The rain poured down in Wales as Tottenham Hotspur took on Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Tuesday. Despite an overall sub-par performance from Tottenham Hotspur, terrible weather and pitch conditions, and some absolutely shambolic officiating from Bobby Madley, Spurs escaped Wales with a 2-0 win, giving them an important three points and pushing them (for now) up to fifth place in the table, leapfrogging Arsenal.
With two games in 48 hours and a couple of injured players, Tottenham were forced to rotate against the Swans. Harry Kane, who missed training last week due to a virus, started the match on the bench with Fernando Llorente making his first league start for Spurs. Erik Lamela also came into the side, while Mousa Dembele missed the 18 due to another knock. Danny Rose re-injured his knee and made way for Ben Davies at left back, while Victor Wanyama made his long-anticipated return to the team, starting the match on the bench.
The rain was coming down in sheets as the match kicked off, and it did not take long for the pitch to turn into a sorry state, with divots and standing water. That affected the play for both sides, but probably benefitted Swansea at first — Carlos Carvalhal’s side seemed content to sit back, park the
ark bus and try and force Spurs to unlock them in less than ideal circumstances.
The pitch was such that the ball trailed water with every kick of the ball, and long balls were virtually impossible. Despite the conditions, Spurs kept it simple, playing a short passing game and dominating possession. Martin Olsson picked up an early yellow for the hosts after he went in hard on Fernando Llorente in the tenth minute.
It was Llorente who got Spurs on the scoreboard, just 12 minutes in. Llorente headed home a pinpoint-accurate Christian Eriksen free kick past Lukas Fabianski, his first Premier League goal in a Spurs shirt. Fernando, despite hearing the drums, did not celebrate against his old side, and he was probably correct not to — replays showed that he was decidedly offside and the goal should not have counted.
That decision was one of a couple egregious offside calls missed by Bobby Madley’s officiating team, who had a bit of a nightmare in the first half. Llorente had a nice run in which he was through on goal called back in the first half, and there were a couple of other dicey calls from that particular linesman, who did not have a good day.
Llorente nearly got his second goal in the 28th minute, sliding in to collect a Dele Alli cross. Fernando wasn’t too far away, but he couldn’t put it on target. He had one last chance in the half to get a brace in the 41st minute, but his one touch volley off of another Spurs set piece couldn’t stay down, and went over the bar.
Swansea grew into the game as they tried to use the match conditions to their advantage. In the 32nd minute, after a Swansea player dived to receive a call just outside of Spurs’ box, Renato Sanches put what could’ve been a dangerous free kick well over the bar. A few minutes later, Olsson got on the end of a cross at the left side of the box, but he shanked the wet ball to the left of the post.
Just before time, Hugo Lloris earned his wages, punching away two decent opportunities from Swansea. The rain trailed off, but the sloppy pitch remained, and Spurs took a gritty 1-0 lead into halftime.
The rain trailed off a bit at halftime, and while it never really stopped, it wasn’t as torrential as earlier. The pitch didn’t exactly DRAIN, but the weather tapering ensured that the match wouldn’t be called for poor conditions. Neither manager made halftime changes.
The second half was more of the same, with a muddy field limiting passing range, Swansea trying to play more on the front foot, and Spurs trying to double their lead.
Swansea were forced into an early substitution after Angel Rangel picked up a knock and was replaced by Luciano Narsingh in the 52nd minute.
Four minutes later, Bobby Madley made another big call. Davinson Sanchez, who was already on a yellow, made a hard foul on Olssen. It was enough to see him sent off, but Madley inexplicably gave him a stern lecture but no card, to the vociferous boos by the home crowd.
Minutes later, Sanchez (rightfully) made way for Victor Wanyama, who took the field for Spurs for the first time since the loss to Chelsea in September. Eric Dier moved back to central defense, and Wanyama slotted into midfield.
Spurs kept trying to get that elusive second goal. Midway through the half, Fabianski made two critical stops for Swansea, first parrying away a free kick from Eriksen, and then punching away another chance on the follow-up.
The match opened up in the latter stages as Swansea tried to get an equalizer and Spurs tried to protect what felt like a very nebulous lead. Narsingh broke through on goal in the 65th minute, but Hugo was well positioned to save his effort at the near post from an acute angle.
Sensing the need for additional offensive firepower, Mauricio Pochettinio brought on Harry Kane for Llorente in the 68th minute. One minute later there was another officiating miscue -- a long ball from Eric Dier found Dele Alli in the box, who was pushed in the back before his shot. Madley waved play on.
In the ensuing play, it was Swansea’s turn to be jobbed by the officials. Jordan Ayew (who was offside) was fouled in the box, with Madley again swallowing his whistle. Mike van der Hoorn then had a shot that caromed off the post and Spurs were able to scramble the ball away.
Son Heung-Min had one of the better chances of the match in the 78th minute, but had a one-touch volley dribble just wide of the far post.
But finally, just before time, it was Harry Kane who switched from scorer to creator. He put a lovely crossfield pass to a wide open Dele, who took a superb touch, had his initial shot blocked, but tapped in the rebound effort to put the game away.
That was the difference. Spurs didn’t play their best match of the season, but gutted out a gritty win in the rain, and got a critical three points. The final score was 2-0.
- This was kind of a match where quality of play didn’t matter too much. It was ugly, sloppy, and hard to watch. In this kind of circumstance, you take the win and don’t think about it too much.
- Happy for Fernando (who DEFINITELY heard the drums), but he was waaaaaaaaaaay offside. The karma was equalized by his phantom offside call when he was through on goal in the first half.
- Good god was that atrocious officiating today. Madley and his crew were equally horrific for both sides. Swansea can probably feel aggrieved to not get a result here, especially after that inexplicable no-call on Sanchez, but Spurs also had at least two penalties waved off, and Fernando was also wrongfully called offside when he was through on goal. Just awful.
- (Yes, yes, I know that Sanchez’s first yellow shouldn’t have been called either. Two wrongs don’t make a right.)
- Kane’s pass for the winning goal was sublime, but Dele’s touch was equally amazing to put him through on goal. Also, he had the presence of mind to get a boot to the follow-up effort.
- Was not impressed with Ben Davies, who got torched a number of times by Narsingh.
- How great was it to see Victor Wanyama out there again? I can’t say he did anything particularly outstanding, but just having him back opens up so many options.
- Not a reaction, but just an observation: if you Spoonerize Renato Sanches’ name and shift a letter, you get “Senator Anches.” That’s his name now, I don’t make the rules.
- It’s ridiculous that Spurs have to play again in less than two days, but hopefully there was enough rotation that they will be able to put in a strong match in a London derby against West Ham in their cup final on Thursday.