Spurs ground out a 1-0 win against Sunderland on Sunday, thanks to a late Ryan Mason winner and beautiful assist from Erik Lamela. It wasn’t pretty, and for large parts Spurs looked average at best. But, three points was the order of the day, and that at least was achieved. Amusingly, we’re now above Chelsea. Here are five random thoughts:
SOLDIERING ON WITHOUT CHRISTIAN: I thought we missed Christian Eriksen sorely against Everton, but it was even more acute against Sunderland. The heat map for Spurs sums it up — large blobs in deeper midfield areas, and despite a small spot in the central attacking midfield area, almost nothing to the left and right of it. This is where Eriksen operates, in his constant search for space.
Watching the game, you could see a large Eriksen-shaped hole throughout. This was exacerbated by the choice of Deli Alli and his instruction to get beyond Harry Kane, and the no-show by Nacer Chadli, which I will get to. Aside from the direct consequence of a lack of chances being created for Kane, which I’ll also get to, the loss of Eriksen severely stymied Spurs build-up play and ball retention in the first half. The possession and domination of play improved as Sunderland tired and Mauricio Pochettino’s fitness regime paid dividends. Mason had huge swathes of ground to cover, and he did as well as could have been expected. His goal summed up his performance — a lot of effort, but more painful than it needed to have been. We need Eriksen back as soon as possible, because Spurs are a blunt instrument without him.
A BAD DAY FOR CHADLI TO HAVE A BAD DAY: This was Nacer Chadli’s worst performance for a long time, and he couldn’t have chosen a worse time. He barely touched the ball in the first half, and only came into the game late on when Sunderland tired and spaces opened up. I’m not sure on the reliability of the stats from Yahoo, but 10 passes seems about right. That isn’t enough and he didn’t create anything noteworthy. Spurs need players to want to dominate, not ones who just sit back and wait for things to happen. Chadli needed to perform today — once Eriksen and Mousa Dembele are fit, his place will be under threat. I feel Spurs can only play two of Chadli, Son Heung-min and Alli — they are too similar. Son showed one or two flashes of much-needed directness on debut, and surely will win a battle with Chadli once the squad settles down. Alli looks comfortable on the right side. Worse for Chadli, both Townsend and Lamela came on and made an impact. I hope he’s got some blank pages in his passport, because Chadli’s abject performance was a ticket to the Europa League squad.
FOX OUTSIDE THE BOX: Related to the two points above, the Great Harry Kane Premier League Goal Drought of 2015 continues. The heatmap pretty much shows you why — he is hardly ever touching the ball in the box.
He is suffering most in Eriksen’s absence, as he is being forced into wide and deep positions to find the ball. He wasn’t helped by playing alongside a Premier League debutant in Son, and Premier League first-time starter in Alli, and a missing person in Nacer Chadli. Poch’s instructions against Palace should be simple — you stay in the danger zone, leave it to the midfield to feed you. He will take the chances if they are created, because that is what he does — you can’t fluke 31-goal seasons.
JAN AND TOBY SHAKY: Jan Vertonghen received some credit from the TV commentators for a couple of stylish pieces of defending, but overall I’m concerned by the Belgian centre-back pairing. My concern is aggression and physicality, which I noticed against Everton. In that match, Romelu Lukaku won almost every aerial duel or contested long-range ball, with Spurs defenders seemingly willing to let him have it and focus on the second pass. I presumed this was a tactic — it’s an old one and can be a good one, if you know a striker is extremely physical.
Lukaku fits into that category. Jermain Defoe, however, most certainly does not.
On several occasions, Defoe won aerial duels with Toby Alderweireld or managed to secure possession from long-balls out of the back. This is unacceptable — I’m sure every Premier League analyst noticed it and will make sure balls out of defence head down Spurs right side, with a runner in behind. Meanwhile Jan presents the opposite problem — he dives in too much when balls are played through low to the opposition striker, and seems a constant risk of picking up bookings or letting a ball through. It is early days in the partnership, but I’m far from convinced. It may not be the Belgian style per se, but how about something old fashioned from balls out from the opposition keeper: One defender attacks the ball, the other covers?
At full back, I’m getting impatient to see Kieran Trippier which may be clouding my judgement on Kyle Walker’s performances. I thought Ben Davies was ultra solid and should be in the team next weekend against Palace and their dangerous wingers.
PUZZLE FOR POCH: On paper, I thought Poch got his selection right. Then the match started, and it looked horrible. Son, Chadli and Alli are just too similar, and there was no-one to take control of the attacking midfield. As stated, Eriksen was sorely missed, and while I’m not his biggest fan, Mousa Dembele would have been useful in this match. But if Poch thought the performances from his starters were puzzling, the mystery only deepened with the performances of his subs. Townsend came on and beat Patrick van Aanholt twice in succession. Meanwhile, Lamela drifted effectively into the attacking midfield space that had been vacant throughout the match, and provided the incision with a superb assist for Mason.
The Europa League may sometimes be a curse, but right now the idea of a couple of extra games to give certain players — Lamela, Townsend, Pritchard — minutes to gain fitness and prove their worth, feels a positive. I eagerly await Poch’s selection on Thursday — my guess is Lamela and Townsend both start.