Opinion: Players with plenty to prove help Spurs avoid more misery

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Gareth Bale
Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

What did you want me to title this? Spurs sure were “Hungary”? Caveats out of the way first—like Wycombe and Marine, consider the opposition. Man United ripped Real Sociedad —a real football club—establishing them as clear favourites to win this competition. Hopefully, we can avoid them for at least another round. Yet but for the first twenty minutes or so of the second period, when we were flat and Moussa Sissoko fell asleep, this was a very impressive effort. And let’s face it, from the manager on down, there were a lot of people associated with Tottenham who had something to prove—Lloris, Dier, Doherty, Winks, Dele and Bale, to name most of the starting XI.

All of them played well and several were standouts. Hugo saved at least one goal and possibly two—Dier was the better of the back four in terms of defending though Toby had a pretty brilliant distribution night. Doherty was back to his better self in terms of going forward, setting up the second goal and generally causing trouble for the Austrians, Winks had his best game of the year, including two or three terrific through balls or over-the-top passes along with generally good possession, and our two lost souls each had their finest night of the season.

I thought—again factoring in the opponents—that front four in the first half was dynamic from the start. Four different styles on display. When Son was selfish in a 3 v 2 with Dele sitting there open on his left, but then made up for it with a beautiful header from Bale and then two terrific holding actions turned into wing passes a la Kane, the second of which released Doherty to find Bale for the second goal.

Lucas was active and dangerous and made the one brilliant move he is capable of for the third goal. Dele was a delight—sure there were a few flicks that didn’t work, but he was all over the pitch, the nutmeg along the byline was glorious, and the second half when he played either behind or alongside Vinicius was in some ways even more impressive than his play in the first half. He would be my MOTM I think, but it would be a close call with Bale who was also quite active, made the smart cross for the first goal and then what a stop and finish for the second!

Even the Vinicius-Bergwijn-Lamela-Dele front four was still quite dangerous if less clinical—and once Tanguy and Pierre came on there would be no more threats by Wolfsberger and the fourth goal was going to come. Tell me you had Hojgbjerg-Lamela-Vinicius being the combination to produce it and I’ll sell you some swampland in Florida. The truer result even subtracting Moussa’s brain lock (and I still don’t think you can get a penalty for not touching someone whose coming from behind) probably should have been 5-2 or 6-2, such were our chances and also two fine saves from Hugo plus the crossbar near-miss late in the game for them. This was a total get them from the start approach—much more akin to the way we played last year under Jose than what most of this season has become.

Whether or not he will trust this approach in what is a pretty significant game against the Hammers Sunday remains to be seen. Clearly, he will have Son and Kane rested, along with Hojgberg and Ndombele—and Sissoko may not deserve another start since his problems went beyond the one mental mistake. I would not be shocked to see either Dele or Bale in the starting XI along with Lucas or Lamela—there was quality on that pitch and we are not in the type of shape in the league to forsake it blithely.

It’s a cup and we’ll still be playing for it into March. No complaints. Reguilon and Lo Celso are on their way back and then we may finally be the team back in the autumn we thought we had. The hole we’ve dug in terms of Top Four is probably too deep to get out of, but the fight for Europa may get us in a frame of mind where it is possible we’ll catch City on an off night and steal a trophy at Wembley.

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Paul is a respected U.S. political pollster (Democrat) based in Madison, Wisconsin and Los Angeles. His love for Spurs began when the Premier League games started appearing regularly in the U.S. and an American lover of football had to choose a side. Bale, Rushdie, Adele, Shakespeare, the Spurs faithful, The Lane, etc. were all irresistible attractions and have made Maslin a Spur for life.

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