MARTIN KEOWN TALKS TACTICS: Nuno Espirito Santo can choke Chelsea with back five

MARTIN KEOWN DISCUSSES TACTICS: Nuno Espirito Santo can suffocate Chelsea with back-five and plans to sit-and-hit as pragmatic Portuguese seeks response in London derby

  • Tottenham sat back at Crystal Palace and were beaten 3-0 by the rampant hosts
  • Nuno needs to better understand the expectations of Spurs fans and the club
  • After that loss, we can expect a counter-attack, defending five-to-back XI
  • Aston Villa had success against Spurs’ next opponent Chelsea with a back five











It used to be ‘1-0 for the Arsenal’. After opening the season with three narrow wins, it looked more like ‘1-0 to Tottenham’.

Nuno Espirito Santo is a very pragmatic manager. When he was with Wolves they regularly scored high in terms of counter-attacks and that sit-and-hit strategy is what we can expect from Tottenham under him too.

He wants his squad to be solid in the back, while leveraging the pace of Son Heung-min, Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura. It’s not the smoothest style of football. Tottenham have only had 38 shots in their four games, putting them in 19th place in the Premier League, ahead of Leicester.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s Tottenham side collapsed against Crystal Palace in an under par 3-0 loss

They were in first place after three consecutive wins, then lost 3-0 to Crystal Palace and dropped back to seventh place. It was alarming how Tottenham collapsed at Palace when faced with absent players, an early injury and a red card.

Harry Kane didn’t even manage to score a goal in the penalty area, let alone a shot at his opponent’s goal. Kane hadn’t expected that this season when he thought in the summer that he might switch to the creative machine that is Manchester City.

In three league games, Kane only had two shots on target. That is in stark contrast to Romelu Lukaku, who has been totally ruthless for Chelsea. Nuno’s counterattack doesn’t provide the supply line that Kane deserves.

That kind of performance isn't what star striker Harry Kane (above) expected from this season when it looked like he might be moving to Manchester City in the summer transfer window

That kind of performance isn’t what star striker Harry Kane (above) expected from this season when it looked like he might be moving to Manchester City in the summer transfer window

We can expect a reaction from the Portuguese as his side prepares for Chelsea on Sunday

We can expect a reaction from the Portuguese as his side prepares for Chelsea on Sunday

If Nuno is to be a success at Tottenham, he needs to better understand the expectations of the supporters and the club. His side should have been prepared last weekend to attack and dominate possession. That was no match for sitting deep and letting the rampant hosts destroy his team.

Sunday’s clash, however, is one where Nuno’s cautious approach can be fully expected. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Tottenham lined up with a back-five for the first time this season.

That way, his side will match Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea. It may depend on the personnel available, but Nuno will certainly have weighed up the benefits of this tactical adjustment.

The Spurs could very well switch to a back-five in defense depending on which players are available

The Spurs could very well switch to a back-five in defense depending on which players are available

Aston Villa switched to a back-five at Chelsea last Saturday and although they lost, Dean Smith’s side really caused problems for their opponents. Tuchel’s side managed to win 3-0, but their man of the match was undoubtedly their goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, who Villa denied time and again.

How many times in football has it been said that the hallmark of a title winning team is that they have a bad day but win anyway? Chelsea did that against Villa. Nuno, who has used a back-five at Wolves for years, knows the system inside out, so he will know how to get a result against Chelsea.

Tuchel’s first Premier League game in charge of Chelsea in January 2021 was a tactical draw with Nuno’s Wolves. It was the type where the game could have been played until midnight and it would still be scoreless.

Aston Villa, Chelsea's most recent opponent, had success with a similar system last Saturday

Aston Villa, Chelsea’s most recent opponent, had success with a similar system last Saturday

But Nuno switched from a back-four to a back-five before that 0-0 draw and I expect that on Sunday too.

Nuno has shown that every player has a fresh start with him at the helm. He has reintroduced Oliver Skipp to midfield and has revived Dele Alli, who was disappearing under Jose Mourinho.

After making the perfect start but slipping at Palace, Nuno will try to rebuild Tottenham’s hopes of making it into the top four of the Premier League.

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