Tribalfootball.com's tactical expert Connor Holden reviews Ange Postecoglou's first weeks in charge of Tottenham and breaks down how he has successfully transformed the team's style of play.
Since his arrival, Tottenham have won 3 of their first 4 Premier League fixtures, drawing the other game against Brentford on the opening day. They have scored 11 goals, which is the most in the league over the first 4 games, joint with Manchester City.
But what does Postecoglou bring to Tottenham? What is his style/philosophy and what has he done to get Spurs firing to start this season, even without their old star man Kane?
POSTECOGLOU'S 2-5-3 SHAPE AND BUILD-UP:
Image 1 - Spurs starting formation
Image 2 - Spurs in possession
These two images show how Tottenham's lineup from the start of the game (image 1) and the way it looks in build up/possession (image 2).
Postecoglou looks to invert both of his fullbacks, and push both of his 8s higher on, to create that 2-3-5 shape you can see in image 2. This gives his side a numerical advantage in central areas, with shorter distances between the players, to make quicker interchanges in the first build up phase.
However unlike some teams who play more rigid positionally, Postecoglou doesn't mind his players rotating to occupy different spaces, within the same tactical format. An example of this is when James Maddison drops deeper to receive the ball, Destiny Udogie will vacate the space allowing Maddison to drop in, this then allows Udogie to drift forwards into the half space which is now vacated.
The above two images show the type of rotation we are speaking about with Maddison and Udogie. This forms a triangle on the left side for build up, and makes the opposition team make decisions, on whether to go man for man and follow their man in rotations (which will leave big spaces in behind to exploit), or whether to swap men, and mark the area rather than the man, which can then be exploited by making off ball runs.
This can be done on both sides, with Pape Sarr dropping in, and Pedro Porro drifting into the right half space, the same as Udogie does on the left side with Maddison.
The fluidity of rotations for Postecoglou's side makes them harder to predict, and allows them to build up with multiple different variations, whilst being within the same build up structure and shape.
For Postecoglou's system, it is important that each role is fulfilled by the perfect player type, as each position relies on that player to do their job, to make the whole team tick.
The key performers so far for Spurs this season have been new signings James Maddison and Micky Van der ven along with defensive midfielder Yves Bissouma. Of course the inverted fullbacks have been extremely important too, as they have a pivotal role in the function of the team, but we have touched on them a lot already, and I believe these three players have elevated Tottenham to the next level under Postecoglou.
Starting with Maddison, his ability to create for Tottenham from anywhere on the pitch has made him a nightmare in Postecoglou's system, with rotations between himself and the inverted fullback giving him even more space to operate.
The positional fluidity in Postecoglou's system allows Maddison the creative freedom to retrieve the ball in central areas as well as out wide, and has allowed him to drop deeper, as well as making runs forward in the half spaces.
This allows him to be the conductor of the team, picking passes from deep and receiving the ball in dangerous areas around the box, where he can have a shot on goal, or play the pass. Maddison has contributed to four goals already in the Premier League, with two goals and two assists.
The second player worth highlighting is Bissouma and his role at the base of midfield for Spurs.
The reinvigorated form of Bissouma has been a standout factor for Postecoglou's Spurs and their success in recent weeks. His ability to break up play when Tottenham push high up the pitch, but also to be the centre point of any build up for Spurs is what makes him so important.
In all build up patterns, Bissouma is the centre point for Tottenham, he is the one forming triangles on both sides of the pitch in the first phase of build up and he is the one covering those central areas when they lose possession and the opposition break.
The way Postecoglou wants his team to play, Bissouma is excellent as he can play simple passes in the patterns he is being asked, but he also has the ability to drive through midfield and take players out of the game by driving through the opposition press.
His press resistance is a key attribute playing in that central area, and gives Tottenham more variety in their ways of building up and progressing the ball in the first few phases of play. His athleticism allows him to cover ground to make ball recoveries and protect the defence, as well as contributing to all aspects of play, making him a pivotal point of focus for Spurs.
Another new signing, defender Micky van der Ven, has also been instrumental.
The signing of van der Ven is very good for a simple matter, he is extremely fast and physical, and very good at recovery defending. With the expansive football Postecoglou wants to play, he inverts his fullbacks and tries to pack central areas, therefore if Tottenham lose the ball the opposition's obvious out ball is the two flanks where the fullbacks have vacated that space.
So having defenders like van der Ven and Cristian Romero is extremely important, as they can make quick movements to cover the danger in those spaces. They can use their physicality and speed to win those duels and stop any counter attacks developing.
Van der Ven is also very good with the ball, and likes to use his power to drive from defence into space, this is another way for Tottenham to build up and progress the ball, as he is willing to drive through midfield if he sees a chance to do so, using his pace and power.
SON AS A STRIKER?
The last thing I want to touch on is the loss of Harry Kane, and how Postecoglou has looked to fix this issue.
In the first few games, we saw Son deployed out wide, with Richarlison through the middle. However in the last game for Spurs, Son was used as the central number 9, and Manor Soloman was brought in as the left winger.
Son being the focal point for Tottenham allows for better rotations in forward areas. Son is capable of coming deep to receive the ball, playing as a false 9 and allowing the wingers to make runs in behind, into central spaces that Son has vacated by making a movement into a deeper area.
He is also very good at making runs in behind, and stretching the opposition defence. This works especially well when you have a creator like Maddison, who is looking for those defence splitting passes over the top.
By using Son as the striker, it allows him to be closer to goal where he is more dangerous, and also to contribute more, by floating into different areas of the pitch, rather than having to hold his width on the left in a more rigid position in Postecoglou's system. The wingers are the least rotational as they mainly keep their width and make runs into the box from their flank. This means with Son playing centrally he can drift deeper to get on the ball, as well as making runs into both channels and central areas, where he can affect the game more.
By doing this Postecoglou has managed to solve the Harry Kane issue, without dipping into the transfer market, and this will allow Spurs to reassess in later transfer windows if they want to stick with Son as a striker, or make a move for a different number 9.
In conclusion, Ange Postecoglou has done a brilliant job at transforming this Tottenham team in such a short space of time, going from a very rigid positional strategy under Antonio Conte and interims last season, to a very expansive philosophy.
The way he has solved problems at the club using little money, and has built a team that looks well oiled in build up structure is a testament to his coaching so far. He has formed a team that look ruthless in attack already, and want to score more goals than the opposition team, even if they do concede one or two in the process.