The Week in Tottenham: Another big statement from New Spurs – but will they be upstaged?
The week in five words
Tottenham rage against the inevitable.
What went well
Go back to the season reviews and take note of how many 1-0 deficits became humbling 3-0 losses within the blink of an eye. Not on Sunday, though
The obvious. The 3-0 victory on Sunday wasn't so much a simple win as it was a vanquishing of Tottenham's recent past. Home games against Manchester United over the last 15 years have created nothing but a cruel list of associations: mental fragility, perceived injustice and under-performance.
This, then, was the counter-thrust; an affirmation of just how different this team is and how impervious they now are to those old dangers.
Spurs started badly – or, at least, United began well. The opening phases of the game rang with inevitability and, with Leicester having cleared another hurdle in the north-east, the home side looked drained of momentum. The visitors pressed and hassled in the opening 20 minutes, denying their hosts the space or time in their own half and preventing them from finding any cohesive rhythm.
But maybe that served to illustrate one of the key differences between traditional and contemporary Spurs – this team knows how to recalibrate, and how to shift its gears to suit the changing terrain.
That warmed the heart. This has, for a long time, been a frail side lacking the personality and situational intelligence to adjust to adversity and fight back against it. Theirs have been players who accept defeat and who, when confronted with a team of substance, have been too eager to fall on their own sword.
So how cathartic it was to watch that reversed. How often have Tottenham started well against a celebrated opponent before allowing a mistake to jolt them from their stride? Go back to the season reviews and take note of how many 1-0 deficits became humbling 3-0 losses within the blink of an eye. Not on Sunday, though. It was United who buckled and Spurs who, having survived those tricky opening rounds, had the power to unleash a flurry of crippling body shots to a wilting opponent.
It's always nice to end an embarrassing sequence of results, but especially sweet to do it in a way that provided such definitive closure.
Leicester and the worst fairy tale ever told: it's going to happen, isn't it?
Tottenham's title dream hasn't died and Claudio Ranieri’s team will have to get past an awkward, adventurous West Ham next weekend, but most Spurs fans had more faith in Sunderland than was justified. Allardyce’s profligate team eventually folded and, at this point of the season, a seven-point gap is a chasm.
Underneath the gloss of last week, then, lurks a sense of injustice: it's galling to find Spurs' story relegated to second-billing
There’s nothing in Leicester’s play which suggests that a Devon Loch moment is imminent. Underneath the gloss of last week, then, lurks a sense of injustice: it's galling to find Spurs' story relegated to second-billing.
They are a club who have fought and conquered many of their own demons this season and have had to clear some significant psychological hurdles to be where they are. For that not to be properly rewarded feels like the denial of a proper ending and, naturally, it’s tempting to resent having to dance in Cinderella's shadow.
In time, that will disappear and be rightly replaced by appreciation for the sustainability within this new era, but Tottenham hearts still sank when Jamie Vardy ran through on goal.
Quote of the week
“The best agent for me is myself. I negotiate for me and my people. I fight more for them than for myself. The money is not important for me – for them, yes.
“I had an agent when I was a player, but when I stopped playing football, I stopped my relationship with my agent. Always one agent I had. I want to manage my life. I’m not disagreeing with the managers that have an agent, but I think I can deal with the offer myself.”
Mauricio Pochettino, on not having an agent.
The need-to-know facts
- Dele Alli scored his first goal at White Hart Lane since November against Aston Villa.
- Christian Eriksen is the sixth different Spurs player to assist 10 or more goals in a Premier League season, following Darren Anderton (1992/93 and 1994/95), Jurgen Klinsmann (1994/95), David Ginola (1998/99), Emmanuel Adebayor and Gareth Bale (both 2011/12).
- Toby Alderweireld has scored two goals in his last three Premier League appearances at White Hart Lane, both assisted by Erik Lamela.
- Lamela scored and assisted in the same game for only the second time in a Premier League match, having done so against Manchester City earlier in this campaign.
- There were just five minutes and 46 seconds between Spurs’ first and third goals.
- Spurs beat Man United at White Hart Lane for the first time since May 2001, ending a run of 14 home games without a win against the Red Devils.
Video of the week
A fan’s view of the third goal – a bit grainy, but still fun:
Winner of the week
For a long time, Lamela was the symbol of another regime's mis-steps; the distrusted emblem of a mistake which had been made with a once-in-a-generation revenue
Erik Lamela apologists are often parodied for their focus on his character and, at times, praising his work-rate and his desire can sound like an attempt to whitewash his imperfections.
Like those around him, he suffered a testing first half against Manchester United and his skewed back-post header rather characterised that start. He was inaccurate, his touch was clumsy and that familiar dissent had started to leak from the stands.
But what a recovery – and isn't that what Lamela has come to represent? For someone who looks as he does, he possesses an incongruously rigid personality and his performance typified that. Drifting towards an early substitution at half-time, his contribution after the break was as complete as his manager could possibly have hoped. The staples of his game – the grinding tenacity, the relentless pressing – all carried over, but were complemented by a growing precision and, vitally, a tangible return.
It was the Argentine's scrapping for possession on the floor which led to his side's opening goal, his perfectly flighted free-kick which allowed Toby Alderweireld to double that lead, and – fittingly – he who swept Danny Rose's square ball beyond David de Gea to add the exclamation point.
He’s a divisive player, but there’s no arguing with that. For a long time, Lamela was the symbol of another regime's mis-steps; the distrusted emblem of a mistake which had been made with a once-in-a-generation revenue. But no longer, because – rather than focusing on what he isn't and what he will never be – Tottenham supporters have grown to love him for what he actually is. Lamela is honesty, he is resilience and, as the United game so neatly demonstrated, he can also bring precious quality at crucial moments. His stock has never been higher.
Loser of the week
Ben Davies. A loser in the loosest sense, because he's really just a victim of Rose's development as a full-back – progress which was evident again on Sunday.
Roy Hodgson was at White Hart Lane for that game and will have presumably seen enough to name Rose as an England starter in the summer. Given how unimaginable that was just a few months ago, it reflects just how unfortunate Davies’s situation is. Having been recruited to compensate for who was until recently an imbalanced player, his positional rival’s improvement is starting to close his own window of opportunity.
It’s a sign of the times that, in the biggest games against the best teams, there’s no longer a discussion to be had over who will start in the position
Rose has always been gifted in advanced positions and been able to provide width from deep, but he regularly struggled to balance those instincts with defensive responsibility. He would be a liability around his own box, was prone to lapses at the back post and those shortcomings combined demanded the pursuit of a more conservative alternative. Even as a recently as the beginning of this season, Davies was often picked to provide stability against stronger opponents, with Rose generally preferred when the pitch needed stretching.
Because of the physical requirement placed on Pochettino's full-backs, Davies will presumably continue to get significant game time. But, by virtue of Rose's form – reflected in his balanced, back-and-forth role against Manchester United – he ended last week as a very clear second choice.
It’s a sign of the times that, in the biggest games against the best teams, there’s no longer a discussion to be had over who will start in that position.