Had a bit of spare time so decided to analyse how Spurs conceded their first goal against Manchester United last Monday at Old Trafford. Specifically, I wanted to highlight the role Benoit Assou-Ekotto played in the conceding of the goal. Benny, as he’s affectionately known, is a bit of a cult figure, which can occasionally blinker fans to some of his shortcomings, namely his distribution and positioning:
Rooney attempts a long crossfield pass aimed at Nani. Our defence is set up pretty well, with both Nani and Welbeck marked by Assou-Ekotto and Kaboul respectively.
Rooney’s pass falls short of Nani and it’s an easy interception for Assou-Ekotto. He clearly has a number of low risk options. Livermore and van der Vaart are available in space, while he can also play the ball ahead of Bale to run on to. Alternatively, he can simply put his foot through the ball and clear it up field.
Assou-Ekotto fails to pick out one of three available team mates and instead passes the ball straight to Cleverley in a dangerous area. There are three points to note here: 1) Smalling is about to make an overlapping run well tracked by Bale; 2) Benny at this point is still marking Nani; 3) Kaboul is marking Welbeck.
Cleverley spreads the ball to Smalling, who is tracked by Bale. Assou-Ekotto gets sucked in and positions himself behind Bale. In doing so, Assou Ekotto takes himself out of the game. It’s a purposeless position. Nani is now unmarked on the edge of the area. Smalling has nowhere to go and will play the ball back to an unmarked Cleverley (Livermore is also caught ball watching and drifts towards Smalling). At this point, we have three players converging on the ball-carrier.
Smalling passes back to Cleverley who will hit the ball first time. Livermore now closes him down (but it’s too little, too late). Assou-Ekotto is completely out of the game. He’s sat behind Bale doing nothing. There are two options for Cleverley at this point: 1) He slides a reverse pass to Nani who is unmarked inside the area; 2) He crosses to the penalty spot and hopes Rooney or Welbeck can attack the cross.
Kaboul assumes Cleverley will do the former, and takes a step forwards towards Nani in readiness to close him down should Cleverley pass to him.
Kaboul’s step towards Nani leaves him leaden footed as Cleverley hits a first time cross aimed at Welbeck. As Kaboul had motioned towards Nani, Welbeck had pulled off him into space and headed the ball past Friedel. Dawson makes an attempt to defend the cross but it’s too late.
So, the first goal – the catalyst for our 3-0 loss (up until the 60th minute we’d done well, with Man Utd’s goal giving them confidence and momentum, while prompting Redknapp to open the game up further by playing Hudd and vdV in central midfield in a 4-4-2 led by the pretty ineffective Pav and Defoe) – was very much the fault of Assou-Ekotto.
Assou-Ekotto needlessly gifted the ball to Cleverley before taking up a terrible and completely ineffective position. Benny had two opportunities to prevent that goal: The first was to distribute the ball to one of his teammates, the second was to track Nani (which would have enabled Kaboul to focus solely on Welbeck, rather than trying to cover both Welbeck and Nani – an impossible task).
Benny’s a great guy, but that was far from great defending.
Here is how Benny (and the out of position and rather naive Livermore) should have lined up in order to prevent Man Utd’s first goal:
In this photoshopped example, Benny is tracking Nani and has him covered (which would have negated the need for Kaboul to step towards Nani later on, leaving him exclusively to deal with Welbeck). If Smalling does go down the outside around Bale, Benny can close him off. If Smalling goes inside, it’s equally easy for Benny, or Livermore, to close off Smalling.
We’re talking a matter of feet here, but if Benny had not been drawn towards the ball and had stuck with Nani and if Livermore had been a few yards closer to Cleverley, then an out of position CB would have had limited options and limited room in the corner of the pitch and I’m sure the attack would have been snuffed out.