5 talking points from Tottenham’s 1-0 home win over Sunderland
Harry Kane struck a second-half winner as Tottenham beat Sunderland 1-0 at White Hart Lane, securing their second successive Premier League victory and climbing to third place in the table. Here are five talking points.
1. Ben Davies – rested or dropped?
Mauricio Pochettino decided to move Jan Vertonghen to left-back, deploying Eric Dier as a right-sided centre-back and moving Toby Alderweireld to the left side of the central duo.
The reason, it seemed, was to give Ben Davies a rest. Otherwise, in the absence of the injured Danny Rose and with a League Cup tie against Gillingham to come on Wednesday, the Welshman faced the prospect of four successive starts in just a week and a half.
However, Davies had also ensured a difficult evening against Monaco and it may have been that Pochettino simply felt more comfortable with Vertonghen at left-back.
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Vertonghen ended up doing a solid job and helped Heung-Min Son to shine ahead of him, but Spurs are missing Rose’s pace and ability to scamper in behind the defence.
Meanwhile, Kevin Wimmer’s exile from the squad continued, and 18-year-old Cameron Carter-Vickers - who has been preferred to the Austria international on the bench so far this season – also missed out this time.
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Pochettino opted not to name any centre-backs among the substitutes, his reason seemingly being that Davies could be introduced and Vertonghen could return to the middle if necessary.
Indeed that is precisely what happened in the 77th minute when Dier limped off – and Davies looked nervy, giving the ball straight to an opponent in his own half with just three minutes of normal time left.
2. First-half dominance
Pochettino felt his side lacked passion and attacking aggression in the first half of their Champions League defeat to Monaco – the third time in Spurs’ opening five games that they had been behind at the interval.
This time the Lilywhites were quickly out of the blocks and dominated the first half, having 72 per cent of the possession and mustering 19 shots. It was the most first-half attempts in any Premier League game since Boxing Day – but Tottenham were unable to beat Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and break the deadlock.
The opening 45 minutes was summed up when Son’s strike hit Kane and Moussa Sissoko’s volley was blocked, while Victor Wanyama shot wide – all in the space of five seconds.
Despite all of that, Sunderland almost grabbed the lead just before the break, with Kyle Walker having to make a heroic goalline block to deny Steven Pienaar – but Spurs’ efforts were eventually rewarded when they got the decisive goal just before the hour-mark.
3. Harry Kane strikes again – but departs on a stretcher
Despite opening his account for the season at Stoke last Saturday, the Tottenham striker has had to defend himself from criticism once again this week after missing a chance to score an equaliser against Monaco on Wednesday.
It has all felt rather unnecessary and premature, given he also experienced a slow start last campaign before going on to win the golden boot.
Nonetheless, some supporters were calling for Kane to be rested today, and for summer signing Vincent Janssen to start up front instead – but Pochettino rightly stuck with his primary forward and the England man duly struck the winner.
He also battled typically hard for his team, creating a chance for Erik Lamela with a sliding tackle deep in Sunderland’s half.
Unfortunately, another similar challenge soon after resulted in an injury and Kane was stretchered off, which is a real concern - especially as it followed Dier’s departure.
It brought Janssen into the fray and the Dutchman had a late chance but blazed high and wide from 20 yards. He may need to get his eye in sooner rather than later, if Kane is going to have a spell on the sidelines.
4. Son shines
The South Korean midfielder was the star of last Saturday’s 4-0 victory at Stoke, scoring twice and setting up another goal.
While he was substituted at half-time against Monaco on Wednesday, after seeing an early chance cleared off the line, Son was dangerous throughout down the left flank today and gave Sunderland right-back Jason Denayer – a late addition to the Black Cats’ line-up – a torrid time.
The 24-year-old was purposeful and direct, getting to the by-line and putting treacherous crosses into the box, while also getting shots off and coming closer to a goal than any of his team-mates in the first period when his low effort hit the post.
5. Mousa Dembele’s return
The Belgian midfielder made his first start of the season after completing his six-match domestic suspension and showed why he has been missed.
Two instances highlighted his value. In the first half, after an admittedly risky turn close to his own box, Dembele showed his strength by winning a 50-50 challenge before freeing Son, who came inside from the left touchline and struck the upright.
Then, in the second period, the 29-year-old effortlessly turned away from two Sunderland players and prodded the ball to Vertonghen, leaving his opponents out of position and maintaining the home side’s momentum.
Dembele went off just after the 70-minute mark to a standing ovation. The fans certainly recognise his importance.
Meanwhile, another Moussa (Sissoko), made his first start for Tottenham on the right side of the front four after his £30million move from Newcastle on deadline day.
He started well, sending a low shot wide of the far post and seeing a powerful volley blocked while also offering a threat in the box at set pieces - but his influence faded as the game went on and he had a relatively quiet second half.
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