What's better than a thumping Tottenham victory over Stoke City, right after Leicester drop points at home to West Ham? Not much, according to Seb Stafford-Bloor...
The week in five words
"We've got Alli, Dele Alli..."
What went well
Everything that could possibly have done so.
In spite of Jonathan Moss' charitable late penalty decision at the King Power on Sunday, Tottenham and their travelling supporters bounced into the Britannia Stadium on Monday night. Dropped points are dropped points and although Leicester retain an enviable advantage, their steps towards the summit are becoming more laboured and they are starting to fight for breath in the thin air.
Wouldn't it be so typical of Spurs to be handed a lifeline only to fumble it? Maybe, but this team is not typically Tottenham and they seemed energised by the opportunity presented to them, rather than fearful of it.
Stoke City present a more layered threat these days and no longer rely on turning the sky black with footballs. They are talented, skillful and dangerous – particularly at the top of their formation – and while once they could be subdued simply by obdurate, disciplined defending, now they must be negated with a more complete tactical solution.
And Mauricio Pochettino and his players found one. Hugo Lloris was expertly shielded by Jan Vertonghen and the outstanding Toby Alderweireld, with Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele providing an extra layer of protection in front, and Kyle Walker and Danny Rose restricting crossing and overlap opportunities either side.
Almost every player's name was sung during the game and every fan glowed with the same pride on their way home
It's so very satisfying to see a Tottenham team play like that: to not be soft and susceptible, but to be structured and resilient enough to break the attacking will of an opponent. Stoke quit. They gave up trying to find a way through to Lloris' goal and many of their supporters, so raucous and celebratory in previous years, surrendered their seats long before the final whistle.
But what a final flourish Spurs produced – and that last 23 minutes captured what makes this team special: the combination of this new resilience with that traditional Tottenham flair. They produced a performance of immense discipline, but embellished upon it with some wonderfully potent football. The interchanges between Kane, Eriksen, and Lamela were quite glorious at times and, though he didn't have the best overall game, Alli's two goals characterised the team's swaggering offensive class.
They were once the club that had all the style but none of the heart. Now they have miles of heart and just as much flair.
It's the best of both worlds.
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A thumping win away from home, the gap narrowed at the top of the table, and positive movement with the new stadium; really, everything went well.
Once upon a time, Spurs' fanbase was riddled with fractures and petty disagreements over players, managers and transfer direction. Maybe Pochettino's biggest miracle has been to cure all of those, then, because the supporters have never seemed closer or more unified. There's a real harmony; almost every player's name was sung during the game and every fan glowed with the same pride on their way home. It'll be nauseating for others, but so what: life is pretty great.
Quote of the week
“If we won the championship, I think that every player would deserve a statue. The challenge is big because the gap is big but to keep fighting in the way that we have fought and, in the end, win the title – all the people would recognise our value." Mauricio Pochettino and, potentially, his own take on Easter Island.
The need-to-know facts
- Tottenham have lost just one of their last 16 Premier League away matches (W9 D6 L1).
- Mauricio Pochettino’s side have conceded just nine goals in their last 13 Premier League matches on the road.
- Tottenham scored four or more goals in a Premier League away game for only the 14th time in the competition’s history.
- Harry Kane (24) has scored more Premier League goals than Aston Villa this season.
- Tottenham have best attack (64 goals) and best defence (25 conceded) in the Premier League this season.
- Stoke lost a Premier League home game by four goals for only the second time (4-0 vs Chelsea in Jan 2013).
Video of the week
Maybe the pass of the season from Christian Eriksen...
Winner of the week
Another week, another couple of strides towards the Golden Boot for Harry Kane. His first against Stoke was his own masterpiece, his second a product of one of those elaborate attacking patterns and Erik Lamela's selflessness, but Kane's overall performance was also befitting of his status at the club.
He should never be assessed solely in terms of his scoring rate and, in a way, the win at Stoke demonstrated why. He worked tirelessly in the channels, held the ball extremely well in isolation – which is an increasingly prominent part of his game – and he was both the attacking focal point and the most advanced and relentless part of the team's endless pressing.
He started the week having shown his more blue-collared qualities against Manchester United and ended it by adding goals on top of an identically industrious performance.
There are more talented finishers in the Premier League, but away from home and in a lone forward's role, there is currently nobody better. His goals took him to 24 for the season, two ahead of Jamie Vardy, who is facing at least a one-game suspension for his red card against the Hammers.
Loser of the week
Toby Alderweireld. How can he not be on the PFA's Player of the Year shortlist?
The irony of him being listed here is that he is a winner, through and through. He is not only an outstanding individual defender, but is also representative of just how much influence one player can have. Without him, this Tottenham team wouldn't be the same. Praise Pochettino, of course, and admire the contribution of the other players, but Alderweireld embodies a set of precious intangibles which embolden his side wherever they go and have made many of these essential wins possible.
He is the discipline at the heart of the team, he is the reassuring figure whose knees never buckle, and he is unquestionably Spurs' player of the season.
Defenders are traditionally overlooked for individual awards and there is an argument which says that, more so than goal-scorers and playmakers, they are reliant on systems and combinations. Maybe in some instances that's true, but in Alderweireld's case it's a highly reductive way of assessing his contribution.
He is the best centre-half in the Premier League and for that not to equate to some kind of individual recognition is a travesty.