With Tottenham Hotspur’s campaign for a spot in the upper echelons of European competition all but over, the only thing really left to push for was a spot in the oft-maligned Conference League and a chance to put smiles back on the faces of the fans. Ryan Mason had definitely brought back some positive vibes since his appointment as interim manager, but had also offered more than just enthusiasm with some interesting tactical tweaks in matches.
In that vein, the lineup named against Crystal Palace would have left some scratching their heads, as Pedro Porro and Ben Davies were both named, plus a surprising return from injury for Emerson Royal. Richarlison came into the side, replacing Dejan Kulusevski, and Eric Dier likely paid the price for some poor performances, dropping out of the starting XI for Clement Lenglet. There was much discussion amongst supporters (and in the masthead chat) as to who may be lining up where, but Mason set the side up in a fluid approach that appeared to maximize both width and vertical compactness.
The majority of the first 45’ saw little beyond half-chances, the first of which came from a Spurs set-piece: Cristian Romero left the crossbar shaking with a flicked-on header as he wasn’t quite able to find the net. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was likewise unable to hit the target, firing over after some nice interplay with Harry Kane found the Dane in space in the box. Michael Olise wriggled free from Clement Lenglet soon after to fashion a chance of his own, but fired it straight at Fraser Forster, as Spurs fans breathed a sigh of relief.
Tottenham were eventually the side to open the scoring in the dying minutes of the first half. Harry Kane sprayed a ball wide to Pedro Porro, who controlled the ball and curled a cross into the penalty area. Kane delayed his run into the box, and the Palace defense totally lost track of the England striker as he snuck in behind Joel Ward to head the ball home and put Spurs into the lead. Kane went clear into second on the all-time Premier League scoring charts, and Spurs went into halftime deserved leaders.
The second half didn’t exactly improve on the quality of the first, as the match descended into a more fractious affair as Palace became more and more frustrated in their attempts to break Spurs down. There were a couple of decent opportunities for either side: Eberechi Eze had a glorious opportunity to even the ledger after Spurs were caught in transition and Hojbjerg came across too narrow in cover; and Son Heung-Min found himself one-on-one with Sam Johnstone after a fantastic long ball from Romero, but was unable to round the Palace goalkeeper.
Palace attempted to build pressure, pushing for an equalizer, but Spurs stood firm and Ryan Mason made a number of substitutions in an attempt to hold the lead, with Deki, Dier, and Arnaut Danjuma all seeing the pitch. Tottenham engaged in some interesting timewasting tactics to run the clock down, and the referee eventually blew the fulltime whistle, with Spurs deserved 1-nil victors.
- 3 points are nice. A clean sheet is almost as nice (especially after the last *gestures vaguely at extended time period where Spurs have been bad*).
- As I mentioned in the report, Mason made some interesting tweaks, setting up in a fluid 3-4-3 / 4-4-2. It worked pretty well, removing a chunk of defensive responsibility from Pedro Porro and allowing Romero to set the tone defensively from the center.
- What was impressive is how well-organized Spurs looked in the new setup; we saw just a few weeks back at Newcastle under Stellini that a system change could be disastrous if not executed well, but Mason’s coaching had obviously done enough to get the message across.
- The winning of the match for Spurs was really in the wide areas. Palace held the middle well, but when Tottenham moved the ball quickly they found plenty of space down the wings, and that’s where the goal came.
- It was nice seeing Emerson Royal back; things felt a lot more safe down the right with him there.
- Oliver Skipp had a tough match, with a number of giveaways, and in all honesty - I’m surprised he was even out there. It was a horrible blow he suffered last week, and I would have thought that with Ryan Mason’s history he would have been reticent to expose Skippy to any further risk.
- Mason did unfortunately embrace his inner Conte, taking far too long to make substitutions (one was especially needed in midfield), allowing Palace to work their way back into the match against a tiring Spurs side.
- That Clement Lenglet yellow card was incredible, with a near rugby tackle to prevent Wilfried Zaha going clean through. Unfortunately, he came out of that “challenge” worse for wear, and it’s possible a shoulder or pec issue could keep him out the remainder of the season. Hopefully it looked worse than it was.
- COYS, Matthew.