There was so much not to like about this game. We suffered the after-effects of a 1500 mile round trip to Bulgaria. They were the more aggressive, at time fouling us on nearly every play knowing there were only so many whistles the referee would blow.
After Son’s early miss—the first evidence of a simply awful game from him—they had most of the chances, including the ball that Lloris had to stretch for to keep the game scoreless. We were slow, lacking ideas other than Route One or flank-cross-blocked shot followed by flank-cross-blocked shot. It sure had a disappointing scoreless draw written all over it. The absence of a playmaker was clearly felt—neither Ndombele nor Lo Celso when he came on ever took charge of the middle of the field—and Hojgberg and Sissoko simply don’t have those skills (Oh Christian, what happened to you? And Dele too). Kane was slow, Bale still tentative, and while Reguilon at least pressed forward there was never the delivery of the one ball that could create the really good chance.
Until one moment of sublime quality from two players made all the difference. Doherty lifted a perfect ball over the defence and the keeper was caught in no man’s land, and Harry Kane is simply lethal in those situations. Now level with Michael Owen for 9th all time in the league. On his way to becoming Spurs’ all-time scorer. The clear front-runner for Player of the Year this season. And comforted that for at least two hours his team is top of the table.
It is the kind of game that Mourinho teams win, that Leicester perfected in 2015-16 although their goals were generally scored off the break from Vardy or Mahrez and not from a free header. We have played somewhere between sluggish and average against three teams in the bottom five—but won nine points which was the real purpose, wasn’t it?
Games ahead against City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal will tell the tale of how seriously a title challenge can be taken. We will have to play much better than this. But yesterday whatever we were was just good enough.
Kudos to Dier, Alderweireld, Hojbjerg, Sissoko and the two fullbacks for defending well. Like the rest of the squad they didn’t get enough second balls or win enough 50-50s, but they were still tight, well organized and one increasingly believed they would not surrender a cheap one. But God we have to figure out how to deal with a press better than that—because the teams ahead will employ it with more pace and talent upfront and will pounce on the types of mistakes that were made today. Eventually winning ugly will turn into losing ugly.
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