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Three things we learned from Tottenham’s 4-1 FA Cup win over Wycombe

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Wycombe Wanderers v Tottenham Hotspur: The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur left it late on Monday in their FA Cup Fourth Round tie against Wycombe Wanderers, but they did get the job done in the end. Spurs fell behind to a Fred Onyedinma goal in the 25th minute but equalized at the stroke of halftime via Gareth Bale. Spurs then put the match away with three goals in 5+ minutes at the end: a well placed shot from Harry Winks and a brace from Tanguy Ndombele, and the end result was a comfortable 4-1 win.

The match itself was... weird. It started off with a full B-side, but Mourinho opted to bring on on Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min and Tanguy Ndombele to see the match off after going into halftime tied at 1-all. Just looking at the scoreline, you’d see an expected, comfortable 4-1 win. But was it really all that comfortable?

Here are three things we learned from Tottenham’s 4-1 win at Wycombe Wanderers in the FA Cup Fourth Round.

It sure didn’t feel like a paddlin’, but... that’s a paddlin’.

You can forgive Tottenham fans for feeling a little unsettled during much of the match. After all, they conceded a stupid (but well-executed) goal in the 25th minute to go behind, and although Lucas Moura seemed to slalom through Wycombe’s midfield effortlessly, Spurs seemingly couldn’t convert any of their opportunities into goals. For 85 minutes it sure looked like one of THOSE matches where Spurs were going to get let down by their finishing.

Then Spurs reeled off three goals in the last 5+ minutes of the match and what felt like a match that could escape them turned into a dominant win. “Dominant” is the correct word here, because a look at the post-match xG reveals that Spurs absolutely spanked Wycombe over the course of the game. Despite the late scoring, those chances were pretty evenly distributed over the course of the match.

Soccer’s a funny game. Wycombe were five minutes from forcing this match to extra time and possibly penalties, but had they done so it would’ve been one hell of an example of being, as we say around here, “football’d.” Re-watching the match really drove home for me how easy and frequently Spurs got forward, even in the first half. This was, of course, to be expected — Wycombe are a Championship team, but not a very good one, and this was a match Spurs should’ve handled easily. And they did... just not on Spurs fans’ expected timetable.

Tottenham’s B-squad is still not quite up to standard

Jose Mourinho named an almost fully rotated side against Wycombe on Monday, no doubt due to the huge match against defending Premier League champions Liverpool on Thursday. However, the bench was absolutely loaded, and Mourinho felt the need to bring in the likes of Ndombele, Kane, and Son in the second half after going into halftime deadlocked at 1-1.

There’s plenty of talent on Tottenham’s bench, but they didn’t assert themselves nearly to the extent that you’d expect in this situation. Japhet Tanganga, who to be fair was being played out of position at right back, looked quite outmatched and struggled to contain Wycombe’s wide attackers. Likewise, both Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sanchez had difficulty with the physicality of Onyedinma and Leicester loanee Admiral Muskwe. Carlos Vinicius was especially ineffective and wasteful with his chances at the tip of the spear to the extent that he was hooked for Harry Kane after 58 minutes.

But one player who I initially criticized actually did quite well. After my initial viewing of the match I was quick — probably too much so — to blame the midfield of Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko for failing to protect the back line. I focused my second viewing on Winks and will acknowledge that he was much more progressive with the ball than I gave him credit for. His goal was well taken, too. Winks may have plenty of priors on this team, but it’s also important to acknowledge when I’m wrong, and I was here.

Credit should be given to Wycombe for how they approached this match — they made life more difficult for Tottenham than anyone probably expected. Even so, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen signs of fragility from Tottenham’s reserve players. That Mourinho found it necessary to bolster the midfield with Hojbjerg at the break and then call in the cavalry to get the win should be a giant flashing red light. Tottenham’s first XI can compete with and even beat any team it faces, but it remains extremely reliant on the production of Kane and Son and the tenacity of Hojbjerg. After Monday I remain worried about what might happen if any of them are not able to play.

Gareth Bale still isn’t there yet, but he’s getting there

We all hoped that when he was signed on loan this summer Gareth Bale would magically regain the form he displayed in his first stint at Tottenham hotspur seven years ago. Minus that, he could show the mature (and still magical) skills he showed while a Galactico at Real Madrid. In hindsight, that maybe had as much to do with getting swept up in the nostalgia of his return. His appearances for Spurs this season have been disappointing overall.

On Monday, however, Gareth started to show more than glimpses of what he used to do. He had eight shots against Wycombe and one goal, and while it’s safe to say he’ll probably never regain the speed on the dribble he once had, he did have moments where he displayed bursts of pace getting forward. Bale is still impressive when he gets the ball in and around the box, and tends to get marginalized out of matches when he’s deployed deeper or in wider positions. It makes you wonder if he would be more effective deployed in the role now occupied by Carlos Vinicius, a backup striker to Harry Kane rather than a wide attacker.

Notably, Bale also went 90 minutes for the first time in over a year, and that in itself feels like a victory. Bale’s already struggled with minor injuries this season, but even Joe Hart referred to Gareth’s rehabilitation and return to fitness as “a project.”

“We always knew it was going to be a project with him and he fully understands that. He’s here to help the team win and he’s demonstrated that on the pitch tonight and on a few other occasions. He’s also doing it behind the scenes.

“Gaz’s obviously had his injuries but he knows how to look after himself and when he’s fit he’s going to help our team.”

Mourinho was also pleased with his performance, even after saying ahead of the fixture that Gareth had to earn his minutes rather than be “given” them.

I’d be cautious about making sweeping generalizations over one match against the bottom team in the Championship, but if you’re looking for positives signs in Gareth Bale’s return to top level football, there were plenty on display Monday night. Now we need to see whether this match will allow him to kick on and continue this form against higher quality competition, or if injuries will force him back a few steps once again.

BONUS thing: Tanguy Ndombele, y’all.

God, he’s so damn good, isn’t he? That’s all. That’s the section.