Tottenham’s start to the Premier League season suggests gradual improvement, but the problems are still clear to see at White Hart Lane.
The Sunday game following a Europa League outing must fill Tottenham fans with dread as they trudge back to White Hart Lane for the second time in the space of a few days.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men dropped points at home against Liverpool, West Brom, Newcastle, Stoke and West Ham last season after one of those pesky Europa League fixtures and also lost the Capital One Cup final against Chelsea following a trip to Fiorentina.
To try and counter the problem, Pochettino made five changes to the side that beat FK Qarabag on Thursday and, in the opening exchanges against Crystal Palace, looked fresh and raring to go. They quickly employed a deeper defensive line to counter Palace’s pacey attack of Jason Puncheon, Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie and established a quick tempo by closing down high up the pitch.
They racked up 70% possession after the first ten minutes and continued to see plenty of the ball throughout the game. However, the same old problems began to rise to the surface and another Europa League hangover seemed to be settling in.
Firstly, there was a distinct lack of width which made Tottenham relatively easy to defend against and quite predictable. Son Heung-min, Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli were all attracted to the centre of the field and full-backs Ben Davies and Kyle Walker were only providing overlapping runs sporadically.
In conjunction with the narrow play was the poor quality of Spurs’ final ball. Dele Alli overcooked what was a simple through ball to Son and Harry Kane, clearly desperate to score having now managed just two goals in his last 14 Premier League appearances, deciding to shoot from a ridiculously tight angle when Lamela was in a much better position in the centre.
Had Yohan Cabaye not seen his wonderful effort for Crystal Palace cannon back off the woodwork on the stroke of half-time, the criticisms for Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham’s style of play would have surely come flooding in again.
Those problems were briefly forgotten when Christian Eriksen made his much-anticipated return from injury. Within two minutes of coming on, he delivered the probing pass that Tottenham desperately needed to allow Son to finally break the deadlock. Even then, they were given a huge hand by Palace goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, who somehow managed to be nutmegged.
Pochettino singled out Lamela in a recent press conference after a largely uneventful stint at White Hart Lane almost ended in the summer transfer window.
“I think this is a key season for him. After two seasons at Tottenham, now is the moment for him,” said the Tottenham boss. “We believe we can develop his game and I think we need to be patient with him.”
Lamela may have responded with a goal against FK Qarabag in midweek, but was back to his old, unconvincing self in the attacking midfield role behind Kane. Patience is definitely going to have to be key. He looked to be picking up where he left off with a sharp turn and shot in the 17th minute. However, the indecisiveness soon returned.
Two minutes later, his hesitancy brought an end to another promising Tottenham attack and a needless foul took the pressure off Crystal Palace altogether. He punched the ground in frustration, knowing he needs to do better if he wants to resurrect his career in north London.
His frustrating afternoon was capped off with a yellow card and it is fair to say that Eriksen provided more of an attacking threat in 25 minutes than Lamela did for pretty much the entirety of the game.
Still on borrowed time? I think so.
Bolasie teases Tottenham
Bolasie was strongly linked with a move to White Hart Lane in the summer and the Crystal Palace fans were quick to remind Tottenham to keep their hands off him, albeit in a more impolite fashion.
Bolasie was returning to the scene where he left Eriksen chasing a shadow with an amazing piece of skill down the near the corner and, although it took a while for the winger to find the key to his box of tricks, he would have left another lasting impression on the Tottenham fans. He may have been employed as a central striker of late, but the former Plymouth man would help Tottenham use more of the pitch in attacking areas.
Ben Davies struggled to deal with his power and pace, and his quick feet saw him breeze past two static Tottenham players as Crystal Palace began to claw their way back into the game in the first half. It may not have been his best showing, but it would still come as no surprise to see Spurs reignite their interest again in January.
Alli struggles to adapt
Dele Alli was asked to play an unfamiliar, deeper role alongside Eric Dier and did not provide much evidence on this occasion to suggest he will develop into a deep-lying playmaker.
He actually found himself with plenty of time and space moving into advanced areas of the pitch, but he was caught in possession quite a lot and was guilty of heavy touches, too.
The returns of Ryan Mason and Eriksen will see Tottenham continue to grind out victories, but they are still a long way away from beating teams convincingly and, more importantly, launching a sustained attack on the top four places.
- Spurs’ starting XI in this game had the youngest average age of any team in a Premier League game so far in 2015/16 (24y 118d).
- Son Heung-Min became the seventh different player from Korea Republic to score in the Premier League.
- He is the first player from Korea Rep. to score for Spurs in the PL, meaning that players from 39 different nationalities have scored a Premier League goal for Tottenham.
- 12 of the 15 goals scored in Premier League games involving Palace this season have come after half-time.
- Crystal Palace have won just four of their 23 Premier League games in the month of September (W4 D7 L12).
- Harry Kane has scored just two goals in his last 14 Premier League appearances; this after netting 17 in 15 PL apps prior to this run.
- Spurs have lost just one of their last eight Premier League matches (W4 D3 L1).
- Spurs had 22 shots (inc. blocked) in this match – the most they’ve had in a PL game since Feb 22nd v West Ham (27).
- This was Alan Pardew’s 11th Premier League away game as Crystal Palace manager, but only the third that he’s lost (P11 W8 D0 L3).
By Mark Scott