Sandro and Dembele the spur for Tottenham
Sunderland 1 Tottenham 2:Aaron Lennon’s adroit winner and Gareth Bale’s justified dismay at, once again, being branded a diver commanded more attention but Tottenham’s two central midfielders were the key to the team’s sixth win in eight Premier League games.
The strength and intelligence of Sandro, especially, and Mousa Dembele ensured that Spurs were able to control the game for prolonged periods while leaving their wingers free to concentrate on attack.
Things worked so well that Sandro suggested Andre Villas-Boas’s players could be champions come May. “Everybody talks about Manchester United and City and even Chelsea for the title but never Spurs,” said the Brazilian. “Why not Spurs? We have a good coach, a good squad and everything is working well.
“This is a fast, dangerous, team built to attack and we are not content to just be a top-four side. No one is talking about Spurs as champions but then, bang, we will win it and they will be talking about Tottenham then.”
Sandro and Dembele are so powerfully accomplished that they can thrive in a 4-4-2 formation against alternatively configured opponents fielding three central midfielders. Sunderland’s 4-4-1-1 system meant, in effect, they had two-and-a-half men staffing that department on Saturday, but Sandro ensured that Stephane Sessegnon flitted around to limited effect while Dembele concentrated on involving Lennon and Bale at every opportunity.
Bale’s harsh late booking for a perceived dive in the face of Craig Gardner’s challenge. means he misses tomorrow’s meeting with Reading and the winger dubbed the league’s principal diver was not too pleased: “If there’s contact, what do you want me to do, hit my head on the floor? I have to put my hands down to protect myself.”
Sebastian Larsson struggled in central midfield but few players take a meaner dead ball and his free-kick laden with curve, dip and vicious pace prefaced John O’Shea giving Martin O’Neill’s side a 40th-minute lead. Its fragility was confirmed when Carlos Cuellar headed a corner into his own net and Lennon manipulated the ball around O’Shea before beating the excellent Simon Mignolet with a fine right-footed finish.
Spurs deserved to win but Sunderland have improved significantly over the past month and, like Villas-Boas and Sandro, O’Neill can approach 2013 with optimism.