You don't take wins at The Hawthorns for granted. Tottenham Hotpsur went to the West Midlands today to take on West Bromwich Albion on the heels of an emotional victory in the Captial One Cup semi-finals. An away match three days after a cup semi-final where Spurs played a full-strength side? Against a Tony Pulis-led team with a strong midfield? Sounds like a recipe for a let-down, doesn't it?
And yet, that's not what happened at all. Spurs dominated possession from the opening kick, scored two early goals, and added a third from the spot in the second half as Spurs cruised to a 3-0 victory. The win keeps them in the hunt for Champions League and destroys the narrative of a bad Spurs performance after a mid-week victory.
Spurs had a couple of questionable starters in the lineup today: Mousa Dembele reprised his role as #10 after his excellent shift against Sheffield United mid-week, and Paulinho inexplicably started as the deep lying playmaker beside Ryan Mason in the pivot.
Spurs dominated almost from the initial kick-off and got on the scoresheet early after Christian Eriksen curled in yet another outstanding free kick from just outside the box just six minutes in. Ten minutes later, Harry Kane scored for the first time in four matches with what has turned out to be his signature move: dribble once, cut inside, hesitate, and shoot for the low corner.
West Brom settled in toward the end of the second half. Hugo Lloris made two excellent saves, and Baggie Craig Gardiner had a crossed header deflect off the bar that could've changed the game entirely. The first half ended 2-0.
The second half started with no personnel changes from either side and was much more even than the first half. In the 63rd minute, Baggies defender Joleon Lescott was penalized for handling the ball off a Kyle Walker cross into the box. Harry Kane cooly stepped up and scored the penalty, his twentieth goal this season in all competitions, and Spurs didn't need to worry that much from then on.
It wasn't all domination, though: West Brom had their chances to cut into Spurs' lead several times. Paulinho was caught ball-watching at least once which led to a decent chance from Saido Barahino, and a failed Danny Rose clearance led to another fingertip save from Lloris. Ultimately, it didn't matter and Spurs got an outstanding away victory and clean sheet that pads their points as well as their goal differential.
- This was fun! Wins are nice, and this was a nice win. It's so easy to get distracted and grumbly about all the small things (*cough* PAULINHO *cough*) that go wrong in a match, but you can't argue much with a 3-0 away win.
- This was the second match that Dembele has started in the #10 role for Spurs and he looked good in that position. In both matches the more advanced role seems to suit his passing better.
- By contrast, Paulinho was put as a midfield partner just ahead of Ryan Mason and again failed to impress for most of the match. If this was Daniel Levy putting him in the shop window, he still won’t sell unless Levy slaps a "75% off" sticker on him or offers him with zero money down, zero interest for 18 months.
- Fazio is still slow and still gets caught out when he's not shielded by his midfield, but he wasn't awful in this match. I still think Eric Dier is a better long-term solution, but against a Pulis side I can see how being tall would trump other factors.
- Christian Eriksen, tho.
- This was a nice confidence building victory heading into next weekend's North London Derby. Bring it, Arsenal.