4 points from Tottenham 1-0 Palace: Kane the 10, Pardew needs help
1. Kane is an accomplished No.10
One of the primary complaints emerging from Tottenham's opening day draw with Everton centred around their inability to penetrate deep areas during the first-half. Spurs retained possession nicely enough at Goodison Park but without any real purpose and Mauricio Pochettino's mid-game response there was to remove Eric Dier, drop Harry Kane deeper into the play, and install Vincent Janssen at the top of the formation.
Little surprise, then, that against a Crystal Palace side who were similarly content to sit deep and counter-attack, Pochettino opted to carry two of the changes through to this weekend. Janssen is a natural line-leader and his robust forward play occupied Palace's centre-halves, but the tweak also enabled Kane to be of far greater influence; his goals built his reputation, certainly, but they also mask an astute playmaking acumen and his ability to perform a role typically expected of a traditional No.10.
Against a visiting team missing the influential James McArthur and with Yohan Cabaye only fit enough for the substitutes' bench, Kane revelled in the space between the lines; Spurs are at their best when turning opposing defenders around or, alternatively, when they're able to work one of their full-backs into space around the byline.
Rhythm is imperative to doing that, as is an understanding within the attacking unit, but the essential ingredient is the vision of a player who capitalises on offensive opportunity and instinctively feels an opponent's weakness. Kane has that in his DNA: he knows when to turn and drive and when to spread the play – and, most importantly, he makes those decisions within a heartbeat.
As Pochettino explained to the media after the game, Kane is more "free" in those positions, and it certainly didn’t stop him threatening the visitors: nobody had more shots than his 6. Given the breadth of his ability, that helped to create a problem which Palace never really solved.
2. Janssen makes Spurs more diverse
Janssen's home debut was blighted by an ugly second-half miss when, after being put through on goal after a slick interchange between Erik Lamela and Dele Alli, he scuffed a good chance wide. However, Janssen's worth was – and will continue to be – based on more than just the sum of his goals. Signed ostensibly as relief for Harry Kane, he embodies many of the traditional aspects of a target man and, as such, is proving to be a useful complement to the England forward as well as a support.
Against a side built on the obdurate and physical centre-back pairing of Scott Dann and Damien Delaney, Tottenham needed a grapple-hook of a forward – not just a battering-ram, but someone who combines those direct qualities with a tendency to remain on the last defender, who can compete while at a numerical disadvantage, and who is capable of bringing his supporting midfielders into the game.
Rather than ability, that's a question of habit: Janssen was effective on Saturday because, while still contributing in different areas, he was able to make smart, space-creating runs which allowed his team to play in an incisive way. He occupied defenders and contorted their overall shape and, in so doing, helped to clear the passing lanes in the final third.
He's an intriguing player. Most new signings from supposedly inferior leagues show a degree of reticence in their first few months. Janssen doesn't. He's a bully – all elbows and grit – but he's mentally astute, too. His performance against Palace showed that while he's capable of the heavy lifting, he's also a player with a strong grasp of Pochettino's tactical imperatives. Beyond hassling and harrying, he helped to direct much of the pressing at the top of the pitch and was a vocal, encouraging presence throughout.
3. Palace need a foil for Benteke
Alan Pardew's problems are hardly a secret: his team are desperately in need of a consistent goalscorer and, though signed too late to be involved at White Hart Lane, Christian Benteke will become an important piece in the future. He won't, however, be a complete solution; Pardew needed a forward – certainly – but the loss to Tottenham also demonstrated his side's inability to construct cohesive phases between their midfield and forward line.
Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend offer an obvious counter-attacking threat, but Spurs – one brief second-half period aside – found it tellingly easy to slap their opponents away. Palace were heavily reliant on long, hopeful balls into low-percentage areas and, against a side as stingy as Pochettino's and centre-halves as accomplished as Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, that proved far too blunt. They need guile. Or, at the least, they need to support Benteke with something more cultured.
The Belgian forward will create a natural pivot and that will help. So too Yohan Cabaye, whose introduction at half-time added a layer of craft. But, if they are to avoid a repeat of 2015/16's listless slump, Palace must strengthen their advanced central areas before the transfer window closes.
4. Kyle Walker's growth
Kyle Walker's evolution has been under way for some time. Since Pochettino's arrival in 2014, he has steadily improved as a defender and many of the imperfections which used to litter his game have vanished.
But his attacking contribution has also broadened. Walker's acceleration makes him a natural fit within Spurs' fast-break system, but his range of influence now covers a larger area. Under Harry Redknapp and Andre Villas-Boas, he was typically nothing more than an overlapping full-back, albeit an effective one.
More recently, he's been given licence to roam into more central areas and, while his defensive positioning and wide delivery remain his cornerstones, his surging under-lapping runs through the middle of the pitch offer a welcome wrinkle within Tottenham's attacking game.
Pochettino was again without the suspended Mousa Dembele against Palace and responded by stocking his midfield with Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama. Both are fine players, but neither is capable of replicating Dembele's forcefulness in possession and, at times on Saturday, Spurs became passive as a result.
Erik Lamela drifted and danced, Kane influenced, and Vincent Janssen hassled and jostled, but that central midfield struggled to maintain a helpful attacking rhythm. Within the context of the game as a whole, Walker may not have been a stand-out performer – although nobody tried more passes in the attacking third than his 18, which is a decent achievement for a defender – but his willingness to carry the ball and drive through the middle of the pitch provided some essential temperament at key moments.
- Spurs ended a winless run of five Premier League games (D3 L2) with victory today.
- Victor Wanyama scored just his second Premier League goal in his last 55 appearances.
- Harry Kane provided his first Premier League assist at White Hart Lane since January 2015 (v Chelsea).
- Crystal Palace have lost 5 of their last 7 league games against Tottenham (W1 D1).
- The Eagles have won just 2 of their 21 Premier League games in 2016 (W2 D5 L14).
- Spurs have lost just 3 of their last 21 home matches in the Premier League (W12 D6).
- Palace’s winless run on the road in the Premier League now stretches to 12 games (D5 L7).
- Crystal Palace have scored just 1 first-half goal in their last 14 Premier League games.