From Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – First of all, let’s make one thing clear – every squad is flawed some way or another, every squad will have players a level above the rest, every squad will have dips.
Spurs’ problems have come racing to the surface in recent weeks, however. Fortunate draws at rivals Chelsea and West Ham showed a team shrinking on the big occasion, wins against Wolves and Marseille papered over the cracks of stagnant and stodgy performances.
Their unbeaten start to the season ended on Tuesday with a very late 2-0 loss at Sporting CP in the Champions League. It was one game too many where Tottenham managed to just hang around instead of landing a killer blow.
Therein lies a big part of the problem. Son Heung-min was yet to score this season until Saturday (don’t worry, I’ll get to that) and while Harry Kane is firing, he doesn’t look as sharp as he did even months ago. Every team in the world is much worse if their two best players – forwards who grab goals at a ridiculous rate, no less – aren’t quite there.
During the 2020/21 season, then-head coach Jose Mourinho was asked about Liverpool’s struggles once Virgil van Dijk (and about 12 other defenders) became injured.
“A team very stable defensively is a team with much better conditions to attack and vice-versa. They lost Van Dijk. It’s very, very important for them,” he quipped.
Essentially, an elite football team works in tandem at both ends of the pitch, and this has notably been true of Antonio Conte’s Tottenham.
Spurs raced to a top-four finish last year because they were able to blow past teams with ease. Son, Kane and Dejan Kulusevski’s numbers have featured on every football graphic from television to Twitter. Everything else became secondary.
For the first time this season, Tottenham leant on that cut-throat attacking brilliance to nerf their other deficiencies.
Conte’s men looked off the pace for long stretches of what was an eventual 6-2 win at home to Leicester. The first half was a particular lowlight in what’s been a decent season so far.
After what must have been a furious team talk, Tottenham upped the intensity and were much, much improved after the break.
The needle really moved after a) Son’s introduction from the bench and b) once he found his scoring touch again.
His first and second were typically gorgeous curling strikes, while his third showed his trademark break-neck pace leading the counter-attack.
It’s a sight that Spurs fans have missed for too long. About a month, but still.
Tottenham head into the September international break unbeaten domestically and with clearly another gear to click into. If Son manages to keep himself from having such a goal drought again, if Kane can match his goals with all-round performances, then Conte and his men will be fine after all.