Spurs maintained the momentum from a busy and productive week to defeat Burnley thanks to a stunning goal by Erik Lamela. In an uneven performance we had enough class at key moments to take the three points, driven on by the game’s outstanding player, Christen Eriksen. More salient in the long-term, there were positive signs that the recent team development continues too.
Spurs began slowly. Indeed they struggled at times to lift the tempo, a consequence of three games in six days. Plenty of time for a pre-Christmas chinwag as the game lacked spark. The Bloke Behind Me dozed off, the pompom on his blue Spurs santa hat dangling over his nose. There was little danger of anything happening on the pitch to rouse him.
Burnley’s neat passing game with two up front was easy on the eye and to their credit they constantly sought to get the ball forward. They paid Bentaleb the ultimate compliment by deputing a midfielder, ex-Spur Marney I think, to push up and mark him. This limited our ability to pass from deep and curtailed Nab’s influence. However, Eriksen more than compensated, revelling in the space thus created in our opponents’ half. He was high class throughout. There’s a different air about him now, bright-eyed and busy where just a few weeks ago he was directionless and absent for extended periods.
In Wednesday’s report I speculated that Pochettino was using that match to try out a few different options. One was Eriksen back in the middle again and it worked yesterday. The Dane spoke after the Swansea win about his increased fitness levels and judging by yesterday he’s a 90 minute man now.
Lamela had his best game since the QPR match. He stayed wide when we had the ball and we switched the play from left to right with an ease that’s seldom been seen this season, so when he set off he had that extra space to work up a head of steam. He varied things, going outside and in. Once he tiptoed to the byline and produced a perfect cross which three of our players contrived to miss from a couple of yards out.
His performance was crowned by a stunning goal, his first for the club. Coming in off his right foot, he scooted across the defence and curled a luxurious left-footer into the far corner. I involuntarily shouted ‘Come on!’ as it left his foot, urging the ball on while it was in mid-air like a golfer shouting at the ball he’s struck from the tee. It sounded just as ridiculous but I was right in line and knew it was in. It’s the kind of supporter stupidity that goes with a fabulous goal.
This proved to be the winner. Earlier, Kane had lifted us out of our stupor with an alert and audacious moment of inspiration. He took a free kick quickly. Eriksen, offside, stayed motionless allowing Chadli to run on to it. Before Burnley had come to their senses, Chadli went to the byline and chipped in a perfect cross for Kane to head home decisively from inside the six yard box.
This is typical Kane. Quick thinking plus the basics. Kane isn’t fast but that first yard’s in the head. How true – he goes straight to where he needs to be, running 35 yards to start and finish a move. The header was straightforward, getting to that point wasn’t. He’s developing his game all the time. When the ball is played up to him, back to goal, now he often traps it by pushing it sideways or diagonally towards the opposition goal, rather than just doing the safe thing and playing it backwards. This gives him the chance to get on the front foot and take the ball forwards. In the second half, he dropped deeper to pick the ball up in this manner then release Chadli who put the ball in the net but was offside. The body of a 21 year old with the brain of a 35 year old Sheringham.
Burnley hit back with a magnificent strike of their own, a top-corner curler from Barnes, after Lamela had twice given the ball away. After Kane’s goal it set us back on our heels until Lamela lifted the spirits. Second half, Mason’s absence, injured in the act of shooting, deprived us of much-needed energy. He had been everywhere, first to loose balls. Now Burnley did too much for our liking, looking to exploit Fazio’s lack of pace by twice slipping the ball inside him. However, he and Lloris got their angles right, pushing attackers wide so Hugo was able to block anything on target.
This week Vertonghen was praising his partnership with Fazio. Pochettino gave Kaboul a chance, now rightly it’s the turn of these two and there’s nothing like playing together to build a partnership. They both did well, Vertonghen in particular quick in the tackle. Burnley failed to get behind them so they dealt competently with anything in front of them. Fazio on the turn, so to speak, is a different story. He’s fine once he gets to wherever he’s supposed to be, the trouble is in the getting there.
Spurs flagged for a time then rallied and we should have scored again on the break, with Eriksen prominent. Lloris saved a late free-kick from sub Wallace and that was that.
Wallace was another in this week’s series of Slightly Misshapen Footballers. Physicality is so important now, most players are fine, identikit specimens this days. Wingers are no longer slight and nippy – Spurs played two six-footers. Subs Wallace for Burnley and Armstrong for Newcastle on Wednesday are stout, short men with torso and heads out of proportion with their legs. More power to them, say I, it’s refreshing to see something out of the ordinary.
Our midfield had a balanced look. Lamela and Chadli stayed wide for the most part in the early phases of attacks, both making good decisions as to when to stay wide and when to come in that won the match for us. The inverted winger thing doesn’t mean that they are compelled to come inside every time. Sound decision-making is more important. Mason and Bentaleb are solid behind them.
Also, we managed to get support to Kane up front without wasting a precious midfielder on just playing off him. Kane is clever enough to know when to drop deeper and when to press up, while Eriksen is now able and willing to get up and back.
Kudos to the visiting fans who all wore Christmas hats and celebrated a day out by singing long and loud in the second half. Hope they had a safe journey home.
A final sour note that hopefully won’t spoil an enjoyable day. We meet Burnley in the Cup of course, a match scheduled inconceivably for a Monday night. So much for the magic of the Cup. The Trust asked for an explanation. At first they were fobbed off by both the club and the FA. Pressing again, contradictory accounts emerged, the FA saying the clubs wanted it, Spurs that it was the FA taking police advice into account. Someone’s lying: as ever it’s the supporters who suffer.