5 talking points from Tottenham’s 1-0 home win over Middlesbrough
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Harry Kane scored a second-half penalty as Tottenham beat Middlesbrough 1-0 at White Hart Lane, capitalising on Arsenal and Liverpool’s defeats. Here are five talking points.
1. Mauricio Pochettino sticks with two centre-backs
Tottenham enjoyed great success while using a 3-4-2-1 system at the turn of the year, winning seven games in a row.
But, having been forced to abandon that formation and switch to 4-2-3-1 during the 2-2 draw at Manchester City a fortnight ago, Pochettino has continued to choose two centre-backs rather than three, enabling him to select a third attacking midfielder.
That decision did not pay off as the Argentinian would have liked on Tuesday as Spurs were held to a goalless draw at Sunderland, only managing three shots on target.
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However, there was little wrong with the Lilywhites’ attacking threat against Middlesbrough this evening and they should probably have won by more.
2. Heung-Min Son ensures Spurs have an attacking threat on the left in the absence of Danny Rose
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Pochettino’s decision to select three attacking midfielders again was good news for Son, who was given a second successive Premier League start for the first time in two months.
The South Korean has proven himself to be a useful squad man this season, scoring goals both as a substitute and in second-string sides in the cup competitions, but he has not always taken his opportunities when he has been in the starting line-ups for top-flight fixtures.
Tuesday’s game at Sunderland was a prime example – yet the 24-year-old was given another chance against Middlesbrough and provided a consistent threat on the left side.
That was important in the absence of the injured Danny Rose, who usually gives Spurs so much attacking thrust on that flank. Deputy left-back Ben Davies, who defended solidly, is less effective going forward – but Son more than made up for that.
He drew a fine early save from Victor Valdes and then delivered two first-half crosses to Harry Kane, resulting in a header that should have been put away and then a disallowed goal.
In the end it was Son who won the crucial 58th-minute penalty as well, as he quickly changed direction in the box and was brought down by Espinosa Berndardo.
The midfielder could have done better with a couple of shots but he has probably earned himself a spot in the line-up against Liverpool next weekend.
3. Tottenham’s defensive solidity ensures one goal is enough
Having shut Sunderland out in Tuesday’s stalemate, Spurs kept another clean sheet this evening, ensuring that Kane’s spot-kick was enough to give them all three points.
The Lilywhites have only conceded once in their last six Premier League games at White Hart Lane, and have only shipped five goals at home in the top flight in total.
That solidity in front of the Spurs faithful will help Pochettino’s side to win more tight games such as these.
4. …But some breathing room would be welcome
If there is a criticism from tonight’s performance, it is that Tottenham need to be more clinical.
The home side had 65 per cent of the possession and mustered 17 shots on Valdes’ goal, but only five of them were on target and they only scored once.
That proved to be adequate but, in the 90th minute, Middlesbrough’s Marten de Roon volleyed narrowly wide from 10 yards out and Tottenham then had to defend a couple of set pieces.
They worked hard for their victory and deserved it, but the final minutes were nervier than they should have been given Spurs’ dominance.
5. This time Spurs capitalise on their rivals’ defeats
Tottenham missed a big opportunity at Sunderland in midweek, failing to make the most of the fact that Arsenal were defeated while Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United all drew.
However, Pochettino’s side made amends in a similar scenario today, capitalising fully as third-placed Arsenal lost at Chelsea and fourth-placed Liverpool went down 2-0 at Hull.
Pochettino’s side have now strengthened their hold on the runners-up spot, moving three points clear of Arsenal and four clear of Liverpool. It is a useful gap – especially as Spurs travel to Anfield next Saturday.
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