Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Tottenham needs Dejan Kulusevski in the middle of the pitch

Tottenham has a host of injury concerns along with suspensions. Seven of their starters were missing in their 2-1 loss to Wolves on Saturday, most importantly James Maddison. They miss that creator in the middle, and I think now is the time to move Dejan Kulusevski inside.

They did not have Destiny Udogie when they played Wolves, he will be back from suspension for their next match. The following players currently will not be available:

  • James Maddison, ankle, out till mid-January
  • Mickey van de Veen, hamstring, out till early January
  • Cristian Romero, suspended 2 more games due to a red card offense
  • Richarlison, groin, out till late December
  • Ryan Sessegnon, hamstring, out till late November
  • Manor Salmon, meniscus, out till early February
Figure 1.1 - Illustration of my idea for Tottenham's lineup and structure going forward.

They lack depth at several positions, but I feel they need that orchestrator in the middle of the pitch. I attribute a lot of Tottenham’s success this season to James Maddison. He can create chances from nothing in a way that Hojbjerg, Sarr, Bentancur, Bissouma, Lo Celso, and Skipp cannot. It’s one of the main reasons that they struggled under Antonio Conte last season. Other than Kulusevski, they didn’t have a creator who could play inside until they signed James Maddison in the summer.

Dejan Kulusevski has the same attributes that James Maddison has. He can pick out a pass, he has world-class vision, great decision making. He can beat his man 1v1 when he dribbles with the ball. Now would be the time.

Figure 1.2 - Illustration of Tottenham's movement in possession.

Ange Postecoglou is a bit stubborn. He will likely not waver from this structure or the movement within the structure.

They will continue to invert their full-backs, ignoring the fact that the personnel is different. If you don’t fit in the idea of the team, then you’re not going to be in the team.

Mickey Van de Veen covers the distance of two normal defenders; he’s so fast, so you can afford to leave just him and Cristian Romero back there to defend 2v3. I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave Ben Davies and Eric Dier back there when Destiny Udogie and Pedro Porro get forward. I don’t think that will work, especially when the lack of depth and rotation really kicks in like it did in the 90th minute against Wolves.

We might get in a situation where they are “found out” by other teams because of how predictable their setup is. Then those teams can take advantage of the fact that they are tired due to the lack of depth, a mixture of a significant drop off in quality within the starting eleven mixed with fatigue. Plus, their upcoming fixtures are significantly tougher.

Figure 2.1 - Australia's structure in possession in the 2017 Confederations Cup under Ange Postecoglou. Credit for the image to The Coaches' Voice
Figure 2.2 - Illustration of Tottenham in a 3-4-3 like that used by Australia, with depth included.

Perhaps they could experiment with a back-three, like the one used by Australia in the 2017 Confederations Cup. It does fit the players they have now better and provides a bit more cover defensively while pushing Kulusevski inside and still creating enough threat wide with Udogie and Porro.

They still lack depth in defense, but if they can control the opposition out of possession more efficiently than matches will be less likely to become basketball matches, with both teams sprinting up and down the pitch for 90 minutes. It could help to limit the fatigue that they will inevitably experience.

Son Heung-Min benefits from being close to someone creative, like James Maddison; otherwise, he becomes too isolated. Having Brennan Johnson and Dejan Kulusevski closer to Son will free him from the responsibility of dropping to advance the ball, and those three can combine in tight. And Johnson is used to moving inside from his time at Nottingham Forest.

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