Watford have defied the expectations of many a football expert thus far this year, as they’ve settled into a comfortable mid-table position- taking many impressive scalps along the way. Unusually in the Premier League’s modern era, Watford have been able to successfully operate with two potent goal scoring centre forwards in their side, as Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo’s 20 goals have lead the team from the front.
In this article, we look into how the manager choosing to revert to the 3-4-3 formation that saw victory in the reverse fixture can be key to nullifying this potent duo’s threat, as Spurs look to extend their winning streak to five on the bounce.
Ighalo and Deeney’s partnership has lit up the Premier League on Watford’s return
In Ighalo and Deeney, Watford are blessed with two exceptionally athletic centre forwards whose success has come from an innate ability to isolate defenders and effectively link-up in the attacking third- effectively feeding off one another with some slick interplay.
With two covering centre backs, the change in formation should hopefully nullify the effectiveness of Watford’s two centre forwards and their ability to isolate a Tottenham centre backs. Ighalo and Deeney are both incredibly quick, strong and read the game extremely well. By playing three at back, the likeliness of issues arising from Spurs centre backs being dragged out of position is significantly reduced- thereby reducing the amount of space that Watford’s attackers might have to operate in when they do make it into the final third.
Alderweireld’s influence will be more important than ever
On an offensive front, the formation should also play perfectly into the hands of the likes of Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen. Neither man is an out-and-winger and the shape of the side should enable both players to effectively operate as inside forwards, where they have proven most effective this season. The two mercurial talents will be entitled to float in and out of space in the attacking third, enabling them to provide key supporting roles to centre forward Harry Kane as potential providers to a man that has already netted an impressive 15 goals in 24 games this season.
The wingback system can also play into Spurs hands. The likes of Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose are capable of providing a truly high quality of delivery from wide positions that could potentially be a significant asset for Pochettino’s side’s inventory.
The risks of the 3-4-3 formation
There are two potential risks that Spurs could be exposed to as a result of the change of formation.
Firstly, the opportunity for Watford to exploit the space in-behind the wing backs if the players fulfilling these roles are caught in offensive positions by quick transitions from defence to attack is a real threat. Unlike a traditional 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 formation, the 3-4-3 increases the likelihood of the wing-backs becoming isolated, purely as a result of there being less support offered by team mates in the wide areas.
One can only hope that the players entrusted to fulfil the wing-back positions will be capable of anticipating potential threats, with the players having become very much accustomed to a style of play in which they are expected to provide support in advanced positions.
Trippier likely to be in contention for the wing back role
Tottenham’s change in formation could also leave the two central midfielders at risk of isolation. The Spurs midfield often operates as a trio, with the flair of Dele Alli being perfectly complimented by the defensive rigour of Eric Dier and the bona fide Premier League experience of the Belgian Mousa Dembélé.
As exceptional as the young Dele Alli has been in his debut Premier League season, there is a risk that the lack of cover in midfield could leave him susceptible for exploitation, as he has a tendency to break into attacking positions in search of goals. Defensive discipline in the midfield roles will be fundamentally important to the success of the formation.
This risk can hopefully be counteracted by a level of fluidity in the Tottenham formation, with one of the centre backs stepping up and operating as a holding midfielder when on the offensive- in a system similar to the one being operated by Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, with the likes of Xabi Alonso, David Alaba or Joshua Kimmich often fulfilling this role.
Visual representation of Spurs’ potential shape transition from defensive to attacking play
This formation is more representative of the 4-2-3-1 that Spurs often operate with, the fullbacks pushed high up the pitch and the two centre backs being shielded by most likely Eric Dier stepping into the hole in front of the back line. This change I shape should hopefully enable Spurs to keep the opposition pinned back in their half. Eric Dier has really excelled in this role in 2015-16 and his operating in this role should allow the likes of Alli and Dembélé to push into offensive positions, as well as provide an avenue to recycle possession.
Dier has completed 82% of his passes in his midfield role
A high level of intensity off the ball in the opposition half will be crucial for this to be effective, reducing the Watford players’ time on the ball and therefore hopefully reducing their ability to select key passes that can exploit spaces that might be left in-behind if the wing backs are caught up the field.
Pochettino’s men are well-trained and will be well-briefed going into the game. So long as the players are able to retain their all important concentration levels at crucial times when out of possession, there is no reason that the team cannot successfully implement the system and continue their run of straight victories.
Written by Joe Thomas
Want more from Kings of The Lane? You can follow the team on Twitter for more Tottenham Hotspur news and opinions!