Pochettino gets flexible: 5 things we wanted to talk about from Watford 1-2 Spurs

Paul Wilkes was armed with Stats Zone at Vicarage Road to see Spurs claim late victory against the 10-man Hornets...

1. Mixed offerings from Lamela behind Kane

Lamela completed 24 of his attempted 33 passes, but most notably his balls into the area failed when it mattered. Taking up space between the full-backs and central defenders seems to be the best way to use Lamela if given the chance more often

Tottenham aren’t exactly lacking quality when it comes to those who can play between the lines, with Christian Eriksen, Son Heung-min, Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli all perfectly capable playing there. However, Spurs deploying a 3-4-2-1 formation allowed Mauricio Pochettino to field another player just behind Harry Kane.

Erik Lamela can be a very frustrating figure and he continued to demonstrate as much at Vicarage Road. The Argentine opened the scoring in the 17th minute after an error on the halfway line from Craig Cathcart allowed him to run straight at Miguel Britos; with the former Napoli defender backing away, Lamela was able to slot the ball past Heurelho Gomes unchallenged, as Britos fell to the floor. Just a minute later, he demonstrated his lack of consistency as he side-footed a glorious opportunity wide.

Lamela completed 24 of his attempted 33 passes, but most notably his balls into the area failed when it mattered. Taking up space between the full-backs and central defenders seems to be the best way to use Lamela if given the chance more often, although the formation is unlikely to be replicated very often.

2. Ighalo a sure-fire target for big teams

With Roma the latest club to be linked with a move for Odion Ighalo, the Nigerian will surely continue to attract attentions of some more sizeable clubs. The former Lyn striker now has 14 league goals in just 18 starts, and made it seven goals in his last six Premier League matches to finish 2015 in style.

His equaliser came after a cross-field ball from Almen Abdi was headed into his path by Troy Deeney. The hitman held off Eric Dier with his strength before nutmegging the defender on the turn and poking it past Hugo Lloris. Ighalo’s combination of pace and power is too much for opposing defenders to handle, with Watford coach Quique Sanchez Flores describing his goal as an “electric move” after the match.

The fans sang his name to the Spandau Ballet tune Gold, with the words “you’re indestructible” appearing all the more fitting every time he batters another Premier League defender into submission. Ighalo and Deeney have now provided 20 of Watford’s 24 league goals this season.

3. Right-back rotation works for both sides

Allan Nyom was one of only five players to have started every league match for Watford before this game. The right-sided defender joined as part of the owner relationship with Granada in the summer and has performed consistently throughout the season. However, Flores decided to deploy Ikechi Anya in the role, with the defensively solid Abdi ahead of him. Anya, who started the season at left-back, made 5 interceptions and recovered the ball 6 times. “We needed to keep the energy high among the backs because we knew they would pass the ball from wing to wing,” confessed Flores in the post-match press conference.

Ighalo and Deeney have now provided 20 of Watford’s 24 league goals this season

For Tottenham, Kieran Trippier made his first Premier League start at the expense of Kyle Walker, but was used as a right-wing-back. Against Jose Manuel Jurado, it was always going to be difficult for the Manchester City youth product to strike the balance between defence and attack. He often played it safe and a number of his passes in the final third were inaccurate, but his persistence paid off as he crossed the ball for Son’s superb backheel winner.

4. Pochettino demonstrates tactical flexibility

Pochettino decided to use three centre-backs to combat Watford’s strike partnership of Deeney and Ighalo. It’s a move that was often chosen by his mentor and former coach Marcelo Bielsa, and here Pochettino aimed to maintain a one-man advantage at the back when faced with two strikers.

As a centre-half it was no issue for Dier to slot in between Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. The two outside defenders often had a lot of time on the ball and at times would look to switch the play to the unoccupied wing-back. Alderweireld and Vertonghen made more passes than anyone else, and as they have both previously played at full-back they were happy to make 3 tackles between them in wide areas.


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“We always play with Dier as a holding midfielder, but with the way that Watford play and how we analysed them we played three,” Pochettino revealed post-match. The manager knew that Watford would play a lot of long balls into the channels and this was designed to limit this problem for the away side.

5. Jurado will cause more problems

Flores likes to rotate his wide players depending on the opposition, form and the overall plan of the match. However, surprisingly he has used Jurado and Abdi in all the matches over the festive period, with the pair starting three matches in eight days.

Perhaps this was because Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs all offered more of an attacking threat from their left full-backs, and that the Spaniard could exploit his direct competitors on Watford’s left. Jurado beats players for fun and often provides an end product, which many other skilful wingers fail to produce.

He wasn’t as effective as usual in his dribbling against Spurs but he did make the second-most passes for Watford. With the Hornets down to 10 men following the dismissal of Nathan Ake, the former Spartak Moscow attacker was sacrificed for Nyom as Flores tightened up the defence with 28 minutes remaining.

Match facts

  • Tottenham are undefeated in their last 8 competitive games against Watford (W6 D2 L0).
  • Spurs have not lost their final league game of a calendar year since 2008.
  • Spurs have lost just 1 of their last 18 Premier League matches, winning 9 (D8).
  • The Hornets scored with their only shot on target against Tottenham.
  • Odion Ighalo has scored more league goals in 2015 than any other player in England’s top four tiers (30).
  • Indeed, Ighalo has found the back of the net in 6 successive top-flight games – the only Watford player to achieve this feat.
  • Erik Lamela has scored 4 goals in his last 5 games in all competitions for Tottenham.
  • Harry Kane provided his first Premier League assist of the season and his first in 23 appearances.

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