Selections & Structure
Obviously with Kane and Son missing this was always going to be an interesting line up.
Pochettino opted to switch from the 41212/4312 he’d favoured of late, to a 3421. Llorente got his first league start, while Sanchez came in centrally in a 3CB system, Winks and Eriksen as the CM2, with Alli and Lamela as AM/10’s behind Llorente.
The efficacy of Poch’s shape shift is hard to judge really.
I can understand why he felt it might be worth trying, playing wing backs with the intention of feeding crosses into Llorente made sense, whilst at the same time matching up Fulham’s format and also putting lateral CB’s to prevent the kind of exploitation of those gaps left by marauding FB’s that Utd spent much of last week planning to exploit also had merits in conception.
The problem was the game became a kind of front five verses back five war of attrition, Fulham did a reasonable job of covering the wide zones, and taking a player out of the midfield/attacking midfield zones, combined with the complete lack of dynamism of Llorente, the structure made it harder to transition at times, giving Winks and Eriksen less forward looking options.
Things were also exasperated somewhat by Alli and Lamela being very erratic.
I was not as incandescent with rage as some were at half time.
I expected Fulham to be starting to show the signs of the Ranieri drill (last week they unluckily lost despite preventing Burnley having a single shit on target at home) and they have some quality footballers, especially in creative remits; Seri, Schurrle, Sessegnon, Vietto, the robust molotov agitant that is Mitrovic, Babel to name some. So I was expecting a tougher test than many.
We just don’t have the god given right to turn up and whack teams every week.
All through this season we’ve had vulnerabilities, some are almost inherent with trying to play the progressive way Poch wants us to play, but some, like set pieces should be easier to fix.
And to be fair I thought we’d largely done that from earlier in the season when we kept getting undone by them, but today, they resurfaced, which is odd considering we had an extra CB in there today.
The first half was a good tactical battle, we were the side trying to control the game, having 65% of the possession, but Fulham were better drilled, less gung ho than when we last played them, and always looking threatening on the counter and from those excellent Seri corners, one of which produced the only deft thing Llorente did all day, unfortunately he did it at the wrong end.
We kept plugging away though, trying to do the right things, and we did have our moments, the best of which were wasted, first by Llorente failing to connect cleanly to a great cross from Vertonghen, then Alli frittering away a nice ball into the channel.
Worst of all Lamela, who having decided not to trust his right foot with the simple square pass that would have put Llorente in for a tap in, proceeded to contort his left foot in a way that meant said pass zipped beyond the forlorn Spaniard.
I thought Winks was really good today, his defensive game seems to be improving, game by game, today no-one made more ball recoveries, but what I liked most was that from the get go he seemed intent on looking forwards (he made 43 forward passes, Eriksen made 18) often taking the ball on the turn and looking and playing the pass.
As ever he got through a guanoload of ball (91/102 89% – Eriksen 55/67 82%) but he showed more intent to join the attack today as well as instigate them from deeper.
Partly this was the format and dynamics, where previously he had two 8’s either side, today was more a double pivot, but it’s good that he’s reading and listening to the coaching and adapting to tactical changes on the hoof.
The second half we pretty much picked up where we left off the first. Got hold of the ball and started to go through the motions, moving it around, trying to probe for a chink in their armour.
Pretty quickly we were level. A beautiful ball by Eriksen, who almost telepathically knows how to find Alli in those positions, presented him with an un-missable chance, and Alli duly obliged, powering it home with his head.
What followed was the inevitable attritional struggle, we had even more ball in the second than the first, pretty much camped in their half, ending the game with 72%, Fulham dug their trench even deeper, and quality chances were hard to come by. Alli and Lamela continued to fritter too much.
Then Poch made what on the face of it appeared an odd sub, bringing Dier on for Lamela.
What this did though, was allow Eriksen to push up into Lamela’s 10 remit, and though this ultimately didn’t make a telling difference, it perhaps wasn’t the backwards step it had initially looked.
I’d have preferred Skipp myself as I think he’s more likely to thread a pass through a defence, as he proved with that lovely ball for Llorente against Preston, and he’s also a dynamic little fucker, but Dier did basics OK.
Then fate intervened. There’s no way Poch would have swapped Nkoudou for Alli if the latter hadn’t got injured, but the forced change is what really ultimately ended up winning the game. Dis eeece fubal, no….
Pressure was building, another couple of great chances for Llorente went begging and we were all thinking “another one of those weeks”, more points dropped, then with a few seconds left two unlikely heroes emerged; who else but Winks picks up the ball on the edge of our box – having dropped back to cover – he starts a neat little interchange of passes, which see the ball worked out to Nkoudou on the left touchline, he cuts in a yard and delivers an absolute peach of a cross, where Winks, having run virtually the length of the pitch, dives in to head home the winner emphatically.
Nobody deserved the goal more and his desire to get from our box to theirs to score it, typifies what this team, and this kid is about. Hunger.
I flipping love a last minute winner.
Very few things from the football smorgasbord taste as good.