How Crystal Palace Shocked Tottenham Hotspur – Tactical Analysis

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After weeks of succeeding with narrow 1-0 wins in a 4-3-3 formation, Nuno Espirito Santo decided change was needed. To be fair to Nuno, without the injured Heung-Min Son and Steven Bergwijn, change likely was needed. But unfortunately the Portuguese manager adapted in the completely wrong way, and Crystal Palace, yes Crystal Palace, tore them to shreds.

Nuno’s team set up in a 4-3-1-2 (4-4-2 diamond) formation. If you want to see some of the complications of this formation, all you have to do is watch Rose’s Borussia Dortmund or read one of our analyses of them this season. For Spurs in this shape, Dele Alli played at the top of the diamond rather than as part of a midfield three, as Harry Winks entered the fold in his stead. Lucas Moura, normally a winger, played up top with Kane and showed some bright moments of dribbling and trickery. But the main problem with this system – Tottenham had no mechanisms for natural width in attack, and no balance between the two sides.

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Sergio Reguilon tried to get forward on the left, but Tottenham’s attempts to use his movement were highly ineffective. Right-sidedness was completely non-existent, especially with Alli and Kane both hovering around spaces on the left. In theory, that could have been a good thing for Spurs. It could have created overloads for them to use in the wide areas, and exposed Palace’s right-side (the side without Zaha to worry about on the break). But instead, this just over-complicated things for Spurs, and limited their ability to progress properly in possession. Reguilon simply didn’t know where Alli and Kane wanted to be – a clear testament to the fact that the two of them didn’t really know either. With Hojbjerg now their most attack-minded midfielder pushing up with the front three, Tottenham really struggled to keep the ball in Palace’s third, let alone anywhere else on the pitch. They had some decent moments of passing around when playing out from the back, but it was far too patient and possessive rather than progressive.

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Then comes the fact that they were often easily exposed by Palace in transition. Palace are one of the better counter attacking teams in the league, so they too deserve some credit here. Their verticality, and willingness to engage their front three early on, were absolute essentials to breaking Tottenham down. But Spurs only made life more difficult for themselves. Oliver Skipp was often caught too high and out of position, where the likes of Gallagher, Edouard and Benteke were often able to exploit. Tanganga’s red card only compounded this issue, and Luka Milivojevic came on around that time to also help spray adventurous passes forward. The Serbian midfielder made some excellent switches of play that completely exposed Tottenham in transition, which is a strategy Spurs could have done with themselves when it came to diagonals into the path of Reguilon.

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Odsonne Edouard was an obvious standout after coming on and scoring two goals. His movement in and around Tottenham’s defense was impeccable, and he made himself a nuisance for both Joe Rodon and Ben Davies through the use of his raw strength and power. But the real star of the day was Conor Gallagher – who fulfilled an important role pushing up from Vieira’s midfield line. The Chelsea loanee made an immense impact at both ends of the pitch. He was fantastic in transition in helping Palace’s already resolute defensive structures, but he was also right up there with Benteke/Edouard as part of the first line of pressure in a 4-4-2 block. That made his attacking role all the easier, as he played almost like a second striker. He didn’t just join the attack and make late runs into the box like last season at West Brom, he was actively involved in staying high and playing passes around the penalty area. When he was deeper on the field, he was always looking to either pass the ball forward, or run forward himself. This verticality really helped unravel Tottenham’s slow defense, and gave them an additional threat to their Zaha reliant structures. The 21-year-old midfielder even assisted Edouard’s second goal, with an excellent display of La Pausa, killing the game off at 3-0. In the end, it was an incredible win for Crystal Palace, and one that takes Tottenham from first down to fifth.


So there it is! How Crystal Palace shocked Tottenham Hotspur, a Tactical Analysis. Be sure to check out more from our Tactics section, and follow on Twitter @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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