With the help of Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur have secured European football
Goal difference, the first tiebreaker in Premier League football, thanks to goal difference and a couple Chelsea goals against Wolverhampton, Tottenham Hotspur tied their way to Europa League next season. Now where in Europa League is still to be determined and for another discussion, but for today, Spurs have done just enough to cash a European check next season.
Tottenham Secures Europa League
Harry Kane had an early goal and it seemed Tottenham Hotspur took their foot off the gas pedal a bit. Then at the stroke of halftime – in the space of about 3 minutes – Chelsea scored two on Wolverhampton and suddenly Spurs were in sole possession of 6th. It was obvious that the news had reached Jose Mourinho as Tottenham parked the bus in the second half and hung on for a 1-1 Premier League draw.
That point, combined with Wolves taking none in the loss to Chelsea put Spurs level at 59 points with Wolves, bringing goal difference into the equation. With a plus 14 goal difference compared to Wolves plus 11, Tottenham official finished 6th above Wolves on the tiebreaker. Of course, while the point was huge as is making Europa League, the end game celebration for Spurs compared to that of Aston Villa who managed to survive the drop, were quite different as Jose and his staff celebrated far more than any Spurs players who understood how disappointing the season overall was.
That said, there was a game, it was free-flowing, but far from pretty and the lack of a cutting edge in the first half from Spurs kept Palace in the game and almost cost Tottenham everything they have been fighting for the last six weeks.
Spurs Game Story
Tottenham Hotspur started the game brightly, scurrying around the pitch working to pressure the ball early and often.
Those early efforts looked to put Spurs on the front foot and Giovanni Lo Celso had a decent look at goal but was easily saved in the first five minutes. The pressure continued and earned Spur an early free-kick.
Since Christian Eriksen has left the club, Tottenham have been looking for someone to take free-kicks.
In this instance, it was Heung-Min Son who had an early opportunity, as Lo Celso rolled the ball into the Korean’s path. Ultimately, Son’s effort was wide, but the pressure was to continue.
Just a few minutes later Palace is scrambling to clear the ball out from the back and Eric Dier – starting after missing four games from suspension – attacked the ball and won a header to keep it in the attacking third. Son went for the loose ball but could not control it, but it fell to Lo Celso. As a point guard, the Argentine midfielder attacked the middle of the pitch toward the penalty area.
Lo Celso then did what great point guards do and he laid a beautiful no-look cut-back pass to Harry Kane. The suddenly in-form striker knew exactly what to do with the ball. The first touch with the left foot popped the ball out exactly right for his right foot to blast through past Vicente Guaita near-post like a training exercise. It looked like Kane was on the way to the hat-trick I had so foolishly predicted.
Spurs were up 1-0 and things were looking good. Tottenham had three shots with two on target and a goal in the first 13 minutes against a team with nothing to play for who have lost seven in a row, the route was seemingly on for the streaking Spurs. However, instead of putting their foot on Palace’s proverbial throat, Spurs did what many of the Jose detractors most criticize the Portuguese manager for, playing not to lose rather than to win.
That Harry Kane goal was to be Tottenham’s last shot on target in the match as Spurs slowly sat further and further back allowing Palace more and more possession. Sure, Tottenham won the possession match 53% to 47% overall, but there were stretches in the second half where Spurs had less than 30% of the ball for a good 15 minutes. While the counterattack was good to Tottenham against Leicester, Palace – in what is presumably Roy Hodgson’s last game as a manager – were sitting just as deep.
Just as the Spurs consistent early pressure on Palace paid off with a Kane goal, the Eagle’s ongoing possession left Tottenham vulnerable. One thing Jose Mourinho is going to have to continue to work on is people turning off on the defensive end. In this instance Eric Dier lost Scott Dann – Palace’s only aerial target – on a corner and Dann’s header back into the back landed well for Jeffrey Schlupp who slammed the ball into the roof of the net for a 1-1 tie.
Following the goal, one would think Tottenham would have stepped back-up, but sometimes it is difficult to turn it back on once you have turned it off. Jose brought on Steven Bergwijn, Dele Alli, and Oliver Skipp – who came on when Moussa Sissoko seemed to pull something – but Spurs did little to really turn the tide.
Finally, it happened however, Jose used a fourth sub and brought on Davinson Sanchez to help seal the draw. There was one more moment for Palace as again Dann rose on a free kick, this time over a helpless Dele Alli to knock down the header toward goal. Hugo Lloris was frozen in place helpless to do anything but turn and watch as the ball bounced just past the post. Luckily for Spurs it was on the outside of the post and time soon expired.
In the end there was some free-flowing football from Spurs at times, but there was also a lot of moments where Tottenham looked like a team lost for ideas and a plan. Ultimately, Spurs did enough, and Jose will now have more time to implement his approach and philosophy on the team, which hopefully has far more moments like last week’s masterclass over Leicester City, than this week’s slop against Palace.
Regardless, Chelsea did their part and Spurs did just enough to make it to Europe, even if it is at the little kid’s table. Now, where in Europe becomes the question, but again that is for a different day.