With only one point on the board following the World Cup restart, Tottenham Hotspur came into a tough away match against Crystal Palace under huge amounts of pressure to claim 3 points. Though the results had been less than stellar, it was really the performances under the microscope as the lackluster play that plagued Spurs early on in the season continued to frustrate fans. Antonio Conte’s options to change things up were somewhat limited by an injury-ridden squad, and he made a single change from the loss against Villa, with Oliver Skipp coming into the side for the suspended Yves Bissouma.
It was a bright start for Conte’s men, with the early play going all Spurs’ way, moving the ball quickly and pressuring the Palace players in possession. The patented patterns looked the best they had following the World Cup break, and Tottenham opened up Palace several times for a number of half-chances. There were a few occasions of nice interplay on the edge of the Palace box and one-touch passing from midfield, and it seemed that only the final ball was lacking.
Unfortunately though, it soon became a familiar story as Palace played their way back into the match as Tottenham’s pressure on the ball started to flag. There was a huge chance for Eberechi Eze to play Jordan Ayew in behind Eric Dier that was killed by an overhit pass, before a burst from Wilf Zaha following a Skipp giveaway found Ayew in the box. He turned Clement Lenglet much too easily but luckily hit his shot too close to Hugo Lloris, who made a good save. Joachim Andersen had an attempt of his own soon after, having Hugo beat on a well-hit strike from range that narrowly sailed past the post. From there, Spurs continued to struggle in possession, and the half was seen out by scrappy play from both sides with a scarcely believable nil-all scoreline.
Tottenham began the first half lucky not to concede, with Ayew easily beating Cristian Romero but unable to get a shot off after Dier came across to cover. Spurs had a half-chance of their own up the other end as Harry Kane found Matt Doherty in acres of space down the right. This time the Irishman was only able to shank his shot wide, but it was a portent of things to come.
It wasn’t long before Tottenham had another chance and this time Harry Kane made Palace pay. Some lovely play by Heung-Min Son and Bryan Gil in the middle got Spurs into a great attacking position, and the Spaniard played in Ivan Perisic down the left. Perisic’s cross was inch-perfect to the far post, with Kane bullying the Palace defence to rise highest and head past Vicente Guaita from a very tight angle and put Spurs into the lead.
Harry Kane soon doubled Tottenham’s lead. With Crystal Palace continuing in a narrow setup, there was huge amounts of space to be found out wide. Gil exploited this, receiving the ball with huge amounts of time before playing an incisive pass between Palace defenders to Kane in the box. Kane’s first touch was excellent, and he swept the ball past Guaita to send the away fans into raptures.
Crystal Palace tried to push back, creating a few more half-chances of their own. Michael Olise had a go from wide, and Jean-Phillipe Mateta had a header in the center of the box that looped over the crossbar. The more Palace pushed though, the more things opened up for Spurs going back the other way, and Tottenham continued to look dangerous in attack. Heung-Min Son had a moment that summed up his season thus far, making a clearly offside run and then unable to even beat Guaita on the 1-on-1 chance that followed.
Son had a chance soon after to make amends, receiving the ball in a great position following a fantastic driving run from Harry Kane. Son’s touch was poor and it looked like the chance was lost as the Palace defense sent him wide, but he tried to center the ball and his pass was serendipitously deflected to Matt Doherty in space in the box. Doherty struck the ball well with his weak foot, and gave Tottenham a 3-nil lead. Spurs didn’t stop there, with a fourth following soon after. Kane clipped a ball forward for Son that should have easily been dealt with by Palace center back Marc Guehi. Guehi failed to handle the ball though and it fell to Son who this time made no mistake in knocking the ball past Guaita and release what must have felt like a world of pressure that had been building on him.
Spurs cruised from there. Conte cleared the bench, with Ben Davies, Emerson Royal, and Ryan Sessegnon coming on to make contributions, plus encouraging cameos from young players Pape Mata Sarr and Harvey White (his Premier League debut!). Kane continued to look for his hat-trick with a couple of opportunities but nothing clear-cut, and the match came to a close with Tottenham Hotspur convincing 4-0 victors.
- Man, that felt GOOD. I think that was probably Spurs’ best performance of the season. Outside of 25 minutes in the first half, Tottenham were clearly the better team, and dominant at times.
- Antonio Conte made an interesting tactical tweak, with Harry Kane playing in somewhat of a false nine role, regularly dropping deep with Bryan Gil and Heung-Min Son acting as forwards to try pin back the Palace defense and try create space between the defensive and midfield line.
- As a result, the Crystal Palace midfield dropped deeper, initially giving the Spurs midfield far too much time on the ball early on. Around 20 minutes in, they made their own tactical tweak, narrowing the defensive line and pushing the midfield higher, funneling the play wide. This is when Spurs started to struggle, as all the onus fell on the wingbacks to progress the ball.
- Conte combated that in the second half by going back more to his classic 3-4-3, allowing more interplay between his wingbacks, midfield, and wide forwards and exploiting the width much more. Palace couldn’t handle the shift and fell apart.
- There were some interesting individual performances of note. Oliver Skipp looked really encouraging on the ball early on and moved the ball quickly, aiding Spurs’ quick tempo. He faded as the match went on though, and really struggled defensively as Wilfried Zaha looked to target him. Likewise, Bryan Gil was busy but really lacked any sort of final product - until the fantastic pass for Kane’s second!
- Pape Mata Sarr’s showing off the bench was extremely encouraging. He made some fantastic defensive plays, both high up the pitch and in our own box, and consistently looked forwards. I’m extremely Sarr-curious.
- How good is Harry Kane? He was excellent today.
- This result puts a lot of pressure on Daniel Levy to back Antonio Conte in the January window, and the fans sure made their voices were heard, cheering on Antonio and again declaring Levy should step down.
- Next up, the FA Cup against Portsmouth.