Football Features

“Width the key” – Five things learned as Tottenham come from behind against Olympiacos

By charlie.bradley

Published: 22:10, 26 November 2019

Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur recovered from a desperate first 20 minutes against Olympiacos to complete a defiant turnaround and qualify for the last-16 of the Champions League.

Youssef El-Arabi punished a poor clearance from Danny Rose to score from distance before Ruben Semedo tapped home from a corner, putting the Greek champions 2-0 up within 20 minutes.

But Dele Alli capitalised on a defensive error just before half-time to set up an incredible fight back from the North Londoners, as Harry Kane equalised from a Lucas cross before Serge Aurier powered home Alli’s linked cross to complete the turnaround.

Kane added a fourth with a header from a set piece to send Mourinho’s side into the last-16 alongside Group B toppers Bayern Munich, who Spurs will face at the Allianz Arena two weeks time.

Here are five things we learned from Mourinho’s first home game in charge.

1.Dier and Winks are in big trouble

A defining feature of Mauricio Pochettino’s downfall at Spurs was his side’s gradual abandonment of the press. Tottenham, for so long, were an extension of their boss’ best traits: tenacity, industry and aggression. The first 25 minutes of Tuesday’s win showed just how far they have fallen.

The midfield was as passive as it has been since the beginning of this season. Daniel Podence and Youssef El-Arabi were the greatest beneficiaries of this, turning with freedom, advancing unopposed and reaping the rewards as the Greek champions blew away their hosts with energy and verve.

Eric Dier was tipped to be the cornerstone of a Tottenham side in Jose Mourinho’s mould – rugged, physical and tough to breakdown. His departure after 29 minutes said it all. The double pivot of Dier and Harry Winks evaporated for the first goal, with the former in no man’s land and the latter producing a woeful attempt at a tackle. El-Arabi’s finish was superb but it wasn’t without assistance.

Meanwhile, Moussa Sissoko and Tanguy Ndombele watched on from the bench with the former coming on midway through the second half. Both possess all of the qualities Spurs lacked against Olympiacos.

If Mourinho is to revive his midfield with energy and robustness at least one of the two Frenchmen will surely be introduced to the starting line up.

2. Width the key for Jose

Whenever Mourinho arrives at a new club, the big conundrum usually surrounds how his pragmatic approach will impact his forward players. Some thrive, like Eden Hazard at Chelsea. Others look as though their prowess has deserted them overnight. Dele Alli showed on Saturday and indeed against Olympiacos with his goal that he can return to his best under his new manager, but the wide players in Tuesday’s game looked frustrated, and worse, limited.

The striking aspect of Tottenham’s forward play in the first half especially, was their lack of width. Perhaps Mourinho wanted to tighten his side in defensive transition, but with the ball at their feet Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura looked lost. The Brazilian spent much of the game inside the opposition full back, crippled by the congested centre of the pitch an unable to use his pace.

Ironically, Spurs’ first goal did come from out wide when Serge Aurier found Alli in the box, but a poor cross was given a charitable route to Spurs’ goalscorer  thanks to  Yassine Mariah miss-kick. Better opposition and Spurs would have trundled into the half time break still two goals down.

The equaliser? For the first time in the game Lucas found himself in space on the right hand side, and the result was predictable. His pull back for Harry Kane was all the evidence needed to suggest that Mourinho’s attacking set up in the first half was too restrictive.

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3. Mourinho playing to Alli’s strengths.

Another reason Mourinho should play with more width? Because Alli is deadly in the box. The assist would go to Meriah in a just world, but nonetheless the Englishman took advantage because he was in the right place at the right time. If you rewind to his better days in a Lilywhite shirt, Alli’s elusive movement into the 18-yard box was his bread and butter.

One only has to watch Tottenham’s 2-0 win over Chelsea in January 2017. Two crosses, two headers and two goals. And while Mourinho is helping Alli, the favour may actually be returned as the Portuguese manager is not one to snub goal-sniffing midfielders.

Frank Lampard was a different kind of goalscorer, but nonetheless is a player that Alli can draw from in his post-Pochettino career. Another – believe it or not – is Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian often drifted into the box to provide a threat under Mourinho. Alli possesses this same knack and much more, and should therefore prove to be invaluable to his new boss.

4. Potent Podence

Not many outside of Portugal or Greece will be overly familiar with Daniel Podence. The 24-year-old winger completed more passes than anybody else in the first half, and was at the heart of Olympiacos’ attacking threat.

Spurs clearly hadn’t learned their lesson from the first leg. It was Podence’s wonderful give and go and drilled finish that brought the side from Athens back into the game in the reverse fixture.

On Tuesday, with the hosts so passive off the ball in the first half, Podence along with El Arabi and Giorgos Masouras only needed to utilise their dynamism to punish a lacklustre Spurs.

A future note for teams facing Olympiacos. Don’t afford Podence time and space.

5. Naive Olympiacos wasted their Champions League chance.

Olympiacos haven’t reached the knockout rounds since the 2013/2014 season, in which they progressed from a group including Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica and Anderlecht. While they certainly weren’t fancied this time round, the Greek side will look back at this campaign as a massive opportunity missed.

Losing to Red Star Belgrade on matchday two has proved costly, and will be an especially disappointing result given they were leading the game before a red card turned the tide instantly.

Dropping points against Bayern Munich is obviously forgivable but having taken the lead against the German giants, more resilience could have seen them take a crucial point at least.

Spurs represented the real opportunity for scalp taking in this group. If Olympiacos hadn’t started so poorly on matchday one, Tottenham’s defensive frailties would have surely resulted in the perfect start for the Greek champions.

Tuesday’s collapse displayed where Pedro Martin’s side rank amongst Europe’s best. Naivety? Nerves? Whatever it was cost them, Olympiacos’ wait for a knockout fixture goes on.

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