Spurs click back into gear as their top-four rivals turn inwards
After an awkward patch, Tottenham look consistently like their lively old selves again
Son Heung-Min of Tottenham Hotspur leaves Jonjoe Kenny of Everton plodding through quicksand. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
It may not go down as a season-defining moment, but the turn executed by Son Heung-min 106 seconds after half-time, leaving Jonjoe Kenny plodding through quicksand while Wembley gasped in admiration, held significance of its own. For one thing it led to the goal from Harry Kane that broke the resolve of Everton, who had looked competent at 1-0 down but disintegrated rapidly after the deficit doubled. For another it crystallised a feeling that has, after the awkwardness of early life at Wembley, grown over the past six weeks. Tottenham are, at last, looking consistently like Tottenham again.
Mauricio Pochettino was in no mood to disagree and must feel his side have turned a corner after that patchy period in the autumn when rousing European nights were offset by stodgy afternoons against Burnley, Swansea and West Brom.
Back then Pochettino would react wearily to suggestions that Spurs’ temporary accommodation was doing them no favours, while not altogether dispelling them. Now, after watching his players score four goals or more for the third time in five home league games, he was more than willing to mark the change. “You know very well the circumstances are different after we moved to Wembley,” he said. “I’m so proud of them.”
Best of Pochettino
Once Everton had been weakened, Tottenham went for the jugular. They spent the second half attacking in tides, showing little appetite to slow up until Christian Eriksen had swept home their beautifully conceived fourth. Even then Son could be seen chasing Mason Holgate into an ungainly tangle on the edge of Everton’s six-yard box as the clock ticked down: it all evoked the best of the Pochettino era, and their confidence has returned at a time when others are more given to introspection.
While Arsenal fret about Alexis Sánchez, Liverpool look to salve the open wound of Philippe Coutinho’s departure and the managers of Manchester United and Chelsea trade insults before the media, Tottenham’s worries are reducing. The festive period’s churn left them relatively unscathed and now, unencumbered by any serious suggestions that big names will leave this month, they exude a stability not evident in all their rivals for a top-four spot.
“Maybe it’s boring for you to hear the same [thing] but Tottenham can’t compare to other teams like Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea,” Pochettino said. “We are the opposite. We are doing our job; they have their strategy and we have our strategy. All that happens in other clubs will not affect us. It’s so important to focus on what we need to achieve and how to improve.”
One of those improvements has come in the form of Son, who has been important to their tempo for some time and now operates as incisively as anyone in his position. He said afterwards that his partnership with Kane, at whose feet records continue to fall, “works really good” and there were also signs that Dele Alli, provider of a glorious backheel for Eriksen’s goal, is playing his way out of a sticky spell. Then there is Eriksen, who had one of those games where nothing seems too much trouble and gave the impression – not for the first time – that Barcelona may have fixated on the wrong playmaker.
Pochettino was keener, though, to talk about the growth of his wider squad and expressed his happiness at the form of Serge Aurier, who created Son’s opener and has become an increasing influence. Aurier arrived from Paris Saint-Germain with some baggage but appears to have edged ahead of Kieran Trippier in the right-back pecking order. “There are a lot of bad things from his past in France, but he is a great guy and a great personality,” Hugo Lloris said of Aurier after the 4-0 win. “You can make mistakes as a person and learn a lot. Inside him is a fresh guy with good energy.”
Spurs radiate that freshness and energy just now. That spin and flick from Son, executed in one dizzying movement as he seized on Eric Dier’s firm pass, set the tone on Saturday, but their collective shift in gear could not have been better timed. – Guardian