Serge Aurier scored his first Tottenham goal and Heung-Min Son then struck for the fourth match in a row as Mauricio Pochettino’s side beat Brighton 2-0 at Wembley and leapt into fourth spot. Here are five talking points:
1. Erik Lamela starts
The Argentinian was named in the XI for the first time since the goalless draw at Bournemouth on October 22, 2016, with Dele Alli dropping to the bench.
Alli had started the previous seven matches in all competitions and was last missing from the line-up against Crystal Palace in early November because of injury.
AS IT HAPPENED: Tottenham v Brighton
The last time Alli was available but not selected – i.e. named on the bench – was in November 2016, a month after Lamela’s absence began. It is not a coincidence.
Lamela’s return should now give Mauricio Pochettino more opportunities to rest his best attacking players.
2. 4-3-3 system leaves Spurs without a link man
Pochettino set his team up with Harry Winks, Christian Eriksen and Moussa Sissoko playing as central midfielders, while Heung-Min Son and Lamela operated in wide either side of Harry Kane.
It allowed Eriksen to get on the ball around the centre circle and try to pick passes through the Brighton defence, but it also left Spurs without a link man.
Too often when the game was goalless, Winks or Eriksen looked up and had only Kane in front of them, with a host of Brighton players in between.
At times, Tottenham were missing a No.10 who could bridge that gap, operating between the lines and trying to move the ball on from the midfielders to Kane, who looked most likely to score from a cross, but was well marked by aerially proficient centre-backs.
At one point in the first half, Kane adopted that role for himself, flicking a low pass into the path of Sissoko, whose shot from the edge of the box was tame. The striker needed someone to provide him with similar opportunities.
In the end though, it did not matter because Spurs took a lead into the break via a different route.
3. Lilywhites get a slice of luck as Serge Aurier opens his account
During their recent run of poor form – one win in five matches – Tottenham’s players often came off the pitch bemoaning a lack of fortune. Refereeing decisions had played a part in their results, for example.
Tonight Lady Luck smiled on them, gifting them a much-needed and flukey breakthrough as Aurier’s 40th-minute cross from close to the touchline looped over Mat Ryan and into the net, giving the Ivorian his first strike for the club.
It was reminiscent of Kane’s first goal of the season for Tottenham at Everton, and it forced Brighton to be a little more adventurous after the interval.
It was just the scenario that Spurs like and, having turned a 1-0 half-time lead into a 5-1 home win over Stoke on Saturday, they were soon threatening to extend their lead after the break, with Kane seeing a shot blocked and Lamela forcing a low save from Ryan.
Brighton never really threw caution to the wind though, and there was no goal-glut his time.
But Spurs did eventually get a second goal in the 87th minute as Son stooped to flick Eriksen’s free kick past Ryan with his head, netting for the fourth match in a row.
4. Spurs keep it clean this time – and Jan Vertonghen avoids a suspension
Spurs’ sticky patch before their victory over Apoel Nicosia was due in large part to their inability to keep clean sheets, leaving them needing at least two goals to win each game – something that also proved beyond them against Arsenal, West Brom, Leicester and Watford.
Even when they were cruising to victory against Stoke on Saturday, the Lilywhites conceded from a corner in the closing stages.
This time, however, they kept their visitors out – and necessarily so, given they only had a slender one-goal lead until late on.
It is hardly a great achievement to celebrate. After all, Brighton had only scored one goal across their previous four matches. Nonetheless, it should give Spurs’ rearguard a little extra confidence as they prepare for a rather tougher test at Manchester City on Saturday.
Tottenham will at least be able to call upon Vertonghen again as the Belgian avoided a fifth booking of the season this evening – a booking which would have ruled him out of the trip to the Etihad.
That was a loss Pochettino really needed to avoid given Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sanchez will also miss Saturday’s match.
5. Good night all-round as Spurs climb back into top four
Tottenham retired to their dressing room to discover good news.
With Liverpool and Arsenal both being held to goalless draws by West Brom and West Ham respectively, the Lilywhites leapfrogged both sides in the table, as well as Burnley, jumping three places into fourth spot.
The battle for the Champions League places looks set to be fierce but, for now, Spurs are in one of the coveted positions, with their situation looking far better than it did a week ago.
With momentum finally building, this is hardly an ideal time to take on Manchester City. But then, it probably never will be.
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