Five talking points from Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace
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Ben Pearce reflects on Spurs’ important Premier League win at Selhurst Park earlier today
Harry Kane scored a late winner as Spurs triumphed 1-0 at Crystal Palace. Here are five talking points from Selhurst Park:
1. Jan Vertonghen misses out after injury in training
Mauricio Pochettino had taken the opportunity during Friday’s press conference to praise his Belgian defender, describing him as “a complete centre-back” and one of the best players in his best position in Europe.
He probably wishes now he had kept quiet because, during Saturday’s training session, Vertonghen suffered a blow to the ankle, which ruled him out of this afternoon’s match.
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It was the first time Spurs had been without Vertonghen in the Premier League this season, and the first time they had been missing both Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld since the latter joined the club in the summer of 2015.
As a result, Eric Dier was forced to drop into the back line. It is not the Englishman’s best position and, with Davinson Sanchez lacking consistency in previous outings, the heart of Tottenham’s defence looked unusually vulnerable.
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It was therefore somewhat surprising that Pochettino also picked Serge Aurier rather than Kieran Trippier at right-back, given the Ivorian’s previous outing had been a poor one against Juventus.
That decision looked questionable throughout the game too, with Aurier having a very mixed display.
While he forced a save from Wayne Hennessey in the second half and made a fine last-ditch tackle on Alexander Sorloth, he also had some careless moments, missed a huge chance at point-blank range in the closing stages and committed three foul throws.
Nonetheless, Spurs kept a clean sheet without their top two centre-backs, with is encouraging.
2. Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura are both preferred to Heung-Min Son
This time last month Son was one of Spurs’ most important players, having scored seven goals in 11 matches, and it was hard to see how Lamela was going to regain a place in Pochettino’s best XI.
However, the South Korean’s form has dipped and he has since gone nine games without finding the net, opening the door for Lamela.
The Argentinian got the nod against Juventus in the Champions League, justifying his selection, and Son then failed to respond when he started at Rochdale in last weekend’s FA Cup tie.
Son had started all three of the Premier League matches against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, helping Spurs to bank an impressive seven points from a possible nine, but Pochettino opted for Lamela again at Selhurst Park today.
This time the 25-year-old was less impressive. Sitting deep, Palace dealt fairly well with Spurs’ attempts to play intricate passes through them, and Lamela found it difficult to make an impact – as did Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen.
Something different was required – an injection of pace – and when Pochettino turned to his bench he opted to introduce Lucas first, before bringing on Son too.
It seems the South Korean has work to do in Wednesday’s replay against Rochdale at Wembley.
3. Spurs look dozy in early kick-off
This match was originally due to take place on Monday night but was moved to accommodate Tottenham’s FA Cup replay against Rochdale on Wednesday.
The rescheduling was, in some ways, positive for Spurs – it meant they did not have to visit Selhurst Park under lights, when the atmosphere would probably have been more hostile.
This Sunday midday kick-off inevitably affected the atmosphere, making the stadium rather more hospitable. But it also seemed to affect Tottenham’s intensity.
Palace were missing 12 senior players due to injury and Spurs boasted 77 per cent of the possession in the first half, but their build-up play was slow and there was a general lack of urgency.
After looking nervy at the back early on and surviving a couple of scares, Palace gradually became better organised and grew in confidence.
Spurs eventually piled on the pressure and deserved to win after creating by far the better chances, but it was hardly pretty and they need to reach the higher gears rather quicker in their upcoming matches.
4. Kane makes up for earlier misses with late winner
The Tottenham striker could have given his side a far more comfortable afternoon if he had scored, as expected, when the ball fell to him six yards out early on. Instead, he was denied by Hennessey.
That set the tone for a largely frustrating afternoon for Kane. He was briefly awarded a penalty, only to have it immediately taken away from him by an offside flag after a very tight call, and in the second half he missed another sitter from five yards.
Yet the 24-year-old kept plugging away, searching for that decisive goal, and he finally got it in the 89th minute, heading home from Eriksen’s corner.
He has now scored 20 goals in his last 15 away matches in the Premier League, and has struck 23 times in 34 top-flight London derbies, equalling Didier Drogba’s record.
He has also regained his lead ahead of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah in the race for the Golden Boot. Kane has 23 league goals - one more than the Egyptian, who drew level after scoring against West Ham on Saturday.
5. Tottenham wait to see which of their rivals drops points
Spurs recently had the difficulty of facing three of their top-six rivals in succession – Man United, Liverpool and Arsenal - and they came through that challenge with flying colours, staying in the thick of the fight for the Champions League spots.
Their reward is that they now have a series of very winnable fixtures against bottom-half teams – Palace, Huddersfield, Bournemouth and then Newcastle – while their main challengers are going head to head.
Spurs left it late today but they secured a valuable victory which took them up into fourth place, and they can now sit back to see who drops points at Old Trafford this afternoon – Manchester United, Chelsea or both.
Arsenal must then visit Manchester City in the league on Thursday, while Chelsea travel to face Pep Guardiola’s leaders next weekend, and United meet Liverpool on March 10.
This could be a profitable period for Spurs if they can take care of their own business. They made a good start in that respect today.
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