Talking Tactics

Palace's pacey front four can expose Spurs' frailties

By Adrian Clarke 2 Jan 2023
TT Palace front four

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Patrick Vieira’s Palace are likely to adopt a forceful attacking approach when an out-of-sorts Tottenham Hotspur visit Selhurst Park on Wednesday.  

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Spurs have conceded at least twice in each of their last seven matches, displaying fragility when put under defensive pressure.  

Sensing this weakness, it will be a huge surprise if Vieira does not re-deploy the pacey and direct front four he unleashed in a 2-0 victory at AFC Bournemouth on New Year’s Eve.  

Using Jordan Ayew as the lone striker, with Wilfried Zaha, Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise in behind, Palace boast an exciting quartet who can test the resolve of Antonio Conte’s defence.  

Challenging defenders 

They had previously played together on several occasions, but that win against the Cherries was the first time Vieira had used Ayew as the spearhead of his attack, with Zaha, Eze and Olise in support.

As a foursome in a 4-2-3-1 they provide great pace, but also a strong willingness to run with the ball.

Getting tight to the home forwards - forcing them to pass rather than run at them - will be an integral part of Spurs’ strategy.

Attempted dribbles per match 2022/23
Player Dribbles/90 PL rank
Zaha 4.4 3rd
Olise 3.8 8th
Ayew 3.4 9th
Eze 3.2 16th

Palace’s attacking unit makes up a quarter of the Premier League’s top 16 when it comes to dribbles attempted per 90 minutes.  

Spurs will know all about Zaha’s desire to run with the ball, but Olise and Ayew are also ranked inside the division’s top 10.  

If Spurs afford Vieira’s front men the space they need to dribble at defenders, they could be in trouble.  

Palace’s attackers will not need a second invitation to sprint towards goal with the ball at their feet.  

Pace to burn 

Vieira has tried to implement a more controlled, possession-based approach since taking the helm, but the strength of his side still revolves around speed inside the final third.  

Last time out they were a little more direct than usual, with over 20 per cent of their distribution classified as long.  

We may see a repeat of this at Selhurst Park, especially if Spurs leave space in the channels behind both wing-backs.  

If Conte is worried about his back three, those tactics may force the Spurs head coach to drop his wing-backs a little deeper in a bid to contain them.  

Palace's running stats 22/23
Top speed (km/h) Club rank Sprints/90 Club rank
Zaha 34.6 1st 17.1 1st
Olise 33.2 3rd 14.9 4th
Ayew 32.6 7th 16.7 2nd

While Eze is more of a playmaker who likes the ball to feet, Zaha, Olise and Ayew all boast outstanding athleticism.

The trio love to test their markers with sprints, and if Spurs do not track their runs properly, Palace will find it easy to gain territory.

Varying their movement, they may regularly make runs into space between Spurs’ wide central defenders and wing-backs.  

Accurate, long, diagonal passes from Joachim Andersen are sometimes the catalyst for these sprints.  

Gambling on second-ball flicks or knockdowns, the Eagles’ front men will consistently ask questions.  

Buoyed by their victory at AFC Bournemouth, Palace certainly have the right players and tactical approach to test Spurs’ defensive mettle.  

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