There’s nothing so toxic at Tottenham Hotspur that can’t be at least temporarily assuaged with a 4-0 thumping of Crystal Palace. Spurs’ big win at Selhurst Park yesterday won’t end the simmering discontent among Spurs fans, who have mostly directed their ire towards club chairman Daniel Levy, but it will certainly tamp it down some.
The victory was notable not just because it halted a string of dour and unimpressive performances on the pitch, but also because it featured a number of unsung heroes in Bryan Gil and Pape Matar Sarr. Both Gil and Sarr impressed on Wednesday night — Gil started in place of Dejan Kulusevski, his second Premier League start, and had an assist for for Harry Kane’s first goal to go along with two “hockey assists” in an impressive showing. Sarr was a second half substitute for Oliver Skipp and likewise did well, displaying an impressive dribbling ability and a composure on the pitch that belied his age.
And it wan’t just fans who noticed. Gil got a big hug from Antonio Conte after being subbed off for Ryan Sessegnon, and after the match got some big praise from Kane, his team captain, in a post-match interview.
“I’m really happy for Bryan. He’s waited patiently for his chance, worked really hard on the training pitch. I say to everyone, ‘just be ready for your opportunity’, and Bryan was there last night. He would have been a little bit disappointed after the last game, but he came out and showed his quality. I’m delighted for him and I’m sure he’ll be ready for the next one.”
Spurs manager Antonio Conte likewise had some very positive comments about Gil’s play and his overall development since joining the club in the summer of 2021 (even if he basically told him to go eat a sandwich or 30).
“It was really important, you know about Bryan Gil we are talking about a player who was born to play football. He understands football quickly. He’s so clever, so intelligent to understand the situation. Then you know this league is difficult, because you have to be good in quality and be fast and to have good endurance and he has this type of quality.
“But at the same time you have to be strong physically. I think compared to last season Gil is improving a lot also under this aspect. He has to become stronger physically. I compared him to Bernardo Silva, at Manchester City, because in my opinion they are really, really similar. He has to continue to work really strongly on the physical aspect because I repeat we are talking about a player with great quality.”
There’s some hope that for both Sarr and Gil their recent performances have warranted them a start this Saturday in Spurs’ home FA Cup match against League One side Portsmouth. Conte didn’t give any hints about his plans for the Cup, but one would expect players like Gil, Sarr, and even Harvey White, who made his Premier League debut against Palace, would be in consideration.
The other notable player in the win over Palace was Son Heung-Min, who has endured an awful run of form this season after joint-winning the Premier League Golden Boot last season. Sonny has cut a frustrated figure in recent weeks, and has been at times phenomenally unlucky with his finishing. But on Wednesday, he broke through, scoring Tottenham’s fourth. It was the most cathartic of goals, with Sonny whipping off his face mask and looking incredibly relieved as his teammates mobbed him.
Kane said afterwards that he had no doubts about Sonny’s ability to come back from adversity.
“I’m really happy for Sonny. He’s been working really hard behind the scenes and in every game, and sometimes as an attacking player you just need a bit of luck to go your way.
“Hopefully, that can give him loads of confidence now. He’s a really important player for us and we’re going to need him if we want to do anything important this season.”
Tottenham’s next league match is a big one — the home North London Derby against league-leading Arsenal on Sunday, January 15. Conte is hopeful that he’ll have the bulk of his starts return in time for this fixture, but at the very least he now knows he can get a tune out of some of his squad players.