At what point do we have to shift the tone from “Lol, Spurs are good hahaha” to “Hang on, Spurs are good?”
Last season they had absolutely no team but an absurd striker. This year they have an absurd team but absolutely no striker. Richarlison, bless him, now desperately needs one to go in off his backside or similar after another trying hour in which his own struggles and internal battle with his own thoughts are thrown into ever sharper focus by the sheer joy exploding out of everything else Tottenham do.
In the first half of a well-deserved 2-0 win over a game but outmatched Bournemouth, alongside three conspicuous missed opportunities, there was at least evidence of the general contribution Ange Postecoglou talked about when defending the Brazilian this week.
But in the second half he fell over the ball and you could almost literally see the final ounce of confidence drain from his body. His head having fallen off, Postecoglou substituted him and the excellent Pape Sarr to regain control of a game they had dominated but were just beginning to offer Bournemouth some hope of salvaging.
That hope was swiftly extinguished by a stunning second goal that was both Angeball in motion and another dagger in Richarlison’s heart given Son Heung-min’s role in it having moved central to accommodate a revitalised Ivan Perisic out on the left. The goal was scored by Dejan Kulusevski, and that does look like it might be Spurs’ best current starting three up front.
It’s futile but inevitable to ponder upon what this team might actually be capable of with Harry Kane in it; not futile to wonder what this team might actually be capable of with the Harry Kane money properly reinvested. It’s still August. There’s still time for Daniel Levy to adopt the Audere Est Facere vibe that now runs through the team if not yet quite so openly in the boardroom and go balls out for some kind of proper goalscorer.
Because Richarlison’s struggles really are the only major blot on the Spurs landscape right now. James Maddison, a doubt for this game after picking up a knock against Manchester United, was withdrawn after 70 minutes in which he totally ran the show. He looks the best bit of summer transfer business by anyone in the Premier League in these early weeks; he is already Spurs’ best and most important player having taken on that mantle from the previous number 10. A goal and two assists in his first three games are the raw numbers, but it’s so much more than that. He is a tempo-setter and game-breaker, always bringing others into play and looking like he’s been at the club for years rather than weeks.
Certain players just look and feel right at certain clubs. We said it last week about James Ward-Prowse at West Ham. It’s right, it fits, and you absolutely know it’s going to work. Maddison is enormously Spurs for someone who has spent the last few weeks fending off suggestions he supported Arsenal in his youth.
Maddison was pipped to man-of-the-match honours in Spurs’ first two games by Yves Bissouma but there was little doubt about his win today. He was magnificent in a Spurs performance full of pace and brio.
But also intelligence. We know Postecoglou is an attack-minded, front-foot manager. But he is not a reckless or gung-ho one. Spurs never gave Bournemouth the space in behind that Liverpool afforded the Cherries last week, and if anything it is Spurs’ defending in these early weeks of the season that gives you pause to consider precisely what the ceiling might be.
We knew they’d be fun and exciting going forward; we didn’t think they’d go two-and-a-half games without conceding. Jan Vertonghen regen Micky van de Ven looks another shrewd summer accusation, and Spurs are yet to concede a goal this season when he and Cristian Romero have both been on the pitch. The drop-off from that pair to the back-up is a concern, but not a concern that now afflicts Spurs in other areas of the pitch.
The final 20 minutes of this match was seen out comfortably enough with an entirely second-string midfield of Oliver Skipp, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Giovani Lo Celso. None are as good as the players now establishing themselves as one of the very best midfield threes in the league, but all are perfectly good players who did what was required of them expertly here.
Indeed, among the more incongruous elements of watching this Spurs team for those who’ve sat through the last four years was the sight of five substitutes coming on and all working. The rejigged front line worked perfectly. Hojbjerg, professional to the last, appears to be accepting and even relishing a reduction in his role from certain starter to late-game destroyer, disrupting Bournemouth’s rhythm and keeping Spurs firmly in control.
Lo Celso is important purely because Maddison is so important; Angeball cannot function without that playmaker in the attacking midfield area, and Lo Celso is the only other member of Spurs’ current squad with anything approaching the requisite skillset. Even if it is a skillset he has shown more consistently on loan away from Spurs than during his time within the squad.
Destiny Udogie’s departure with an injury after so brilliantly creating the much-needed second goal was a setback, but who’s this coming on to quietly and professionally finish the game off? Ben Davies of course. Been here forever, seen all sorts, and never lets you down.
Spurs’ victory here was all the more impressive because Bournemouth were and are good. They have only a single point to show for their efforts but they won’t have to play Liverpool and Spurs every week. Faith must be kept because Andoni Iraola might not be having Postecoglou’s instant impact but is attempting something similar.
Bournemouth’s high press troubled Spurs sporadically, but these are early days and their commitment to the plan is not yet absolute. As Spurs assumed control, Bournemouth’s confidence visibly faltered and this is now a Spurs team that will jump all over any such sign of weakness.
But against most teams, including for instance Spurs last season, this was a Bournemouth performance that would surely have delivered points. The worry is that things don’t get much easier for a while yet. It’s Brentford away next week, a game even this soon-to-be-all-conquering Spurs couldn’t win, followed by Chelsea, Brighton and Arsenal after the international break. It’s October until Bournemouth get to play Everton in what might by then look deceptively like a six-pointer.
There’s more than enough about this team to think that the league table’s famed inability to lie will be absolute bullsh*t, though. This is very much a “They’ll be fine” situation and not a “You fear for them” scenario.
As for Spurs, who honestly knows what they might end up being. But nobody could realistically have expected it to start quite this well.
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