After a sticky start, Spurs pushed on to secure a comprehensive victory against a lacklustre Swansea side. Once we went a goal up, the outcome was seldom in doubt. Strong on the counter, we protected our three goal lead efficiently in the last 15 minutes with a smooth display of possession football.
Adebayor rightly deserves the plaudits. On song for 90 minutes, his was the performance that decisively made the difference between the two sides. A roving lone striker, the Swansea defence was powerless in the face of his movement and intelligence, and at last we have someone to put away those chances.
Just as significant in the longer run, Christian Eriksen is becoming better game by game, maturing before our very eyes. He was excellent yesterday, particularly in the first half when he revelled in the increased involvement that came with his central midfield role. He wants to get on the ball, to make it work for himself and the team, and his cross for Manu’s opening goal was a thing of great beauty, hit quickly in a glorious arc, so lusciously inviting that I was shouting ‘that’s in’ even before Adebayor took off at the far post. Of the many subtle but significant changes Tim Sherwood has brought in, playing to Eriksen’s strengths could be seen as his masterstroke in the weeks and months to come.
Sherwood has his feet on the ground and is under no illusions about how he got the nod and the precarious nature of his contract. This weekend Louis Van Gaal took just a soundbite to remind him that he was second choice and that the Dutchman will come back for a second interview after the World Cup. Tim the Temp just shrugged it off, acknowledging post-match that whatever the time-period of his contract, Spurs have to finish fourth or he will be gone. Bit harsh on himself there, if I may say so, but he knows Levy and knows the score.
However, he remains unfazed. His determination to grab the opportunity with both hands is serving Tottenham well so far. No Spurs manager has ever started as well in the job as Sherwood and the indications are that this could be more than just a new manager bounce. Yesterday he showed his tactical flexibility again, confounding all the 4-4-2 debaters with a flexible 4-2-3-1. Chadli played wide left, allowing Eriksen to come inside but not to be stuck so far forward, as he was under AVB, that he could contribute little to the game. Bentaleb and Dembele’s starting positions were deeper but the Belgian could progress forward if circumstances allowed.
By the basic expedient of players settling in positions that suit them, it worked so much better than Villas-Boas’s attempts at the same set-up. While Chadli continues his quest to make as little impact on games as he possibly can, he is learning (slowly) to work back and to time his diagonal runs into the box. Lennon was busy on the right, allowing room for Walker to advance, while Sherwood protegé Bentaleb is remarkably accomplished in central midfield, especially in the final 15 minutes when under some Swansea pressure he kept the ball and stuck a toe in to break up attacks.
However, it wasn’t all sweetness and composure in midfield. They took time to find their rhythm but Swansea failed to make the most of the time they were offered in front of our back four. Bony caused more problems for our back four than any lone striker should. Swansea failed to give him either the service he required or much support in the box so his tireless efforts were wasted. Drifting almost exclusively onto Dawson, who presumably was targeted as the weak link, he was a real handful although our skipper kept on in there in the sort of battle he relishes. Chirches tidied up where he could – he played well. Our back four were too far apart at this point but they tightened up later and the team worked hard to cut out the supply of crosses to Bony.
In these early stages we gave the Welsh side too much respect and too much room. We preferred spectating to closing down but Lloris was impeccable, saving on several occasions and timing his dashes to the edge of the box well. The one time he was beaten, Bony’s shot crashed against the woodwork.
And that, as far as Swansea’s hopes of winning, was that. Gradually we got on top, then never let go. Adebayor found Eriksen’s cross from the right so desireable, he barged both a defender and team-mate Chadli out of the way to score a classic far-post headed goal.
Swansea made it straightforward for us to pick up where we left off. Throughout they showed none of the accurate, patient football or the pace of passing that has become their trademark under Laudrup. Spurs had a bit of luck for the second. Walker’s cross from the right was hard and low into the heart of the 6 yard box but Flores could have cleared, rather than knocking it past his keeper. As with the own goal Dembele forced against Sunderland earlier this season, it proves once more the value of dangerous crosses between the keeper and his back four.
Spurs were well on top now, easily breaking down the Swans’ feeble attacks and launching a series of smooth counters. Dembele should have scored from one, or passed to an unmarked Adebayor with half the Welsh defence out for a stroll along the Gower, but the Belgian did neither and rolled it past the post.
No matter. A minute later, Danny Rose, with his new beard looking like an extra from Shaft, burst onto a sharp tackle come pass from Siggy and raced down the left. His perfect ball found Ade who guided it carefully home. There’s no greater sign of where we are right now that you did not expect him to miss.
We played out the remaining time without being seriously tested, apart from the compulsory defensive cock-up. We failed to take several opportunities to a clear a ball and eventually Bony sidefooted it inside the right hand post. But Sherwood showed another string to his bow, how to use his subs well, Siggy replacing Chadli to guard against complacency at two up then Naughton shored up our right to protect us from runs from their attacking sub.
This was a good win but without taking anything away from the performance, it is put into some perspective by the fact that Swansea were not very good at all. If Bony on his own can cause problems, City will take us apart in our next game if we play the same way. However, our cunning cup exit gives us 10 days to get Vertonghen, Sandro and Paulinho fully fit.
Also, we may not be a match for the very best but my view has always been, win the games against teams below and around us, then see what happens. And that we are doing. I have grevious anxiety about the lack of long-term planning at Spurs that led to Sherwood’s appointment, which I mentioned last time and are superbly covered in passionate depth by Martin Cloake here. No doubt at all, however, that Sherwood is doing his level best on behalf of the club and is getting good performances from his players, and right now, you can’t say fairer than that.