Tottenham got their new year off to a winning start Tuesday evening, dispatching Swansea 2-0 in South Wales. A first half header from former swan Llorente (assisted by Eriksen) and a late second half insurance goal from Dele (assisted by Kane) were enough to secure the three points for Poch’s men.
Weather a factor in Wales
Here in the US, the winter weather has taken a nasty turn of late, with frigid temperatures in store for most of the east coast this week. But the bitter cold stateside seemed almost trivial as I watched Tuesday’s match in a bar with friends, so terrible were the conditions Spurs and Swansea played in at the Liberty Stadium. Relentless rain and howling wind plagued the entire first half of the game, and it’s a small wonder the game wasn’t called off due to the puddles and standing water on the pitch.
My Swansea-supporting friend would certainly have appreciated a postponement had it come prior to halftime…but alas, the referee decided to continue the game. The second half was a much better spectacle as the rain and wind dissipated, allowing the teams to play at least a degree of passing football. Spurs moved up a gear once the weather began to cooperate, and their late second half goal was no more than they deserved after dominating most of the game.
Llorente scores on rare start
Harry Kane was given a rare rest on Tuesday, starting the match on the bench. Although he would eventually join proceedings and provide a superb assist for Dele’s clinching goal, the English hitman was ill in the buildup to the match and thus relinquished his starting role to Llorente. I’ve been hot and cold on the Spanish target man since his arrival, as he’s played well in certain games (e.g. UCL versus Madrid) while looking utterly lost in others.
Tuesday was a game perfectly designed for the big lad’s skill set, though, and he proved it early and often in the rain-soaked first half. Though his goal had a hint of fortune to it—read: he was well offside when he scored—the aerial threat he offered throughout the match was difficult for Swansea to contend with. Our set piece opportunities were regularly finding him inside the host’s penalty area, and he could’ve scored a couple more had his touches been more precise. Still, he did his job by scoring the opening goal, and played well enough in truly dire conditions to suggest he can be counted on against smaller sides when we want/need to rest Kane.
Dele back to scoring, but still up to usual antics
He may have scored the match-sealing goal with just minutes to go, but Dele’s performance throughout caused me some concern. The midfielder always seems to walk a line between brilliance and petulance, and Tuesday was no exception. His typical shenanigans of going down for fouls and looking for needless confrontations were on full display, and his behaviour was annoying enough to warrant cheers from the home fans whenever he was successfully tackled or dispossessed.
Now, this isn’t to say that he didn’t play well on Tuesday. He certainly did, and his goal was probably just rewards for a game in which he put himself about well and played clever exchanges with his fellow attackers. It’s great to have him scoring again and regaining confidence as well, since his form up to a couple weeks ago had been highly suspect. I just wish he could put in good shifts in matches without resorting to his baser instincts. In many instances, he’s only a tackle away from a send-off; that’s not a trait I want in a key attacking player. I get that he’s still young, but he’s been playing at this level for long enough now that some maturity needs to set in.
Valuable points banked ahead of tough winter period
The 3 points Spurs earned Tuesday look crucial ahead of their very difficult January/February schedule. Rivals West Ham visit Wembley on Thursday before an FA cup tie against Wimbledon on the 7th. Then it’s Everton, Southampton, and United to finish January in the league. February opens with a trip to Anfield to face Liverpool and a home derby with Arsenal just days before the first match of Spurs’ two legged tie with Juventus in the knockout stage of the Champions League.
All told, the above makes for a daunting schedule for any team, let alone a side that is chasing top four and a strong showing in two cup competitions. Squad rotation will be key, and the Swansea match (albeit against lesser opposition) has shown that the big guns can be rested without sacrificing points. That could be priceless to Poch going into a stage of the season that will have massive implications on how successful (or unsuccessful) their season will end.