The final Tottenham Hotspur Premier League fixture of 2023 saw Spurs host a high-flying Bournemouth team. New coach Andoni Iraola had the Cherries playing excellent football, coming off a string of good results, with the Dorset side likely to provide a stern test for Ange Postecoglou’s injury-hit team, still reeling from conceding four against Brighton.
The squad would have been buoyed as Ange Postecoglou sprung one huge surprise in his starting lineup, with the return of Rodrigo Bentancur to the XI from an ankle injury a shock to many. His other change was enforced, with Dejan Kulusevski suspended due to yellow card accumulation; he was replaced by Giovani Lo Celso.
Spurs missed a gilt-edged chance early on. Some lovely play by Pape Matar Sarr set Brennan Johnson free down the right; his low cross found Son in a great position in the box, but his shot was shanked wide. This missed opportunity didn’t stop Tottenham from opening the scoring, however, as excellent pressing played creator for Spurs. Bentancur won the ball from an errant pass by Cherries goalkeeper Neto, before Lo Celso knocked the ball onto Pape Matar Sarr. The Senegalese international was given acres of space by the Bournemouth defense, and duly obliged by attacking the box before striking the ball across the goal. The shot was well-hit, and the ball nestled in the bottom corner of the net.
Spurs were looking shaky at the back themselves though, with Dominic Solanke unable to convert an early free header, before he nearly found himself free in behind the Spurs defensive line. This unfortunately was the pattern of much of the rest of the first half, with the majority of the play falling Bournemouth’s way. This was exacerbated as goalscorer Sarr went down half an hour in with what looked like an issue with his left leg. Ange didn’t need further injury woes with which to deal, but Sarr couldn’t continue and was replaced by Oliver Skipp.
This only served to make things even more open at the back for the Lilywhites, with multiple chances coming for the Cherries late in the half. A free kick from Marcus Tavernier sailed just wide thanks to a deflection off Richarlison; Justin Kluivert scuffed a shot wide of goal from the penalty spot; and there were two huge late blocks for Spurs, as a Solanke shot deflected onto the crossbar thanks to a typically excellent intervention from Ben Davies before Pedro Porro managed to get himself in the way of Kluivert as the Dutch international looked to line up the goal. Spurs would have been relieved to make the half still in the lead.
Bournemouth started the first half much like they finished the second, as Guglielmo Vicario mustered a huge save on a Solanke effort following a corner. Things began to open up, however, as Spurs began to look more dangerous. Richarlison especially was proving a nuisance to the Bournemouth defense, and had a huge chance to double Spurs’ lead. Played in by Son, he found himself all alone in the box, with all the time in the world to settle himself and shoot past Neto. Instead, he opted to shoot first time, and the ball trickled past the far post.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg made an appearance, with Bentancur applauded off the field on his return from injury, making it almost to the 60 minute mark. Some may have been hoping it was for Oliver Skipp, who was enduring a torrid time in midfield, receiving a yellow for clattering Lewis Cook, before being partially at fault for Bournemouth’s next big chance. Skipp was turned inside-out at the top of the Tottenham 18-yard box by Luis Sinisterra, with the Colombian drawing in the defense before finding Tavernier out wide. His square ball to Solanke was somehow nudged wide and Spurs survived once more.
The match was stretched as both sides tired. Heung-Min Son got in behind once and spurned the chance; but it was second time lucky for the Tottenham captain, as a sublime chipped ball from Lo Celso found the South Korean streaking in behind the Bournemouth backline. He settled himself and swept a left-footed strike past Neto to double the Spurs lead.
Richarlison had another effort sail wide after good work from Skipp found Son in the box, who laid the ball off to the Brazilian. Brennan Johnson also almost found his way in behind the Bournemouth defense soon after. The chances were a harbinger of things to come as Spurs were soon three to the good. An excellent ball forward from Emerson Royal found Brennan Johnson’s run down the right, and the Welshman drove an dangerous low cross into the box. Richarlison, after missing a couple of earlier big chances, made no mistake this time as he knocked the ball past Neto.
With the points seemingly secured, Ange Posteco made a triple substitution: Brighton goal-scorer Alejo Veliz for Richarlison, Bryan Gil for Brennan Johnson, and Eric Dier for Lo Celso. Things got nervy, however, as Bournemouth scored a late goal to narrow Tottenham’s lead to two. Alex Scott, apparent boyhood Spurs fan, was the one to score for the Cherries, after a one-two between Tavernier and Philip Billing allowed Tavernier to break into the Tottenham penalty area. He cut the ball back, and Scott finished coolly to raise the blood pressure of Spurs fans a touch.
With both sides clearly running on fumes, Bryan Gil soon had a chance to make the lead safe. Hojbjerg dribbled to the endline and chipped the ball into the center, with Gil having a headed opportunity from just a couple yards out with the goal begging. The Spaniard somehow managed to hit the crossbar instead, and there was soon similar poor luck for Alejo Veliz, who went down with what looked like a serious knee injury. A fracas erupted between the two benches as Bournemouth appeared to accuse the young Argentine of time-wasting, but he was unable to play any further part and limped from the field, leaving Tottenham with 10 on the pitch.
Alex Scott had the ball in the net once more in the dying minutes; this time though, the offside flag was raised and the goal didn’t count. Spurs were able to hold onto their lead with minimal further drama, and secured three points with a gritty, 3-1 win.
- There are wins where everything goes smoothly, and then there’s today. Bournemouth were probably incredibly unlucky, but that’s football. That’s not to say there wasn’t any quality play from Tottenham, but Spurs were incredibly open at the back and the Cherries were just unable to convert their chances.
- The midfield was a huge reason for the Bournemouth ascendancy late in the first half. The Cherries were already on the front foot when Sarr came off injured, but Skipp was a liability both on and off the ball, and Lo Celso was really poor in possession in our own half, consistently misplacing passes and taking heavy touches.
- Lo Celso really turned things around in the second half, however, with his pass for Son’s goal absolutely gorgeous. He was key in a number of other big chances for Spurs in that second 45, and if he can find some consistency, will be invaluable in the coming weeks as the Spurs squad loses more players to international duty.
- Speaking of... it was really sad to see two players come off in tears with injuries - but in Sarr’s case, it could be a bonus for Spurs, as depending on the severity of the injury it may mean Sarr missing AFCON but available sooner rather than later to play again for Tottenham. Sucks for Sarr though - you can absolutely understand his disappointment.
- A couple of nice moments for the Emerson Royal comp video today: a rocket of a shot was saved by Neto in the first half, and his pass forward that started the move for Richarlison’s goal was excellent.
- Both sides were clearly gassed at the end there. The fixtures are clearly catching up with the players, and the mid-January break can’t come soon enough.
- Even with everything this side has had to deal with - Tottenham Hotspur are only three points from the top! COYS!!!