Reading 1-3 Tottenham: Fluid Spurs Fluster Flat Royals

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Reading 1-3 Tottenham: Fluid Spurs Fluster Flat Royals
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Tottenham finally broke through the winless barrier on Sunday after a thorough performance against a Reading side that looked like they were the last bits of molasses dripping out of a mason jar.

Perhaps a layoff of over three weeks is not the ideal strategy for playing consistent football for the Royals, but time is a valuable commodity for Tottenham.

Getting a win of such ease in the end begets time for the squad to continue to shape-up under Andre Villas-Boas, who is obviously getting some of his ideas some of his ideas across as Sunday’s match showed.

Spurs were not able to capitalize on a few gilt-edged chances in the first half and made supporters sweat a little bit again after Reading improved after the break, but after Gareth Bale’s peg-leg goal, all seemed better in the white half of North London.

That Jermain Defoe iced the match shortly thereafter made the match enjoyable, though a late consolation for Reading showed again that the defense is not yet ready for 90-plus minutes.

What is notable about this match, aside from the fact that Tottenham won and got off the one-goal-a-match hump is that Spurs looked a much more fluid side right from the start.

Certainly a few eyebrows were raised when Defoe was listed on the starting XI team sheet, Clint Dempsey was on the bench and Hugo Lloris was not drinking heavily right next to the American.

However, Defoe justified the selection for more reasons than simply scoring twice.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

From the off, there were some noticeable differences between Tottenham’s previous outings and Sunday’s showing.

For starters, Gylfi Sigurdsson was not playing right up Defoe’s backside as had been the case in two of the first three matches.

Sigurdsson instead drifted into pockets of space along the entire realm of the pitch but in particular moved over to the right side of the formation.

Moussa Dembele was even further forward that in his debut against Norwich while Sandro stayed deep and central, giving the central defensive pair of Jan Vertonghen and William Gallas a forward-passing option.

That in itself seems a miniscule factor, but having the ability to move the ball forward instead of side-to-side all the time made a difference in how Spurs dealt with the limited Reading pressure.

Dembele and Sandro also seemed to form a good understanding in this match. If Sandro ever decided to move forward on the ball, Dembele hung back and covered the deep position, a positive sign of understanding in the center of the park.

Most importantly in this game was that Dembele, Bale, Sigurdsson and Defoe often moved about the pitch and popped up at different places frequently.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Defoe drifted from side-to-side much like Emmanuel Adebayor has done in the past, often with Bale leading the line briefly or Sigurdsson pushing forward.

Dembele would move forward into space when Sigurdsson moved to the right, while Defoe would drop back. Bale would pop up on the same side as Aaron Lennon and would combine with Kyle Walker down the flank.

This movement at times had Reading guessing on who to defend and was a major component of the first goal.

Sigurdsson took a pass from Dembele well behind his usual spot and drifted off to the right with Walker in the vicinity and Lennon in front of him.

Sigurdsson’s pass to a rushing Lennon was perfect and the winger burst past two defenders and into the 18-yard box.

Defoe, meanwhile, was sitting at the midfield level, along with Bale and Dembele, meaning no one in the Reading defense, save the left-back, was marking anyone.

Upon the pass, Defoe burst past the midfield and went unnoticed by the defense, who assumed someone in the midfield was tracking the forward.

The defense all moved backwards to match Lennon while the Reading midfield, which also had left Sigurdsson alone, hardly moved during the entire buildup.

This created a massive chasm between the lines, into which Defoe was left alone as Lennon cut the ball back and the England man made no mistake from 12 yards out.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Off-the-ball movement worked in Spurs’ favor on the second goal as well, combined with some individual skill from Walker.

Walker waltzed past the same pair of Reading defenders that Lennon had blown by earlier and cut back to the same spot Defoe had scored from.

Defoe this time moved into the area and caught the attention of the central defensive pair. The defenders responded to him first, rather than the ball’s flight.

Bale, meanwhile, instead of being out on the left, was in the position normally occupied by Sigurdsson, who was behind and level with Dembele.

The cross came in and, as the defensive line had moved with Defoe, left Bale unmarked from 12 yards out to hit a peg-leg shot for the second goal.

Bale returned the favor on the third goal, which was easily the simplest of the three.

A throw and a flick saw Defoe motoring towards goal with Bale in support. Bale, instead of holding to the left, moved right and drew both defenders towards him.

Defoe simply moved to the left with the new alley that was created and smashed home a left-footed finish, one that begged the question: why did he not use that same foot in earlier chances?

The goals were demonstrative of the movement but it was the constant interchanges that left Reading in a heap repeatedly.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

The Royals were not ready when Tottenham’s front five switched around and often left a man or two unmarked in dangerous areas, really only surviving with several slices of luck until Bale’s goal.

It will be interesting to see if Lennon joins the movement party. It was understandable that he should want to stay on the right as Reading simply could not handle him there.

However, he might pick up a cue or two from Defoe, whose movement made it difficult for the Reading defense to track him in crucial situations and whose pestering up-front nearly resulted in two other goals.

All in all, it was a well-built Tottenham performance that showed the inklings of a style of play that should give opponents fits for some time.

Bagging three more points next week against QPR would do wonders for the club’s confidence as the fixture after that is quite a different proposition: Manchester United at Old Trafford.

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