In a strange night of football, Spurs beat Fulham 0-1 at Craven Cottage.
The win moves Spurs just three points off West Ham in fourth place. But are they good enough to go further?
Obviously the result is a huge positive for Spurs as it has given them two consecutive wins in the Premier League for the first time since late November (no, seriously) and now means they’re unbeaten in three games as they warm up for the North London Derby.
But the performance will have been of great concern to Spurs fans hoping to see the side evolve into the talent it quite evidently possesses in attack. Because even with José Mourinho starting his “Fab Four” forwards in attack, Spurs were outplayed.
Harry Kane, Heung-min Son, Gareth Bale and yes, Dele Alli all took the field together for the first time and initially things looked bright with Son creating a gilt-edged chance for Kane and them taking the lead.
The goal itself went down as a Tosin Adarabioyo own goal but the move was lovely as Bale dropped deep and found Dele with a forward pass. The Englishman miscontrolled at first but gathered it to play it wide for Son who sent a ball sliding into the box where Dele showed up in space created by a selfless Kane run to the back-post and nudged it home (via a deflection off the defender).
It was a liquid move, but we didn’t really see the Fab Four combine again so the idea of them as a Spurs attacking unit will probably be reserved only for desperate late game situations because the rest of the game showed why, under José Mourinho at least, that line-up does not work.
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What made Spurs so deadly earlier in the season was how hard-working their midfield was and how they were able to unleash Kane and Son, who are naturally hard-working anyway, to lead a two-man counter-attack that opponents couldn’t handle. It was simple but devastating, but was also relying on Kane & Son producing goals at a completely unsustainable rate and has obviously fallen apart over time.
So you start adding more good players to up evolve the team, but when you add those players things become more complicated, and José Mourinho has never handled “complicated” well in an attacking sense. In theory that front four should work, but in reality what happened was Fulham just kept running behind them and overwhelming the deliriously creative Tanguy Ndombele in the middle of the park.
Ndombele gets racially profiled as a ball-winning midfielder but in truth he is a flighty creative genius who needs to be unleashed as a no. 10. Pulling him deeper into a pivot position, especially one that sees multiple men in the areas he likes to drift into and create from. With a coach who invests more in attacking structure they would be able to work around this. But that’s not how José Mourinho operates, so Ndombele was just, sort of, out there.
Fulham took full advantage of how poorly Spurs were structured and scored an equaliser, ruled out for a handball which was either an unfortunate reality of the modern game or proof that VAR is the spawn of satan.
The Cottagers dominated the game and did everything bar take their chances, with their shoddy finishing on show for all to see. The VAR call was a let-off for Spurs, and one Mourinho was not about to pass up. Off came Bale and Dele (who did play well, for what it’s worth, but that Mourinho chose to hook him anyway was telling), on came Moussa Sissoko and Lucas Moura. Energy, legs, work-rate. Ndombele was pushed forward but even he was then withdrawn for Erik Lamela.
The Argentine, a workhorse of a winger, was the spark that Spurs needed. He had a few mazy dribbles that could have led to a second for Spurs but the key was his work-rate and energy. Spurs effectively shut down Fulham in those last few minutes and worked some nice counter-attacks because they ditched the idea of a Fab Four and returned to Kane, Son and a bunch of workers.
Spurs have a squad capable of playing sparkling and gorgeously imaginative football in attack. However they have a coach who only really knows how to play one way. Will that be enough for Spurs’ fans? For Spurs’ owners? How many seasons can Harry Kane, one of the best strikers in the world, spend not playing Champions League football?
Because, again, this was their first time posting consecutive league wins since November. Yes, a win is a win but this has was a Spurs side that needed to make an evolution yet only looked comfortable when regressing to their old ways. What lies ahead for them? It’s all on whatever path José Mourinho chooses for his side.