TEAMtalk analyses the major talking points from Tottenham’s win over Sunderland, with concern around Christian Eriksen’s role despite the Dane’s double.
Vertonghen gave Cats reason to follow Foxes
Jan Vertonghen was probably still seething at defeat when he took a swipe at Leicester’s style of play after the Foxes had left White Hart Lane with three points on Wednesday, but the Spurs defender may have given Sam Allardyce the blueprint to deny his hosts on Saturday.
Vertonghen said of the Foxes: “They always approach every game in the same way, so we knew what to expect. They kick every ball they get long and run. And when they don’t have the ball, they all defend. But it works for them.
“Everyone knows what their qualities are. It’s frustrating but they prepare well. They play the ball up to their strikers and are good from set-pieces. They play that game very well.”
Vertonghen could have been describing Sunderland under Allardyce, and the Spurs centre-half was likely to be feeling the same frustration before the Black Cats boss tinkered and handed Tottenham the initiative.
Spurs wide boys crave centre stage.
For the first hour, Tottenham looked short of ideas. Their lack of width and slow build-up played into Sunderland’s hands, as the visitors’ five-man midfield retained their shape and discipline.
Allardyce’s side were helped by Eriksen and Erik Lamela’s insistence on playing almost within touching distance of Dele Alli through the middle. If Mauricio Pochettino was looking to his full-backs to provide the width, they failed to do so, with neither successfully completing a cross from inside the final third.
Eriksen finished with a brace but he has given Pochettino a poser to ponder. The Dane this week was reported by the London Evening Standard to be ‘growing increasingly mystified’ at his role in the Spurs side and his lack of opportunities in his favoured role – the No.10 position.
The former Ajax star was handed an opportunity to play more centrally on Wednesday but he failed to impress in the defeat to Leicester. Dele Alli’s form made it an easy decision to reinstate the England youngster to the playmaker role – but too often he was stifled by Eriksen and Lamela coming inside. When Sunderland were alert, it was too simple for them to snuff out Spurs’ attacking threat.
Of course, no one would want to stop either Eriksen or Lamela coming off the flank, such is their ability to unpick a defence. But Tottenham need more variety from their wide forwards. If they drift inside with the ball then that at least offers the full-backs the opportunity to overlap but Sunderland were more than happy to see Eriksen and Lamela take up central starting positions.
Pickford capable of keeping Cats’ place
Jordan Pickford became the third goalkeeper Sam Alardyce has picked in the Premier League and the England Under-21 stopper showed why is worthy of being trusted with the gloves for the remainder of the season.
Allardyce said this week that he could be willing to let either Vito Mannone or Costel Pantilimon leave this month, with Pantilimon the most likely to make an exit. The giant Romanian possessed the No.1 spot when Allardyce took over in October but Mannone was gifted a four-match run in the side from Christmas. A very shaky performance in the midweek win at Swansea combined with Pickford’s potential saw Mannone dropped to the bench at White Hart Lane.
Allardyce explained the decison before kick-off: “Pickford is an excellent young ‘keeper. I’m seeing if he can stand up to the pressure of a league game.” Despite conceding four, Pickford passed the test. He stood no chance with any of the goals and made fine diving saves to deny Harry Kane twice and Eriksen. More convincing even than his saves was Pickford’s dominance of his box and fine distribution.
The 21-year-old has served his apprenticeship in the Football League having made over 100 appearances in spells at Darlington, Burton Albion, Carlisle, Bradford and, most recently, Preston. A relegation battle may not be the ideal environment for a young stopper to flourish in – but Pickford is comfortably as capable as either of the two senior stoppers at the Stadium of Light.
Big Sam’s big mistake
Sunderland appeared comfortable at 1-1 until Allardyce opted to shift to a three-man defence. After that, chaos ensued.
The manager introduced new signing Jan Kirchhoff for Danny Graham, six minutes after Lee Cattermole was withdrawn for Jack Rodwell. Within a minute of the second change, Sunderland were behind.
Before Allardyce tinkered, Tottenham were being frustrated by Sunderland’s organisation and compact shape. Cattermole’s withdrawal was understandable, if perhaps a little premature, given the hot-headed midfielder was carrying a yellow card and cannot be trusted entirely to avoid another. The change of shape prompted by Kirchhoff’s introduction is rather more difficult to explain given how comfortable the Black Cats appeared to be.
Both substitutes were culpable for Tottenham’s crucial third goal. Rodwell was nowhere to be seen in the middle of the park as Eriksen bore down on the penalty area, while Kirchhoff…
Debut hell for the Hoff
As debuts go, Kirchhoff’s was one to forget, though that may be easier said than done for Sunderland fans.
The 25-year-old was given his bow on 59 minutes as Allardyce saw fit to fix a system that didn’t seem to be broken. Kirchhoff moved alongside John O’Shea and Wes Brown as the right-sided centre-half of the three.
Within eight minutes of his introduction, Sunderland had conceded twice. He was not at fault of Dembele’s strike – Spurs’ second – but the embarrasment came quickly after.
The confusion in the Sunderland midfield exposed Kirchhoff, who was clearly reluctant to come out and confront Eriksen. But his attempt to block the Dane’s shot cannot be described even as half-hearted. The 6ft 5ins giant shrank as he turned his back on the ball and waved a leg, which caught Eriksen’s effort and sent it looping into the top corner, leaving Pickford stranded.
Kirchoff compounded his and Sunderland’s misery 11 minutes from time by letting Danny Rose escape behind him before needlessly sending the Spurs left-back crashing to the ground.
In mitigation, Kirchoff has been with Sunderland only a week and given the Black Cats have played three away games – two trips to north London sandwiching a trek to Swansea – it is unlikely the former Bayern Munich man has had more than one full training session with his new team-mates. Positionally, his naivety can be excused for now, but his two biggest mistakes were basic technical errors. Premier League history is littered with centre-halves who thrived after poor starts, but Kirchhoff has to shape up sharpish as Sunderland fight the drop.