It had been a tough week for Tottenham Hotspur, with a loss away in the North London Derby followed by an underwhelming nil-all draw against Eintracht Frankfurt in midweek, before the shock passing of much-loved Spurs fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone. Tributes poured out for the man known as “The Marine” as the Spurs players and coaching staff went into weekend’s fixtures with football likely not front of mind. This all loomed large over a tough away fixture against a strong Brighton & Hove Albion side flying high under new manager Roberto De Zerbi.
Antonio Conte opted to rotate somewhat, switching to a 3-5-2 and bringing in 4 changes from midweek to his starting XI with Yves Bissouma in to facilitate the formation change, a return from injury for Ben Davies, and switches at the wingback positions with Matt Doherty and Ryan Sessegnon coming in.
Early signs were bright with Tottenham controlling things early; Kane won a free kick and for once allowed somebody other than himself to take it. His attempt forced Robert Sanchez to make a save and it was a positive way to start for Spurs as they settled in to an early spell of possession.
Matt Doherty looked to make his presence felt in his first start this season, making a number of good runs forward through the first period of the match and looking threatening down the right flank, with some good passes finding him in dangerous positions. That combined with a decent midfield press ensured Spurs saw most of the early play, though Brighton showed some threat down Tottenham’s right, with Solley March getting the better of Ryan Sessegnon a couple of times.
In fact, it probably felt like Bizarro world for Spurs fans with Tottenham controlling a good chunk of possession and Brighton looking to play on the counter, which started to look dangerous for Brighton as the half went on. Welbeck had a pop from range after an early break before Eric Dier made an excellent 1-on-1 tackle on March to stop another.
The entertainment continued with a Bentancur curled effort outside the box saved by Sanchez before the breakthrough was made by THAT pairing again: following a set piece, Hojbjerg played in Son in behind on the right, whose pass across the box was flicked home by none other than Harry Kane via a low, stooping header.
Brighton looked to get themselves back into the match with some nice interplay outside the Spurs box before Caicedo forced a save from Hugo Lloris with a speculative attempt. The building pressure took one Spurs victim as Yves Bissouma went into the book following a lunging tackle, before a headed effort off a Brighton corner whistled narrowly over the crossbar. The home team didn’t stop there with another Welbeck effort saved by Hugo. The half ended with Spurs up by one, but under the cosh.
It was more of a familiar story going into the second half, as Brighton looked to keep up the pressure they’d built, whilst Spurs looked for opportunities to break. Son looked to get free down the left on one such occasion before he was fouled by Veltman, with the Dutchman seeing a yellow card. Brighton still though refused to let up with Cuti Romero threatening his chances of any future children with a sliding block from yet another strike outside the box.
Spurs had another couple of opportunities to increase their lead; Kane’s pass on a quick break was narrowly cut out by Veltman before Kane turned a defender to go one on one with the keeper only to push his shot wide. Things only got sloppier from there with a number of turnovers and chances for Brighton before a flicked Harry Kane header went past the far post from a free kick.
Richarlison came on for Bissouma, signalling a shift back to the oft-used 3-4-3 before Son placed a left-footed curler into Robert Sanchez’s top corner. Unfortunately he was offside, and he knew it. A terrible giveaway from some awful interplay between Richarlison and Sessegnon outside the Spurs box then gave Welbeck yet another chance, and his shot again was wide. Another Spurs sub saw Ivan Perisic come on for Son as Tottenham looked to protect their lead.
Some good pressing by Hojbjerg nearly resulted in another Tottenham goal as his snapshot off Sanchez’s pass out of goal went only just wide. More Tottenham breaks followed with Richarlison unable to reach Perisic’s pass across the Brighton box. Brighton continued to search for a goal with some scary moments late on: Doherty made an excellent tackle in the box, before nearly undoing his good work with some poor positioning with Brighton’s attack only cut out by a sliding Harry Kane challenge.
Despite Brighton’s best efforts, Tottenham managed to run down the 5 minutes of injury time without conceding and secured a tough 3 points by a 1 goal to nil margin.
- We finally saw the 3-5-2. And it was fun! Initially. Spurs looked to create more going forward, but started to struggle as the match went on, having trouble protecting the space between defence and midfield. It was hard to tell how much of that was Brighton being good and the Tottenham players’ unfamiliarity with the new system, but maybe... both?
- Speaking of which, Hojbjerg and Bissouma both had rough matches where it seemed like they weren’t quite sure exactly where they should be and what they were doing. On the other hand, Rodrigo Bentancur looked quite comfortable in the new system and had a strong match, particularly first half.
- I thought Eric Dier was excellent today. He made a couple of key tackles and interceptions to stop Brighton breaks, marshalled the defence well, and was solid at set piece time. Probably my player of the match!
- A comment was made in the masthead Slack that this performance was more Frankfurt than Arsenal and this is probably reflective of what happened. A couple more passes connect, or things stick and Spurs are out of sight (though Brighton had their opportunities).
- Make no mistake, this was a really tricky fixture, and Tottenham did extremely well to get 3 points today.