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Tottenham Need to Follow Template Set in Previous Win over Stoke City

Published by Bleacher Report on Sat, 10 Sep 2016

The end of last season is still looming over Tottenham Hotspur. A patchy start performance-wise has reiterated concerns over creative aspects of their play and, despite entering September unbeaten, not quite dispelled the disappointment of their unsuccessful Premier League title challenge.It is not just the negativity of a gloomy springtime denouement hanging over Mauricio Pochettino and his side, though. Living up to the best of a mostly enjoyable campaign that saw them finish third is also taking some doing.Tottenham's trip to Stoke City this weekend naturally evokes memories of their last visit. The 4-0 win in April was not only the last hurrah of their title-tilt, but arguably as good a demonstration seen of the qualities Pochettino had been striving to instill over the preceding two years.None involved want it to be the realisation of that process, its peak. That would imply there is no scope to get even better.That should not be a problem given the youth and talent of their squad, not to mention the determination of their coaching staff to deliver genuine success. But improvement does not come without effort, with potential liable to give way to misplaced complacency.This previous win over Stoke, and Spurs' good 2015-16 in general, was not any real sort of achievement. However, looking back, it can be regarded as a template in tactics, temperament and individual initiative that the north Londoners should try to consistently replicate.The reputation Stoke City established upon their top-flight return in 2008 as a formidable and physical outfit still precedes them.Taking part in a fan question-and-answer session on Twitter ahead of Tottenham's visit there this season (see above), Pochettino was asked about combating that style. As he proceeded to point out, this team of Joe Allen, Marko Arnautovic, Xherdan Shaqiri and others assembled by Mark Hughes is far removed from that."Mark Hughes tries to play more along the grass, it's not as physical like it was three years ago with [former boss Tony] Pulis," Pochettino said, before suggesting his approach to playing the Potters would have been the same even if they were more pragmatic. "But the answer is to play football, respect our ideas and play under our philosophy."These observations were true in April, too.The eventual scoreline suggests complete Tottenham dominance, but it was not as simple as that. Stoke edged possession on the night51 to 49 per cent, per BBC Sportand attempted to play with the mix of panache and directness that had seen them beat Manchester City and Manchester United earlier in the season.Spurs responded with a suitable performance that was in line with the key tenets of their chief executive philosopher. Indeed, if Pochettino was putting together a showcase of what his footballing doctrine is all about, the opening 10 minutes would be as good as any.From the start they hunted Stoke with the pressing that has become a trademark under the Argentinian.Christian Eriksen's high ball from kick-off was intercepted, but Spurs' hounding pressured Ibrahim Afellay into giving away a throw. Dele Alli then lost it trying to cut in, but Eriksen was sharp to the situation and regained possession, wanting it more than the nearby Giannelli Imbula.This was a night when the whole team was on their A-game.Erik Lamela led an attack forward down one end, offering an early sign of the visitors' intent. At the other, centre-back Toby Alderweireld reached to clear with Bojan Krkic lurking dangerously.Central midfield pair Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier were both quick in stopping attempted moves past them. Another Spurs attack almost sent Harry Kane in on goal, Lamela's through ball unfortunately getting stuck beneath his feet.Unlike as their title hopes crumbled at Chelsea two weeks later, the north Londoners' aggressiveness was displayed in the best way, too. Rather than scattered and dirty, they were focused and tough.With previous between the two, Danny Rose was booed relentlessly by Stoke fans but did not rise to the bait. The home crowd's misplaced energy (supporting their own team would surely have been more productive than so much ire) was heard again when Arnautovic bounced off the more sturdy Kyle Walker and did not get a free-kick.They thought they had gained a little moment of justice soon after when Kane was sent chasing after a ball down the left by Jan Vertonghen. Their cheers were quickly silenced.If the first 10 minutes were about the constructive endeavour of Spurs' best work, their four goals showed their ultimate production at its most varied and inspiredboth of which are attributes they are still configuring to new personnel and different strategic wrinkles in the fledgling current campaign.The opener was Kane at his most thoughtful and should serve as a reminder to Pochettino that integrating the likes of Vincent Janssen must not come at the expense of their talisman's freedom to create.Having kept hold of Vertonghen's pass, the centre-forward turned back when he realised a route into the penalty area was not on (see above). He looked inside to Dembele, who had advanced into space.The midfielder dribbled at Stoke, which along with the off-the-ball runs of Alli and Lamela, pushed their opponents back. He then laid it off to his left to Kane, who, while not in the ideal position, at least had scope to try his luck at goal (below).The subsequent excellent curling finish past Shay Given was the first of several thrilling moments Spurs would enjoy. In between times, though, they needed to be patient and remain alert as Stoke got forward in search of an equaliser.It is tempting to describe the night as the ideal on-the-road performance.When Stoke got in between the lines, they found their intentions read like a book. Be it crosses, incisive individual forays or more direct attacks, Alderweireld and Vertonghen were usually on hand to stop them, well supported by their full-backs Rose and Walker.Earlier on, the home defence were not easily bypassed. But there was still a confidence to Spurs' attacks that blended synchronicity in thinking with a fluidity that looked instinctive.A couple of Lamela back-heels during this might have looked flash, but they served a function within their specific moves. As Pochettino said of a similar recent display of skill from the attacking midfielder beating Crystal Palace's Andros Townsend, it was not designed to humiliate but the obvious next step in his mind.Altogether this was not so much about being how to play away as it was to being adaptable to different situations. Between a swashbuckling Lamela, solid defensive work and precise, well-timed attacks, it brought to mind the 4-1 home thrashing of Manchester City the previous Septemberanother match in which Spurs won without the majority of possession (on that occasion having 46 per cent to City's 54 per cent, via BBC Sport).However, changing things up for different opponents while still retaining core elements is easier said than done.Tottenham followed up the Stoke win with a costly 1-1 draw at home to West Bromwich Albion. Pulis' side's successful suffocating of them was as chill-inducing as the unseasonably cold temperature at White Hart Lane that night.This season they left it late to beat a Palace side whose priority was also keeping men behind the ball and denying Spurs space. A week later a more expansive, familiarly relentless Liverpool gave Pochettino's team a taste of their own medicine.Back last spring, the remainder of the Stoke game was evidence Tottenham can mix things up with the best of them.As helpfully porous as the Potters became, that was also a consequence of their own ego and intent being systematically stripped from them. Spurs continued to shut them down, their rearguard playstarting moves and maintaining shapebecoming sloppy and leaving them increasingly open to attacks.The visitors' second in the 67th minute was an exercise in timely simplicity. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris' ball out was flicked on to Lamela by Walker, the midfielder's attempted pass deflected to Eriksen, who proceeded to send Alli through a gaping hole in the home back line."It was a great feeling because we were 1-0 up and missing chances so it was very important to get that second goal and get the morale back up," Alderweireld told his club's official website.If Spurs' search for a second was causing them concern, it is not evident even rewatching the game now. The third was an example that even in more testing and frustrating times than they faced here, determination and initiative can go a long way to making things right.Back defending a corner, Kane headed clear of the box, and Eriksen tackled Imbula. The playmaker got the ball in his stride and sent Alli forward down the left (see above).The midfielder raced forward with Lamela and Kane keeping pace down the middle. He then threaded the Argentinian through into the left-hand side of the box, and he selflessly squared for the better-positioned striker to finish.It was a tremendous break. Alli's efforts were rewarded 10 minutes later (and his missing an open goal rectified) when he completed his own brace, volleying home a more measured but equally intelligent, hard-crafted move down the left involving Lamela, Kane, Rose and Eriksen.The travelling Tottenham faithful, already raucous throughout, were close to euphoric at this point. Individual salutes to their favourites were mixed with chants of "Leicester City, we're coming for you!" The rendition of When The Spurs Go Marching In at the final whistle sung with optimism the Foxes could be caught."It was a very important win to keep the pressure on Leicester, both teams now have four games left and we just need to try to win every one," Lamela said to the club website after. "I think these three points will help us to keep moving and now we are waiting for the next game."The optimism of the fans, players and coaches did not, of course, pay off.But just like Pochettino has been keen to make sure they learn what ultimately went wrong, this must also coexist with reinforcing what they did right.Although the 4-0 win we have revisited here is in the past, the ingredients that made its highlights possibleorganised defending, diligent use of energy, movement and creative courageare still in existence.The hope will be new signings like Janssen, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and Moussa Sissoko can help engineer the differences that allow Tottenham to change just enough so more defence-minded foes are less able to stifle them. That challenge begins in earnest with the return to Stoke.
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