Tottenham 1 Crystal Palace 0.
- Two years ago - or even just twelve months ago - this fixture would have been a circled home win for Tottenham, but these are different times and, whether you like him or not, Alan Pardew warrants recognition for having made Crystal Palace an entirely different proposition.
Tony Pulis may have given Palace a spine and taught a lot of these players how to win Premier League games, but Pardew has made them more three-dimensional and has turned them into a side who are as reliant on flair and swift, fluid football as they are on resilience.
Now, the question is two-fold: not only do teams have to plot their way through Palace, but they also have to be mindful of what they can do on the break and how to cope with a group of attacking players who are lethal in space.
- …and the hosts could only answer one of the questions in the first-half, conceding few chances but creating very little of their own.
Spurs, unexpectedly vibrant given their Europa League participation, built pressure in their opponents’ half with their attractive play, but were ultimately restricted by a mixture of their own over-deliberation and the visitors’ solid defensive structure. That’s been the problem with Tottenham so far this season: the closer they get to the final-third, the more the speed drains from their play and the more hesitancy creeps in.
That’s a symptom of a lack of movement and a shortage of advanced, defence-stretching passing options.
- Mauricio Pochettino has cultivated a meritocracy at White Hart Lane and that’s been characterised by his willingness to reward performances by younger players with first-team advancement. On Thursday night, Dele Alli teased and tormented Qarabag from the Number Ten position and, this afternoon, he kept his place in the side - albeit in a deeper role alongside Eric Dier.
It was a learning curve. Alli is unquestionably a very talented technical footballer and he offers a lot of attributes that Spurs need from that position - not least his imaginative passing-range and willingness to go up and into the attacking areas - but this will be a period of trial and error for him. As is to be expected of a player who has made a quantum leap up the divisions, there’s a noticeable hesitation to his play and it will take a while longer before he’s able to occupy the central midfield areas with instinct or authority. Further forward - fine - but in the middle of the pitch there’s more two-way responsibility and he will take a while to adjust to that.
His future could be very exciting indeed, but his present is still subject to the usual caveats about patience and experience.
- Alan Pardew might reflect that he got his team-selection slightly wrong today and that, really, a bolder approach might have alleviated some of the pressure on his defence. As and when Palace went forward, they looked dangerous and their batch of swift, adventurous players at the top of the pitch caused hearts to flutter in the home crowd. But Pardew’s approach was neither one thing nor the other and his side weren’t stable enough in midfield to subdue Tottenham and neither were they willing to commit enough numbers going forward to create any serious problems.
- And the game’s only goal was almost a product of that, with Palace caught high-up the pitch and then punished by Tottenham’s fast counter-attacking break. Should you get the opportunity, note the distance between the two bands of Pardew’s team at the point when Heung Min Son finds the net: it was a chasm and the kind of a tactical anomaly that no manager wants to see during his Monday morning video analysis session.
But that’s really symptomatic of a flawed approach. Attacking away from home is a delicate balance between ambition and self-preservation, but Pardew still failed to find it today - and, great as Spurs’ goal-scoring move was, it made Palace look uncharacteristically naive.
- But it was a fine move nonetheless, started by an exceptionally smart bit of play from Erik Lamela. Lamela is an odd sort of footballer; long periods of awfulness can often be punctuated by excellent, telling contributions, but Sunday was one of the more stable performances of his Tottenham career and his sturdy tackle on the edge of his own box, his vision to spot the advancing Christian Eriksen, and his execution in delivery created the kind of transitional opportunity that Mauricio Pochettino’s players constantly forage for.
Admittedly, the Argentinian preaches the value of retrieving the ball in far more advanced areas, but Lamela’s tackle still flipped Tottenham into the sort of breaking situation that they try to specialise in.
- Heung Min Son’s finish completed a perfect week and it’s no coincidence that Spurs have won all three games in which he’s started. A slightly indifferent start at the Stadium of Light has given way to a real dynamism on the ball and, today, he provided Pochettino with the kind of verticality that none of his other attacking-midfield options are able to regularly produce.
The South Korean also extolls the virtues of a two-footed player. Because Son is able to beat defenders off either foot, those left in isolation with him are unable to over-compensate on one side or the other and, because he can neither be ushered in-field or towards the touch-line, he keeps players constantly off-balance.
When someone with that ability is also quick and can finish, it adds up to a formidable attacking-threat - and that’s what Tottenham have bought for under £20m. If Tottenham were a jolting, creaking machine before his arrival, Son is the splash of WD40 in their gears: he makes them quicker, smoother, and capable of so much more.
- Premier League games are settled on tiny margins and, in this instance, on two pieces of goalkeeping. Hugo Lloris is so consistently excellent for Tottenham that his highlights tend to blend into each other, but his lightning-quick, iron-wristed denial of Bakary Sako will hopefully stand out of the exceptional save that it was.
Down the other end, Alex McCarthy was…well, less impressive. Tottenham’s break was excellent and Son’s shot was fierce, but the reaction of the chasing Palace defenders betrayed just how limp McCarthy’s attempt to keep the ball out was. The finish wasn’t placed and it wasn’t so venomously struck as to be unstoppable, but he allowed it to cut him in half.
Those two incidents were, for both sides, the difference between winning and losing. Spurs deserved the points and were a more constant threat, but how often in the past has fleeting defensive feebleness derailed them during similarly balanced games?
Lloris, with that outstanding stop and his general, flawless contribution, was the real match-winner today.