificing Andros Townsend to play Paulinho as an auxiliary central midfielder, with Christian Eriksen pushed wide.
I had called for a similar move pre-match, but was keen for Benjamin Stambouli to take on the role. Paulinho gave a poor showing - typified by a dreadful shot when bursting forward in the second half. But his presence, or rather the presence of another body in the middle of the pitch, certainly helped the team appear less vulnerable.
Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb have won admirers for their performances throughout the season - and rightly so. With so few players in the squad trusted by Mauricio Pochettino, though, the midfield duo have suffered a drop in form in recent weeks, having played so many matches.
With the band of three ahead of them also not pressing as intensely in the style we became so accustomed to during and after the period around Christmas, teams have found it easy to play straight through the middle against us.
Leicester City and QPR created numerous chances in this way, and Manchester United found it straightforward to pick us apart. Only four teams in the Premier League have conceded more goals than Pochettino’s Tottenham.
It will be interesting to see whether Pochettino jettisons Paulinho, as he did Mousa Dembele when he played so badly against West Ham. But, regardless, the three-man midfield should stay as Spurs attempt to concede fewer goals.
Follow me on Twitter @WindyCOYS