Tottenham 1-0 Crystal Palace: Five things we learned from Wembley

Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-Min celebrates scoring his side’s first goal of the game
Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-Min celebrates scoring his side’s first goal of the game

Heung-Min Son scored a 63rd-minute winner as Tottenham edged past basement boys Crystal Palace 1-0 at Wembley. Here are five talking points…

Paulo Gazzaniga keeps a clean sheet on his debut

The 25-year-old’s arrival in August was met with a collective shrug of the shoulders.

Tottenham had been unwilling to stump up the £6.2million fee required to turn Pau Lopez’s loan move into a permanent deal, and unable to negotiate a lower price.

The result was the signing of Gazzaniga – a player Mauricio Pochettino and his staff knew from their time at Southampton – for around £2m.

It perhaps made some sense to save some money when filling the role of third-choice goalkeeper – a position where the incumbent’s playing time is extremely limited, at most. After all, Lopez did not make a single appearance last term.

However, with Hugo Lloris suffering a groin problem against Real Madrid on Wednesday and Michel Vorm then injuring his knee in training on Saturday, Gazzaniga suddenly found himself firmly in the spotlight today, starting a Premier League match.

Crystal Palace’s Julian Speroni with Tottenham’s Paulo Gazzaniga at the end of the match
Crystal Palace’s Julian Speroni with Tottenham’s Paulo Gazzaniga at the end of the match

His first involvement was hardly convincing. As Wilfried Zaha’s cross dropped towards the back post, he took a few steps forward but then froze, performed a star-jump to spread himself and caught Mamadou Sakho as the Frenchman tried to head goalwards.

It was a hardly a convincing start. However, he went on to show his shot-stopping ability in the 36th minute, diving to tip Scott Dann’s header out of the bottom right corner and went on to palm Andros Townsend’s low strike away from the same spot early in the second half.

Gazzaniga’s good work was nearly ruined when he came out into no-man’s land and was easily beaten by Zaha, giving his opponent an open goal, but he got a let-off as the chance was squandered – and he went on to make another save, palming away Luka Milivojevic’s close-range header, to end up with a clean sheet.

It’s nothing like playing Madrid

Spurs have enjoyed some fine results at Wembley this season when their visitors have come and attacked them – Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool and Real Madrid were all beaten in style, with 10 goals being scored across the three matches.

It has been a very different story against the so-called lesser teams in the Premier League though. Burnley and Swansea both took a point away from Brent, while Bournemouth made Tottenham work for their slender 1-0 victory last month.

Mauricio Pochettino’s Lilywhites enjoyed acres of space on the break against Zinedine Zidane’s Galacticos on Wednesday but today’s challenge was always going to be very different – again they were asked to break down a well-organised and defensive side.

There were positive signs in the first half. Spurs’ build-up play from defence into midfield was fairly good and they regularly made inroads into the final third – but they then lacked quality.

For a long time it looked like this was going to be another frustrating outing and a costly stalemate – or worse. But, like against Bournemouth, Tottenham just managed to do enough and pass another important test of their title credentials at Wembley.

The injuries continue to mount up – but Eric Dier stars in defence

Spurs’ squad looked in good shape 10 days ago but, since then, their players have been dropping like flies.

Lloris and Toby Alderweireld were both injured against Madrid, while Vorm was hurt in a training session on Friday and Dele Alli also missed today’s match with a hamstring problem.

Tottenham’s issues only increased in the first half as Harry Winks and Harry Kane both received treatment after getting kicks on the ankle. Both players picked themselves back up but Winks did not reappear for the second half, being replaced by Mousa Dembele. It remains to be seen whether he will now go away with England as planned.

Crystal Palace’s Andros Townsend shoots at goal past Tottenham’s Eric Dier
Crystal Palace’s Andros Townsend shoots at goal past Tottenham’s Eric Dier

Those factors will only add to Pochettino’s relief as he reflects on this result, which was achieved despite a number of enforced changes.

Despite some nervy moments, Gazzaniga made some key saves, and Dier ensured Alderweireld was not missed too greatly, mopping up time and again when Palace countered at pace.

Heung-Min Son turns a disappointing display into a matchwinning one

While Alli’s absence was a blow, the South Korean was a perfectly good replacement – and he had the advantage of being well rested, having remained on the bench throughout Wednesday’s match against Madrid.

Son was below par for much of this match though, and repeatedly drew frustrated groans from the home crowd.

The same was true of Serge Aurier, who gave the ball away poorly on a couple of occasions, and Moussa Sissoko – yet all three played their parts in the decisive 64th-minute goal.

It was Aurier’s clever flick down the line that released Sissoko on the right side of Palace’s defence, and the Frenchman sent in two low crosses in quick succession, with the ball eventually falling for Son, who clinically found the net.

If Pochettino had had Alli on the bench, or a similarly trusted attacking midfielder (ie not Georges-Kevin Nkoudou) it is debatable whether Son would still have been on the pitch after the hour-mark. As it was, he was in the right place at the right time to give his side the crucial breakthrough.

Tottenham Hotspur’s Moussa Sissoko (left) and Crystal Palace’s Jeffrey Schlupp
Tottenham Hotspur’s Moussa Sissoko (left) and Crystal Palace’s Jeffrey Schlupp

He could, and probably should, have gone on to put Tottenham out of sight after getting through on goal down the left channel twice in the last 10 minutes, but he fired wide on the first occasion and failed to get a shot off on the second.

As Son gave the ball away in the 90th minute, there were more frustrated noises around Wembley. Had it not been for his goal, he would probably have been panned for this display – but the moment he got right was the all-important one.

Spurs profit from the day’s head-to-heads

Tottenham’s mission at the start of the day was to put pressure on the four teams around them, who all faced each other later in the day.

That mission was achieved – just. It was not pretty but it was crucial in the context of the fight between the top six sides.

With Manchester United and Arsenal both being defeated, by Chelsea and Manchester City respectively, Spurs have now moved back level with second-placed United on points, while establishing a four-point cushion ahead of Arsenal, in addition to Liverpool.

The problem remains the dominance of leaders Man City, who are still eight points ahead and are firm title favourites. Pep Guardiola’s side will take some catching in this form.

Nonetheless, it is also always important to go into the international break on a winning note and there is much to be content about for Spurs’ manager and fans over the next fortnight as they begin to look ahead to the north London derby at the Emirates on November 18.

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