Sure, get the ‘it’s only Sheffield United’ caveats in there all you like, but Tottenham’s performance in their 4-0 win against the Blades on Sunday was still hugely enjoyable.
Throughout the season though, it should have only been Newcastle.
It should have only been Fulham.
It should have only been Dinamo Zagreb.
But it was always more complicated than necessary. Under Jose Mourinho, it was always about containing the opposition rather than backing your own attacking talent to go out and score four or five goals.
That’s why the unbridled joy of seeing Gareth Bale score a hat-trick – his first in the Premier League since December 2012 – was tinged somewhat by the thought of what might have been.
This is Gareth Bale. Undoubtedly one of the best players in the world, even with his lack of game time in his more recent seasons with Real Madrid, and that much was clear to see in each of his goals.
The calibre of teams he’s scored against this season is hardly incredible. Strikes in the league have come against Brighton, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Southampton and Sheffield United, adding up to nine in total. Each of those teams are in the bottom seven and most are still nervously looking over their shoulders towards the relegation zone.
But so what? Who cares if the teams Bale has scored against aren’t challenging for Champions League qualification? More so, it shows just how badly Mourinho screwed up his time in north London.
Instead of going out and blitzing teams when the opportunity presented itself, Spurs would sit off. After a few games, the script was so blatantly obvious that you didn’t even need to watch the matches anymore – if you saw Tottenham go 1-0 up, it would be a pretty safe assumption that they’d concede around the 80th minute and draw 1-1, having spent too much time defending against teams who can’t hold a candle to their attacking talent.
It’s hardly rocket science, and that’s probably why interim coach Ryan Mason has two wins from his opening two Premier League games.
All it took was some modern tactics and playing your best attacking talent and now, just two games into Mason’s tenure, Spurs are playing their best football of the season.
It’s criminal, quite frankly. This idea that ‘the players aren’t good enough’ has been peddled for too long and with no substance behind it, and yet a lot of people still swallowed it up when Mourinho declared it was the ‘same coach, different players’ after the hilarious 2-2 draw at Newcastle.
Now, it’s ‘different coach, same players’, and suddenly this new pressing attacking football is paying dividends, but it’s all come much too late.
Everyone has raved about the seasons Harry Kane and Son Heung-min have had, and rightly so – the pair are both in double digits for goals and assists in the league and were outrageously productive with the chances they got in the first half of the campaign. But whenever they did the business up front, the super conservative style of play exposed those behind them.
Unfortunately, the gap to the top four is too big for Tottenham to close, save for a cataclysmic collapse from either Leicester or Chelsea. The upcoming games against Leeds, Wolves and Aston Villa really are ones which they should win before a final day trip to Leicester. It could actually end up being quite tight, and that’s probably the most frustrating thing.
Absolutely enjoy Bale thrashing shots into the top corner like only he can. Definitely enjoy the pressing. They’re hardly a perfect team but the attacking quality in Tottenham’s squad is pretty ridiculous, and we’ve barely touched on Dele Alli, who returned to the starting XI and was at his showboating best.
It’s just all come too late, and in a season where a top four spot really was there for the taking, Spurs will have to accept the consequences of a dire playing style that saw them capitulate from positions of strength over and over again.
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