Another week, another tactics board for the weekend's European footballing action.
On the table we've got West Ham United's astonishing nullification of Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa's toothless approach and the small matter of Bayern Munich's David Alaba.
Spurs Ignore the Left
The opening 10 minutes of Tottenham 0-3 West Ham were a little odd, as the Hammers produced a curious defensive setup that the home side simply failed to get their head around.
After recycling the ball across the back line multiple times and deducing that Sam Allardyce had decided to block the middle, Spurs went to their usual, go-to option: attack down the right.
Andros Townsend, situated on the wing, saw a lot of the ball in the first half and worked Razvan Rat extremely hard; twice the young Englishman sent in extremely dangerous balls for the defence to scrape clear and, despite a lack of end product, looked a lively out-ball for Andre Villas-Boas' side.
The same cannot be said for the left.
Gylfi Sigurdsson played from that side and, as we know, he's not a natural, touchline-hugging winger. He was unable to maintain width, meaning Spurs' formation crinkled into a lopsided shape that was easier to contain, while the Icelandic midfielder also missed a few chances to steam in at the back post and pick up a goal.
West Ham were in a stubborn, disciplined mood, but Spurs only made it worse for themselves by shrinking the areas in which they could play. With Nacer Chadli sat twiddling his thumbs on the bench, you have to question AVB's reactionary substitutions.
Perhaps the biggest factor in this one-dimensional outlook was the absence of Danny Rose. The left-back, newly returned from a successful loan spell at Sunderland, has been a revelation in AVB's defence.
He's carved out a first-team role for himself early on and forced Benoit Assou-Ekotto out on loan, so to miss him in the XI was a big blow.
There were concerns the team, housing both Kyle Walker and Rose, would be unbalanced, undisciplined and a little post-Eric Abidal Barcelona-esque in the full-back area, but the converse effect is arguably worse.
Hammers Play Without a Striker?
With Andy Carroll out, Allardyce has been desperately trying to find a formula that will work up front.
Modibo Maiga was benched for the visit to White Hart Lane with Ricardo Vaz Te selected, and while the selection was a little surprising on paper, in practice the reasoning behind it became clear.
Ever the activist in sharing his brilliance, Big Sam gleefully explained his 4-6-0-esque system post-match to Sky Sports:
We thought we would drop the front man out and play more attacking players from midfield, with players from deep running forward.
The two wide men in Vaz Te and Stewart Downing would run inside, meaning the centre halves would never quite know who they were coming up against.
It was a big risk, but he essentially decided to lay faith in his sturdy defensive line—led by a spectacular Winston Reid—and packed the midfield with physical players in Ravel Morrison, Mohamed Diame, Mark Noble and Kevin Nolan.
Downing and Vaz Te, the team's two attackers, took different angles and channels with each surge forward, and Allardyce simply asked, as per his live interview with talkSPORT on Monday morning, for a little more efficiency in the second half to break the deadlock.
A set piece did the trick, Spurs were at a loss on how to break the system down—beaten physically and tactically—and the Hammers finished the job off with successive counters.
Villa Fail when Made to Force the Issue
If you're thinking of catching up on some Premier League action from this weekend by taking in a full game, make sure you do not pick Hull City vs. Aston Villa.
Forecasting the game, you'd expect Hull—a side very happy to control possession via Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore—to monopolise the ball as Villa—a counterattacking outfit—absorb pressure and hit the home side on the break.
The exact opposite occurred, and at one stage Villa had accrued 73 percent possession yet fashioned only one meaningful attempt on goal.
Centre-backs Ron Vlaar and Ciaran Clark endlessly recycled the ball in and out of Fabian Delph's feet in defensive midfield, and each time they looked forward, no attacking pass opened itself up.
You can bottle the 90-minute "spectacle," add it to the second half against Liverpool in which Villa dominated the ball and did little with it and present it as clear evidence for the club's requirement to purchase a No. 10 in the transfer window.
Charles N'Zogbia would have been the perfect wild card to play in this match, but Paul Lambert doesn't appear convinced by him, and he's out with a long-term Achilles tear anyway.
Bonus Talking Point: David Alaba
Is David Alaba the best left-back in world football? It's certainly worth asking the question.
Fresh from dominating Micah Richards and Jesus Navas at the Etihad Stadium last week, the Austrian put in a similarly excellent performance at the BayArena against Bayer Leverkusen.
He gave Giulio Donati fits and forced Sidney Sam into defensive positions detrimental to Sami Hyypia's counterattacking strategy. He has the physical presence and technical prowess to absolutely own a left flank on his own, freeing Franck Ribery up to pick and choose his positions nearer to goal.
The art of crossing hasn't been lost on him either, and he continually pings superb deliveries in from the byline to pick out his teammates.
All this from a converted midfield playmaker? It's astonishing to think Hoffenheim ran an Alaba-Luiz Gustavo duo as recently as 2011.
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