Tottenham traveled to Riverside Stadium beating Middlesbrough 2-1 to continue their unbeaten run this season.
MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 24: Aitor Karanka manager of Middlesbrough and Mauricio Pochettino manager of Tottenham Hotspur shake hands prior to the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Tottenham Hotspur at the Riverside Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Against Middlesbrough, Mauricio Pochettino opted to change formations with his Tottenham side starting in a 4-3-3 formation.
It’s the first time this year that Spurs have gone away from their normal 4-2-3-1 that Pochettino tends to use. But a change was needed due to the Argentine manager’s first-choice central midfield pair being injured (Eric Dier and Mousa Dembélé).
While the game’s pace was open with both sides attacking back and forth in the early going, Spurs who have dominated their opponents in three of their last four games had a different strategy.
A midfield three of Victor Wanyama at defensive midfield with Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli playing on the left and right flanks respectively, saw Tottenham control the middle of the pitch with ease.
It was a gameplan that saw Spurs play with a calmness, controlling the flow of the game with players looking to maintain possession and waiting for opportunities to present itself.
It’s a stark contrast than what Spurs have done in recent games with them looking to thoroughly outclass their opponents and put them away with a landslide of goals.
Today’s match against Middlesbrough is just a microcosm of what Mauricio Pochettino could do with Spurs’ depth by mixing and matching players at different positions in another formation other than his preferred 4-2-3-1.
So here now, are five takeaways following Spurs’ 2-1 win at Riverside Stadium.
MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 24: Moussa Sissoko of Tottenham Hotspur is taken off injured during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Tottenham Hotspur at the Riverside Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Prior to today’s match, Spurs had four starters not suit up against Middlesbrough: Harry Kane, Danny Rose, Eric Dier and Mousa Dembélé. They then lost Moussa Sissoko.
Any time a team loses their star striker, their first-choice central midfield pairing and their starting left-back, there’s cause for concern. Seeing Sissoko leave the game after getting run into also wasn’t good.
Credit to Spurs for having good quality and depth to help seal a win on the road.
While Boro pulled one back in the second half off of a Ben Gibson header from a free kick, Spurs controlled this game when they had possession of the ball, finding open space as they marched up the pitch.
A dicey second half was more than Pochettino would have wanted with Spurs not able to score another goal to put the game away, but his team responded well to adversity after missing four starters to injury prior to the match starting and then a fifth player midway through the second half.
Tottenham maintaining their composure to see the game out is something that Pochettino should be proud of knowing that his team can weather the storm when injuries begin piling up like they did last season.
Soon Rose, Dier and Dembélé will be back in the starting lineup, and this can only be good news with Tottenham hitting their stride in domestic competition.
MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 24: Toby Alderweireld of Tottenham Hotspur claps the fans after the game during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Tottenham Hotspur at the Riverside Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Against Stoke City, Sunderland and Gillingham, Spurs had dominated all three opponents with two of their wins being blowouts.
Had Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford not played out of his mind by stopping everything that went towards the net, the Black Cats should have lost by more than one goal.
In the end, what all three games had in common was Tottenham playing much better. They started the season off slowly before putting in a dominating performance against the Potters.
A slip up in the Champions League against AS Monaco has now become a small blip as games against Sunderland, Gillingham and now Middlesbrough have shown that Spurs are riding some good form at the moment.
Tottenham will be tested in their next two matches when they travel to Russia to face CSKA Moscow this upcoming Tuesday and host Manchester City on October 2nd.
But for the time being, Spurs are in form and should see their momentum carry over to the Champions League this time around.
MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 24: Victor Wanyama of Tottenham Hotspur (L) and Gaston Ramirez of Middlesbrough (R) battle for possession during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Tottenham Hotspur at the Riverside Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
As a defensive midfielder, it’s logical to play Victor Wanyama in his natural position.
Where he can help shield the back four and be a midfield destroyer to disrupt the opposition from marching towards Spurs’ final third.
With Eric Dier injured, Wanyama started in his place at the base of Mauricio Pochettino’s three-man midfield and played very well. The Kenyan international has had a fine start to his Spurs career but doesn’t look good when he’s next to Dier.
Both have the same role which is to stop opponents as quickly as possible when they roam into their area. But because Pochettino’s 4-2-3-1 needs only one holding mid, this is why the two don’t look comfortable together.
Tottenham have done well with a central-defensive midfield pairing. Unfortunately, Dele Alli isn’t successful playing deeper despite central midfield being his natural position when he was with MK Dons.
The 20-year-old played higher up behind the striker, two seasons ago with the Dons, which is what Mauricio Pochettino did last year when Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-Min both got injured.
But with both players healthy and in form at the moment, Alli has to be the sacrificial lamb so to speak.
Alli has no problem going forward from a deep position, but when it comes to defending he won’t offer much help. Were he to defend first and attack second, it would be a waste of a talented player who provides a key spark offensively.
Therefore this is something that Dele Alli has to work through. Otherwise he would be coming off of the bench instead, because the combination of Son and Eriksen right now is just getting better. Dropping either one of them at the moment isn’t an option.
MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 24: Vincent Janssen of Tottenham Hotspur (L) is tackled by Cristhian Stuani of Middlesbrough (R) during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Tottenham Hotspur at the Riverside Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Strikers generally are supposed to score goals since that’s their main job. But when they’re not able to find the back of the net, they need to find another way to get involved in the offense.
Vincent Janssen so far has managed to help his teammates out by holding the ball up and waiting for support before laying a pass off.
During Spurs’ pre-season friendly finale against Inter Milan in Norway, the Dutchman would receive a pass before shielding his defender from reaching the ball. With Inter looking to win the ball back it left Dele Alli running freely before scoring a goal.
This is the exact same thing that happened in the seventh minute when Son Heung-Min scored the game’s opening goal.
Christian Eriksen received the ball at midfield, dribbled forward for a bit before passing to Janssen at the edge of the penalty box. With a difficult angle to attempt a shot and defenders surrounding him, Janssen chose to hold the ball up awaiting help which Son provided.
The rest was an exact replica of Spurs’ game against Inter Milan: Vincent Janssen records an assist due to his great hold up play while someone scores a goal.
It would be good — great even — to see the Dutch striker find the back of the net a few more times with the amount of chances that he’s had. But so far his ability to help Spurs score goals by being involved in their build up play is just as important.
Who knows, perhaps the pressure starts to fall off with teams now more worried about the rest of Spurs’ players contributing, like Son, leaving Janssen alone for a split second to score a goal.
MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 24: Heung-Min Son of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his sides second goal during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Tottenham Hotspur at the Riverside Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Four goals and one assist in three Premier League games. This is not a typo as Son Heung-Min was away for the Rio Olympics to begin the season.
It has been a very good term for the 24-year-old who is perhaps fueled by heartbreak suffered at the hands of Honduras who upset South Korea in the Olympics’ quarter-finals stage.
Son’s performance this early in the season is a reminder that the South Korean international needed time to embed himself into Mauricio Pochettino’s system.
But more importantly, he is now 100 percent focused on playing for Spurs. On two different occasions Son showed what he can do when he’s fully committed to his club.
Leading up to the 2012 Olympics, Son Heung-Min who was a member of Hamburger SV turned down an invitation to join his country. That season (2012-13) was a breakthrough for him that saw the winger secure a move to Bayer Leverkusen the following year.
Then, with another international tournament on the horizon, the 2014 Asian Games. Son wasn’t released by Bayer to join his national team, and while it was a loss on a personal level — South Korea won and should have made Son exempt from serving in the military — he managed to have another good year when he had to focus on club duties.
It’s not surprising that Son Heung-Min is doing very well right now with Spurs as there isn’t anything going on right now until the 2018 Asian Games.
The 24-year-old’s consistency since his first game with Stoke all the way up to today’s game against Boro shows how hard he has worked to earn a starting spot in Pochettino’s lineup. Not to mention, returning Spurs’ investment last summer after spending £22 million.
With Son in form, Mauricio Pochettino will continue to start him for as long as the South Korean winger is able to keep it up.