After spending two weeks in the top four over the international break, Crystal Palace returned to Premier League action to a rude awakening as Tottenham dismantled the visiting team, moving themselves up into the top four.
A clinical first 45 minutes from Tottenham made the second half a meagre formality with neither team really shifting out of second gear after half-time. At home, Spurs’ intent was clear, not even a minute had passed, and the hosts had their first should on goal from well inside the box, but it was a simple save for Vincente Guaita in Palace’s goal.
There would be no such fortune for Guaita and Palace for the remainder of the half though as Spurs’ dominance continued and Palace’s resistance capitulated just nine minutes into the game.
Heung Min Son opened the scoring, latching on to Toby Alderweireld’s summiting pass, over the top of all Palace’s 10 outfield players, before the South Korean cut inside and finished with his left from 12-yards out at the near post.
Heung Min Son was involved again for the second as he found right-back, Serge Aurier, loitering out on the right flank who tried to whiz the ball across the box, but the ball found Patrick van Aanholt’s heel and made its way into the back of the Palace defender’s own net for an own goal.
Not even two minutes later, Son was involved once more as, yet again, Aurier was found in a plethora of space out on the wing and his exquisite cross made it all too easy for Son to make it 3-0 inside 22 minutes.
A fourth before the end of the half came courtesy of Erik Lamela, who – in eerily similar fashion to Son’s second goal – found himself on the end of a cross, coming in from the right-hand side, and just beyond the opposite apex of the six-yard box he finished Tottenham’s fourth.
The second-half came and went without a dent in its frame, with the more than half a dozen yellow cards the only slithers of action.
Four, or more, and you’re bound for glory… or doom
Since the start of the 2016-2017 season, Crystal Palace have conceded four (or more) goals on eight occasions. Arsenal (once), Liverpool (twice), Manchester City (twice) and Manchester United (once) have both experienced significant success in that time frame, collecting 11 trophies between them. On the opposite end of the spectrum are outliers Swansea and Sunderland who have conversely been relegated.
Thus, this vastly impressive 4-0 indicates that success or embarrassing failure is nigh for Tottenham – will it be silverware or relegation that ensues for Tottenham?
After a lacklustre opening four games to the season that has seen Pochettino’s men ‘park the bus’ away at Manchester City, lose at home to Newcastle and concede a 2-0 lead in the North London Derby, Spurs’ really needed a performance to ignite their season. An almost flawless display against a notoriously resilient Palace team may just be the fuel that Tottenham need to ignite their campaign.
The manager, Mauricio Pochettino, clearly has some unfinished business at Tottenham following their disappointing end to last season, while keeping Christian Eriksen at the club may prove pivotal. Additionally, Lucas Moura – who was being hunted by Barcelona in the transfer window just gone by – can’t find a starting berth because of the scintillating form of Erik Lamela and the aforementioned, Son, despite the Brazillian lacking none of his vibrant touch recently.
Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, combined with Hugo Lloris, may all be on the wrong side of 30 but their consistent, top echelon performances mean that the club has an elite central defensive triangle to rely on.
Tanguy Ndombele has dominated in every minute he has played this season, and if he is to stay fit any one of Harry Winks, Moussa Sissoko or Victor Wanyama could partner the Frenchman to form a formidable midfield partnership.
Do not underestimate Tottenham, they are here to play. Every line is filled with game-breaking, breath-taking and, potentially, trophy-winning calibre players. However, with plenty of the squad nearing the twilight of the peak of their careers – the time is now.
The 4-5-1 ditched and the Palace walls came crumbling down
It was only two game-weeks ago that Palace recorded a historic 1-2 win away from home at Old Trafford, their first ever win against Manchester United in the Premier League. This was, unmistakably, due to a crystallized 4-5-1 formation that had wrought many successes during Roy Hodgson’s second tenure as Crystal Palace coach.
Instead, maybe hoping to capitalize on some unprecedented form – in contrast to Palace’s opening two games – against a Tottenham who were lacking inspiration, Hodgson opted for a more fluid 4-3-3. After similar tactics had won the Eagles a controversial yet deserved three points against Aston Villa the game-week prior, they were implemented away at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – a precarious yet equally forward-thinking decision by the league’s oldest manager.
Unfortunately, the opposition proved untameable and broke down Palace’s defensive walls with ease.
Only two changes were made to the team that won the consecutive games against Manchester United and Aston Villa. Mamadou Sakho made his return from injury and will definitely not be pleased with his performance and he should’ve been able to stop Son’s opening goal.
However, the more significant change was the lack of a James McArthur in midfield. Often unheralded after a win, he has now become Palace’s whipping boy, with fans often pleading for his omission from the team following a loss. His absence was quite emphatically noted against Tottenham.
The number of box-to-box midfielders in the world are numerous, but the number of box-to-box midfielders who can consistently perform for several consecutive seasons at the highest level are not that common. McArthur is competent at both ends of the pitch and his tireless running and his surprising burst of pace is characterized by his hunched back as he hunts down opponents like a predator does their prey.
His ability to maintain the midfield structure and compliment those around him, to give them the freedom to perform more award-winning roles is unselfish and deserves appreciation.
Palace’s first goal in the agonizing 4-3 loss away to Liverpool at Anfield last season epitomises McArthur’s ability as a player. After shrugging off two Liverpool players in his defensive half, he still wasn’t out of trouble but managed to find James Tomkins. Tomkins’ bailout was McArthur who was suddenly boxed in by five opposition players but his tenacity rose to the fore and he was able to release the ball and ignite the counter-attack for the first goal.
Tenacious, relentless and for-the-badge, Hodgson will hope the Scottish midfielder is fit as
soon as possible, as his qualities were sorely missed in this embarrassing defeat.
Three goals and an assist in five games, but unconvincing
Those are Harry Kane’s returns thus far this season. If he keeps up this pace it will see him finish with 22.8 goals and 7.6 assists if he plays all 38 games this season. These goals have come from a penalty against Arsenal and two in five minutes on the opening weekend against Aston Villa. From one perspective, it is fair to say that apart from these goals and his beautiful assist against Palace on the weekend, Kane has been fairly invisible compared to his lofty standards.
The goals have been flowing readily for Kane in recent times, leaving no blight on his record, but recent performances would have definitely left a lot to the imagination. Particularly his performance in the Champions League Final against Liverpool in May this year.
Hattrick hero just three weeks prior, Lucas Moura was benched in favour of the pronounced ‘fit enough to play’ Harry Kane. Against Ajax, Moura netted three goals in a striker partnership with Son upfront, as Spurs looked free-flowing and fluid in their play. Three weeks later, in the final against Liverpool and with Moura now benched for Kane, Tottenham’s play looked more viscous and narrow-minded, always looking for Kane with no other outlet.
Son’s absence to start the season didn’t help, but since his return, Tottenham have looked a more complete attacking unit. To the end of last season – when Son was fit – Kane’s average position was considerably further up the pitch than any other Tottenham player. However, since Son’s return this season, Kane’s average position is significantly deeper, compensating for Son who is now, on average, Spurs’ most forward player, and also Lamela who is creeping further and further up the pitch.
Kane never really looked right in that Champions League final and playing him over a fit and firing Lucas Moura may have been a huge mistake, we’ll never find out. But it is worth noting, that despite the goals still flowing (at a lesser rate), Kane’s role seems to have changed, considerably so in recent weeks as he’s become more of a provider than the finisher.
Zaha tag-teamed as Palace return to old attacking ways
On the very rare occasion that Palace advanced to their final third, they seemed to return to their old predictable ways of attack: “pass it to Zaha”. Wilfried Zaha often found himself the centre of attention from two or three Tottenham defenders as they quickly realised the predictable pattern. Stopping Zaha halted any Palace attacks this game and three Spurs’ defenders were guilty and shown yellow cards, while Harry Kane applied a counter-attack ending challenge that most certainly should have seen him cautioned, but the English captain was lucky to escape.
With just 19% of the game spent in Palace’s attacking third (compared to 28% in Tottenham’s attacking third), opportunities – when they arose – needed to be pounced upon, and the visiting team failed to do that.
With just 3 less total shots (14-11 in favour of Tottenham) and more shots on target (5-6 in favour of Palace), the fact that Palace didn’t score is baffling. To make the case even more compelling, the away team had nine shots from inside the box (compared to the hosts’ six) while both had four on target from within the box (three of Tottenham’s were courtesy of Son).
Jordan Ayew’s two goals this season have been memorable, earning Palace all three points against Aston Villa and opening the scoring against United, with Patrick van Aanholt’s Old Trafford winner their only other goal. That’s a total of three goals – the lowest of any Premier League team thus far.
Ayew’s heroics and tireless effort off the ball so far this season should be revered by all Palace fans and two goals in five games is not a bad return by any stretch of the imagination. In spite of that, in games where Palace clearly had opportunities, a renowned finisher could have most certainly kept them – albeit undeservedly – in the game had they scored early on, halting Tottenham’s momentum. However, sitting just one point outside off third place in possibly one of the tightest openings to the season we’ve seen, is not a bad effort. But a lack of goals may seriously hurt a club fighting for a top 10 finish.
A passing display for the ages from the Belgian beasts
The quality of the aforementioned centre-half duo, Vertonghen and Alderweireld has never been questioned, but last weekend’s display was one for the memory bank. It also leaves a fan to wondering how Alderweireld, the younger of the pair, remained at the club despite being available for a mere £27.5 million during the off-season.
It wasn’t their defensive duties that are to be marvelled out, however, quite the contrary. In fact, worryingly enough Tottenham conceded more shots on target than they managed. Despite this, if their Belgian centre-backs can keep pin-pointing team mates from the opposite side of the pitch as they did against Palace, Spurs’ may well outscore their opponents no matter what (within reason).
Both Vertonghen (103) and Alderweireld (119) attempted the most passes of any players on the pitch, with Sissoko (81) the next best – a fair way behind. They combined for 222 passes, with 76.6% of those being aimed forward and 7.2% of them long over-the-top balls aimed into the final third – a clear indication of intent. This is a whopping 16.4% and 6% increase, respectively, on the following gameweek against Arsenal. Is that an indication of a tactical change or merely exploiting the high lines Palace were playing?
In comparison to other centre-backs who are considered forward-thinking and attacking marvels themselves, Vertonghen and Alderweireld (combined) passed the ball forward 8.4% of the time more frequently than Aymeric Laporte. Also, attempting long, over the top passes into the final third 4.2% and 5.9% more frequently than Laporte and Virgil van Dijk, respectively.
Not to out do themselves, however, the pair combined for seven clearances, four blocks and a 100% tackle success rate on the weekend against Palace. They are models of the modern day centre-back and their fitness will be imperative to any success in the near future at Tottenham.
Crystal Palace return to the home comforts of Selhurst Park to face a currently winless Wolves side who’s Premier League form has been lacking while trying to balance it with life in the Europa League. Meanwhile, Tottenham travel to King Power Stadium to play an early season top-five clash against a well organised Leicester in a game that will most certainly be worth watching.