After an extended rough stretch, Tottenham Hotspur finally looked exciting with four quick goals against Crystal Palace.
The team didn’t look so energized early on. They started assertively enough, but by the end of the first half appeared like the enervated team fans had come to expect for the opening 45 minutes each week. Tottenham was lucky to hang on to a 0-0 score as they left the pitch at halftime, thanks to a big Hugo Lloris save.
The second half was quickly a different story. While Spurs have shown second-half resilience throughout the season (for better or worse), this game pointed out that it’s not just the intensity or the offense that matters because their attack starts with their defending.
Tottenham needs more consistency with their defending
Tottenham began the game with a disjointed press. The team sometimes wanted to counter-press, but they couldn’t connect. At one point, Bryan Gil (amid a breakout game) appeared surprised when he applied pressure but didn’t have support for it to be successful. With the team spread out, it looked as if half the team was expecting to deploy an aggressive counter-press or at least a high press while the rest of the team intended to play a mid-block.
During this stretch – primarily starting about the midpoint of the first half – Palace took advantage of their stretched-out opponents to move up the field and get their best scoring opportunities. Spurs, largely thanks to Hugo Lloris’s bounce-back game, managed to hang on.
In the second half, Tottenham came out with energy and better organization. Each of their goals came not necessarily straight from a Palace turnover but from quick strikes after gaining possession. The more Spurs scored, the more ambitious Palace had to become, causing them to be the stretched defense. Tottenham took advantage with fluid movement and quick passing.
That approach shows the team at its best. They’re designed as a counterattacking team. With the 3-4-3 formation and the lack of a true lockpicker at midfield (something not required for the team’s approach but which would be useful), the team benefits more from direct play than from slow, careful build-up. With Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Oliver Skipp playing a little sloppily yesterday, the team didn’t need to rely on a controlled path through the middle when they could naturally stretch Palace and find opportunities.
Yesterday’s second half showed an ideal form for the Lilywhites. The team maintained a solid shape in confident defending up the pitch and used quick strikes to bypass their opponents before they could regroup. Ivan Perisic’s cross on Kane’s first goal showed what he was brought in for, but it was particularly effective following the brief sequencing leading up to it. Harry Kane and Gil’s 1-2 sequence epitomized the speed with which this team can attack.
Tottenham is missing several key players, with Dejan Kulusevski, Rodrigo Bentancur, and Richarlison all injured. Yesterday they demonstrated the effectiveness of solid team play that matches the squad’s formation, skill sets, and inclination. After a disastrous loss to Aston Villa, the Spurs looked to be a team in free fall, but they may have corrected the course with reinforcements on the way.