That is our best XI. I wouldn’t have said it about Sanchez a week ago, but given Dier’s struggles and watching the Colombian simply imperious and practically mistake-free yesterday, I think he deserves the plaudits. Lucas’ pace and trouble making combined with Bale is our best front four—we will see a Dele/Lamela combination midweek v Fulham and I’m looking forward to it. But come end of February our best have finally taken the pitch. Is it in time to rescue a miraculous Top Four finish? Doubtful, as we need one of Leicester or Chelsea to really bottle things—and that’s assuming we can leapfrog Liverpool. But it is nice to see and this surely will help in the Europa competition which we will be particularly interested in.
Heung-min Son deserves some real accolades—he never scored—but the way he used his space—on both sides of the field—and the way he delivered both of Bale’s goals was simply stupendous. One of his best all-around games in quite some time.
Bale’s finishing was impeccable—and he probably should have had another (as should Lucas. And Kane. And Son could have had one too—this could have been 6 or 7 nil such was our dominance)—it is so good to see what we all hoped we could get this season, whatever the outcome of the loan and the haggling this summer. Kane was solid and fooled Pope on the goal and almost did a second time in the second half. Reguilon and Aurier, while each held off from a complete run lost of the time, were commanding each flank and creating more chances for the forwards.
But I want to talk about the spine. Hojbjerg—after a rest—was as energetic and dynamic as he’s been in a couple of months. Ndombele—but for one poor giveaway in the second half—was quietly brilliant all game. So many subtle possessions, changes of direction, commanding all and preventing Burnley from flipping the field. It gave us yet another glimpse of what I hope will be many years of impressive midfield play.
Toby and Davinson not only worked well together, but they recovered for their teammates’ mistakes (Sanchez bailed Tanguy out in his biggest error) and were solid against what can be an imposing if not particularly talented Claret front line. Sanchez in particular was as assured as I have seen him all season.
If we are going to make a run at finishing in the top four—or a deep run in the Europa League—it will require these two—and Dier at times as well—playing this well. This was a massive step forward and we can only hope—finally—that it may signify the type of defence Mourinho demands but which has been non-existent since the Man City victory over three months ago. There was one stretch in the second half where but for one Hugo long kick from which we instantly regained the ball we controlled possession for more than three minutes. The players in the middle deserve much of the credit.
So now a more desperate Fulham side whose manager believes they should have grabbed all three points in January at our ground—we owe them one. Assume we see Dele and Lamela behind Kane and Son—with Jose on the cusp of a big decision about whether he risks starting our two forwards three times this week with the huge Europa League tie and the NLD coming right behind. I expect at least one of them to sit vs Palace. It’s frustrating it took this long. But we are finally glimpsing the what could have been and what might still be.
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