Opinion: A special win

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Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

This is how Jose does it. And how, to be fair, our team under Poch did it in the Champions League all last spring. An early goal, a frustrating Dier miss off the post, a few fizzled opportunities involving Dele, Son and Kane, and meanwhile Wolves simply bossed nearly the entire game.

For large sections it was as if they were a man up as they pressed us, linked up beautifully in the midfield, sent Traore on search and destroy missions over and over again down our left flank, and seemed constantly on the verge of scoring. Jiminez just missed, our defence was generally well-organized and held but for the Traore run down the middle and brilliant strike for their goal, and Gazzaniga came up with the one late world class save on the headed corner that turned out to be necessary.

And then Super Jan was in the right place at the right time as he almost was in Amsterdam in May—his placement was perfect, Patricio was a bit slow, and with margins like that come all three points and now the clear path to the Top Four finish that seemed a pipe dream just a month ago. Jose knew just how important this game was with his final whistle celebration, and also how much quality Spurs were facing from the opposition—knock on wood but I see little way Chelsea will pose an equally tough challenge at the New Lane next weekend.

Huge credit to Lucas for a stupendous opener, and many plaudits to the goalkeeper and back four who did nearly everything they could to keep Wolves at bay. The problem, dear friends, is in the midfield, and it is not simply in the “pivot”—Dier and Sissoko today, Winks or Ndembele on another day. It is the entire failure of the five midfielders or attackers—and sometimes the sixth when Kane is at fault– to do what Wolverhampton did seamlessly for nearly the entire 90 minutes. Their passes, headers and linkups were pristine—purpose behind each, leading to an inevitable attack, generally isolating Traore on the right or someone else in the middle or left wing that was going to put our defence under the cosh. I could count on one hand the number of times that our quintet produced something similar.

It was partly due to some advanced pressing by them, to be sure, making a long ball or diagonal often the only option. But in our end, when the situation cried out for some possession to relieve an increasingly harried back four, possession was a sometime thing, as a pass went awry or a player was closed down and back they came. When Mourinho finally gets the chance to work with his squad for an extended period (he’ll have most of a week now) surely the triangles and placement must be a huge priority.

As for individuals, Dele and Son were both hit and miss today, Dier and Sissoko each had cringeworthy moments but they played hard and Dier was a bit unlucky on his near-goal, Lucas did what Lucas does and it supplied a goal but also a lot of ineffectual possession. Kane keeps getting whacked in the box—one of these days he will actually win a penalty.

I think Tanguy Ndombele and Erik Lamela will help matters a lot when each gets fit—I just wish I could say the same about Eriksen but we all know the story there. With just a few exceptions all four defenders had good games—Vertonghen didn’t close Traore down well enough on the goal, but more than made up for it with the winner.

Fifth place. And top four with a win Sunday. A lot to like. And a coach who went let this team ever take things easy.

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