They needed that. Tottenham Hotspur may have begun the weekend inside the top four, but a convincing performance was long overdue. In Saturday’s London derby with Chelsea, Mauricio Pochettino’s men delivered it.
Spurs were the better team from start to finish at Wembley. The hosts came flying out of the traps and deservedly took the lead through Dele Alli in the eighth minute, before Harry Kane doubled their advantage shortly after the quarter-hour mark. Son Heung-min added a third nine minutes into the second half, with Olivier Giroud’s late header proving nothing more than a consolation.
In truth, the margin of victory should have been much wider than two goals. Alli, Kane and Son could each have found the net at least twice, while there were also chances for centre-back duo Toby Alderweireld and Juan Foyth. Tottenham may have only had five more shots than Chelsea, but nine of theirs were on target compared to just two of the Blues’. The difference was not just in quantity but quality too, with Spurs’ expected goals figure of 3.37 far outstripping their opponents’ (0.93).
In general play, Alli did a masterful job of stifling Jorginho to ensure Chelsea’s deep-lying playmaker was unable to set the rhythm of his side’s play, Moussa Sissoko continued his fine recent form with another all-action display in the centre of the park, and Christian Eriksen provided a timely reminder of his creative powers in his first league start since September.
This was Tottenham’s 10th win of the Premier League season, but the results have not always told the full story. Defeats of Newcastle, Brighton, Cardiff, West Ham, Wolves and Crystal Palace all came by a single-goal margin, and while Pochettino’s charges impressed in a 3-0 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford, they were comfortably beaten by Liverpool and Manchester City on their own patch.
Although, in fairness to Tottenham, Wembley is not really their own patch. The delayed return to White Hart Lane has left everyone at the club frustrated, and a summer transfer window in which Spurs failed to sign a single player only furthered the sense that all was not well in this corner of north London. For the first time since Pochettino took charge, there were concerns that the team was stagnating.
It is worth remembering, though, that Tottenham’s failure to add to their squad before the start of the season was offset by the fact that not one key player departed, despite Alderweireld, Mousa Dembele and Danny Rose all being linked with moves away. Modern football has become obsessed with transfers, but it was always going to be difficult for Tottenham to strengthen their starting XI with the funds available. The frequent charge that standing still is akin to moving backwards in the Premier League ignores the fact that improvements can come about through coaching as well as cheque-signing, and Tottenham have undoubtedly made strides in the last few years even if the same players continue to make up the core of the squad.
Nevertheless, a statement victory such as Saturday’s was necessary to reinforce faith in the project and build confidence ahead of crunch matches against Inter and Arsenal.
“The attitude and desire, a lot of the time we miss it in many important games,” Pochettino told reporters in his post-match press conference.
“But to compete in this way, the tactics and system are not important, but the attitude and the will were fantastic. Now the challenge for us is to keep the level of competition, and to use [this] as an example for the future. We have in a few days another final [against Inter], and then Arsenal. With this attitude, all is possible.”
Spurs have certainly encountered difficulties both on and off the pitch in the last few months, but they still find themselves in an excellent position with a third of the Premier League campaign gone.
(Greg Lea of thesetpieces.com).
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