Tottenham Hotspur played among their best matches of the season today. There was much consternation when Mauricio Pochettino announced an unchanged lineup from the Cup Final at Wembley three days ago, but for the most part Spurs players showed little to no fatigue.
Up against a very defensive Swansea 4-3-3, Spurs sent men forward with abandon, as both central midfielders and both fullbacks made constant attacking forays. The early breakthrough goal came on an early cross played by Danny Rose while Nacer Chadli and Kane made runs down the center. Chadli got free and smacked his volley into the corner. After a scary moment when Bafetimbi Gomis collapsed on the pitch—he turned out to be fine, thankfully—Tottenham kept up the pressure. Good supporting runs by Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason helped create two shots on target from just outside the box, but Lukas Fabianski was up to the challenge.
Then Swansea finally started pushing forward. Using their man advantage in midfield and clever movement from Gylfi Sigurdsson playing as a false nine, Swansea earned a free kick from a central position. Sigurdsson hit the underside of the bar, and a poor clearance gave the ball to Neil Taylor. He scooped a through-ball to Ki Sung-Yueng, who was played onside by Jan Vertonghen. Vertonghen then utterly whiffed his tackle and Ki slotted home from a tight angle. It was bad.
The ensuring half hour was pretty bad, too. Swansea sat very deep and easily shuttled Spurs out wide for a bunch of go-nowhere crosses. When Spurs came inside it was only to try their luck from deep positions. Giving up that much space on the pitch is risky, and Tottenham did have a couple half-chances, most notably a ludicrous cross from Christian Eriksen that Fabianki barely grazed but Harry Kane could not connect with.
At the half, Pochettino clearly instructed his side to attack the half-spaces between the fullbacks and center backs, and the tide turned. Ryan Mason in particular was a dynamo, running off the ball and either dragging a midfielder with him or getting free for a shot. The goal came when Rose threaded a nice pass to Eriksen, who dribbled into space. He was closed down as much by his own man (Chadli) as by Swansea, but Spurs had six men running into the box and the ball fell to Mason one-on-one with the keeper. His finish was true.
Still Swansea chose not to press their man advantage in midifeld. Spurs kept probing, but the goal actually came on a counter-attack. Swansea threw men forward on a corner. After a save by Hugo Lloris, Andros Townsend picked up the ball thirty yards from his goal and raced the length of the pitch. He was not met by a Swansea player until he reached the edge of the six-yard box, as Kane's run pulled the defender. Townsend beat a sliding Kyle Naughton with a simple touch and smashed home his first goal of the season from open play.
From here it should have been easy. Pochettino brought on Mousa Dembele for Townsend to close down midfield and Spurs pressed to keep possession easily. Multiple good chances went wanting for a finish, as both Kane and Chadli failed to connect on great Eriksen crosses. Swansea finally seized the initiative with the substitution of Jefferson Montero on the left wing, and he got the beating of Kyle Walker a few times, while a gassed Eriksen was unable to cover. Swansea created one chance, Ben Davies lost Sigurdsson in the box, and Swansea were within a goal.
Finally Swansea pushed forward and used their midfield, and only a gorgeous save by Hugo Lloris with one of the last touches of the match preserved all three points.
Overall, despite a few mistakes, this was as well as Tottenham have played all season against mediocre opposition. The expected goals map if anything underrates Spurs, as none of Eriksen's three perfect crosses registered as much as a shot. Swansea played into Spurs' hands by not pressuring a still doubtful midfield. Given space to play, Danny Rose and Ryan Mason had perhaps their best matches in Tottenham shirts, and Christian Eriksen seemed joyous at the opportunity to create. It was a good day, then a scary day, but a good one.