Premier League Part 2 - Electric Boogaloo kicked off on Boxing Day with an early match for Tottenham Hotspur at Brentford. Antonio Conte had a tired squad to manage, with a number of the Spurs squad having been heavily involved in the World Cup. Regardless, Conte opted to start the majority of his available international players outside of the two finalists in Cristian Romero and Hugo Lloris, and with Clement Lenglet preferred over Ben Davies. Perhaps the biggest surprise though was a rare start for Japhet Tanganga over Davinson Sanchez on the right-hand side of the Spurs back three.
The match began tentatively, with both sides looking rusty and uncertain, until a driving run from the masked Son Heung-Min won Spurs a free kick in an excellent position. Son, Dier, or Perisic all could have been good shouts to test David Raya in goal, but of course Harry Kane duly drove the set piece straight into Brentford’s defensive wall.
It was Brentford though who struck the first blow. Ivan Toney flicked on a header to Bryan Mbeumo, whose excellent cross found Mathias Jensen in acres of space in the box. A significant deflection meant Fraser Forster could only parry Jensen’s shot out to Vitaly Janelt, who gleefully accepted the late Christmas gift of a tap-in goal.
From there, Brentford looked to up the tempo, giving Spurs no time on the ball and attempting to break forward quickly whenever they had possession. Tottenham had a couple of efforts from range, but Brentford continued to have the better chances, with Forster making a good kick save from a Zanka shot following a Brentford corner.
Brentford had the ball in the net a second time after an awful giveaway by Yves Bissouma in the middle of the pitch was played forward quickly to Toney. He rounded Forster and easily finished, but was flagged for offside after Japhet Tanganga made somewhat of an intelligent wager by stepping up just before the ball was played. Tottenham looked to break forward themselves late in the half but to no avail, and the first half finished with Brentford deserved 1-0 leaders.
Tottenham looked sharper early in the second half and had a strong shout for a penalty, as Ben Mee rugby tackled Harry Kane in the box whilst attempting to reach an Ivan Perisic cross. Spurs’ shouts were to no avail however, as both the onfield referee and VAR refused to acknowledge the foul. Instead of looking to tie up the game at 1-1, Spurs found themselves down 2-0. A horrid shank from Eric Dier on an innocuous ball forward gifted Brentford a corner. Ivan Toney gambled on a near-post flicked header and easily tapped the ball in for Brentford’s second.
Spurs finally made the breakthrough at the 64 minute mark. The ball came to Lenglet deep in the half-space who curled a dangerous cross into the penalty area. Harry Kane leapt high above the Brentford defence and powered a brilliant header back across goal to reduce Spurs’ deficit to a solitary goal.
It didn’t take long for Tottenham to strike again. Some nice interplay by Dejan Kulusevski and Matt Doherty down the right found the Swede in acres of space in the box. His cutback was deflected, but fell to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who had plenty of time to fire the ball past Raya and square things up.
Frustration started to show in the Brentford team, and things started to get a little chippy after Brentford took exception to a hilarious piece of embellishment by Matt Doherty in the Brentford box. This work of art was clearly an inspiration to Brentford as Mbeumo tried to replicate it with a dive of his own, which earned him a booking.
Harry Kane very nearly had Spurs in the lead after beating Raya to another Clement Lenglet cross, but he could only shake his head in disbelief as his headed effort clanged off the bar. Brentford followed this with a chance of their own as Toney beat Forster to a chipped ball into the box. The bookies’ odds would have been in favour of Toney finishing but he could only scoop his attempt over the crossbar. Tottenham continued to search for a late winner with a flurry of set pieces, but weren’t able to find the winner and an exciting match concluded with points shared.
- So... the break didn’t do much to “fix” Spurs, did it? A dour, low-tempo first half, followed by a second half of urgency and impetus. Have you missed it? I know I haven’t.
- A lot of that second half improvement was due to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. He really took the match by the scruff of the neck in that second half, covering huge amounts of ground and really looking to up the tempo with his passing. Kulusevski looked much sharper in the second half as well.
- On the flipside, Yves Bissouma had a poor match. He looked good in a midfield two in the friendly against Nice, but here his shortcomings were on full display with Brentford’s pressure combining with his lack of passing range to stifle him on the ball. It’ll be good to have Rodrigo Bentancur back in action following his suspension.
- Conte has work to do with the defence; individual errors are still hurting this team, and it may be that reinforcements in the January window are the only solution.
- The referee today had a very... interesting definition of a foul. A game of rugby threatened to break out at points, but he continually swallowed his whistle. At least he was consistent?
- At the same time - BOO the ref for not having Kane’s first shot at goal after missing THAT penalty at the World Cup be another penalty attempt. We all wanted to see it! “See” of course being slang for hiding behind our couches.
- Next up, Villa at home. COYS!