Two teams forced into fighting it out to maintain their 100% record. Watford came off the back of a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace, while Tottenham had beaten Manchester United 3-0.
Javi Gracia continued with the 4-4-2, making no changes from the team that triumphed over Palace, whereas Mauricio Pochettino rearranged his side into a 3-5-2 shape, bringing in Davinson Sanchez, Michel Vorm and Ben Davies at the expense of Eric Dier, Hugo Lloris and Danny Rose.
Both teams had clear gameplans that barely changed throughout the match. Watford’s was the simpler, sitting back and seeking to stop Spurs playing through the middle by having their strikers block passes into Mousa Dembele, then breaking quickly once the ball was won back, with Jose Holebas and Daryl Janmaat getting high up the pitch to cross for Troy Deeney and Andre Gray.
Tottenham on the other hand seemed to focus on manipulating Watford in the wide areas. The back three circulating the ball, Ben Davies and Keiran Trippier would push up high enough on the flanks so that Roberto Pereyra and Will Hughes would have to pass them on to their full-backs but deep enough so that the full-backs would have to step out of their defensive line to meet them. Once the Watford full-backs had pushed up, one of the back three would then play a long ball into the space that the full-back had vacated to an attacker making a diagonal run. On the left this was Dele Alli and on the right this was Christian Eriksen or, more often, Lucas Moura.
The problem for Spurs was that the Watford centre-backs were live to this threat, moving across to clear up behind their full-backs. Although Alli and Moura both have the technical quality to control these long balls, they each immediately had a Watford defender breathing down their necks, so didn’t have the space to pull off a cross into the waiting Kane and Alli/Moura – the ball instead cannoning into the shins of Christian Kabasele or Craig Cathcart.
Despite this strategy not working, Spurs didn’t change things up and so the match was for the most part stuck at an impasse. Dembele and Eriksen were rendered pretty much useless – the former often left outnumbered in midfield with Pereyra and Hughes tucking inside when their full-backs overlapped. It’s likely the Belgian was chosen as a decoy in the build-up though, his presence included to stop the Watford strikers risking closing down the back three, giving them the time to pick out the long balls over the top, while Eriksen also came deeper in the second half.
Tottenham eventually broke the deadlock. Toby Alderweireld hit a long ball forward, which was headed away, but Eriksen, well-trained at counter-pressing, was quickest to the second ball. The ball found its way via Alli to Moura, whose cross was again deflected, but this time into the net rather than behind. It was scrappy and probably owed more to Pochettino’s counter-pressing, but it did include elements of their gameplan through Alderweireld’s long pass and Moura’s cross.
Watford soon replied though, scoring first from a free-kick and then from a corner – not entirely different from the crosses they were using in open play.
Pochettino then switched to a back four, bringing off Alderweireld for Fernando Llorente, while pushing the full-backs higher, also substituting Davies for Danny Rose. With Watford sitting on their lead, they no longer needed the security of the back three and Llorente was another presence in the box to aim for. Tottenham would spread the play out to the full-backs to cross into their attackers, but a goal never materialised.
Despite its three goals, this game very much felt like a 0-0, with neither team offering a lot to break down their opposition.