Tottenham Hotspur have recorded what feels like their first routine win in a while against Sheffield United. Prior to the match, Sheffield United found themselves at the bottom of the table, relegated, and playing some poor football. That continued at Tottenham Stadium, as Gareth Bale ran riot with a hat trick and the Blades failed to generate any real threat against Lloris’ goal.
Here’s three things that stood out to me from this match.
Quiet Night for Kane, but Bale and Dele Step Up
Unexpectedly, Harry Kane was anonymous against the 20th place team in the Premier League. Typically, Tottenham’s talisman striker takes the opportunity against struggling teams to increase his goal and assist tally - but he failed to turn up against the Blades today. That’s not to say he had an awful game, as his pressing was a key component of keeping Sheffield United uncomfortable throughout the game. But the few opportunities he had for goal, efforts were left wanting.
Not the biggest deal, as Sheffield United were so poor that, although Spurs didn’t create an immense amount of clear cut opportunities, the likes of Bale and Son were around to pull off some incredible finishes.
It might seem unfair, then, to bring up Dele, as he was not involved in the goals scored - given the stop-start season he’s had, he looked very good. Although he misplaced some passes here and there (bound to happen when you’ve had a minimal # of minutes) generally his positioning in the half spaces and ability to draw Sheffield United players towards him and play 1-2s were a huge boon to Spurs. Sheffield United’s players were quite disorganized, allowing clever players like Dele, Kane and Lo Celso to find pockets of space to influence the match. Dele was great in that role today.
Off the ball, Dele ended the match with the second most amount of tackles (5), only behind Lo Celso (6).
Sheffield United Lack of Compactness
If this was your first time watching Tottenham and Sheffield United play, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a League Cup quarrel - Sheffield United are certainly playing like they belong in the Championship. Throughout the entire match it was clear that United’s players were struggling to get anything out of their play. Individually, the body language was woeful.
Player’s attitudes can make a coach’s plan pay off or look nonsensical, and United looked the latter the vast majority of the game. Their setup was strange, as they were pressing Tottenham quite high from Spurs’ kickoffs, but their backline would not join in squeezing Spurs into their defensive third. This created a chasm of space between the defensive and midfield lines; as mentioned above, space that Kane, Dele, and Lo Celso exploited well enough, but so much more could have been done.
Spurs’ lacked a bit of incisive verticality that Ndombele brings to the game. Quite often there were spaces to be exploited, but a Spurs player was reluctant to carry the ball forward. A case of shedding Mourinho trauma, maybe, but this could have gone much worse for Sheffield United if Spurs had been up for it.
Ryan Mason - A Student of the Pochettino School
In many ways this game harkened back to Pochettino’s best days at Spurs. Mason lined up the team with a 4-2-3-1, overlapping fullbacks to assist in the attack (both Reguilon and Aurier were excellent), a high press, and even an (almost) Alderweireld assist. With Dele, Kane, Son, and Bale leading the line, and Lo Celso as part of the double pivot, Mason clearly wanted to overwhelm United, and rightfully so.
I have no problem with Mason trying to recreate Pochettino’s systems at Tottenham. With four games to go - the next one against Pochettino’s own mentor, Bielsa - there’s little need for Mason to try to reinvent the wheel.
Only piece of advice - play Tanguy Ndombele. Just play him.