There was never any doubt about the context of Millwall’s trip to Tottenham for the FA Cup quarterfinal matchup on Sunday.
Tottenham ranked second in the Premier League coming into this fixture. Millwall, meanwhile, are struggling to get out of League one. This was a David v Goliath scenario, only outmatched by Arsenal taking on nonleague Lincoln on Saturday.
Millwall played with big dogs before though and came out none the worse for wear. They beat both Watford and Leicester City before their trip to White Hart Lane. It was possible that they could see through the barrage that awaited them in north London too.
Possible, but unlikely. After a dip in form in mid-February, Spurs looked nigh unbeatable coming into this match. They would be able to break through the best of what Millwall could muster.
Unsurprisingly, that effort didn’t necessitate anything close to clever. Mauricio Pochettino named close to his strongest possible squad — and Harry Winks, Michel Vorm and Kieran Trippier are hardly drastic fall-offs in quality compared to the men they replaced.
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Harry Kane’s injury in the opening ten minutes threatened to throw a wrench into this plan. Though there’s plenty of quality spread around this squad, Kane is unquestionably the leading light of the offense. His goals decided recent contests against Fulham, Stoke and Everton.
Hardly deterred, the rest of the squad stepped up and, combined, exceeded what Kane could ever hope to do on his own. Six unanswered goals — three scored by converted striker Heung-min Son — spoke to even a hobbled Spurs side’s dominance on the day.
Millwall demanded no special adjustments or keen insights to beat. They sat back, as predicted, and failed to find ways forward through Tottenham’s massed quality. Their keeper, Tom King, put up a valiant effort but in the end could not keep up with the volleys hurled at his goal from all angles.
It wasn’t simply that Millwall were relative minnows compared to Spurs. Tactics aren’t especially important to Pochettino even against most Premier League opponents. Even if we talk plenty about the use of the 3-4-2-1 system, its primary quality is that it gets Tottenham’s most potent players higher up the pitch.
It’s a brute force tactic that is familiar to teams like Manchester United and Chelsea. When you’re working with such ingredients as Kane and Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen, it hard makes sense to tweak the recipe game to game.
That’s not always the case. Pochettino switched things up for wins over Manchester City and Chelsea to certain extents. For any team not in the Premier League’s top six, finding room for all of the club’s best players in the starting XI is often enough.