Premier League Scouting Report: Andros Townsend vs. Aston Villa
Welcome to the first edition of our Premier League scouting reports: a new series we'll be running every Monday here at B/R.
We take the time to check back on one star individual's performance over the course of the weekend's action, break down his play and use screenshots and diagrams to explain his role in the game plan.
Before the game, Paul Lambert told Sky Sports he had not crafted any particular plans to deal with Townsend, who was riding the high of helping England into the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals.
That was a lie.
He'd be mad to ignore him, especially considering the week he's had, and Lambert produced a hard-working 4-3-3 formation flexible enough to contain Townsend for large chunks of the game.
The winger lined up on the right-hand side of Spurs 4-2-3-1 system, matching up against Antonio Luna, but frequently found himself double- or triple-teamed in the first half.
Luna blocked the line off doggedly, and Gabby Agbonlahor would drop in from left wing to cover inside, meaning Townsend had nowhere to go, nowhere to run and limited passing options.
On the rare occasion Agbonlahor failed to make it back Fabian Delph would file in and block the inside channels, meaning Andros was rendered largely useless for 30 minutes.
Libor Kozak and Andi Weimann were pressing high on the forward line, forcing mistakes and hurried passes from Hugo Lloris and his defensive line.
This high-energy approach from Villa, in addition to singling out and nullifying Townsend, was working wonders; the score was at 0-0 and Spurs were stuck in first gear.
Unfortunately for Lambert, Spurs were dealt a slice of luck in their opening goal.
Townsend engineered a rare yard of space on the right, cut inside and sent a dangerous cross into the box. Everyone missed it, Brad Guzan was drawn to the near post anticipating contact, and the ball skidded in off the wet surface.
This was the key moment in the match—not because it was Townsend who scored, but because going behind forced Villa to change their approach.
A goal down at home, Lambert knew he had to force the game.
He removed the double-marking system holding Townsend in place and allowed Agbonlahor to venture forward and become more of an exclusive attacking option. Delph was freed up to dictate play more, and with Christian Benteke on, the home side gathered pace and began to push for an equaliser.
Suddenly Townsend was free, facing a one vs. one matchup with the defensively shaky Luna and receiving the ball early and often.
One of Spurs' best features over the course of the opening few games—quick switches of play—came into action to get Townsend on the ball, and Villa's defensive line were having to shift 10 yards to the left on a constant basis.
Nathan Baker was having to cover Townsend as the last man, and he was struggling to turn and sprint late on.
The final 20 minutes was when Spurs looked most dangerous, most likely to score, and every attack through Townsend produced a cross into the box or a dangerous layoff/shot.
It was a tale of two halves for Townsend.
In the first he was bottled up, nullified; in the second he was influential, explosive and key to Spurs' attacks.
The first goal changed Lambert's game plan and forced him to remove his protective shield around Luna, and as Villa searched for an equaliser, Townsend had more space to enjoy and more time to terrorise the full-back.
Taking the lead, somehow, was key to getting him into the game. Once he became a factor, he was terrific once again.
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