The Game Model Assessment Part 1: Tottenham’s Attack [in possession].

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In July Mauricio Pochettino started his fifth season in charge of  Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Honestly, I was skeptical of the chairman’s, Daniel Levy, decided to hire a relatively unknown manager who abandoned Southampton FC for the Lily Whites of North London.  Anyway, that’s why Daniel Levy is the chairman, and I’m one of many die supporters hoping to see the club lift another trophy in my lifetime. Ten years is much too long, especially when we were so close two years ago gives me hope that it is possible and can be achieved.

The purpose of this post is to make good on a tweet to conduct an evaluation of  Spurs’ using the game model approach to assess them at each of the four moments of the game. I realize my support for Spurs can bias this evaluation, however, to minimize bias I am entrusting a few people to review and edit drafts before I release on social media.

Further, I want this piece to be comprehensive and user-friendly as possible, so it is accessible to my followers. To achieve that I will use as little jargon as possible and provide thorough explanation and resources explaining key football terms (see jadamsftbl). So without further ado let’s move to Part 1: Attack in Possession

Key term: Game Model?

What is a football game model? A game model is the team’s specific model for how to play. It consists of various concepts which basically are the group of movements, positions, and skills that the player in possession of the ball and the players that don’t have the ball develop with certain variables such as the ball, opponent, teammates and the overall model of play determined by the coach. Further, the game model consists of moments (1) Attack in Possession; (2) Transition to Defense; (3) Defense out of Possession; (4) Transition to Attack.  Within each principle are sub-principles, and sub-sub-principles of play that representing different moments of the game (Oliveira, 2003).  Hopefully, that made sense and if you need more, I am happy to provide you with an additional resource.

Spurs’ Attack in Possession

A takeaway from the previous section is the game model are a coach’s ideas and concepts and guiding principles to operationalize his playing style, right. And it is safe to say to achieve our primary objective; score goals, we need to (1) be in possession and (2) have access to our teammates to progress up the pitch. The first point is critical, we can’t score goals if we don’t have possession. Sounds simple but not easy or straightforward. Football is a complex sport with a ton of moving parts, and it takes time, energy, and players spend many hours on the training ground learning behaviors and patterns. These behaviors and habits will express a collective dynamic behavior, revealing a specific playing identity, which could be called a functional organization (Delgado-Bordonau and Mendez-Villanuev, 2012). The buildup phase is used at the highest levels of global football.


For example, Marcelo Bielsa used it at Athletic Club Bilbao and Olympique Marseille; Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, Bayern, and Manchester City; Roberto De Zerbi at Calcio Foggia and Sassuolo. The approach and purpose behind Lavolpiana are simple: create numerical advantages when building an attack from out the back by having a backline of 3 players advance the ball utilizing the midfield and arriving in the final third with purposeful possession.

For example, Spurs achieve this when Dier drops in between Alderweireld and Vertonghen who split to the edge of the 18yd box.  This movement creates an overload against the opponent’s first line. An important component of  Lavolpiana is Spurs’ keeper (Lloris), he needs to support and create a diamond shape during the build-up phase.


Wingers and fullbacks. Son and Lucas shift centrally (half-spaces) to overload the middle of the pitch or they move up to the final third to pin the opponent’s fullbacks, keeping them deep in their defensive shape.  Kane works on stretching the opponent’s defensive form by starting high in between the opponent’s center-backs. These movements provide the opportunity for wide areas to be free and/or create penetrating passes to the center-mids due how separated opponent’s defensive shape has become.


Trippier and Rose provide width higher up the pitch (close to the midfield line). Eriksen/Dele/Lamela looks to support the position left by Dier or find space between the opponent’s midfield unit to help break defensive lines. The attacking player uses quick combinations and rotations to disrupt the opposition’s defensive structure.  Erik sen dynamic movement in the right wide and half spaces or when he drops deep to support the build-up is problematic for players assigned to mark him.

The buildup phase is used at the highest levels of global football. For example, Marcelo Bielsa used it at Athletic Club Bilbao and Olympique Marseille; Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, Bayern, and Manchester City; Roberto De Zerbi at Calcio Foggia and Sassuolo.  Pochettino added a slight twist to his interpretation of  Lavolpiana. Like others, he used short passes and patient possession. The keeper and central defenders circulate the ball to coax the opposition’s first line to press, therefore, opening space in midfield. Previously pivots weren’t heavily relied upon in the build-up. However, Dembele/Winks/Dier and Wanyama are responsible for progressing the ball further than in the past. In addition to that, Spurs’ pivots work between the lines create numerical superiority and arrive in the final third and create chances for Kane. Whenever Dembele or Winks cant break through centrally they’ll lay off a pass to one of the fullbacks (see below).


It is important to note that Pochettino spent his first couple of seasons building his team and style of play around his game model. In this section, we discussed the Spurs attack [in possesion], and patient build-up from out the back and their incredibly fast wingers and fullbacks look to pin the opponents back four. We discussed the importance of pivots and their contributions in the final third. On a whole Spurs are an incredibly good side, but they could use one or two marquee signing s to help bring them to that next level.  The next post will look at Spurs transition to defense and my observation of their strengths and weakness.

The Author

Football mad and obsessed depending on the day of the week. All jokes aside I am a husband, father, criminal justice researcher, and novice football analyst.


  1. Steve B says

    Interesting read, definitely agree that Tottenham could use a couple more players to really challenge for silverware.

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